THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Endangered archives blog

53 posts categorized "Digital images"

10 May 2018

Endangered Urdu Periodicals

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This blog post has been written by Mr Nasir Javaid, grant holder for EAP839. The material has just been submitted to the EAP Office and it will be online later in the year.

EAP839 produced digital images of rare Urdu periodicals from the 19th to the first half of the 20th century in order to preserve and make them available to researchers. During this period the project team has successfully produced 3,832 issues. Urdu journals played a significant role in the development of Urdu literature, especially fiction, religion, history, poetry and culture of the South Asian region as a whole, particularly in Pakistan and India. If someone wants to write on the development of fiction or religious literature, they should refer back to these rare periodicals. Literature on Urdu criticism also flourished through these periodicals. Numerous books that were published later also drew content from these periodicals. Some of the best novels available in Urdu were first published in parts in Urdu journals. These periodicals also remained the primary source of advertisements for all major trade brands of that time. A large number of prominent writers and society figures gained popularity through these periodicals.

EAP839_Humayun_May_1935_v27_no5

Humayn, May 1935

EAP839_Biswin_sadi_August_1951_v15_no8

Baby Powder advertisement, August 1951

Unfortunately, the highly acidic paper used has made this literature highly vulnerable. It is rare to find complete runs of even the most important Urdu periodicals. Some of the publications have vanished; others are on the verge of extinction. Through digitisation and online presentation it becomes possible to access the publications, overcoming obstacles of location.

EAP839_Taj_October-November_1924_v2_no1-2

Taj, October - November 1924

Urdu language, now spoken by more than 60 million people worldwide, was the lingua franca of 19th century northern India. It was a common medium of mainstream communication when mass printing culture began. It was also the primary South Asian language used by colonial rulers for administrative purposes during the early British Raj. Previously it was very difficult for researchers to find full runs of the first Urdu periodicals. Further, tensions between Pakistan and India have made it very difficult for scholars to complete their research in topics requiring materials published across the national borders.  Making the rare Urdu periodicals accessible online will help improve scholarship on both sides of the border. During this project we have received many requests for copies of these digitised journals from India. The Endangered Archives Programme is making a major contribution towards the preservation of cultural heritage in countries, such as Pakistan, where the governmental support of such initiatives is not a priority.

EAP839_Humayun_January_1945_v47_no1

Humayun, January 1945

This project has enabled staff in Pakistan to develop professionally and to attain levels of performance in the field of technology never before attained within a Pakistani library. Project staff have not only learned to preserve and digitise, but also have become expert in the listing and cataloguing of periodicals. It was our fortune that while scanning these journals we had a chance to see and learn a lot of interesting articles and advertisements on different aspects of social life. Through this project the Mushfiq Khwaja Trust for the Advancement of Knowledge and Culture has developed exceptionally strong and close working relationships with the contributing institution in Pakistan and shared knowledge and skills with those partners.

EAP839_Ismat_May_1928_v40_no5_001 - Copy

Ismat, May 1928

The Urdu literary journals have a long publication history some of these have been published continuously for more than a hundred years. It was not an easy task to locate the issues, even family members of the founder, editor and publishers of these journals have only limited numbers. When we digitised these journals they were incredibly pleased that we have preserved the legacy of their ancestors. On occasion, when they need an article they would contact us and also referred other people to us.

EAP839_Avadh_Punch_1886_

Political cartoon, Avadh Punch 1886

The Mushfiq Khwaja Library and Research Centre was also the archival partner on EAP566 resulting in 8635 issues of rare Urdu journals with total number of 615000 images having been digitised. No other institution in South Asia has extensively worked to preserve Urdu journals to this extent.

17 April 2018

Remote Capture: Digitising Documentary Heritage in Challenging Locations

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Remote Capture: Digitising Documentary Heritage in Challenging Locations is a practical guide for those about to embark on a digitisation project and it has just become available online. It is aimed at those who are planning to apply to EAP for future funding, but hopefully the advice will have wider appeal for anyone about to start a similar project.

It has been a joy working on this publication and I hope that people will find the information within its pages helpful. The uniqueness of the book lies in the advice given by those who have taken part in EAP projects and I am extremely grateful for their contributions. But of course, since submitting the draft manuscript to Open Book Publishers, I have received more images of projects being carried out in the field. Although it was too late to include them in the publication, I thought I would share just some in this blog to show that  projects continue to work successfully throughout the world, often in very unique circumstances.  

EAP935_Pub004

EAP935: digitising archival material in northern Ghana

Tristan

EAP951: working on Tristan da Cunha

EAP1005

EAP1005: a portable set-up for Cham manuscripts in Vietnam

Cisse_Community_EAP1042

EAP1042: working with the Cisse community in Senegal

16 March 2018

The Manuscripts of Mali

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The fabled city of Timbuktu has attracted frequent media attention over the last few years. During the occupation of northern Mali by Al Qaida linked extremists in 2012 the destruction of mausoleums to local Islamic saints in Timbuktu caused an international outcry and resulted in a UNESCO funded rebuilding project after the recapture of the city in 2013. The extremists also burned around 4500 manuscripts from the Ahmed Baba Institute as their last act of defiance before the French and Malian forces re-conquered Timbuktu. Already during the Jihadist occupation many thousands of manuscripts had been transported in secret to Bamako in the now famous rescue operation organised by the Timbuktu librarian Abdel Kader Haidara. This swashbuckling tale has been the subject of two international best-selling novels, The Bad Ass Librarians of Timbuktu (2016) by Joshua Hammer and The Book Smugglers of Timbuktu (2017) by Charlie English, as well as countless articles and documentary films. Timbuktu, ante bellum, was a thriving city of tourism and the centre of over fifty private family libraries which have now been moved to Bamako where the manuscripts are receiving conservation treatment and are being digitised by SAVAMA, an association of Timbuktu libraries led by Abdel Kader Haidara, which has received international funding from the German, Dutch, Luxemburg, Swiss and Norwegian governments as well as the Ford Foundation and many other sources.

Timbuktu-139086

Certain important libraries in Timbuktu declined taking part in the rescue mission to relocate to Bamako. Instead they chose to hide their precious manuscripts in secret desert hiding places in and around Timbuktu: these include the Imam Essayouti, Al Aquib and Al Wangara manuscript libraries, attached in turn to the three ancient mosques of Timbuktu: the Djinguereber (built 1327), the Sankore (built soon after) and Sidi Yahya (1440). Together they compose what was known as the University of Timbuktu. The British Library, through the Endangered Archives Programme and in partnership with the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library in Minnesota, USA, is now undertaking the digitisation of these libraries in situ in Timbuktu, where work is underway in the Imam Essayouti library since October 2017, and will begin in the Al Wangara in April 2018.

  Imam Ben Essayouti and Sophie resize
Imam Ben Essayouti with Sophie Sarin

Al AquibThe Imam of Sankore at the Al Aquib Library, Timbuktu

Al WangaraThe Al Wangara Library

Although the main concentration of Arabic manuscripts in Mali was undoubtedly in Timbuktu due to its position as the most important trading city of the Trans-Saharan trade route since the early Middle Ages, other Malian cities also boast large deposits of ancient Arabic manuscripts: Djenné in particular. It is situated some 500 km south of Timbuktu in the Niger Inland Delta of Central Mali and was also an important city of trade and scholarship and one of the gateways where Islam first penetrated Mali in the 13th century. Djenné is a repository for thousands of manuscripts which have been kept by families for centuries. In 2009, the British Library’s Endangered Archives Programme ran a Pilot Project, which concluded that Djenné’s manuscripts provided a suitable source of material for the mounting of a major two year digitisation project. This was the first in a series of three consecutive major projects, which finally came to an end in October 2017, when in the region of 400,000 images had been achieved from the 8,500 manuscripts which are currently stored in the Djenné Manuscript Library.

Library front Djenné Manuscript Library

Malian manuscripts deal in the main with traditional Islamic subject matter such as Hadiths (traditional sayings and stories attributed to the Prophet Mohammed), Islamic Jurisprudence of the Malikite School, religious poetry and sermons etc. There are also frequent philosophical expositions, mainly on ethics and logic as well as many manuscripts dealing with the Arabic language and grammar. There is history, correspondence, and astronomy which is normally treated as inseparable from astrology. A large proportion of the manuscripts, particularly in Djenné, fall under the label ‘esoteric’; incantations and magic formulas which purport to tell the future or influence the course of events by the use of phrases from the Qur’an in combination with the manipulation of vegetable matter or animal sacrifices. These sorts of practises are frowned upon by certain factions within Islam and some believe that this may possibly have caused the destruction of the manuscripts in Timbuktu by the fundamentalists who derive their Islamic creed from the Wahhabist school of Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

The involvement of the British Library through the EAP in these projects in Mali continues to be instrumental in safeguarding these manuscripts. In the case of Djenné not only in digital form but also in providing a physically safe environment for the storage of the documents, which had previously been kept in very precarious situations in the family homes, susceptible to the vagaries of the climate where during the rainy season violent rainstorms often cause destruction to the fragile mud buildings, and insects are a continuous hazard.

Fig 9 MaliDigitising in Djenné

However, the menace for the manuscript collections in both Djenné and Timbuktu lies not only in the threat of physical deterioration; the political situation is very unstable. There exists an uneasy truce in Timbuktu, but Islamic extremists are encamped in the surrounding desert and attacks on the city are frequent despite a very large UN peace keeping force.  Similarly, the escalating security crisis in central Mali is making the future uncertain for the Djenné Manuscript Library. State presence is withdrawing from the area as frequent attacks from local Islamic fundamentalists target state employees at institutions such as gendarme guard posts and schools. The Mission Culturelle, as the representative of the Ministry of Culture is a potential target and by extension the Djenné Manuscript Library. So far neither has been targeted, but the situation is volatile. The fact that the Djenné collection of documents has now been digitised and that copies exists at the British Library and also at the National Archives in Bamako means that although the original copies continue to be kept in troubled central Mali, at least the vast majority of manuscripts have now been saved for scholars in digital form, and the Timbuktu manuscripts from the three famous Timbuktu University Libraries are now also on their way to being digitally preserved for posterity.

Written by Sophie Sarin, grant holder of five EAP projects based in Mali: EAP269, EAP488 (Over 2000 manuscripts newly online), EAP690, EAP879 and EAP1094

 

From September 2018, the British Library will be showcasing the projects carried out in Djenné in the form of an exhibition to be held along the Second Floor Gallery. There will also be accompanying events related to Mali during the autumn, so do check the Library's What's on page later in the year. 

16 January 2018

Doctoral Research into the Migration and Settlement of Liberated Africans

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Each year, the British Library organises Doctoral Open Days, with the aim of helping students explore the Library’s collections. Two years ago, I met Jake Richards at an Asia and Africa focused Open Day. I am absolutely thrilled to share this blog post, the first to be written by a PhD student using EAP material as part of their research.

In April 1839, J. B. Hazely, an official in the Liberated African Department in Freetown, Sierra Leone, requested that his colleague, S. Thorpe, ‘with all possible speed, send up to this Department six able Boys, capable of speaking English, & fitting to be placed on board Her Majesty’s Brig of War Harlequin’. The Harlequin was one of several Royal Navy ships that patrolled the Atlantic to suppress the slave trade. Naval ships intercepted hundreds of slave ships in the nineteenth century, and transferred the embarked slaves to particular ports where they would be declared free from slavery, and then apprenticed for up to fourteen years – a process which labelled them ‘liberated Africans’. The Liberated African Department Letter Books, digitised by the Endangered Archives Programme, contain correspondence between departmental officials, Royal Navy officers, and missionaries who were involved in different stages of this process of ‘liberation’. As Hazely’s letter reveals, the six boys would work to suppress the slave trade from which they or their relatives had recently been rescued.

Eap284_liberated_african_dept_letterbk_1837_1842_216EAP443/1/18/6 Liberated African Department; Letterbook [22 Aug 1837-15 Feb 1843]

Sierra Leone handled around half of the approximately 200,000 slaves rescued after Britain abolished the slave trade in 1807 – more than any other location in the nineteenth century. Britain’s colony in Sierra Leone had begun twenty years previously as a site not much larger than Freetown, established as a home for black soldiers and sailors who had fought for Britain during the American War of Independence, plus Maroons from Jamaica and freed slaves from Nova Scotia. After 1807, colonial governors and the Church Missionary Society founded a series of villages outside Freetown to manage the influx of liberated Africans, and appointed managers, such as Thorpe, to run them as part of the Liberated African Department. Many of these villages still bear their English-sounding names: Hastings, Kent, and York.

Eap284_liberated_african_dept_letterbk_1842_1847_050EAP443/1/18/7 Liberated African Department; Letterbook [1842-1847]

The Letter Books suggest that the managers combined jobs as administrative heads, magistrates, and experimenters in labour patterns – a local social engineer before ‘decentralisation’ became a buzzword. One of the most noticeable patterns of experimentation was a division of work and opportunities according to whether the Department identified a liberated African as male or female. Managers distributed male apprentices to naval ships, to the West India Regiments, and to settle Tombo (or Tumbu) on the southern fringe of the colony. Although girls went to school, some women were married off soon after arrival, including several ‘Eboe’ women who were presented with husbands soon after disembarking from their slave ship at Freetown’s Liberated African Yard in 1838. Sometimes women worked for ‘respectable married women’ to learn domestic skills until they were eligible for marriage, as a letter from April 1842 attests. The Letter Books give only glimpses of the other work women did beyond the oversight of village managers, such as food hawking or market selling. The lack of choice in deciding labour and domestic relationships may seem surprising, but many contemporary workers in Britain had similar constraints on their choices. The Letter Books continually remind their reader that there were many gradations between enslavement and free labour, and that the processes of moving between them were unpredictable and halting.

The EAP is a cherished window into documentation at the frontier of historical research, and I am grateful to the archivists and researchers whose EAP grants made these sources accessible, to Jody Butterworth for telling me about them at the BL’s Doctoral Open Day for the Africa and Asia collections in 2016, and to the staff who ran a wonderfully helpful open day.

Jake Christopher Richards (University of Cambridge) is conducting doctoral research into the migration and settlement of liberated Africans around the South Atlantic, c. 1839 – 1871.

If you are interested in attending this year's Open Day, it is on Monday 22 January 2018.

19 December 2017

Bulgarian Christmas and kissing of the ritual bread

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Our last blog of the year has been written by Rossitza Atanassova, Digital Curator at the British Library. I can’t think of a lovelier way to finish the year than have a colleague and friend reminisce about her childhood using images from EAP103 held at The Ethnographic Institute and Museum, Bulgarian Academy of Science, Sofia.

Christmas Eve (Badni vecher) is central to the Bulgarian Christmas celebrations and is associated with many customs and rituals. On Christmas Eve families prepare a traditional festive dinner of vegan dishes, including the ritual bread (pita or pogacha), cabbage leaves stuffed with rice (sarmi), white butter bean stew, dried fruit compote (oshav), pickled vegetable salad and pumpkin pastries. Other produce – onion, garlic, honey, wheat, fruit and walnuts – are also laid on the table, to ensure rich crops in the New Year. Historically rural households would sprinkle dung, sand, wheat grains, hay and coins on or around the dinner table. This was due to their symbolism for the well-being of the household, fertility and abundance of crops, orchards, vineyards, livestock and domestic fowl. (Slaveykov p.13)

Gathering the whole family at Christmas Eve to share this simple symbolic meal is one of the most intimate and honoured Bulgarian traditions. At the start of the meal the eldest member of the family would light incense and pass it round the room and over the meal as a sign of protection from misfortune for the household. It falls on the eldest man in the family to bless and break the ritual bread, saving the first piece for the Virgin Mary and distributing a piece each to all members of the family. The early 20th century photograph (below) of a family from the village of Petrich near Sofia captures the moment of kissing the ritual bread as it is held out by the elder in the family. The symbolism of the bread in this ceremony is captured so well by the photographer, as it occupies a central place in the image with all three generations of the family showing such reverence and hopefulness as they huddle around it. There is so much intimacy and spontaneity in the photograph, with the grandfather staring solemnly at the camera, his son or son-in-law enjoying a glass of home-produced rakija and the younger children looking furtively around.

EAP103_1_3_18-aeimP4783_LEAP103/1/3/18/209

I have such fond childhood memories of the Christmas Eve preparations at home when I helped my mother and grandmother to knead the ritual bread and decorate it with the Nativity scene and the sign of the Cross. It is a tradition I have passed on to my children and year on year they are excited about making together the ritual Christmas bread. There is a great regional variety in the shapes and decorations, many of which reference agricultural activities such as ploughing, shepherding and winemaking, as well as Christian symbolism. Some examples of ritual breads can be seen in the EAP103 archive, and the Ethnographic Museum has an important collection of stamps used for decorating ritual breads, such as this Nativity Scene stamp. It is traditional to hide a coin in the Christmas bread and whoever finds it is said to have all the happiness and success in the New Year.

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On Christmas Eve, groups of boys and young men (koledari) visit the houses in their neighbourhoods and villages, singing auspicious verses about prosperity and well-being. These welcome guests exchange traditional greetings with the families and give their blessings to every member of the household. In return the Koledari receive gifts of food and ritual ring-shaped breads, often made by the young women in the family, which they string on the wooden sticks they carry.

EAP103_1_3_18-aeimP4776_LEAP103/1/3/18/202

On New Year’s Day it is customary for children in Bulgaria to carry tree branches (survachka), traditionally decorated with dried fruit, popcorn, breads and wool, and to recite blessings for family and friends in exchange for a coin or other gifts. As a child I loved the festive atmosphere in Sofia with stalls selling survachki decorated in red and white paper. This custom continues the joyful and hopeful Bulgarian Christmas celebrations and tradition which the photographic archive gives us such wonderful glimpses of.

EAP103_1_3_18-aeimP4772_LEAP103/1/3/18/198 and EAP103/1/3/18/200 (market for survachki, decorated sticks for Christmas or New Year’s Day, Sofia, early 20th century)

EAP103_1_3_18-aeimP4774_L

 The EAP team would like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and the very best for 2018.

 

Bibliography:

Slaveykov, Racho, Bulgarian Folk Traditions and Beliefs, Sofia, Asenevtsi Trade Ltd, 2014

Vasileva, Margarita, Koleda i Surva: Bulgarski praznitzi I obichai, Sofia, Darzhavno Izdatelstvo Septemvri, 1988

14 December 2017

A project from Bhutan

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On 17 December 1907, Ugyen Wangchuk, the first Druk Gyalpo (Dragon King), was crowned and the Kingdom of Bhutan has marked this day ever since as its National Day.

The British Library has some photographs of Ugyen Wangchuk when he was crown prince dating from 1905, which were taken by John Claude White, the Political Officer of neighbouring Sikkim. The image of him wearing the traditional Raven Crown and the order of Knight Commander of the Indian Empire is perhaps the most reproduced photograph of the ruler, but it is the one in more relaxed dress and surrounded by his family, that has, for me, more appeal.

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Photo 20/(1)

019PHO000000020U00025000[SVC2]Photo 20/(25)

To mark this anniversary, I thought I would highlight EAP039. This project was awarded in 2005, the very first round of grants  and took place at Gangtey Gonpa. The monastery was founded in 1613 by Gyalse Pema Thinley, the grandson of the saint Pema Lingpa (1450-1521) who was the most important Buddhist born in Bhutan and who discovered the hidden texts concealed by the 8th century Indian monk Padmasambhava.

The monastery underwent major renovation, beginning in 2000 and lasting for eight years. The Endangered Archives Programme project was independent to the refurbishment of the building but ensured the safety of the important Nyingma tradition manuscripts housed at the monastery. Below are some photographs of the village, the manuscripts beautifully wrapped and stored and the monks concentrating on the digitisation project. As the location lacked a reliable electricity supply, the team worked outside when photographing these precious texts, which were a funerary tribute to the founder of Gangtey.

We wish everyone in Bhutan a very happy National Day.

EAP039_Pub001On the road to Gantey.

EAP039_Pub011An example of one of the manuscripts.

EAP039_Pub006Monks at work.

GangteystudioBundles of manuscripts waiting to be digitised.

 

Further Reading:

Aris, M (1994) The Raven Crown Chicago: Serindia Publications

03 July 2017

New collections online - June 2017

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 We have three new collections available to view on the Endangered Archives Programme website: a collection of Newārī medieval manuscripts from the Kathmandu Valley, Nepal; an archaeological photographic archive from Romania; and finally the archive of the Dominican Monastery of Santa Rosa, Santiago, Chile.

EAP790: The Melvin Seiden Award: Digital documentation of endangered medieval manuscripts in individual and Vihāra collections from various Newār settlements in the Kathmandu Valley, Nepal

The main focus of this project was to digitise rare medieval Sanskrit manuscripts as well as rescue those threatened by the earthquake of 2015. Nepal is home to significant collections of Sanskrit as well as Hindu manuscripts, with the Newār people having contributed enormously to the development of literary culture in the country. In vernacular Newārī the manuscripts are called ‘Thyasaphu’ and are not merely handwritten texts, but an object of veneration and part of their religious lives. The Buddhist Vajracharyas and Shakyas, and Hindu Karmacharyas from the Newār communities, were directly concerned with manuscript writing, recitation and performing rituals. In spite of the manuscripts’ importance, few are aware of their literary heritage and little attention has been paid to preserve and disseminate the manuscripts despite their religious and historical significance. Newar families still own manuscripts but unfortunately, most of the precious manuscripts are left to decay and are often now in poor condition. An inability to read the scripts and/or language, or little knowledge of the subject matter, has restricted people from reading these medieval manuscripts.

The project team were able to digitise 21 separate collections consisting of 687 manuscripts. In total over 28,000 images were produced. These included religious manuscripts related to Buddhism and Hinduism, literary works, medical texts, records of events, and other secular texts. These are important records for Buddhist and Hindu Newārs to perform religious duties and also for scholars of Newār Buddhism, Vajrayana rituals, Hinduism, the Vajracharya priests and practitioners and others. Throughout the project, workshops and programmes were organised to train staff and local stakeholders, including those from the Newār community, to search, catalogue and digitise the manuscripts.

EAP790_1_1-_024_LEAP790/1/1 - Puja Vidhi [17th century]

EAP790_1_82-002_LEAP790/1/82 - Mahalakshmi, Bagalamukhi and Sarva Sambhagyesvari Yantra [18th century]

EAP790_17_1-002_LEAP790/17/1 - Svasthani Vrata Katha [19th century]

EAP816: Selective digitisation and preservation of the photographic archive of the ‘Vasile Parvan’ Institute of Archaeology, Bucharest, Romania

The ‘Vasile Parvan’ Institute of Archaeology’s photography archive provides a unique source of information for archaeological research and monument recording and restoration between 1880 and 1925 in Romania. Large numbers of archaeological sites and monuments, then surviving across Romania, are represented in a vast array of excavation, exploration and restoration photographs, covering all periods from the earliest farming communities to the pre-industrial centuries of the last millennium. Many of the archaeological sites and landscapes represented in the photographs, along with a host of medieval churches and many villages, were totally destroyed during and after the two World Wars. The majority of the earliest material focuses on the Romanian Black Sea area, a region called Dobrogea, the richest region of Romania in terms of its archaeological heritage. It also used to be the most ethnically diverse region of Romania and until the end of World War I was one of the most rural and arid. Many of the photographs shed light on the ethnic diversity of the region, nowadays hugely different, and on the unaltered landscape of the area, much changed due to the huge communist agricultural programmes of the sixties and seventies, which included erasing to the ground entire villages along with their churches and traditional field systems. Archaeological artefacts – pottery, sculptures, metal objects – are also represented, along with other items of major historical importance: objects of religious art, paintings, sculptures and fabrics, many of them subsequently destroyed or lost, sometimes plundered by German, Russian or other troops during the wars that have affected Romania in the past 150 years. The on-site images include extremely beautiful local ethnographic photographs and rural landscape images depicting a world long gone, especially in the Black Sea area, populated by a wide mix of differing nationalities in the period before WWII.

EAP816_1_6-EAP816_C6F_00125_LEAP816/1/6 - Adamclisi 2

EAP816_1_4-EAP816_C4S_00052_LEAp816/1/4 - Tropaeum Traiani

EAP816_1_2-EAP816_C2S_00029_LEAP816/1/2 - Pietroasa treasure

EAP821: Documentary heritage at risk: digitisation and enhancement of the archive of the Monastery of Dominican nuns of Santa Rosa, Santiago, Chile

This project catalogued and digitised the archive of the Dominican Monastery of Santa Rosa, one of the four oldest and most important archives of female writing of Chile. Founded in 1680 as a Beguine convent, it later became a monastery in 1754. The Dominican sisters of the monastery were characterised by their cultural and intellectual life which is reflected in the documents digitised as part of the archive. This is a unique set of documents as the testimonies of women from this period have been preserved in few other places in Chile. Among the files are valuable diaries and autobiographies such as that of Dolores Peña y Lillo, which highlights the features of regional and local female idiosyncrasies. These documents are a great resource for scholars and contribute to research, study and dissemination of the model of female education at that time, based on the intellectual culture, crafts and arts. The project team digitised 107 volumes in total consisting of over 27,000 images.

EAP821_1_1_1-EAP821_DSR0001_07_LEAP821/1/1/1 - Life and Virtues of the Servant of God Father Ignacio García of the Society of Jesus, by Fr Francisco Javier Zevallos [17th century-19th century]

EAP821_1_1_71-EAP821_DSR00071_25_LEAP821/1/1/71 - Prayers for the Rosary of the Holy Mass [19th century]

EAP821_1_1_87-EAP821_DSR00087_05_L

EAP821/1/1/87 - Maps and drawings related to the cloister and Church of the monastery Dominicans of Santa Rosa in Santiago [18th century]

12 May 2017

Representing Self and Family: Preserving Tamil Studio Photography

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Photography arrived in India in the 1840s with the first photographic society in South India being created in Madras in 1856. During the early decades of Indian photography, it was accessible almost exclusively to the colonial administration and Indian elite. However by the 1880s, commercial photography studios had found their way into the bazaars of the Presidency’s and family portraits started to appear inside Tamil households. Previously no local forms of popular portraiture existed aside from representations of the divinities.

1. Nalla Pillai studio_Kumbakonam (2)Negative from the Nalla Pillai Studio, Kumbakonam

Tamil portrait photography, often facing restricted access to technological improvements, rapidly developed into a rich practice, where technical inventions, ingenious adaptions and artistic achievements rubbed shoulders. The early Tamil commercial studio photographers created their own visual language to represent south India selves and families. Their idioms combined the use of props, accessories, backdrops, over-painting, collage, and montage. Throughout the first half of the 20th century constraints imposed by high costs and difficulties in importing recent photographic equipment resulted in the prolonged use of older photographic equipment and processes by small family-run studios.

The advent of mechanised processing and printing of colour photography followed by the digital revolution radically transformed photographic practices and production. A very large number of studios closed down (with their archives often, but not always, lost) as they could not financially manage to acquire the expensive equipment necessary. The studios that did manage to survive these successive technological revolutions discarded manual processing and printing of black and white portraiture which had been their trade and skill for over a century (cf. Article in The Hindu, “In a Fading Light”, by A. Shripathi, 13/07/2015).

2. Discarded prints in a second hand shop (2)Discarded prints in a second hand shop

Over the last 25 years, the 'visual turn' in South Asian Studies, has afforded glimpses into numerous visual media produced in the Indian subcontinent over the last century and a half. Concerning the field of Indian photography, the vast majority of publications and archives concern colonial practices of photography and north or central Indian appropriations of the photographic media during the 20th century. The productions of South Indian studio photographers are largely unexplored and no archive exists to foster research on this vast and rich topic of study. The material digitised during the project will provide visual evidence of Tamil society at moments of crucial social and cultural changes.

5. Studio interior in TirunelvelliStudio interior in Tirunelvelli

This major project will create the first archive of Tamil studio photography, namely family portraiture, from the time of the introduction of commercial photo studios in the second half of the 19th century up to the introduction of mechanised photographic processing. The project aims to cover the different productions of black and white manually processed studio photography (prints, negatives and glass plates) which are rapidly disappearing either through natural degradation or, in many cases, voluntary destruction. The feasibility of creating this archive was explored in the pilot project EAP737 through the survey of 100 studios in 14 localities.

The EAP946 archive aims to provide researchers with unique visual material and metadata of Tamil society at moments of crucial social and cultural changes. Besides the study of photographic processes and mediums throughout history, of the evolutions of representation of women and men, a wide range of issues could be investigated such as the consequences of the introduction of photo portraits in the homes; the ways in which these have affected vernacular notions of individuality and dual dimension of personhood (akam/interior and puram/exterior); their impact on representations of marriage from alliance to conjugality; the uses of family portraits as hybrid photo-objects subject to daily domestic ritual venerated alongside chromolithographs of divinities in Tamil households; the transformation of regional and sectarian dress codes etc.

4. Salem studio archives (2)Salem Studio archives

These unique photographic productions are severely endangered by chemical, climatic and human factors. Firstly, many of the earlier photographs produced by the commercial photo studios are showing signs of accelerated deterioration due to the chemical processes used for developing and printing during the first decades of photographic productions. This situation is aggravated by the tropical climate of southern India with its year round high level of humidity which is particularly detrimental to both prints and negatives. Secondly, large parts of photographic productions have been destroyed and continue to be destroyed due to a lack of awareness about the importance of preserving this heritage. During a century (1880-1980) of black and white photographic productions, many studios were regularly destroying their collections by selling negatives (glass and film) to silver-extractors. Similarly, families are discarding the portraits of the older generations by selling them to second-hand wood and glass dealers who dismantle the frame to recycle the materials. The photos (generally piled on the ground of the shop) are kept by these dealers for the occasional passer-by who can purchase these private portraits for a minimal price. Thirdly, the lack of awareness about the value of this unique heritage further results in the deterioration of the remaining photographic material in Tamil Nadu. Many of the earliest studios have closed over the last 30 years and the descendants of studio photographers often have minimal knowledge of preservation conditions for negatives and prints, nor an understanding for the value and vulnerability of their forefathers’ photographic productions. Besides the major objective of creating an archive of this endangered material, the project will also raise awareness and interest of the collection holders in order to preserve in the best possible conditions the remnants of this invaluable heritage.

7. Ramesh Kumar digitizing (EAP 737) (2)Ramesh Kumar digitising images (EAP 737)

Private photo collections from photo studios will be the primary source for digitisation efforts. Researchers will be able to study the technical and ‘stylistic’ transformation of studio photography over the decades, and eventually, when compared to other studios in other places, the study of regional variations. The digitisation of each studio archives constitutes a corpus of its own that enables systematic image analysis to be done. The project will also aim to digitise photographic material from private homes which should provide interesting documentation on the photographic consumption of families. Digitising sessions will be conducted in 8 medium and large sized towns in Tamil Nadu: Kumbakonam, Karaikudi, Cuddalore, Pondicherry, Madurai, Chennai, Tirunelveli, and Coimbatore.

8. Coordinators Ramesh Kumar and Zoe Headley on a tea break (EAP 737)Coordinators Ramesh Kumar and Zoe Headley on a tea break (EAP 737)

Written by Zoé Headley, French Institute of Pondicherry. Zoé is the grant holder for the ongoing EAP946 major project along with Ramesh Kumar and Alexandra de Heering. Zoé and Ramesh conducted the pilot project EAP737. There are already some fantastic images online from the pilot project to check out. I've added a few below, and you can see more here. We're really looking forward to seeing what we receive for EAP946!

EAP737_4_4_31-EAP_737_Coll4_SP_PT_021_LEAP737/4/4/31 - Studio Portrait Photo Prints [1955-1978]

EAP737_4_4_31-EAP_737_Coll4_SP_PT_023_LEAP737/4/4/31 - Studio Portrait Photo Prints [1955-1978]

  EAP737_4_4_12-EAP_737_Coll4_SP_FN_B12_025_LEAP737/4/4/12 - Studio Portrait Negatives Box 12 [1960-1978]

EAP737_4_4_12-EAP_737_Coll4_SP_FN_B12_029_LEAP737/4/4/12 - Studio Portrait Negatives Box 12 [1960-1978]