Endangered archives blog

4 posts from May 2009

29 May 2009

Testing new cataloguing system

I have spent most of this week helping to test a new cataloguing system the Library is designing for its archive and manuscript holdings. The introduction of this new system will be an exciting development in the life of the EAP. Most importantly, it will more fully integrate our catalogues with the Library's systems. But more pleasing still, for me, it will make the task of cataloguing both easier and quicker.

I hope to give more details when the new system is available.

Existing EAP catalogues can be found on our webpages, under the "Collections" tab.

22 May 2009

The story of the Yi archives

Human beings use the spoken word and written texts to pass on knowledge. In keeping with the theme of story-telling, here as a part of knowledge transfer, I thought I'd point to the material copied by one of our completed projects: Preservation and digitisation of Yi archives in public and private collections in Yunnan, China. This material is endangered not only from the physical conditons of its storage but also from its history of neglect and unfriendly government policies. The Yi archives contain the history and culture, religious beliefs, etc of minority groups in China.

Texts from the Yi archives, originally, were written for a local audience. They preserve a body of knowledge that is peculiar to the Yi that informs and explains aspects of how they view the world and the afterlife. Their oral literature, as tales or fables, are embedded with traditional wisdom, their clan histories re-tell the past, relating it to the present, and their religious practices help them make sense of the world and their place within it. These stories, histories and rituals belong to the Yi socieites from which they grew. They contain knowledge that connects the generations to each other and to the world as they experience it.

Here is a page recording the beginning of a sutra to pray for fortune:

EAP081_sutra_for_praying_for_fortune

It is important to preserve what remains of these written records as this will save also the language they are written in. Preservation of the language will in turn allow further study of the Yi people and Yi culture. Texts copied by the project include almanacs, sutras and practices used in ritual, the histories of families and records of oral stories. Traditionally the Yi texts are kept by priests who have responsibility for recording, saving and using them. These records are fast becoming all that is left of the story of the Yi people. For this reason the Project had a strong focus on making them widely available, to facilitate and encourage further research.

This page is from an almanac:

EAP081_almanac_CXY_010_006

13 May 2009

The importance of story

During May the National Literacy Trust, along with the rest of the UK, is celebrating National Share a Story Month. I thought the EAP blog should join in the fun. Several of our projects have copied manuscripts and printed books that contain stories, tales, myths and popular narratives of all sorts. This post is dedicated to the importance of story and the role stories have in our lives.

One of our projects working in India, Archiving texts in the Sylhet Nagri script, has digitally copied 103 texts. The Sylhet Nagri script was once widely used in north-eastern Bengal. The script was used in both printed texts and hand written manuscripts to record aspects of popular culture, including religious stories. The project copied several texts telling the story of the Battle of Karbala, a significant event in the history of Sunni and Shi'a Islam.

071_Jamnama_page1

The battle was fought between the adherents of Yazid and the family and followers of Husayn, on Muharram 10 in the 61st year of the Islamic calendar (October 10, 680 CE). Yazid and Husayn both claimed the title and position of Caliph. Husayn and his 72 followers were travelling to Kufa when Yazid, who had a much larger military force, ordered an army to intercept them. Yazid's forces surrounded Husayn at the desert oasis of Karbala.

After days of fruitless negotiations, during which the water supply to Husayn's encampment was cut off, Husayn and his band prepared for the fight that could not be avoided. The night before the battle he offered his followers the choice to flee. None accepted. The battle itself saw Husayn and his male followers killed. The women and children, including Husayn's sister Zainab bint Ali and his son, were taken prisoner.

The story of the Battle of Karbala has been seen as a fight between good and evil - the pious Husayn, who wanted to protect Islam, against the wicked Yazid, who lived impiously and owed his position to greed and bribery. Four tellings of this story have been copied by the EAP Project. Three of these are in compilations that have been called Jamnama, stories of wars and battles. These texts also contain "Jari" songs. The story is told and the songs are sung together. The other edition of the story is in a text that has been called Sahide Karbala.

071_Sahide_Karbala_page1

The version of the story told in the Jamnama is significant for its literary innovations and the creative narrative style that made this story of a distant land rouse spontaneous and heartfelt emotions in different regions of Bengal.

National Share a Story Month is organised by the Federation of Children's Book Groups.

05 May 2009

Mongolia and the free press

Last month we said goodbye to our Cataloguer Toni Hardy. Toni had been with us for six months. Most recently she was cataloguing EAP010 Preservation of rare periodical publications in Mongolia, a collection of newspapers copied from the Press Institute of Mongolia. The range of newspapers from this project represents unique historical material documenting political changes and the development of the indepent press in Mongolia after the fall of Communism in the early 1990s.

As objects of everyday use newspapers are often read, then discarded. Yet they also embody many of the ideals we attach to Democracy, such as freedom of the press and the public's right to know. The newspapers that form this Collection are part of Mongolia's recent social and political history. The next stage is unfolding as Mongolia currently debates the introduction of Freedom of Information legislation.

Newspapers are bastions of democracy. They are also great sources for researching local history and world events. This page from the Bodliin Solbitsol from 1994 shows a cartoon of the controversial Nobel Peace Prize which was awarded that year jointly to the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, the Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and the Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. The award recognised the 1993 Oslo Accords which was seen as a turning point and the beginning of a process with a promise of peace. The prize hoped to encourage further efforts of peace in the Middle East.

The cartoonist appears sceptical as to the success of this promise.

EAP010_Mongolianperiodicals_bs941216_04_sml

The Project also produced an online collection: Digital Archive of the Mongolian Newspapers 1990-1995. This site provides access to full-text versions of the newspapers.

We wish Toni every success in her career.