THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Endangered archives blog

18 posts categorized "Buddhism"

21 February 2017

What does one gift to the Dalai Lama?

Add comment

Ever wondered what one would give to the new Dalai Lama if one had the opportunity to attend his enthronement ceremony?

  EAP880_HHDL-1_DSC00921 resized

This file (1939-40), over 200 pages long, provides a chronological and detailed account of the planning and sourcing of gifts, articulated concerns and queries about culture, customs, and protocol, and vivid travel descriptions of the journey from Gangtok (Sikkim) to Lhasa (Tibet), for the infant Tenzing Gyatso’s official enthronement as His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama.  

Recognised as the official reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama in 1939, his enthronement ceremony as the next Dalai Lama was scheduled for 22 February, 1940 in Lhasa, the Tibetan capital. In Sikkim (which had close relations with Tibet, spiritually, culturally, economically, and familial), officials were deciding what gifts to send to Lhasa for the occasion, and who would represent the Sikkim State at this auspicious and once-in-a-lifetime ceremony.

Sikkim’s 11th Chogyal, Tashi Wangyal Namgyal (r.1914-1963), chose to send his eldest son, Crown Prince Kunzang Paljor Namgyal (1921-1941), and the British decided to send Basil Gould (Political Officer, Sikkim), who would have been more familiar with the cultures of the region.

  EAP880_HHDL-2_DSC00922 resized

It seems Gould took it upon himself to write to the headmaster of Bishop’s Cotton School (Shimla) where Crown Prince Paljor was studying, informing the school of the Prince’s impending absence – and rather comically, it seems he felt that “…the condition of a boy’s teeth” was a “very important matter”!

  EAP880_HHDL-3_DSC00923 resized

Meanwhile, the Chogyal’s office set to work brainstorming gifts to offer the new Dalai Lama, sourcing them from various vendors from Darjeeling, Kalimpong, and the Army and Navy Store, Calcutta. The gifts included, among other items: A pair of sporting rifles; a 12ft tiger skin; a clock; a writing attaché case, a silver tea set, a pair of binoculars, and a pair of English ponies — the latter evidently caused quite a bit of trouble in their procurement as the file goes on to illustrate!

EAP880_HHDL-4_DSC00924 resized

The Chogyal’s eldest brother, former Crown Prince Tsodag Namgyal (1877-1942) had been removed from the line of succesion by the British in the mid-1890s and had been living in Tibet ever since. His son, Jigme Sumtsen Wangpo Namgyal, was a big support in the Chogyal’s endeavours to pay respects to the Dalai Lama, and it has been interesting to see how little the political interference and geographical borders seem to have affected the strength of family ties.

On 22 January, 1940, the Chogyal writes to his nephew, Jigme Sumtsen, to inform him that due to Prince Paljor’s young age and the anticipated harsh winter weather, Sikkim will instead send the Pipon of Lachen1.

  EAP880_HHDL-5_DSC00925 resized

The Chogyal asks his nephew to guide Pipon Sonam Wangyal in the elaborate, and oftentimes confusing, protocol of Lhasa aristocracy, and informs him that he is sending a tea set to Jigme Sumtsen in advance, as a token of his appreciation. 

On the 24 January, the Pipon sets off for Lhasa with four orderlies and arrives 13 days later on the 6 February, 1940. 

Meanwhile, the Chogyal accompanied by Prince Paljor and Princess Pema Tsedeun had left for Delhi to attend the investiture ceremony of the Viceroy of India. On their way back they visited Varanasi and Bodhgaya on Buddhist pilgrimage, and the correspondence between Chogyal and his nephew continued despite the hurdles of distance and difficulty of communication deriving from constant travel in early 20th century India. 

  EAP880_HHDL-7_DSC00927 resized

These beautifully articulated, and oftentimes endearing letters, exchanged between uncle and nephew provide windows of insight into both mundane and courtly life of the era. The latter wonderfully illustrated with Jigme Sumtsen reporting to the Chogyal about the ceremony’s success, the reception of the gifts from Sikkim, and reference to the official letters of acknowledgement that are being carried back across the Himalayas by Pipon Wangyal.

EAP880_HHDL-8_DSC00933 resized

But where does one find a pair of English ponies on the Indian subcontinent in 1940? With the start of summer, the search began in earnest, and queries were sent out to Kalimpong, Calcutta, Bombay, and eventually to the Punjab, requesting information on ponies of a certain height and colour.

The Chogyal’s brother-in-law, a Bhutanese known as Raja Sonam Tobgay Dorji (1896-1953) was based in Kalimpong, and he along with Sergul Tsering (Sikkim’s Vetinary Inspector) travelled to Calcutta, where on the 9 September, after visiting various stables across the city, they found a promising young pony at Dum Dum stable. One down!

From there, on the 13 September, the Veterinary Inspector took a 200 rupee advance and continued on to a firm in Punjab which had a reputation of breeding good English horses, and there he was able to procure the second horse for 1,500 Indian rupees.

  EAP880_HHDL-6_DSC00931 resized

EAP880_HHDL-10_DSC00930 resized

By early October, the horses were sent up to Lhasa, again with the logistical help and facilitation of Jigme Sumtsen, and presented to the Dalai Lama’s office. Jigme Sumtsen’s letters back to the Chogyal indicate that the officials in Tibet were both impressed and very happy with the horses, and that above and beyond, they were the tallest horses in the stables of the Potala Palace!

EAP880_HHDL-11_DSC00932 resized

Among other highlights, this file illustrates the frugality of expenditures with meticulous financial accounts of the trip, including the Pipon’s monthly payment (70 rupees; plus 50 rupees for warm clothes); the cost of the travels; and his use of the 50 allocated letter papers, 50 envelopes, 1 pencil, 2 penholders and a pocket book. It includes beautifully written letters from Tibet on handmade parchment paper, and gives insight into the workings of the Sikkim Palace’s administration, as well as the nature of their relationship with both Tibet and the British Empire.

So, if you ever find yourself in a position where you need to present gifts at an enthronement ceremony, this archive might be just what you need...

1. Lachen is a wide valley village in North Sikkim known for its unique system of local community governance, known as the ‘Dzumsa.’ The rotating head of the Dzumsa is refered to by the title ‘Pipon’ (and interestingly, this form of local governance is still practiced today with semi-autonomy within the wider state adminstration).

Written by

Pema Abrahams, grant holder for EAP880

08 June 2016

New collections online - May 2016

Add comment

Last month we put three new collection online - EAP689, EAP700 and EAP727

EAP689: Constituting a digital archive of Tamil agrarian history (1650-1950) - phase II

This project, digitising vulnerable documents relating to Tamil agrarian history, is a continuation of the earlier projects carried out in the same region – EAP314 and EAP458.  The project aimed to enhance the work already accomplished by visiting some of the locations identified in these earlier projects, as well as new locations, and digitising a variety of vulnerable documents held in private homes in Tamil Nadu.  36 new collections were digitised, bringing the total number, including those from previous projects, up to 74 collections in total. The sizes of the 36 new collections digitised vary from one single document to over a 300 documents per collection. The 36 collections comprise 135 different series which cover a wide variety of genres and topics such as: folk songs, poems, hymns, horoscopes, astrology, sorcery, nikantu, tamil lexicon, medicine, harvest accounts, land lease, land settlements, land partition, land dispute, land record, tax and temple accounts. judgements from the colonial courts and local judicial assemblies, petitions over land dispute, sale, punishment for communication with excommunicated persons, marriage agreement and caste integrity, compensation to families after self-immolation of widows, security rights (kaval), right to access water for agriculture from the lake, dowry details, business communications and accounts with Burma, film pamphlets.

EAP689_6_1_1-EAP689_Agreement_PP_001_001_LEAP689/6/1/1 - Agreement for temple renovation - Copper-plate

EAP689_21_2_4-EAP689_Invitation_PP_001_017_LEAP689/21/2/4 - Invitation Letters - Paper [1912-1931]

EAP689_27_1_53-EAP689_Music_PB_053_001_LEAP689/27/1/53 -Music Guide book PB 53 [1939]

EAP700: Preservation of the manuscripts of the Jaffna Bishop's House (1850-1930)

The central aim of this pilot project was to digitise, preserve and disseminate the rare French manuscripts and other documents kept in the Jaffna Bishop’s House in Sri Lanka. These manuscripts are becoming more and more vulnerable to human and natural disasters and merit urgent digitisation for posterity. Jaffna, in the northern part Sri Lanka, inhabited by the Tamil ethnic minority since the independence of Sri Lanka (1948) has been subject to serious ethnic, cultural and political conflicts. One of the most tragic events was the burning of the Jaffna Public library along with its 97,000 volumes of books and manuscripts on 1 June 1981. The Jaffna public library was considered one of the biggest in Asia.

This collection of manuscripts has escaped the bombings and shelling of past decades. They have been stored in wooden cupboards in a reinforced room of the Bishop’s House adjoining the Cathedral, in a strategically sensitive district of Jaffna City. They are, however, highly vulnerable due to their age and their current condition of poor storage, insect infestations, occasional human mishandling, humidity and other natural and environmental disasters. Some of them are in such a fragile state that they are unable to be handled.

These manuscripts and documents are part of the collections of the Catholic mission in Sri Lanka and cover a wider geographical area including the Jaffna peninsula, Mannar, Puttalam and the Vanni regions. The majority of the manuscripts are in French. This makes the collection a rare and unique heritage and should shed new insights on the contribution of the French missions in this region. They contain a variety of information about the Diocese and the parish and the parishioners. They cover two periods: the second half of the 19th century with the commencement of the Missions; and the period before, during, and after the First World War, a period that is also of great historical importance because of its implications in the colonies. They pertain to two broad domains of the history of Christianity and Christian missions in Sri Lanka, and also the cultural history of ethnic minorities in general and with special reference to the Tamils.

The project digitised 58 files, creating a total of 16,944 digital images instead of the 7,000 that were originally planned. The files mostly consist of manuscripts dated from between 1850 and 1930. The project digitised a diverse collection of records such as memoirs of missionaries or codices; records detailing day to day life; observations on economic and social conditions; personal letters; account books giving detailed explanations of the income and expenses related to the missions, churches and cathedral, and daily accounts of the expenditures on different chapters like school, orphanage, and charity; catalogues of letters sent by missionaries; sermons and commentaries.

EAP700_1_2_2-EAP_700_REG_160_0005_LEAP700/1/2/2 - The Jaffna Diocese and the OMI - Supplement, containing letters & documents [1848-1861]

EAP700_1_8_1-EAP_700_STAT_JAF_1929_0009_LEAP700/1/8/1 - Statistics of the Diocese of Jaffna [1929]

EAP727: Preservation of Tibetan Ngakpa manuscripts in Amdo region (Qinghai and Gansu Provinces, PRC)

Amdo is a region located in the northeastern area of the Tibetan Plateau. Due to its geographical features of high mountain ranges and vast grasslands, fragmented and scattered institutions of local power have been the prevalent forms of the ruling agency, until its formal inclusion in the administrative system of People’s Republic of China in 1958. In this socio-historical context, Ngakpa have been playing a leading role in the religious life of Amdo Tibetan communities, embodying a sort of independent channel of transmission, alternative to monastic practice. Ngakpa are extremely knowledgeable bearers of the non-monastic tradition of Tibetan Buddhism and Bon religions. They mainly act as ritual masters for a number of different purposes and have a high level of expertise in Tibetan meditation practices, medicine, astronomy and traditional knowledge as a whole.

Despite the recent popularity of Ngakpa teachings in the Western world, their survival in the original context is threatened by the increasing marginalisation of their social role and the lack of potential students in the young generation, captivated by new opportunities offered by the Chinese fast-growing economy. The preservation of Ngakpa’s textual heritage is a factor of primary importance for ensuring the perpetuation of this ancient laic tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. This project was exclusively concerned with the preservation of the most endangered manuscripts of one specific group of Ngakpa in the Amdo region, those belonging to the Nyingmapa tradition, the most ancient school of Tibetan Buddhism.

A pilot survey was carried out by the local archival partner and it emerged that between 70 and 100 pecha (the traditional format of Tibetan books, made of long paper pages compressed between two wooden boards and bounded together with a string) of different lengths, privately-owned by thirty Ngakpa, were in very poor physical condition and situated in precarious locations, exposed to the damages of humidity, rats, use and age.

The manuscripts date from between the early 19th and the end of the 20th centuries. Several of them are unique copies that were rescued during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), when they were hidden in various provisional locations, wedged in wall fissures and buried underground. The topics covered by the texts are heterogeneous: rituals, medicine, history, astrology, astronomy, divination, hagiography, mantras, manuals for the construction of traditional ritual objects, such as mandala, stupa and torma (decorated and painted offerings made of barley flour and butter).

The scattered location of the texts and the difficulty to reach them in remote mountain areas required extensive travel among different villages in Huangnan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Haixi Mongolian and Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Hainan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Golok Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (all in Qinghai Province) and Southern Gansu Province.

EAP727_1_100-EAP727_XiningArchive100_4_LEAP727/1/100 - རྒྱལ་བ་སྐུ་གསུམ་གྱི་རྣམ་ཐར་ཡོངས་འདུས་ལྗོན་པ་བཞུགས་སོ།། (rgyal ba sku gsum gyi rnam thar yongs 'dus ljon pa bzhugs) [Early 20th century]

EAP727_6_25-EAP727_ShampagyaHousehold25_3_LEAP727/6/25 - བླ་མའི་རྣལ་འབྱོར་བསམ་པ་ལྷུན་འགྲུབ་དང་མྱུར་འགྲུབ་མ་བཞུགས་སོ།། (bla ma'i rnal 'byor bsam pa lhun 'grub dang myur 'grub ma bzhugs so) [Mid 19th century]

 

05 May 2016

New collections online - April 2016

Add comment

In April six collections were made available through the EAP website and BL Sounds. The variety of subjects, locations, and types of record really highlight the broad range of projects that the Endangered Archives Programme is involved in.

EAP190: Digitising archival material pertaining to 'Young India' label gramophone records

1427 recordings can be listened to on BL Sounds

Related record label ephemera, including catalogues and advertisements

Young india Young India record and sleeve

The project digitised gramophone records, disc labels, record catalogues and publicity material from ‘The National Gramophone Record Manufacturing Company Ltd. Bombay’, which issued records under the ‘Young India’ label between 1935-1955. The company produced over 10,000 titles on 78-rpm, 10 inch diameter shellac discs with two songs per disc. The recordings of film, popular, classical and folk music, as well as educational material were issued mainly from amateur or up-and-coming artists. They feature music from different regions of India, sung in many different languages. The recordings have never been reissued on audio tape or CD and are therefore now available for many people to listen to for the first time. We have already received some great feedback about this collection, including one person who recalled his music teacher many years ago telling the students about Young India and how he used to be a tabla player for the label and regular D V Paluskar accompanist. He was delighted to find that he could now hear the actual music that his teacher talked about all those years ago. Hopefully, with this collection now available for anyone to listen to worldwide, many more people will discover or rediscover the recordings from the Young India label.

EAP468: To preserve Indian recordings on 'Odeon' label shellac discs

1404 recordings can be listened to on BL Sounds

Related record label ephemera, including catalogues and advertisements

OdeonOdeon record label advert

This project digitised shellac discs, record labels and associated ephemera from the Odeon record label. Odeon label shellac discs were issued in India between 1912-1938. The company produced over 2,000 titles of north and south Indian music. About 600 titles [1,200 songs] have survived and are with private collectors

Odeon label shellac discs were issued in India in two phases: during 1912-16; and during 1932-38. During the first phase, Odeon's first Indian recordings were made in late 1906 on a grand tour that took the engineers from Calcutta to Benares, then on to Lucknow, Cawnpore, Delhi, Amritsar, Lahore, Bombay and finally back to Calcutta. In all, they recorded some 700 titles, which were duly shipped back to Berlin for processing and manufacture in what was then the established worldwide pattern. Disc records manufactured and pressed in Germany were shipped back to India by 1908. Gramophone records were the only mode of public and family entertainment in that period. Because of the diversity of language and cultural taste, Odeon's engineers recorded a great deal of regional music for local consumption. In a time before film music swept regional variations away, Odeon's activities allowed Indians to listen to the music that would otherwise have been irretrievable. Very few disc records from this period have survived.

In the second phase, the Odeon disc manufacturing company operated during 1932-38. Its operations were mainly from Mumbai and Madras and the company produced over 2,000 titles in north and south Indian music. At this time, radio and film songs had just entered the entertainment era. Disc manufacturing and distribution activity continued until the outbreak of World War II. Because of the embargo imposed on German goods, the company had to wind up their business in India, leaving behind hundreds of titles. The musical genre recorded on these discs include drama songs, speeches, folk music, classical music, drama sets, skits and plays, vocal and instrumental music.

EAP462: Preservation of Kaya district colonial archives and assessment of the potential and feasibility of recovering other former district capitals' collections, Burkina Faso

EAP462_1_1_6-EAP462_47_0004_LEAP462/1/1/6 - Telegrams

This project digitised a wide variety of documents related to the administration of the Cercle de Kaya colonial district. They are of interest to a wide range of historical study fields: population, politics, economy, development, customary law. These documents provide an insight into the local intricacies of the administration, politics, economy and social life of the district.

The material in Kaya though was at risk of neglect, physical deterioration and destruction. The documents were stacked on shelves and on the floor in a shed behind the administrative buildings, exposed to dust and moisture and at the mercy of rats, termites and mildew. More recent documents continued to be piled haphazardly on top of the old colonial ones. These colonial archives that for decades had been piled up in a shed in the former colonial district capital, Kaya, were packed up and transported to the Centre National des Archives (CNA) in Ouagadougou. At the CNA, the documents were thoroughly dusted and subsequently sorted, selected and subjected to an initial analysis. The documents were sorted into 4,200 files, with an average of 20 documents per file. Of these, about 40% were from the period 1919-1960 and eligible for digitisation.

Unfortunately, very little metadata was provided with this collection so file descriptions and titles are very limited. If you would like to volunteer your time to making this collection a more usable resource, please get in touch with us.

EAP650: Grima in Caloto Viejo: archiving Afro-Colombian history

EAP650_1_1_2-EAP650C29C09A1914_01_LEAP650/1/1/2 - Judicial documents

This project made an inventory of the historical, notarial and judicial collections held in Caloto’s alcaldía (town hall), Colombia, and digitised a sample of the most valuable and damaged documents.

First founded in 1543, Caloto Viejo (Old Caloto) was the administrative capital of a wide region northeast of Popayán that included Native American groups, European settlers, their enslaved Africans, and maroon communities formed by escaped slaves. By the 1940s this rural region had not yet experienced industrialisation, yet many of Caloto Viejo’s towns had become autonomous districts. Now only the head of a small municipality, Caloto still houses the pre-modern documents of Caloto Viejo.

Caloto Viejo’s documents are crucial for Afro-Colombian history. Caloto and adjacent regions of the Cauca constituted the nineteenth century heartland of slavery, with Julio Arboleda’s massive Japio estate in Caloto the towering symbol of landholding power. The archives of Caloto are important for tracing the wider history of elites, native Americans, and Africans, and essential for salvaging the local history of important Afro-Colombian towns such as Puerto Tejada or the scholarly unknown maroon community of Caricacé with unique linguistic traditions, whose documentary history exists only in the endangered collections of Caloto.

EAP688: Digitisation of the Deed books in Saint Vincent for the slavery era, 1763-1838

  EAP688_1_1_72-EAP688_Deeds_1822_1823a_401_LEAP688/1/1/72 - Deed book 1822-1823

This project digitised surviving Deed books for Saint Vincent from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

The Eastern Caribbean Court House, St Vincent, holds numerous historic manuscript documents connected with the colonial administration of the island. The earliest records date from 1763, when Saint Vincent was ceded to Britain at the end of the Seven Years’ War, until 1838, the date when Apprenticeship for slaves ended in the British Caribbean and slave emancipation was fully implemented in accordance with the Emancipation Act of 1834.

The Deed books include important material for researchers. After 1763, Saint Vincent was drawn into the orbit of slavery in the British Empire. Its sugar plantation sector expanded rapidly after that date and the island became (along with other Windward Islands such as Dominica, Grenada and Tobago) a new, expanding frontier for British slavery. The Deed books, compiled in the offices of the island’s Colonial Secretary and the Registrar, proved a comprehensive record of all land and property transactions carried out during the seventy-five years when slave plantations were the main type of investment and employment on the island. The Deed books are large bound volumes that are available for every year in the period from 1763 to 1838. The land and property details recorded in these records provide the names of investors, along with their occupation and residence, and precise financial details, either in sterling or in the island’s currency. The information on investors includes whites and free blacks, men and women, and absentee residents (in other West Indian Islands or in Britain) as well as those living in Saint Vincent. The financial information is wide-ranging. Credit transactions are included. Mortgages, annuities, loans and bonds are all specified, with the names of the parties involved. The Deed books contain much material on slave sales between individuals connected with Saint Vincent and they also have information on slave manumissions. Where sugar plantations are identified in these records, the numbers, and sometimes the valuations, of slaves are given. This is particularly useful for researchers for the period from 1763 to 1815 because it was not until after the end of the Napoleonic Wars that slave registration was commonly carried out throughout the British Caribbean.

EAP749: The narrative and ritual texts, narrative paintings and other performance related material belonging to the Buchen of Pin Valley, India

EAP749_2_3_9-EAP749_Sangnam_CD_Obj9-2_LEAP749/2/3/9 - Statue: Kunda (Wylie sku 'dra)

The Buchen are performers of specialist rituals, travelling actors, healers and exorcists, and disciples of the 14th/15th century Tibetan ‘crazy saint’ Tangtong Gyalpo. They reside in the culturally Tibetan Pin Valley in North India and are most famous for performing an elaborate exorcism ritual called the ‘Ceremony of Breaking the Stone’.

Buchen enact dramatisations of popular folk-tales, Buddhist morality plays which illustrate principles of karma and ideas of impermanence and are frequently enlivened with comedy. Buchen spread the teachings of Buddha through entertainment. These performances are related to the Tibetan Opera and to a tradition of lay religious performers called lama manipa, who retell the life stories of Tibetan saints whilst pointing out key scenes on narrative painted cloth scrolls (thangkas) with a metal pointer. Buchen theatrical performances contain a similar manipa-like introduction.

This project digitised or took images of a variety of texts, paintings and objects associated with these traditions, including images of masks, clothing, instruments and objects used in performances; thangkas; handwritten decorated and unbound Tibetan books (pecha).

EAP749_3_2_1-EAP749_Tilling_LT_Tnka1-19_LEAP749/3/2/1 - Drowa Zangmo Thankga

EAP749_3_4_1-EAP749_Tilling_LT_Portrait1-2_LEAP749/3/4/1 - Meme Buchen in full costume

 

09 April 2015

New online collections - April 2015

Add comment Comments (0)

This month three projects have gone up online. EAP031, EAP039 and EAP286. EAP031 and EAP039 both digitised Buddhist manuscripts, the first from Mongolia and the latter from Bhutan. EAP286 digitised a collection of manuscripts from Ethiopia.

EAP031 digitised the private collection of Danzan Ravjaa. Ravjaa was the 5th incarnation in the lineage of the Gobi Noyons, whose monastery was at the centre of a political and artistic renaissance located at the crossroads of Tibet, Mongolia and China during the 19th century. These Buddhist manuscripts have recently been unearthed from caves in the Outer Mongolian province of Dorngobi. During the communist regime Buddhism was suppressed and in 1938 the manuscripts were hidden for their protection. The location of these records, as well as other records from the local monastery, was passed down through the generations of monastery gatekeepers.

The project created over 40,000 images. This includes all of the manuscripts found in the collection that were authored by Ravjaa himself. These constituted the heart of the collection and consisted of manuscripts in both classic Mongolian and Tibetan. Subject matter ranged from poetry, astrology, medicine, plays (original manuscripts of the Moon Cuckoo operetta) and sadhanas (including some of Ravjaa’s ‘pure visions’ centring on the figure of Guru Rinpoche and his two consorts Yeshe Tsogyal and Lady Mandarava). This material will help scholars and researchers open up new areas in the field of Tibetan and Mongol studies.

EAP031-0558-0002EAP031/1/532: Tibetan title: slob dpon chen po pad+ma kA ra'i zhabs kyis … – Image 2

EAP039 successfully digitised the entire collection of manuscripts at Gangtey monastery in Bhutan. Gangtey Gonpa, founded by Gyalse Pema Thinley (the grandson of the famous Bhutanese saint Pema Lingpa), houses an enormous manuscript collection. This includes a set of the 100-volume bKa’ ’gyur, two sets of the 46-volume rNying ma rGyud ’bum, the world’s largest Astasahasrikaprajñaparamita, and about a hundred miscellaneous titles. The collection, mostly written in the 17th century as a funerary tribute to the founder of Gangtey, holds a unique textual, artistic and historical value of immense religious significance.

Gangteng_kanjur_'bum_014_pha (3)EAP039/1/1/1/14: Sher phyin ‘Bum: Volume 14 – Image 3

EAP286 digitised archives held at the Institute of Ethiopian Studies (IES). The IES is the major custodian of cultural and historical antiquities in Ethiopia. Manuscripts in the collection have come from government offices, monasteries, churches, mosques, public libraries, and private collections.

One of the largest parts of the collection is made up of Ge'ez manuscripts representing the history and literature of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Numbering more than 1,500 items, these manuscripts cover a wide range of genres: bibles, liturgies, histories, theologies, grammars, and magic scrolls produced by the Church.

Another substantial part of the collection is the Arabic manuscripts representing the history and literature of the Muslim community in Ethiopia and the set of Amharic manuscripts representing the last 150 years of Ethiopia's emergence into the international community.

EAP286IES00788_069EAP286/1/1/119: Commentary on 1-4 Kings, Commentary on Ecclesiasticus… -  Image 69

Check back next month to see what else has been added!

You can also keep up to date with any new collections by joining our Facebook group.

18 February 2015

Stories they tell: clues from endangered archives

Add comment Comments (0)

Documents, manuscripts, photographs and sound recordings that capture much of the world’s memory are preserved in vulnerable collections around the globe. If they perish, part of history is irrevocably lost. In the past, efforts to preserve these collections and make them available for scholarly interpretation often meant removing them to the safety of western libraries. Though well intentioned, these actions frequently had unintended consequences. Preserved and available to scholars, the materials became inaccessible to the communities whose history they captured. This had a twofold effect: it impaired the communities’ ability to write their own history and at the same time, by detaching documents from original context, led to the loss of an important layer of historical information.

EAP039_Pub006
EAP039 Buddhist manuscripts from the library of the remote Gangtey monastery in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan © Dr Karma Phuntsho

The Endangered Archives Programme uses digitisation to preserve records and to make them freely accessible to all, without removing original materials from their custodians. Whenever possible the projects help the keepers to secure the survival of the original documents. Because the materials are often too fragile to be handled on a regular basis, the digital surrogates frequently provide the only point of access not only for scholars worldwide, but also for local readers. By making digital records available to all, the programme ensures that the history they capture is open to wide audiences, multiple perspectives and diverse interpretations.

EAP334_006
EAP334 Locating and digitising manuscripts in Wolof Ajami script, written by members of the Muridiyya Sufi order founded in Senegal in 1883 © Dr Fallou Ngom

The “From Dust to Digital” volume, which marks the 10th anniversary of the Endangered Archives Programme, showcases the historical importance and research potential of the digitised collections. The open access online version of the book is designed to ensure that not only the primary sources, but also the research they have inspired, are freely available to all. The book brings together 19 articles from the 244 projects that the programme has supported since its inception. We asked the authors to focus on the digitised collections, but gave them complete freedom in choosing specific questions they wanted to explore. The intention was to ensure that the volume illustrates a wide range of research that the EAP collections make possible.

Front-cover

The chapters discuss inscriptions in Libya; manuscripts in India, Ethiopia, Kenya and Mali; archival records in Bulgaria, Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Nigeria, Senegal, Palestine; photographic collections in Argentina, India, Russia and Cameroon; and sound recordings from Guinea, Iran and the Russian Federation. The articles tackle the fundamental problems of transcribing and translating – sometimes for the very first time – languages that have nearly fallen silent. They investigate historical transmission of texts and explore the processes underlying collection formation. They bring to light unknown events and cast new light on historical phenomena. They provide vivid insights into local and even personal histories. 

EAP526_3
EAP526 The priests of May Wäyni monastery with their manuscripts, Ethiopia © Professor Michael Gervers

Many of the contributions stress the importance of the original context for our understanding of the materials. The physical location of inscriptions within a landscape; the ceremonies preceding a reading of a manuscript; the place that a manuscript or a photograph holds within a larger collection, are all important for our interpretation of these documents. Without them we can only see a part of the story.

Most of the sources discussed here were not previously subjects of scholarly attention. We hope that this publication will open new debates and inspire scholars to explore the archives preserved by the Endangered Archives Programme. We also hope that open access to both the primary sources and to the articles in the “From Dust to Digital” volume will encourage future authors to make their research freely available to all.

  EAP_2015_066Roly Keating, Chief Executive of the British Library, with Ambassador of the Lao Embassy, H.E. Mr. Sayakane Sisouvong and the 3rd Secretary, Mr Moungkhoun Chansavath at the book launch held at the Library on the 17th February 2015.


EAP_2015_112
Gabriela Ramos and Evelyne Mesclier browsing through the publication.

Dr Maja Kominko

Cultural Grants Manager at Arcadia and the editor for the publication “From Dust to Digital”

06 October 2014

September online collections 2014

Add comment Comments (0)

This month four collections have gone up online, these are EAP127, EAP266, EAP550 and EAP607.

EAP127 is a project that digitised Bengali 'popular books', street literature targeted at a wide population geared to the non-elites.

The material covers such varied subjects as religion, folk culture, local history, popular literature, pornography and erotica, fashion and cookery, instruction on traditional rural pursuits such as agriculture and animal farming, citizen's rights, public hygiene and social reform.

The books are of unique sociological interest, illustrating the changing society, culture and economy of Bengal. They illustrate sectors of Bengali printing history and book trade and developments of the Bengali language. They were usually printed cheaply on poor paper that discoloured quickly. Digitising these collections has ensured that they will be preserved as a resource for future researchers.

A large amount of this collection unfortunately is not able to be viewed online because of copyright reasons, however over 13,000 images are available and the remainder can be viewed in the British Library reading rooms.

127_EIFC_YakD_001EAP127/9/104 - Image 1

EAP266 is a pilot project which aimed to reorganise the Bolama collection in Guinea-Bissau. Bolama was the first capital of Portuguese Guinea, these records relate to the city and island dated from 1870’s to the 1960’s. They are currently held by the National Historical Archives of Guinea-Bissau after being transferred from the Mayoral Office of Bolama in 1988. It includes all the documents of the public administration which could be found in Bolama in 1988.

The Bolama collection is of great historical value. It reflects the fundamental change in Portuguese colonial rule from outside administration (directed from the Cape Verde Islands) to significant Portuguese presence and the political and economic penetration of the Guinean mainland.
In January 2009 some additional research was undertaken in Bolama and other public documents from the colonial period on the island were found. Relevant documents of the Bolama Court were stored in the archives of the Ministry of Justice in Bissau; these records were in a vulnerable state as the archive was stored in the loft of the old Palace of Justice which has a roof in a bad state of repair.

As part of the project these additional records were transported to the National Historical Archives of Guinea-Bissau. The documents of the entire collection were painstakingly restored to their original order and rearranged and re-packaged in 279 boxes. A digital sample of the records was taken and this is now available to view via our website.

Doc30EAP266/1/1 - Image 5

EAP550 surveyed and digitised Yao manuscripts from Yunnan province in Southern China. Yao manuscripts are very unique writings which are significant for understanding Yao people, their religion and culture in general. They are mainly used in religious activities including funerals, annual festivals and special rituals for telling fortunes and expelling evils. Yao manuscripts record texts on various subjects but in a relatively standard poetic format. Since the texts cover the local knowledge on history, literature, astrology, geography, agriculture and many other subjects, they are regarded as the encyclopaedia of Yao people. The texts are read or sang normally by the indigenous priests, known as shigong in Chinese, sometimes they are accompanied by a couple of female singers. It seems that being a shigong shaman is a family profession succeeding in the patrilineal lineage, therefore Yao manuscripts are preserved in individual families and traditionally it is prohibited to show manuscripts to strangers. Yao manuscripts can be accessed in numbers only when the social changes drive shigong shaman to a marginal status and manuscripts are no longer as cherished.

The Yao manuscripts are endangered in many aspects. Firstly, the quality of the original material and their preservation conditions. Secondly, the modernisation process in China after the 1980s brought dramatic changes to the Yao societies. Shigong shamans were marginalised and the indigenous religious activities mostly abandoned. Yao manuscripts were viewed as insignificant and destroyed at an astonishing speed. Thirdly, smuggling and illegal trading brought further threats to the records.

The project was successful in digitising over 200 volumes of Yao manuscripts and creating the first database on the records surviving in China.

KMY_013_010EAP550/1/13 – Image 10

EAP607 digitised Native Administration records which were generated between 1891 and 1964 by the Native Authorities (traditional chiefs) in Malawi, formerly Nyasaland.

Prior to British colonialism, Malawi was a predominantly oral society where everything was transacted and captured orally. The establishment of Native Authorities marked a historic transition as traditional leaders were required to conduct and capture official business on paper. The Native Administration records are therefore immensely unique and historical as they portray the interaction between the literate Western culture and oral African culture and the subsequent triumph of literacy over illiteracy in Malawi. The records are a lasting legacy of the impact of colonialism on the people of Malawi.

From July to September 2011, the National Archives of Malawi carried out an earlier pilot project (EAP427) which inspected 32 traditional authorities in the northern region of Malawi to confirm whether traditional chiefs were still keeping the records and to assess the condition of them. The results of the survey established that there were significant volumes of vital records relating to the native administration between 1891 and 1964. The Native Administration records are regarded as personal property inherited by successive chiefs over the past century. EAP607 carried on this work and further identified and assessed the nature and volume of Native Administration records in Malawi. The project digitised the most endangered records. Approximately 20,000 records were digitised and are now available to view online

  District_Administration_Riots_Riot Damages_001EAP607/4/9 - Image 1

Check back next month to see what else has been added!

You can also keep up to date with any new collections by joining our Facebook group.

07 September 2014

New online collections – September 2014 – three million images online!

Add comment Comments (0)

Last month eight collections went up online EAP010, EAP040, EAP105, EAP219, EAP254, EAP341, EAP443 and EAP644.

It was only two months ago that we reached two million images online and this month we are happy to report that we have now broken the three million barrier! This is largely thanks to EAP341 a project which contains around 750,000 images.

EAP341 is a project that preserved printed books and periodicals held in public institutions in Eastern India. Many of the public libraries in that area are now suffering from a financial crisis that makes most of the documents vulnerable to loss or degradation. The project digitised materials from eight public libraries in the districts of Howrah, Hooghly, 24 Parganas North and 24 Parganas South, all located in semi-urban and rural areas within the proximity of Calcutta. This project helped to preserve these materials digitally and make them available to researchers.

00000005EAP341/5/587 Image 5

EAP644 digitised part of the Fouad Debbas collection. This consists of over 3000 photographs which were produced by the Maison Bonfils from 1867-1910.

Established in 1867, the Bonfils house set out the first photographic studio in Beirut. Mr Bonfils and his wife Lydie, apparently the first woman photographer of the area, along with their children succeeded in capturing some fascinating images. These include pictures of a region of immense physical beauty, landscape photos of Beirut and Baalbeck and portraits of different ethnic groups. They also provide a record of rapid socio-economic change during a crucial moment of the region’s history. The Bonfils Debbas collection is an invaluable document registering the history of a region at a crucial crossroads in the wake of great historical upheaval. For more information about the collection have a look at our previous blog ‘The Good Woman named Bonfils’.

TFDC_163_010_0217_01EAP644/1/27 Image 11

EAP040 digitised medieval and early modern archival material of the Brasov/Kronstadt and Burzenland region in central Romania.

The material from 14th to 17th centuries from this archive is one of the main sources for Transylvanian history in today’s central Romania. Documents that were digitised included
; ecclesiastical material with focus on the 16th to 17th centuries, the collection of Joseph Trausch (manuscript copies covering the whole period), documents on educational matters focusing on the 16th to 17th centuries, cultural matters (music, liturgy, buildings, local traditions and legends) and correspondence (warfare, defence, political relations).

1EAP040/1/110 Image 2

EAP254 digitised the library of the church Romanat Qeddus Mikael Dabre Mehret, Enderta in Ethiopia. The library possesses around 70 codices and includes several valuable manuscripts of high quality, some of them with illuminations and valuable marginalia. The library of Romanat Qeddus Mikael was built up over more than 300 years. The collection builds an indigenous and integral local record in a region important for the history of Ethiopia. The library remains practically unknown and is endangered due to the poor preservation conditions.

EAP254_RQM_050_006EAP254/1/50 – Image 5

EAP010 preserved rare periodical publications from Mongolia. Mongolia underwent significant political and economic change during the collapse of Communism. The euphoria of revolution led to neglect or even intentional eradicating of documents, publications and other materials from socialist times. Political and economic dependence upon the Soviet Union for seven decades and the resulting sudden release from political ties meant that everything related to the Soviet Union and the period of its dominance was subject to denial. In addition, the deep economic crisis in the 1990s meant that cultural issues including the maintenance and development of libraries, publication of books and actions to safeguard the documentary heritage of Mongolia were not the priority for the government or public for a while.

The periodicals digitised cover the transition period of 1990-1995. They document the political changes in Mongolia after the fall of Communism. The project resulted in scanning 39,029 pages from 6,189 issues.

Ab950121_01EAP010/1/1/21 Image 1

EAP219 is a project that catalogued and digitally preserved the endangered Nôm archive at the Institute of Social Science Information (ISSI) in Hanoi, Vietnam. Nôm was the national script used in Vietnam for over 1,000 years since the country's independence from China in 939.

The project completed a thorough inventory of the archive and digitised the volumes from the most vulnerable section of the archive. These include village and district records of families, land ownership, real estate and property exchanges, contacts with the royal courts, decrees by various emperors as well as some maps. Since Nôm was the national script used in Vietnam for over 1,000 years, the archives have an inestimable historical value providing, together with Han-Viet records, the main written record of the history and culture of Vietnam for 10 centuries.

Issi_HN_0533_001_001vEAP219/1/14/5 Image 2

EAP105 digitised the manuscript collections of Drametse Monastery and Ogyen Choling in Bhutan.

Drametse Monastery, founded in 1511 by Ani Choten Zangmo, the grand-daughter of the famous Bhutanese saint Padma Lingpa (1450-1521), is one of the major monasteries in eastern Bhutan.
Drametse's manuscript collection includes the 46-volume rNying ma rGyud 'bum, sixteen volumes of Prajnaparamitasutras and about a hundred and fifty volumes of miscellaneous titles including religious hagiographies, histories, liturgies, meditation manuals and philosophical treatises. Many of the books are written in dbu med script, indicating that the books were most likely brought from Tibet in the distant past.

Ogyen Choling, located in central Bhutan, is a seat of two famous Nyingmapa saints, Longchenpa (1308-1363) and Dorje Lingpa (1346-1405). Although historically a religious establishment, it is now a manor house of the family which claims direct descent from Dorje Lingpa. Its library, housed in three of the five temple rooms in the manor complex, contains several hundred titles of manuscripts ranging from pilgrimage guides to philosophical treatises, including a beautifully executed 21-volume set of Dorje Lingpa's writings. Professor Samten Karmay has recently catalogued the collection highlighting some of the rare works of Zhang Lama Drowai Gonpo (1123-93), Lhodrak Drubchen Namkha Gyaltshan (1326-1401), Wensa Lobzang Dondrub (1504-1566) and Jangchub Tsondru (1817-57). In addition to the manuscripts, Ogyen Choling also owns a large body of books printed from xylographic blocks.

D.032 002EAP105/2/7/4/15 – Image 2

EAP443 carries on the work of pilot project EAP284, which surveyed records related to the slave trade held at the Sierra Leone Public Archives.

The materials being targeted here include valuable documents of immense importance for research on the transatlantic slave trade and its repercussions. The original Registers of Liberated Africans who were taken off slave ships by the Royal Navy from 1808 to the 1840s document more than 85,000 individuals. In addition, there are Letter books which provide information on the treatment and ‘disposal’ of tens of thousands of “receptive” Africans, court records, treaties with local chiefs, and other documents that are essential materials for any research on Sierra Leone. Moreover, there is important genealogical information for many people in Sierra Leone, including birth and death registers from the 1850s. Additional materials include registers of “foreign” children resident in Freetown, dating from the 1860s onwards, and registers of slaves who had escaped from the interior to Freetown, as well as letter books in Arabic that relate to political and commercial relations with the interior of West Africa in the second half of the 19th century.

More than 170 volumes held in the Public Archives of Sierra Leone were digitised, with over 32,000 images. Collectively, these volumes provide information on the identities, origins and experiences of enslaved Africans forcibly relocated to the British Crown Colony in the nineteenth century. Other volumes relate to the inward migration of people from the colony’s hinterland, including registers of slaves who had escaped from the interior to Freetown. The volumes include series of registers of births and deaths, which are in a particularly fragile and endangered condition.

Eap284_liberated_african_register_25423_30708_1827_1829_011EAP443/1/17/12 – Image 11

Check back next month to see what else has been added!

You can also keep up to date with any new collections by joining our Facebook group.

08 August 2014

New online collections – August 2014

Add comment Comments (0)

Last month seven collections went up online EAP140, EAP184, EAP231, EAP272, EAP454, EAP569 and EAP657.

EAP140 was a project to digitise the Tangut collection held at the Institute of Oriental Studies in St Petersburg.  The Tanguts were a people who established a kingdom during the 10th-13th centuries in present day northwest China. Once the area had been invaded by the Mongols in 1227 the usage of the Tangut language began to decline. These unique historical, literary, and administrative texts are of great value in understanding and preserving a lost writing system and culture. If you haven’t seen it already you can read more about this collection and the Tangut people in our last blog

140_IOS681_Tang334201VBF21V_REAP140/1/35 – Image 92

EAP184 digitised items from the Matanzas province in Cuba. The records that were digitised relate to African slaves and their descendants. Collections from seven different archives were digitised, six of these collections came from parish archives; the final collection from the Archives of the Provincial Government of Matanzas. 

During the nineteenth century, Matanzas became the centre of Cuban sugar production, which meant a high demand for slave labour. The territory became the major destination for African slaves in Cuba. The region's archives are very rich in all kinds of information on the African population living in Matanzas from the early 16th century to the end of the 19th century. This includes demographic statistics, information on ethnicity, resistance and occupations of free and enslaved Africans.

CIMG1574EAP184/1/11 Pt 1 – Image 257

EAP231 digitised court records of the Department of State for Justice in Banjul, the Gambia. The collections are valuable for researchers hoping to gain a deeper understanding of how colonial agents and local communities engaged with one another. Court records reveal struggles between men and women, elders and youths, elites and commoners. Since African women could visit colonial courts to seek divorce, court transcripts are one of the few places where historians can hear African women's voices. The records also reveal disputes over land, other forms of property, child custody and many other subjects.

Due to the nature of the material some items in this collection are only available to view via the reading rooms at the British Library.

IMG_4136Court of Request 1902-1904EAP231/1/1 - Image 177

EAP272 digitised and preserved 1,400 ephemera and 215 manuscripts that came from the Madan Puraskar Pustakalaya in Nepal.

The ephemera are mainly political but also cover religious, social and cultural topics. They are mainly pamphlets and leaflets, with some posters and postcards. The ephemera dating from 1900-1951 represents the last 50 years of the Rana Period.  The remainder date from 1951-1960, this covers the period of Nepal's short stint with parliamentary democracy, until the first elected government was toppled by a coup from King Mahendra in December 1960, replacing the multiparty democracy with his own brand of political system named the 'Panchayat'.

The manuscripts date from 1808 and cover a wide range of subjects such as religion, culture, philosophy, law, medicine, hagiography, natural history, and literature. The project rescued these items from poor storage conditions and ensured their long term preservation.

EAP272_MPP_Ephemera_226EAP272/1/1/226 - Image 1

EAP454 was a pilot project which surveyed privately held ecclesiastical documents in Mizoram, India.

The main focus was early religious and related records, particularly English and Welsh missionary records that recorded a history otherwise only transmitted by the then exclusively oral Mizo society. The project’s scope widened with the surprising discovery of hitherto unknown and early collections written in vernacular Mizo. Many of the earliest missionary educated Mizos were prolific writers of letters, manuscripts, diaries, and notebooks. Most of these sources still revolve around the distinctly religious axis of the Project's focus, but from the perspective of the Mizo.

The Project digitised much more material than initially expected; over 10,000 images are now available to view online.

EAP454_Lalengliani_296EAP454/2/9 Pt 2 – Image 3

EAP569 identified and collected information on relevant documents about Nzema in Ghana. These documents pertain to the land management system and local power structure that has been in place in Ghana since pre-colonial times and that still plays a fundamental role in Nzema society today.

The project looked at records from the Public Records and Archive Administration Department (PRAAD) in Secondi-Takoradi as well as the Western Nzema Traditional Council Archive in Beyin and the Eastern Nzema Traditional Council Archive in Atuabo (Ellembele District, Eastern Region).

The project was successful in identifying many relevant records, creating a list of these items and packaging the documents in archival materials. The project digitized 46 files (15 in the Eastern Nzema Traditional Council Archive, 31 in the Western Nzema Traditional Council Archive) and generated 5,039 digital photographs, which are now available to view on our website.

Due to the nature of the material some items in this collection are only available to view via the reading rooms at the British Library.

EAP569_ENTC_4_1_135EAP569/1/1/1 (as above) Image 135

EAP657 digitised and preserved a collection of archival material related to Taras Hryhorovych Shevchenko (9 March 1814–10 March 1861), the famous Ukrainian writer and painter whose literary heritage is regarded to be the foundation of modern Ukrainian writing. His archival collection had been dispersed until recently, and valuable nineteenth century documents had been kept in deteriorating conditions.

The materials digitised reflect different periods of the life of T H Shevchenko. The archival material had been held in different private collections of Shevchenko’s friends and relatives from all over Ukraine until just 10 years ago.

Some of the items in this collection, due to copyright reasons, are only available to view via the reading rooms at the British Library.

EAP657_Archival documents_3_002EAP657/1/3 – Image 2

Check back next month to see what else has been added!

You can also keep up to date with any new collections by joining our Facebook group.