THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Endangered archives blog

News about the projects saving vulnerable material from around the world

22 March 2017

In Search of Zoroastrian Manuscripts in Iran

To celebrate Nowruz, this guest blog has been written by Milad Jahangurfar, who is the grant holder for EAP888, a current project that hopes to find the few surviving Avestan manuscripts which have used the Persian alphabet.

 

The Avesta, the holy book of the Zoroastrians, has been written in the Avestan alphabet, which was created for this purpose probably during the Sassanid era (224-651 CE). It is usually believed that before developing the alphabet, the priests were responsible for oral transmission of the collection. However, the history of the script and the forms of transmission of the scripture are still open to debate.

Image 6 resizedSett-i Pir/Mah Setti Pir temple, inside the Asadān castle. According to Zoroastrian legends and folklore, the castle dates back to the Sassanid era.

In the 19th century, and perhaps even earlier, a new trend in writing down the Avesta was developed. Zoroastrian priests started using the Persian alphabet. This change was a solution to the problem of reading Avestan and Pahlavi (middle Persian) texts which had become difficult for both priests and the laity.

Image 1 resizedThe three major Iranian provinces (Tehran, Yazd, Kerman) where the manuscripts are located.

Tehran, Yazd and Kerman are the three major provinces in Iran where the manuscripts are likely to be located. Once being the strongholds of Zoroastrianism in Iran, they are still where Zoroastrian communities are based. Yazd and Kerman are considered to be where the manuscripts originate. Even the volumes located in Tehran have been mostly composed and inscribed in these two provinces. The Zoroastrian families that moved to Tehran, particularly during the last few decades, brought with them such manuscripts, handed down through generations, brought to the capital. A few of them found their way to safekeeping such as the National Library, the Archives of Iran and the Library of Tehran University, whereas the rest of them are kept in poor conditions in private collections and sadly there is no specific record regarding their history of ownership or the exact date of composition and provenance.

Image 4 resizedPart of a prayer in the Khordeh Avesta.

The major part of the corpora consists of the Khordeh Avesta, which means ‘the Little Avesta’. The Khordeh Avesta is a collection of daily prayers to be performed during different ceremonies and rituals by both laypersons and by priests.

Image 3 resizedMilad Jahangirfar, sorting the files after digitising the manuscript.

Image 2 resized
Dr Farzaneh Goshtasb (a faculty member at the Institute for Humanities and Cultural Studies, Tehran) working on a manuscript.

Image 7 resized
Mr Rostam, the keeper of the Sett-i Pir temple in Yazd, and Dr Goshtasb.

EAP would like to wish all of our Iranian colleagues a very happy New Year.

08 March 2017

Celebrating International Women's Day Through Photography

To mark International Women's Day I have spent an enjoyable few hours delving through some of the EAP digitised photography collections finding some images from the various different countries around the world in which we fund projects. Having found so many amazing images in the archives I'm hoping to make a fairly regular 'photo blog' to share some of them and hopefully encourage others to explore further the many thousands of photographs (as well as other material) that we host on our website. Below each image is a direct link to its page on our website where you will find many similar photographs on a whole range of different subjects. If you discover any gems, please let us know and we'll feature them in the next 'photo blog'.

1. EAP016_3_1-iokm_033-001_LEAP016/3/1 - Digitising the photographic archive of southern Siberian indigenous peoples

2. EAP054_1_4-dvd70_145_LEAP054/1/4 - Archiving a Cameroonian photographic studio (Jacques Toussele photographs)

3. EAP264_1_8_6-EAP264PE_06_107_LEAP264/1/8/6 - Photographic negatives from Mongolia (Images of nomads and their lifestyles)

4. EAP644_1_58-TFDC_520_018_0334_01_LEAP644/1/58 - Photographs from Maison Bonfils (1867-1910s), Beirut, Lebanon

5. EAP755_1_1_38-Young_women_1049_LEAP755/1/1/38 - Annemarie Heinrich photograph collection, South America

6. EAP001_1_1-7_LEAP001/1/1 - Photographs from Esfahan taken by Minas Patkerhanian Machertich, Iran

7. EAP016_4_1-kkkm_126-012_LEAP016/4/1 - Digitising the photographic archive of southern Siberian indigenous peoples

8. EAP054_1_4-dvd68_132_LEAP054/1/4 - Archiving a Cameroonian photographic studio (Jacques Toussele photographs)

9. EAP103_1_1_186-aeimB-62_843-8_LEAP103/1/1/186 - Endangered ethnographic archive, Sofia, Bulgaria
10. EAP264_1_8_8-EAP264PE_08_009_LEAP264/1/8/8 - Digitisation of rare photographic negatives from Mongolia

11. EAP737_4_3_8-EAP_737_Coll4_E_FN_B30_013_LEAP737/4/3/8 - Preserving early Tamil studio photography

12. EAP755_1_1_86-Mendoza_1940s_II_1464_LEAP755/1/1/86 - Annemarie Heinrich photograph collection (Mendoza, 1940s), South America
13. EAP054_1_167-dvd89_066_LEAP054/1/167 - Archiving a Cameroonian photographic studio (Jacques Toussele photographs)
14. EAP165_2_21_image44EAP165/2/21 - Maya K'iche' women, Guatemala
15. EAP166_2_1_3-EAP166_MPP_1900-30_063_L
EAP166/2/1/3 - Leading Rana family members, Nepal

16. EAP755_1_1_29-Horses_807_LEAP755/1/1/29 - Annemarie Heinrich photograph collection, South America

6a00d8341c464853ef01b8d2293fe4970c-800wiEAP347 - Vanishing voices from the Uralic world (Sound recordings available to listen to on BL Sounds)

 Written by Robert Miles, EAP Cataloguer

01 March 2017

Rescuing precious recordings of Nepal’s folk music heritage

When the main earthquake struck in April 2015 Ram and Homenath were working within the Museum building. They ran outside to the temple courtyard as the top story of the temple crashed to the ground. Once the red tiles beneath their feet became stable and the temple buildings ceased to sway, they surveyed the damage. The building on the North of the quadrangle that housed the Music Museum was cracked but still standing. They did not go back inside, but locked the door and went home to check the safety of their families. Despite the frequent aftershocks they returned the next day and ventured inside. Instruments had fallen to the floor and several had been damaged by falling debris. The room that housed the archive materials was in total disarray. Cassettes, manuscripts and mini-dvs were strewn across the floor covered with dust, bricks and a fallen beam.

  1

But let’s step back to before that day. Nepal has folk songs and melodies, and the musical instruments to accompany them that have been passed down through the generations for hundreds of years. Some were sung and played by the community as a whole, others were the specific domain of the musician castes or the wandering minstrel castes. Some were sung and played for specific festivals and ceremonies that happen annually. Some were sung in the fields while planting or weeding rice, whilst others were sung by the whole community once the harvest was in and it was time to celebrate. Some were sung by the minstrels as they travelled from village to village with news of what was happening elsewhere. Others still were hymns of praise to specific gods or were sacred epic stories and poems. Others again were simply love songs of young people who could not be together or the laments of women whose husbands have been forced by poverty to seek employment in a foreign land. Some were the humorous flirtations of a man with his sister in law, and others still were the sacred songs of Buddhist ritual dances performed in secret.

The folk music tradition of Nepal was rich. The instruments, music, songs and dances of the diverse ethnic groups of Nepal are unique in the world, yet so much has been lost over the last few generations. With the deliberate burning of Newari monastery libraries in the 1840s, the written record of music and dance culture in Nepal is very rare. Until the last two to three generations, Nepal has been a predominantly oral culture. The archive since pre-modern times has actually been in the hearts and minds of an increasingly aging and diminishing pool of artists. In a country where the priority of the majority is to meet very basic needs for food, shelter, health care and education; no official action has been taken to halt this decline.

Therefore Ram Prasad Kadel decided to make it his life’s work to record and preserve as much of Nepal's musical heritage as possible. He began making tape recordings in 1997 to add to hand written notes, testimonies, song lyrics and other records made since establishing the Nepali Folk Musical Instrument Museum in 1995. The museum later became the Music Museum of Nepal, which is entirely run on a voluntary basis. Over the years, Ram and various friends of the Museum have identified and tracked down key communities and individuals who still have the folk music skills and knowledge. The collection now also includes additional donated recordings, a significant number of which predate the work of the Museum. The archive at the Museum is currently the only way that present and future generations in Nepal, and international researchers, can access the playing of instruments that have all but died out, the melodies and lyrics of songs which are no longer sung, and dances and ceremonies which are rarely or no longer performed.

The audio cassettes and mini dv tapes, manuscript books and photographs in the archive, however, have been damaged by a range of factors - by light, dust, atmospheric pollution, mould and silverfish. And then they were shaken off the shelves to the floor and broken by falling bricks during those earthquakes that critically damaged the temple building in which the museum and archive were based.

2Staff and volunteers attend training in repairing damaged tapes

But the good news is that Ram and the other staff at the Museum are determined to preserve as much of the archive as possible, and through the support of the Endangered Archives Programme (EAP901) they are able to do that. Hence EAP 901 is about preserving the unique music and dance archive at the Museum by transferring the most endangered material to a digital format. The archive is highly vulnerable because of damage to the existing formats and because once they deteriorate beyond the point of digital capture they are irreplaceable. Many of the artists whose work is represented in the archive have already died. Elders that remain grieved that they have little or no opportunity to transfer their knowledge of melodies, lyrics, dance steps, mudras, secret and sacred rituals, musical instrument playing techniques and instrument-making skills to the younger generations. They find some solace in the fact that it has been recorded.

3

The building that houses the Museum was shored up from behind and stabilised by the archaeology department soon after the earthquakes. Several opportunities of a safe place for the Museum's collections appeared to present themselves over the last 22 months, but none actually materialised. Despite this, the Museum's work had to continue and its commitments had to be met. Gradually Ram and the team regained some confidence to enter the building, initially just for salvage, but later to clean up the mess and eventually to continue to use the existing building when the frequency of after-shocks had lessened considerably. A temporary office was constructed on the ground floor close to the door to allow for swift exit if necessary. The instrument display has been cleaned and rearranged (by generous volunteers), broken instruments replaced and the archive has also been largely rescued and cleaned up with some of the most valuable salvaged analogue recordings still being stored in Ram's house. The Museum is now receiving visitors as it did before the earthquake.

4School children visit the museum

At the moment, there is no definite prospect of relocating the museum and no definite plan to repair the existing building either. However, the team never gives up hope, as demolition and rebuilding work goes on all around them, that the building will be satisfactorily repaired one day or that they will be able to find a new location.

5

The work of preserving the archive currently continues from the temporary office. Without the EAP grant to enable the digital reproduction, the archive would undoubtedly deteriorate further and likely be lost, so the team are working with great enthusiasm and dedication to preserve as much as possible.

Written by Sibongile Pradhan, Ram Kadel and Norma Blackstock, grant holders for EAP736 and EAP901

Images copyright: Music Museum of Nepal

24 February 2017

The Textual Heritage of the Ural Old Believers

In the second half of the seventeenth century, Patriarch Nikon reformed Russian church ceremonies and a range of traditional texts. The purpose of the reform was to merge Russian, Greek, Belorussian, and Ukrainian cultures. However, it led to a rupture with old Russian traditions. Russian society was split into two camps: the supporters of the reforms, ‘Nikonians’, and their opponents, the Old Believers. Old Belief was the largest opposition movement to emerge in Russia before 1905. They were cruelly persecuted by the state and the official Orthodox Church: they also suffered from repression during the Stalin era. However, despite all of the persecution, the Old Believers not only maintained Russian culture, but also developed and adapted it to new conditions.

01_Old_Believers

The texts maintained by the Old Believers belonged to a tradition formed over many centuries: it was based on Byzantine books that appeared in Russia along with Christianity. Russian scribes added their unique composition style to the Byzantine textual tradition, creating thematic collections (sborniki) based on both canonical and apocryphal Christian books. During the dispute with the official Orthodox Church, Old Believers reinterpreted many of the essays of early Christian writers, producing a great mass of original literature.

02_books 01

From the end of the seventeenth century, the Urals became a centre of Old Belief; many fled there from central Russia to evade persecution. A group of researchers from the Historical Department of the Ural State University (now the Ural Federal University) organised archaeographical expeditions to Old Believer settlements spread across a huge territory stretching from the Volga to Western Siberia. These expeditions took place between 1974 and 2002.

03_expedition

After decades of field work, almost 6,000 exemplars of this textual tradition (dating from the fifteenth to the late twentieth centuries) were collected. A wide range of manuscripts and printed books featuring all the elements of the old Russian textual tradition can be found in this collection.

The collections gathered by these expeditions include Old Believer textbooks (uchitel’nye sborniki), prayer books, polemics, eschatological essays, late Russian annals, items of a demographic and scientific character, and music sheets containing the old Russian form of musical notation (so called hooks).

04_books02

There is also a collection of archival documents: these include materials from local Old Believer councils, correspondence by outstanding twentieth-century leaders of Old Belief, and photos from the last decades of the imperial regime. All of these documents are extremely important for studying medieval culture, the adaptation of that culture to modern conditions, and its influence on Russia’s social and political history. They give us the opportunity to study local cultures surrounded by hostile authorities and can also be used to train specialists in history, philology, theology, and the arts.

05_female_Old_Believer

Presently, the collection is kept at the Laboratory of Studies in Archaeography of the Institute for the Humanities and the Arts (Ural Federal University). Here, a number of experts with experience of working on rare books and manuscripts are employed.

The condition of these collections requires comment. The age of these books ranges between 100 to 500 years: many arrived at the Laboratory in a very poor condition. They were damaged by fungus and were incredibly dirty: the paper was collapsing from oxidation. 90% of our collections need conservation and restoration. The staff of the Laboratory do their best in this regard.

As part of EAP556, we digitised 35 old books and manuscripts. We were able to take more than 20,000 digital photographs. You can find these copies both on the EAP site and the new site of our Laboratory.

06_digitalization

This has resulted in several important books and manuscripts being made freely available. These include:

The liturgical books known as Triod’ postnaya and the Gospels (Moscow, 1550s): these were some of the first printed books in Russia.

07a_Gospel 

Example of a Gospel cover

07b_Triod'Example of a Triod’

2) The first fully printed copy of the Holy Bible in Church-Slavonic (Ostrog, Rzecz Pospolita, 1581).

08_Ostrog_BibleOstrog Bible

3) An illuminated apocalypse with commentary by St Andrew of Caesaria. Tsar Peter the Great, his main assistant Alexander Men’shikov, and his wife Catherine I are pictured at the head of the Antichrist’s army.

09_Apocalypse

The Old Believer manuscript tradition was not extinguished by Soviet persecution. A brilliant example of this tradition is an eschatological essay written by a Ural Old Believer called Iradion Ural’skiy (late twentieth century).

10a_Rodion1

10b_Rodion2

During the work on this project, we were able to complete an additional extremely important task: all of the books were placed in non-acidic boxes, thus helping us to preserve them.

We also have a restoration workshop where highly qualified restorers perform their delicate and complex work:

11a_Boxes2

  12a_Restoration1

We are continuing to study and preserve these valuable Old Believer books and manuscripts. Once again, we would like to thank the Endangered Archives Programme. It was real pleasure to work with EAP: there was very little red tape, the team was highly responsive, and much friendliness was offered. Participation in the programme has had a considerable impact on our future plans for digitisation. This year we plan to put another 20,000 pictures on our website Our researchers are disseminating knowledge about the textual heritage of Ural Old Belief by writing articles and monographs. One book about illustrated apocalypses, written by Irina Pochinskaya, the leader of our EAP project, and Natalia Anufrieva has recently been released. The book has a digital appendix containing several of the books copied during our project.

13_Apocalypse

Finally, we are attempting to popularise knowledge of Russian medieval and Old Believer culture. On our site, there is a special section devoted to essays that we think you will find extremely interesting. We also hope that you will enjoy the example of Old Believer singing: the music sheet was written hundreds of years ago while the singer is our PhD student Anna Mikheeva.

It has been a wonderful experience and we hope that this is only the beginning!

14_Laboratory_Staff

Written by Irina Pochiskaya and Alexander Palkin

21 February 2017

What does one gift to the Dalai Lama?

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

09 February 2017

New collections online - February 2017

This month we have three new collections added to the EAP website: Buddhist manuscripts from Laos, and Tamil and Burmese studio photography.

EAP737_4_4_31-EAP_737_Coll4_SP_PT_002_L
EAP737/4/4/31 - Studio Portrait Photo Prints [1955-1978]

EAP737: Representing Self and Family. Preserving early Tamil studio photography

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, the constraints and costs of acquiring photographic equipment meant that photography 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 medium size towns, and family portraits started to appear inside Tamil households. In South India, prior to the arrival of commercial photography, there existed no local forms of popular portraiture aside from the representations of divinities. The early Tamil commercial studio photographers created their own visual language to represent south India selves and families, combining the uses of props, accessories, backdrops, over-painting, collage and montage.

There is a real urgency in preserving these photographs. Many of the earlier photographs produced by the commercial photo studios are showing signs of deterioration due to some of the chemical processes used for developing and printing during the first decades of photographic production. The climatic conditions of South India are extremely detrimental for photographic prints and negatives, even for those printed from the beginning of the 20th century onwards. With the advent of mechanised processing and printing followed by the digital revolution in photography, many of the old photo studios have closed down and their archives of glass-plate negatives and film negatives have been destroyed, either through lack of interest or space to conserve them.

The project team were able to conduct fieldwork in the eight target towns (Chennai, Coimbatore, Cuddalore, Karaikudi, Kumbakonam, Madurai, Pondicherry, Tirunelveli), and were also able to carry out surveys in an additional six towns (Chidambaram, Jayamkundan, Meencuruti, Pollachi, Tindivanam, Villupuram). In each locality, the oldest photo studios where sought out and in total 100 photo studios were approached over the course of the pilot project. In many instances, but not all, the owners of the photo collections have given their consent for future digitisation of their archives. Also, family members of studios which have closed down over the last 30 years were also sought out as some of them still hold the archives of the old family business.

This survey has confirmed that these unique photographic productions are severely endangered by chemical, climatic and human factors and their digitisation is urgent. The team members have noted that in most of the cases, either the owners had destroyed whole collections for lack of interest or lack of space, or the remaining photographic material is in a state of severe degradation due to poor conservation conditions.

The project team were able to digitise a sample of around 1000 photographs from some of the studios surveyed, from private family collections, and from those purchased by the team in local second-hand shops.

EAP737_4_3_8-EAP_737_Coll4_E_FN_B30_013_L
EAP737/4/3/8 - Events Negatives Box 30 [1962]

EAP737_4_4_31-EAP_737_Coll4_SP_PT_023_L
EAP737/4/4/31 - Studio Portrait Photo Prints [1955-1978]

EAP691: Rare manuscripts of great Buddhist thinkers of Laos: digitisation, translation and relocation at the 'Buddhist Archive of Luang Prabang'

The project was able to describe and digitise the personal collections of manuscripts used by several great Buddhist abbots of Luang Prabang in Laos. The manuscripts present valuable insight into the diverse intellectual interests of leading Theravada thinkers of the 20th century in one of the least known Buddhist cultures in the world. Notwithstanding its rich culture, deeply influenced by Theravada Buddhism, Laos is still one of the least researched countries of Southeast Asia. During the second half of the 20th century, significant parts of the country’s cultural heritage have been destroyed, or seriously damaged, due to foreign interventions, civil war, and revolution. As a great surprise to international researchers, Buddhist monks of Luang Prabang, the ancient Royal capital, managed to preserve important parts of Lao heritage.

The project was able to describe and digitise the personal collections of manuscripts used by Pha Khamchan Virachitto (Vat Saen Sukharam), Pha Khamfan Silasangvara (Vat Suvannakhili), and Pha Bunchankeo Phothichitto (Vat Xiang Muan). Colophons and other paratexts (such as prefaces and titles) were transcribed into modern Lao. Roughly half of the manuscripts have such colophons which in most cases mention not only the date when the writing of the manuscript was finished, but also the names of sponsors and donors of the manuscripts and, more rarely, the name of the scribes. Preservation work has also been carried out on the original manuscripts which are now stored under safer and more accessible conditions

EAP691_3_2_18-EAP691_VSS_1_0340_5_004_L
EAP691/3/2/18 - Thanakhan Ban Pai ( fascicle no.5) (ທານະຂັນບັ້ນປາຍຜູກ 5) (1674)

EAP898: Myanmar negative record

This project aimed to set out to investigate the remaining negative archives and collections of local Burmese photographers. The project was able to identify two studios in Yangon that agreed to have some of the negatives in their archives digitised. The majority of the negatives come from the Bellay Photo Studio, with a smaller collection digitised from Asia Studio.

The owner of the Bellay Photo Studio, Tun Tun Lay, agreed to the digitisation of some of the negatives taken by his father, Har Si Yoi, starting in 1963, only one year after General Ne Win’s coup d’état. The images taken in the studio capture life during the so-called ‘lost decades’ and present a unique insight into this time period, as there are no archives in Myanmar or abroad that hold a comprehensive collection of images from those decades. Bellay Photo Studio is run by an ethnically Chinese family and many of the clients were Chinese-Burmese as well. A community that suffered greatly during Ne Win’s Burmese Way of Socialism; they were persecuted, their properties were nationalised, and finally a ban on Chinese-language education was issued, which forced a major exodus of Burmese-Chinese to other countries. The negatives at the studio used to be stored in two large wooden cabinets which were destroyed by termites and humidity along with more than 50% of the negatives. The loose negatives, which had been kept in envelopes, have been stored in plastic bags since 2012.

Another small but important archive of 134 negatives, including glass plates, was archived on the outskirts of Yangon. The grandson of the famed Asia Studio proprietor, U Kyawt, allowed the project to digitise a small section of his collection. The negatives and plates are stored in a wooden box without any kind of protection. The images include press photography capturing Aung San who is considered to be the Father of the Nation of modern-day Myanmar and a hero for his struggle for independence. He is also the father of politician and current Minister of Foreign affairs, Aung San Suu Kyi. The images were taken in the 1940s; Aung San was assassinated in 1947. The Asia Studio archive holds many more valuable images that are at risk due to the storage environment.

The digitised negatives form a very important record from after Myanmar’s independence and will allow not only researchers in the West but also Burmese to access the unique photographic culture of their past that documented everyday life and how Burmese citizens wanted to be portrayed. This is especially true for the images from Bellay Photo Studio, as they represent various communities of Yangon in the late 1960s and 70s.

EAP898_1_1-EAP898_ASIA_SUDIO-43_L
EAP898/1/1 - Asia Studio [1940s-1950s]

EAP898_1_1-EAP898_ASIA_SUDIO-94_L
EAP898/1/1 - Asia Studio [1940s-1950s]

EAP898_2_1-EAP898_BELLAY_STUDIO-4438_L
EAP898/2/1 - Bellay Studio [1969-1982]

08 February 2017

Tracking the past – the preservation of the railway archives of Sierra Leone

It seems a long time since the Curator of Archive & Library Collections at the National Railway Museum (NRM) wrote to me flagging the Endangered Archives Programme, wondering if it might be of interest to the Sierra Leone National Railway Museum (SLNRM).

The NRM had been involved with SLNRM since 2005, when its founder, Col Steve Davies MBE invited the Director, Andrew Scott CBE to attend the official opening that March. At the time, we were fortunate to get a grant from the British Council, under Tony Blair’s Africa Programme, to cover the cost of a small number of advisory visits and a UK based training programme for the newly appointed staff there, who had never seen a train in action, let alone a steam engine!

As the history of Sierra Leone is one of British slavery and colonialism, much of it is shared across our two nations, including the story of the railways – built during the colonial period in the 1890s and closing in 1975 after only fourteen years of independence. This means that the museum is equally relevant to us in the UK as it is in Sierra Leone.

It was somewhat miraculous that the collection of locomotives and rolling stock which form the core of the SLNRM collection had survived more than ten years of bloody civil war, housed in the heart of the former National Railway Workshops, which had become a refugee camp for some 10,000 displaced persons.

Several documents and images had been found in the pits of the building and inside some of the vehicles at the time when the museum was being developed. They included, tickets, files, notebooks, wagon labels and operating manuals, stores receipts, postcards, stamps. On setting up the museum, Colonel Davies and the Museum Coordinator (and former Workshop Manager) Mohamed Bangura, managed to gather a small number of photographs, postcards, tickets and other ephemera from former railwaymen and other sources in Sierra Leone and the UK.

Image 1

This material was piled in the corner of a showcase in the museum, not properly stored and there was no proper provision for its care or access. It was kept in heaps in unsuitably hot and humid conditions and was vulnerable to damage from movement, light exposure and dust. It was un-catalogued, with the exception of a small number of tickets and wagon labels, so inaccessible to visitors or researchers, and vulnerable to loss or theft.

The material known at the time dated largely from the 1930s through to the official closure of the railway in 1975, which seemed somewhat unusual in terms of EAP projects. However, we felt that, whilst this may not be recognised in the UK as pre-industrial, in Sierra Leonean terms it was pre-modern, since we would argue that the modern era began in 2001, with the end of the war in which much material evidence had been destroyed, and the beginning of a new era of peace and democracy.

Image 2Photographs found in the museum, faded and embrittled by the harsh climate.

We managed to put together a preliminary EAP application in October 2012 and were delighted when we received a letter from Cathy Collins that December, to say that the International Advisory Panel would like us to submit a full application for the project. We were advised to apply for a pilot project, as there was clearly much work to be done to identify what, if any, further material existed.

As there are few people left in the country who remember the railway in operation, it was essential that any surviving archives were located, preserved and catalogued as quickly as possible and that storage and access facilities created. We also wanted to ensure that proper training was given to the museum staff so that they could properly care for the collection.

We had until February 2013 to make the full application and this was the tricky part. Sierra Leone’s postal service was largely dysfunctional and connectivity limited and rather sporadic which meant that communication with the museum was not easy. However, through the good offices of a well connect ex-pat friend in Freetown we did manage to get agreement from the museum that they wished to undertake the project in partnership with us and that they would provide the necessary information, references and electronic signatures.

A formal application was eventually submitted on time and then all we had to do was sit back and chew our nails. We were delighted when we received a further letter from Cathy Collins in July 2013 agreeing to a grant of up to £15,266 over 10 months to complete our project.

We got started as soon as the paperwork was completed – purchasing the necessary materials and equipment needed, arranging shipping to Sierra Leone and planning our visit. In November 2013, we made the first visit to set up the equipment, test photograph the material held at the museum and to research what other material we might find. I’m not going to talk about the detail of all that here, as Archivist Tim Proctor can tell that story better than me [in a future EAP blog post].

One thing that is worth highlighting is the gratitude of the Sierra Leone people, who were delighted that a British public body was prepared to support Sierra Leone heritage and we were feted by the Ministry of Tourism & Cultural Affairs for making it happen, with a grand reception at the SLNRM and a police escort to get there through the horrendous Freetown Traffic! Tourism and culture had recently been listed as part of Pillar One in the Agenda for Prosperity – the new Sierra Leone strategic plan and so museums and other attractions were sharing a spot of the limelight.

Image 3Press Conference at the Ministry of Tourism & Cultural Affairs, widespread media coverage for launch of EAP626 in Sierra Leone

A second visit to complete the photography was planned for spring 2014.

We were glad that we had planned two visits rather than one, as the first set of photographs were not as good quality as we had hoped, and needed to be repeated. However, we were amazingly lucky to meet a fellow at the National Archives who had already been doing some work for another EAP project and understood the requirements. That was a godsend given what happened before we got out there for the second visit. When Ebola broke out it very quickly became clear that our 2014 visit would not be able to take place.

The EAP team were extremely supportive and agreed that project completion would be delayed until the Ebola crisis ended and Foreign Office advice permitted travel to Freetown.

In the event, we had to wait until March 2015 before we could safely travel. During this visit, we were able to see real growth in the museum, following the appointment of a new Chair of the Monuments & Relics Commission – the governing agency for heritage and the appointment of a new Coordinator for the SLNRM. A restructuring of the museum team had also taken place and an Education & Outreach Officer appointed, along with a Museum Clerk. This is great news, as it means that the work we have done to catalogue and digitise the collection will be used to good effect in country as well as through the online resources developed under EAP.

A little goes a long way in Sierra Leone and the impact of this project will be significant and far-reaching.

Many thanks to everyone who made it possible both in the UK and in Sierra Leone.

 

Written by Helen Ashby, Chair of the Friends of Sierra Leone National Railway Museum, formerly Head of Knowledge & Collections, National Railway Museum, York and grant holder for EAP626

02 February 2017

New collections online - January 2017

Four new collections are now available to view on the EAP website. The teams involved have helped to preserve a wide variety of records including Peruvian parish registers, Romani archives, Russian Old Believers’ textual heritage, and Nyasaland African Congress records.

EAP699: Safeguarding of the intangible Romani heritage in the Republic of Moldova threatened by the volatilisation of the individual unexplored collections

Over the past few years, researchers from the "Roma Ethnology" working group, in the Ethnic Minorities Department of the Institute of Cultural Heritage, undertook a series of field trips to Roma communities. They located 11 ethnographic Romani groups in Moldova, each with its specific pre-modern culture. The best known of these are: Layesh (ex-nomads Roma group), Lautari (Roma musicians), Lingurari (Roma spoon makers), Chokanary (Roma blacksmiths), Churary (Roma sieve makers), Curteni (Roma servants to local noble courts). During these field research trips among the Roma community the researchers became aware of the existence of valuable archival materials kept in a state of neglect. Most of these sources (photographs, documents, and manuscripts) are kept in family archives. They are endangered for a variety of reasons. For example, when the owners of personal archives die, their descendants are not interested in preserving them, and there is little funding within the country for collecting and archiving them. These archives are gradually disappearing.

This project aimed to discover these collections of Romani archive material to preserve, digitise and make them publicly available for research. The project team were able to discover and digitise material from the families of some well-known Roma personalities from the past, as well as material from ordinary Roma families. The digitised material is now publicly available in the Moldovan National Archive, as well as the British Library, and is an important source of information for Romani studies. The project digitised 2557 images from 36 individual collections dating from between 1925-2013.

EAP699_16_2-EAP_699_16_Roma_Ciocanari_Riscani_19_L
EAP699/16/2 - Preida Iacov Collection - Roma Family-Military Album [1955-2010]

EAP699_7_2-EAP_699_7_Roma_Curteni_Ciocilteni_21-1_L
EAP699/7/2 - Muzeu Ciocilteni Collection - Papers [1942-1986]

EAP834: Living or leaving tradition: textual heritage of the taiga Old Believers' skit

The aim of this project was to preserve the hand-written book collections of the taiga community of Pilgrims, one of the most radical denominations among Old Believers: confident in the coming of the Antichrist and who regard the authorities as his servants, and also believe that a skit (a small-secluded monastery or convent) is a perfect place where the Orthodox faith can be observed. They prefer to live a reclusive life with other believers as they think this protects the Christian faith and the soul. The Russian monarchy and Soviet power regarded them as irreconcilable enemies and repeatedly destroyed Taiga religious settlements.

The manuscripts of the 15th, 17th and 18th centuries represent the Russian Orthodox and Early Old Believers’ traditions, and their digitisation will help researchers to reconstruct the reading habits of the Siberian peasants-skitniks and the ways of ‘book migrations’. The manuscripts of the 19th and 20th centuries reflect late Old Believers’ traditions and they are interesting as examples of the Russian peasant religious literature. It is believed that approximately 66% of the books were written or rewritten by the skitniks.

The preserved texts contain unique historical and linguistic information and reflect the process and results of assimilation of the culture of Cyrillic writing and reading by Siberian peasants in the 19th and 20th centuries. The manuscripts were stored in poor conditions, exposed to moisture and temperature changes, and were being damaged by mould and migration of ink. In addition, the Skit monks were often forced to write using home-made ink or pencil on paper of poor quality.

The project digitised 144 manuscripts with over 22,000 pages copied. The manuscripts selected for digitisation are those that most adequately reflect the confessional strategy, preferences and history of the taiga community since its formation in the 1830s. These include 1. Liturgy and religious rites: Prayer texts, church calendars and descriptions of rituals and festivals; 2. Canon law and monastic rules; 3. Writings on Christian/Old Believers’ ethics and morals; 4. Religious polemics; 5. Religious poetry; 6. Community history.

You can read more about this project on the project homepage, as well as project holder Professor Elena Dutchak’s Libri journal article: Breathing Life into Rare Book Collections: The Digitization of the Taiga Skit Old Believers Library (Libri. Volume 66, Issue 4, Pages 313–326). We have also funded a similar project - EAP556: Book heritage of Ural Old Believers, which also has its own blog post with more information. EAP834_1_1_56-B-27666_001_L EAP834/1/1/56 - Theoktistos the Stoudite. The service for Jesus Christ [1950s-1960s]

EAP834_1_1_41-B-26104_014_L
EAP834/1/1/41 - The Dominical letter // Вруцелето // Vrutseleto [1941]

EAP783: Digitisation, preservation and dissemination of parochial books and matrimonial records prior to the establishment of the Civil Registry in Peru

This project digitised parish registers detailing baptisms, marriages and deaths in the Diocese of Huacho, Peru. Six parish collections were digitised: Parish of San Miguel Arcangel of Acos; Parish of Nuestra Señora of the Asunción of Ámbar; Parish of Santa María Magdalena of Cajatambo; Parish of Inmaculada Concepción of Canta; Parish of San Juan Bautista of Churín; Parish of San Juan Bautista of Huaral.

These documents are of great value as in the majority of cases they are the only records of birth, death and marriage that exist for citizens of Peru. In 1852 the Civil status records were created but this function was first entrusted to Governors, and then to the municipalities under the supervision of the Supreme Court of Justice of the Republic. Consequently, the records of the Civil State in Peru lacked a hierarchical organisation as their offices and files were dispersed in more than 2,500 locations, with no national or regional registers of births, deaths or marriages. For this reason the majority of citizens born before 1940 have great difficulty locating their records.

EAP783_1_6_1-EAP783_AMB_DEF_02_1901_1944_002_LEAP783/1/6/1 - Books of Deaths-Parish Nuestra Señora of the Asunción of Ámbar [1901-1940]

EAP942: Preserving Nyasaland African Congress historical records

The pilot project surveyed Nyasaland African Congress (NAC) records in selected districts in Malawi in order to assess the state of records, their storage conditions, and determine the extent as well as the preservation needs. The project created an inventory of the records and digitised a small selection of the identified records including minutes of meetings of the NAC; the NAC constitution; editorial comments of Malawi News pertaining to the Malawi Congress Party (MCP - successor organisation to NAC); photographs of the late Hon. Aleke Banda, a prominent nationalist and politician.

EAP942_1_3-Photos_Of_Aleke_Banda_0010_L
EAP942/1/3 - Photos of Aleke Banda

EAP942_1_1-Nyasaland_African_Congress_Constitution_Of_Organization_0001_L
EAP942/1/1 - Nyasaland African Congress Constitution of Organisation [1943]