Endangered archives blog

2 posts from October 2013

29 October 2013

Mongolia at a glance

Today Ulaanbaatar looks like any other capital city with its high rise buildings stretching ever upwards and its traffic either at a complete standstill or creeping along at a snail’s pace.

  Photograph of lanes of traffic in both directions - totally gridlocked. High rise buildings in the background.


But this development has been a fairly recent one as can be seen from the captivating photographs that were digitised as part of EAP264. The images date from the 1930s to the 1950s and include various aspects of Mongolian life before the Stalinist purge of 1937-8, making this a vital resource for any historian interested in the region.

Black and white photograph showing part of Gandan monastery (Megzid Janraiseg)standing out against the gers and single story cabins.

This picture shows a different part of the capital. The Megzid Janraiseg, a two storey Tibetan style temple, towers above its neighbouring buildings and yurts (‘ger’ in Mongolian). It is part of Gandantegchinlin Monastery complex and was built in 1912/13 to house a large copper sculpture that was erected in the hope that it would improve the eyesight of the 8th Jebtsundamba (Bogd Khan) the religious ruler of the country.  Sadly the copper was smelted down in 1938 and it was not until 1996 that a replacement 26.5 metre tall sculpture restored the building to its original function.

Colour photograph of the Janresig sculpture

Mongolian religious architecture can be divided into different types: ‘Khiid’ a Tibetan style of monastic complex built on a mountain side; and ‘sum’ or temple influenced by Chinese architectural aesthetics.  The ‘khüree’ refers to a national style – Ulaanbaatar previously being known as Ikh Khüree or ‘Great Camp’.

During the purge, it is estimated that 2,265 monastic buildings were destroyed and between 22,000 -35,000 people killed, 18,000 of whom were monks. Close to Ulaanbaatar stood Manzushir Khiid but only its remnants remain.

Colour photograph of the remains of the destroyed monastery

This 20th century painting by artist Jugder  shows the size of the complex and how the monastery used to look. The photograph below testifys to it having been a thriving religious centre up until the 1930s.

Map showing a birds's eye view of the monastery complex


Black and white photograph of People gathering at religious ritual in Manzushir monastery
EAP264/1/9/4/64 People gathering at religious ritual in Manzushir monastery, Central Mongolia [1930s]

Other photographs within the collection illustrate how fascinating Mongolian religious architecture was. There were wood buildings that were influenced by the circular ger shape, others by Chinese architecture and then there was the most fascinating of all - a hybrid of several types put together.

Black and white photograph of the round ger style temple
EAP264/1/9/5/76 A ger style temple in Ongiin Gol monastery, Central Mongolia [1930s].

Black and white photograph of the entrance with triple tiered roof.
EAP264/1/9/2/100 Hyatad Sum monastery, Ulaanbaatar

Black and white photograph of the two-storey building in Tibetan style with a circular ger structure on the roof.
EAP265/1/9/5/11 A temple in Ongiin Gol monastery, Central Mongolia [1930s]. A ger inspired upper storey on a Tibetan style building.

From the 1920s, modern buildings started being constructed in the capital,often in collaboration with soviet architects. By the 1940s, the buildings had a classical European style as can be seen by the photograph of the State Opera House designed by Gerhard Kozel and which still stands today.

Black and white photograph showing a wide and empty street (apart from a pedestrian). The scaffolding for the opera house is on the right.
EAP264/1/12/1/64 Building the State Opera House 

Neo-classical facade of the coral and white coloured opera house.The State Opera House as it is today


By the 1950s Mongolia was producing its own architects and it was B. Chimid who was instrumental in the planning and design of the 20th century city. These two bird’s eye views of Sukhbaatar Square shows how the city centre has developed into the place it is today.

Bird's eye view of Sukhbaatar Square

Colour photograph of the square as it is tooday


But perhaps my favourite photograph that makes up the architectural collection (and there are many, many other topics to explore) is this photograph of a branch of the Mongol Bank taken in the 1930s at Yamag, very close to Ulaanbaatar – I have a rather sad feeling that it is no longer standing. 

Black and white photograph of the bank. The central section is circular with a tower to the left and a single story extension to the right.

Do browse through the collection of EAP264 photographs, there are series on art and culture, festivals, the military, nature, religion - the list goes on and on.

14 October 2013

New online collections - October 2013

We have been busy this month with six projects going up online EAP165, EAP023, EAP248, EAP526, EAP217 and EAP191. These have produced over 167,000 images which are now available to view on our website.

The first project is EAP165, this project rescued two photographic collections on glass plate negatives from Guatemala, dated from the 1890s to 1930s.

The Yas-Noriega collection is the product of two photographers. Kohei Yasu emigrated from Japan to Guatemala in 1877 where he converted to Catholicism and changed his name to Juan José de Jesús Yas. With his godson José Domingo Noriega they photographed portraits of families and individuals from all different classes and ethnic groups in Guatemala. Their photos also provide a record of local traditions and the landscape of the region at that time. In particular Juan José de Jesús Yas was known for his interest in photographing clergy and other scenes of Catholicism in Guatemala.

EAP165/1/10 Image 75

The Tomás Zanotti collection is dated from around the same period. Zanotti migrated from Italy to Guatemala in the 1890s; he also photographed portraits of families and individuals from all different classes and ethnic groups. The pictures were taken in his studio, in the subjects homes or doing activities of their choosing, these photographs show the social and cultural change occurring in the region at that time.

EAP165/2/21 Image 44

Both collections are currently held at the The Center for Mesoamerican Research (CIRMA). When they arrived at CIRMA many of the glass plate negatives were in poor condition. During the project the negatives were cleaned and packaged and are now kept in a special photographic storage area at CIRMA. The digital copies will allow greater access to these materials without causing further damage to the originals.

EAP023 and EAP248 were pilot and major projects which digitised Marathi manuscripts. Marathi is an Indo-Aryan language which is used predominately in the Indian state of Maharashtra. There is inscriptional evidence extending back to A.D. 1012 and literature beginning in the 13th century. The texts are mainly religious in their subject matter but they also give a great deal of evidence about everyday life in pre-modern India. Some relate to sciences such as medicine, astronomy, engineering, and horse breeding. They are great resources for intellectual, social and religious history.

000030EAP023/1/1/1 – Image 30

EAP023 focused on the collections held at the Marathi Manuscript Centre in Pune. EAP248 digitised collections in two other institutions, the Prajna Pathshala in Wai and the Anandashram in Pune.

EAP248/1/52 Image 4

EAP526 digitised the endangered monastic archive at May Wäyni, in Tigray, Ethiopia. The collection consists of 91 manuscripts; most were produced from the last two hundred years but are copies of much older texts.

The manuscripts contain material valuable for the study of Ethiopian and Eastern Christian monasticism, containing rare Christian literature, biblical and liturgical texts. The manuscripts show texts relating to the history of the monastic community and its foundation as well as historical documents relating to the history of Ethiopia and the church from the 15th to 20th century.

The old church of May Wäyni and its storage facility recently collapsed and the manuscripts had been stored in a primitive hut, lying on the floor or on rough benches. Types of damage included mould, ravages of mice, caterpillar holes, water damage, burning, and detached and torn folios. The project allowed the material to be cleaned, packaged and removed to improved storage conditions.

EAP526/1/41 Image 185

EAP217 digitised endangered archival material written in the south dialect of the indigenous Yi language in Yunnan, China. The project successfully digitised nearly 600 volumes of Yi manuscripts from the public collection in Kunming and private collections in Xinping, Yuanyang and Mengzi, dating from the 18th to the early 20th century.

The archives are important materials for research on the indigenous Yi people in Southwest China. The language has survived for six centuries but is now endangered. The archives cover a wide range of topics including calendars, epics, history, medicine, philosophy, ritual, geography, literature and music. This material written in the Yi language is not available in either Chinese or other languages.

EAP217/1/5 – Image 8

EAP191 digitised periodicals of French India that were published in Pondicherry between 1800 and 1923. These publications include fragile periodicals that were published in Pondicherry under the French colonial administration, reflecting the daily realities of colonial life in Pondicherry. Some material in this collection has not been placed online due to copyright restrictions, this material can be viewed in the British Library Reading Rooms.

EAP191/1/1/2 Image 5

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

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