09 August 2023
Recent online collections include zoological records from Kenya, documents from a Sufi shrine in India, manuscripts from Java, and records from monasteries of cloistered nuns in Lima. You can read a brief overview about these projects below, or go straight to the online collections using these links:
- Preserving endangered zoological archival material in the National Museums of Kenya
- Exploring the archives of cloistered nuns in colonial Lima (Peru)
- Documents in the Sufi shrine at Dhar (India)
- Identifying and Digitising Eastern Salient Manuscripts of Java (Indonesia)
This project digitised zoological archival records from the Zoology department of the National Museums of Kenya. The records include field trip reports and catalogues that capture details such as species notes, the localities where samples were collected or recorded, and the sources or names of donors. The material spans four taxa: mammalogy, ornithology, ichthyology, and invertebrate zoology. Containing valuable research information on species taxonomy, natural history, and distribution, these records offer insights into historical animal species distribution, shedding light on habitat destruction and helping to map out the extent of species decline.
This project digitised archives from the 17th to 20th centuries of two monasteries of cloistered nuns in Lima, Peru: the Monasterio de Santa Rosa de Lima and the Monasterio Jesus, María y José (Clarisas Capuchinas). Most of these documents shed light on aspects of daily life in colonial and early republican Peru, areas that have been minimally investigated. Due to the scarcity of sources, the lives of nuns and women in general during this period have been under-researched. It is hoped that the materials now digitised will stimulate ongoing and future studies, offering insights into religious and everyday life in late colonial and early republican Lima.
The goal of this project was to digitise and examine documents related to the tomb complex of Kamal al-Din Chishti in Dhar, Madhya Pradesh, India. Kamal al-Din was a member of the renowned Chishti lineage of Sufis. After spending a period with Nizamuddin Auliya in Delhi, he migrated to central India in the late 1200s and passed away in 1331. His descendants have overseen Kamal al-Din’s tomb for seven centuries. Following some known and published inscriptions from the 1400s, the earliest extant documents from the shrine originate from the late 1600s, bearing seals linked to the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb (1658-1707). Subsequent documents correspond with the reigns of Bahadur Shah, Farrukhsiyar, Muhammad Shah, and Shah Alam II. The archive extends into the Maratha rule of central India, with examples persisting into the 20th century. Predominantly detailing property transactions and endowments, these documents offer invaluable insights into institutional history, charitable endeavours, officials, local geography, and land stewardship.
This project digitised 97 manuscripts from 24 different owners or collections in the regions of Banyuwangi, Jember, Bondowoso, Situbondo, and Lumajang on the island of Java, Indonesia. The manuscripts cover the subjects of religion, history, culture, metaphysics, etc, predominantly written in Javanese and Arabic, but including some in Madurese, Indonesian and Malay.
30 May 2023
Every now and then, researchers notify us of a conference talk focusing on content digitised by EAP projects. We are always thrilled to be told about these talks and it prompted us to create a digital lecture series of our own. We approached a handful of people, who we knew had worked on EAP content and they, very kindly, agreed to take part. We have created two themes in the first instance: Narratives within the Archive and Manuscripts on Magic and the links to the individual lectures are below. The presentations are absolutely fascinating and we hope you enjoy listening to them.
Narratives within the Archive
Dr Helga Baitenmann - Hidden Narratives of Indigenous Women in Nineteenth-Century Mexico
Dr Mégane Coulon - Life histories in mid-nineteenth century Freetown, Sierra Leone
Manuscripts on Magic
Eyob Derillo (PhD student) - Ethiopian amulet scrolls, talisman and divination
Professor Fallou Ngom - Healing, Divination, and Protection Techniques in Wolof and Mandinka Manuscripts
Dr Sam van Schaik - Buddhist Magic
Dr Farouk Yahya - Malay Magic and Divination Manuscripts from Indonesia
We would like to take this opportunity to thank the contributors and if you are using EAP content for your own research and would like to notify us, please email us at [email protected].
30 March 2023
As a PhD placement student at the British Library, I had the privilege of being part of the Endangered Archives Programme. It allowed me to dive into the rich history and culture of West Africa through its manuscripts, and to play a role in making these unique works accessible to a wider audience. I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with such a talented and supportive team. Initially, I had planned to participate in the PhD placement scheme full-time, but due to unforeseen circumstances, I had to switch to part-time. The team was incredibly supportive and understanding throughout my journey, making the transition smooth and hassle-free.
My initial meetings were with Jody Butterworth (EAP) and Mariam de Haan (Lead Curator Africa), who introduced me to EAP's work in Mali. I was then connected with Sophie Sarin (project holder for the projects in Djenné and Timbuktu) and Saadou Traore (who catalogued the several thousands of manuscripts). I was also introduced to Lucy Hinnie, who trained me on Wikipedia. Through Lucy, I also had the opportunity to attend the University of Edinburgh's "Women in Red" Wikithon online. The aim of this is to highlight and update Wikipedia pages about notable women who were not yet featured on the platform. The idea was also to highlight the rich content of the manuscripts on various pages dedicated to Mali on Wikipedia as well. Whilst this was one of the main aims of the placement, we found out that the Wiki entries would be more suited in the local languages and it was difficult to highlight primary sources on Wikipedia as the encyclopaedic nature of the platform requires context and other reliable published sources talking about the manuscripts. Since this was not the case, we decided to publish a blogpost on the British Library’s website instead.
My PhD placement focused on highlighting digitised manuscripts from West Africa for a West African as well as worldwide audience. Robert Miles, from the EAP team, provided me with the list of “most viewed” manuscripts from Djenné, Senegal and Nigeria, which was helpful in choosing manuscripts to be included in my report. The chosen manuscripts relate to everyday West African Muslim practices such as prayers for getting along with a superior, interpreting dreams, sayings of the Prophet, astronomy, geomancy, prayers for carrying a baby to term and even prayers for cursing the wicked.
Exploring the manuscripts was an exciting adventure. I was fascinated by the different handwriting styles and unique topics exclusive to West Africa. At first, it was challenging as I had to get used to the anomalies in the authors and scribes' writing styles. For instance, most writers of the manuscripts put the dot of the Arabic letter "fa”/ ف ) under the alphabet instead of above it, and the letter "qaaf/ “ق that usually had two dots on top sometimes had one and at other not even one! I found this to be a consistent characteristic in all the manuscripts I studied. Another noticeable characteristic common among all the manuscript was the traditional Muslim opening phrase, Basmalah, which praises Allah and his prophet Muhammad, the equivalent of doxology in Christian practice.
The manuscripts were unique in their own way, and no two were exactly alike. Despite not having page numbers, order of the pages was maintained in some by copying the word of the next page at the bottom of the preceding one. Additionally, some of the text highlighted the name of Allah and Muhammad in red ink. There was also the use of Ajami script, tables and sometimes figures in some manuscripts. For example, "Fā’idat ḍarb al-tis‘at ‘alā al-Shaykh Muḥammad al-Ghazāliy: Esoterics", which I could not decipher due to time constraints and hope that someone else researching the collections will be able to do so in future. I hope that my efforts will help others who are interested in learning about the rich history and literary culture of West Africa.
My report on the manuscripts explored can be found on the EAP website, along with my notes of any anomalies and illegible and ambiguity within the texts. Both these documents will also be added to the Library's digital repository and will hopefully be of interest to future researchers.
Nahida Ahmed is currently undertaking a PhD titled "Sociolinguistic Study of Wakhi in Urban Areas" at SOAS. The EAP team would like to thank Nahida for all her work over the past few months - it has been an absolute joy having her with us.
03 March 2023
This month we would like to highlight five new collections that can be accessed via the EAP website. Two of these are from India, with the others from Mali, Mongolia, and Brazil.
- Creating a digital archive of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century criminal and notarial records in Mamanguape, São João do Cariri, and João Pessoa, Paraíba, Brazil (EAP853)
- Digitisation and preservation of rare historical sources of Mongolia written in the 19th and early 20th centuries (EAP927)
- Survey and Creation of the Digital Documentary Resources in Nilgiri and Coimbatore (1850-1970) (EAP1274)
- Documenting royalty through the changing political culture in Kongu Nadu, South India, 1400-1950 (EAP1160)
- Recovering the rich local history of Kita (Mali) through the salvaging of its archival heritage (EAP1085)
Creating a digital archive of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century criminal and notarial records in Mamanguape, São João do Cariri, and João Pessoa, Paraíba, Brazil (EAP853)
This project digitised four collections of criminal and notarial records in Paraíba, Brazil. They should prove to be a great resource for studies of slavery and abolition, orphans and wards of the court, crime, and property ownership in the Brazilian Northeast. The four collections digitised are:
• EAP853/1 Fórum Miguel Levino de Oliveira Ramos, Comarca de Mamanguape (1846-1918)
• EAP853/2 Arquivo do Fórum Judicial da Comarca de João Pessoa (21 Mar 1855-27 Mar 1909)
• EAP853/3 Arquivo do Memorial do Tribunal de Justiça da Paraíba (1778-1893)
• EAP853/4 Arquivo do Fórum Nivaldo Farias Brito, Comarca de São João do Cariri (17 Sep 1782-11 Apr 1921)
The records consist mostly of legal proceedings from criminal, civil, and commercial courts. They include deeds of sale, powers of attorney, inventories, criminal lawsuits, eviction orders, and many other records created in the jurisdictions. More detailed information is available on each of the four collections catalogue records.
Digitisation and preservation of rare historical sources of Mongolia written in the 19th and early 20th centuries (EAP927)
This project digitised c. 3000 rare, unpublished documents in seven different sub-collections, held by the Institute of History and Ethnography at the Mongolian Academy of Sciences (MAS). The majority are typewritten copies of 19th century-early 20th century materials created in the 1940s-1950s by scholars copying them into Uyghur Mongolian or Cyrillic script. The documents illustrate the events of the Manchu empire (lasted until 1911), Mongolian sovereignty (1911-1921), Chinese-Russian-Mongolian connections, and the start of socialism (from 1921 on).
Survey and Creation of the Digital Documentary Resources in Nilgiri and Coimbatore (1850-1970) (EAP1274)
The four collections digitised in this project consist mostly of photographs dating from the late 19th to mid 20th centuries. Other records digitised include newspaper clippings, postcards, and other documents. The four collections available are:
• EAP1274/1 Collections of Rao Bahadur C.M. Ramachandran Chettiar of Coimbatore (1925-1953)
• EAP1274/2 Annual Meeting photographs of the United Planters' Association of South India (1893-1953)
• EAP1274/3 Collections of Nilgiri Documentation Centre (NDC) (1st half of the 20th century)
• EAP1274/4 Badaga Family Collection (Mid 20th century)
EAP1274/1 contains photographs of various temples in India, portraits of celebrities, and newspaper cuttings related to temples and monuments. The EAP1274/3 collection includes the records of Dr. Philo Irudhayanath, and Mr. A. Dharmalingam who founded the Nilgiri Documentation Centre in the 1940s, and created a collection of photographs related to the Nilgiris.
Documenting royalty through the changing political culture in Kongu Nadu, South India, 1400-1950 (EAP1160)
This project carried out a survey of records from various locations in Kongu Nadu, in addition to digitising notebooks and registers from one of them – the Idayakottai Zamin Collection. The records address a variety of issues of Idayakottai Zamin and their estate, and include acquittance rolls, complaints, land accounts, minutes books, temple accounts and leases. Many of the documents are related to the social history and financial activity of the Idayakottai Zamin, their participation in municipal administration, and association with various government departments and officials.
Recovering the rich local history of Kita (Mali) through the salvaging of its archival heritage (EAP1085)
This is a continuation of the EAP820 project which carried out a survey (and sample digitisation) of archives of the Kita Cercle in Mali. The project revealed a larger number of records in poor condition and in need of digitising resulting in this follow-on project with more material preserved digitally.
Kita played a crucial role in the French colonisation of western Mali, partly because of it being the location of one of the earliest colonial railroad stations in the country. The Cercle was the main colonial administrative authority and created a tremendous amount of information on social and economic life in the region. Records digitised include those related to political affairs; state surveillance; meteorological reports; decrees, ordinances, and circulars; administrative records and correspondence.
19 December 2022
This month we are highlighting the following three projects that have recently been made available to view online.
- EAP1073: Creation of Historical Photography Archive at the History Department of Khartoum University [Sudan]
- EAP1293: Documenting and Copying (Estampage) Sluice Inscriptions: A Case Study of Pudukottai [India]
- EAP1294: Safeguarding for Posterity Two Private Collections of Palm-Leaf Manuscripts from the Tamil Country [India]
This project carried out a survey of private photography collections in Sudan and included the digitisation of images from one of these, the Ali Muhammad Osman Collection. This collection is made up of personal photographic material from his childhood, his teenage years in which he experimented as a photographer and sought connections with other photographers, and into his early adulthood in which he went to university and studied visual arts, joined the scouts and briefly the military, and traveled across Sudan. 319 photographs were digitised in total.
This project visited 60 sites in Tamil Nadu to document inscriptions found on the sluices used in ancient irrigation tanks for water management. The inscriptions can help researchers to understand the history, irrigation techniques, water management, social structure, rituals and many other cultural aspects associated with the sluices.
This project catalogued and digitised two collections of palm-leaf manuscripts in Tamil Nadu: the Kalliṭaikuṟicci and Villiampākkam collections. 186 Sanskrit, Tamil, and Manipravala manuscripts from the 18th-19th centuries were digitised in total and include works on: theology, philosophy, poetry, medical texts, temple rites, Śaiva praise verses, vedic, Pāninian Grammar, Śrīvaiṣṇava treatise, Śrīvaiṣṇava poetry, Dharmaśāstra, Citrakāvyam, Kāvya, Mīmāṃsā, vedic, Pramāṇa, Vyākaraṇa.
30 September 2022
EAP recently commissioned a short film, in the hope that it would raise the profile of the Programme and highlight the importance of making digitised content freely available to everyone. The video is now available on the Library’s YouTube channel and we hope you enjoying watching it.
EAP would like to thank the British Library Collections Trust for generously supporting the making of the film.
22 June 2022
We have another 4 new projects online to bring to your attention. This time from Indonesia, Iran, India, and West Africa:
- Bima Manuscripts [EAP988]
- Zoroastrian historical documents and Avestan manuscripts [EAP1014]
- Private records of leading business families of Early Colonial Bengal [EAP1104]
- Pulaar Islamic Texts: Six Archives of the Taal Families in Senegal and Mali [EAP1245]
Bima Manuscripts [EAP988]
Led by Dr Titik Pudjiastuti, this pilot project digitised 205 manuscripts that represent the history and culture of Bima - one of the provinces in Nusa Tenggara Barat, in the eastern part of Sumabawa Island, Indonesia.
In 2016, these manuscripts survived an avalanche and flood that affected the region. And this project has gone some way to helping protecting the manuscripts against future natural disasters.
This major project was led by Dr Saloumeh Gholami. It digitised 11 manuscripts containing more than 8,000 pages. It also digitised more than 15,000 historical, economic, and legal documents regarding the religious minority of Zoroastrians in Iran.
The collection came to light in February 2016 in a Zoroastrian house in the Priests' Quarter [Maḥalle-ye dastūrān] in Yazd in Iran. Arabab Mehraban Poulad, a famous Zoroastrian merchant from a priest family, had accumulated and archived his own documents and Avestan manuscripts as well as the documents of his father and grandfather over the course of his lifetime. This collection now belongs to his grandchild Mehran Pouladi.
Led by Dr Tridibsantapa Kundu, this major project digitised the private records of 11 leading business families of colonial Bengal. This project built on the EAP906 pilot project, also led by Dr Tridibsantapa Kundu, where 25 business families were approached and a survey of the various collections was produced.
These collections are important for understanding the Bengali business community and their strategies in dealing with the English East India Company and the British Raj.
Led by Dr Mohamed Mwamzandi and Dr Samba Camara, this project digitised manuscripts written by some of the most influential Haalpulaar (speakers of Pulaar) Islamic scholars of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Pulaar is a variety of the Fula/Fulani language spoken by over five million people in the West African countries of Senegal, The Gambia, Mauritania, Guinea, and Mali. About 40 million Africans use varieties of the Fula/Fulani language. And you can read more about these manuscripts and the project to digitise them in a blog post written by the project's co-lead, Dr Samba Camara.
08 June 2022
This is a guest post by the EAP1245 project co-lead, Dr Samba Camara.
This project digitised Islamic manuscripts written by speakers of the Pulaar language – or the Haalpulaar people – in Senegal and Mali. Pulaar is a variety of the Fula/Fulani language spoken by over five million people in the West African countries of Senegal, The Gambia, Mauritania, Guinea, and Mali. About 40 million Africans use varieties of the Fula/Fulani language.
The Fuuta Toora region, the Pulaar language, and Islam
The original creators of this project’s 6,000 folios of manuscriptions hailed from Fuuta Tooro, a Pulaar-speaking cultural region situated around the middle of the Senegal River. Fuuta Tooro straddles parts of northern Senegal and southwestern Mauritania. Fuuta Jombuku, a Haalpulaar enclave, exists in southwestern Mali. It was born from the nineteenth-century settlements of Haalpulaar migrants who had followed Al Hajj Umar Taal (ca. 1797-1864) in his campaigns to spread Islam in West Africa. What the Haalpulaar have in common is not just a language. They also share a traditional rootedness in Islam and a distinctive Muslim culture carried in the Pulaar language.
Muslim culture and chanting local remembrance poetry
Mawluudu, or the chanting of local remembrance poetry (dhikr), constitutes an integral part of that culture. Professional singers perform mawluudu chant during religious events, such as the commemoration of prophet Muhammad’s birth (mawlud), Islamic graduation ceremonies (ɓaaral, refto), and during welcome ceremonies (teertooji). Modern technology and Internet have taken mawluudu poetry and culture to the media and online. The chanted texts include a panegyric praise poetry in Arabic and in ‘Ajamī (the use of the Arabic script to transcribe foreign languages). Arabic texts were composed by authors, such as Al Hajj Umar Taal, Egypt’s Imam al-Būsīrī, and others from the Tijaniyya Brotherhood. Pulaar ‘Ajamī poems were composed by several scholars of Al Hajj Umar Taal’s school of Tijaniyya in Fuuta Tooro and beyond. The texts extoll the attributes of God (Allāh), Islamic prophet Muhammad, and Algerian-born Ahmad al-Tījānī. The latter founded the Muslim Brotherhood of Tijaniyya to which the authors of this project’s manuscripts belong.
The digitisation project and team
Raised in Fuuta Tooro, Dr. Samba Camara, who is this project’s initiator, grew up listening to mawluudu, knowing some popular poems by heart like many Haalpulaar people.
In the EAP1245 project, Dr. Samba Camara collaborated with his UNC colleague Dr. Mohamed Mwamzandi and UNC digitization specialist Kerry Bannen to locate and digitise the written source of Haalpulaar Muslim culture. The effort was not only to preserve manuscripts from precarious storage conditions that exposed them to dust, termite, rain, natural fading, wear, and tear; but also, to facilitate their access and study by scholars of West African literature, popular music, and Islam.
The project’s field work began in 2019, shortly after the projects Principal Investigators were awarded a Major Project Award by the British Library’s Endangered Archives Programme to digitise Haalpulaar manuscripts. The team undertook three field trips to Senegal: in October 2019, December 2020, and June 2021. Unfortunately, the delays in the final trip, due to Covid-19 travel restrictions, hindered the digitization of several Pulaar ‘Ajamī materials in Fuuta Tooro.
In Dakar, the team took base in two studio bases – in the West African Research Center and at Ceerno Madani Taal’s residence – and photographed manuscripts collected from different locations in Fuuta Tooro region.
The team’s collection of local Islamic manuscripts in Fuuta was facilitated by Ceerno Madani Taal who made his library available to us along with a team of scholars to help with metadata production. The team benefitted from a preliminary research trip in 2018 to Koniakari (Mali) facilitated by regionally celebrated Ceerno Hamidou Bane. Director of the West African Research Center Ousmane Sene and his team, our research assistants Mountaga Ghali Ba, Oumar Sy, Seydou Nourou Ly, Abdoulaye Barry, Dr. Delivrance Nzale, and archivist Cheikh Oumar Tall brought immense support to this project.
Ceerno Madani Taal is the current custodian of the manuscripts recorded under his name and collected from his Dakar residence in Medina. The collection includes 11manuscripts in total. Ceerno Madani Taal’s collection is housed at his residence and includes unbound and bound manuscripts for a total of 4090 folios. The manuscripts were originally under the custodianship of Ceerno Seydou Nourou Taal (1880-1980). Upon his death, Ceerno Mountaga Tall (1914-2007) took over custodianship. Then, he passed on the library to Ceerno Madani Taal. The manuscripts are stored in leather folders and kept at Ceerno Madani Taal’s family library in Medina. The project’s metadata reveals that eight of the 11 manuscripts were composed by Al Hajj Umar Taal. The other three were authored by Haalpulaar scholars Shaykh Ahmad Ndiaye (aka Demba Raabi), Muhammad al-Jamrābal Mu’adh al- Fūta Jalūwī, and Mountaga Tāl. Al Hajj Umar Taal’s texts include his originals, as well as foreign books originally authored by Arab scholars. The manuscripts are wrapped in leather and cardboard folders, stored at Ceerno Madani Taal’s family library. The texts cover assorted topics about general Islamic education, Qur’an exegesis, panegyric poetry, hagiography, and the expansion of Islam. Texts also cover Tijaniyya teachings based on the text of founder Ahmad al-Tījānī and the well-known Imam Mālik’s al-Muwatta concerning Islamic law about marriage, trade relations, food and goods, lands and land-related law, civil and human rights, collective property, and leadership.
Mountaga Ba is the current custodian of the manuscripts recorded in his name and collected from the town of Pate Galo (northern Senegal). Ba’s family holding includes 54 small unbound book manuscripts and loose folios. The material was mostly authored by the custodian’s father, Muhammad al-Ghāli Bā who, during his lifetime had occupied important political and religious positions in both Senegal and Mauritania. In Senegal, al-Ghāli Ba was the biographer and member of the entourage of supreme leader (Khalif-General) of the Taal branch of Tijaniyya and he worked with both Ceerno Saydu Nuuru Taal and Mountaga Taal. In Mauritania, he was an adviser to Moktar Ould Daddah, the president of Mauritania from 1960 to 1978 and worked with the country’s national radio at the latter’s request. During his stay there, he authored several manuscripts documenting socioeconomic and political life in Mauritania. The manuscripts document al-Ghāli Bā’s lifework. The files are of varying sizes, ranging from manuscripts as big as 150 pages to short texts of only three folios in length. The book manuscripts cover Islamic sciences, history, Islamic education in Pulaar speaking society, praise poetry, Sufism, and several biographies of Sufis of the Tijaniyya brotherhood. The folios contain Islamic praise poems, correspondences and, sometimes, a mixture of both. The correspondence was written and/or received during religious and secular occasions. Majority of the manuscripts were composed by Muhammad al-Ghāli Ba (d.1991) of Pate Galo. Some other folios were authored by Mamad al- Amīn Āj, Sall Ahmad Al Hajj, Abubakr Sī, Mountaga Ba, and a few unknown authors.
Oumar Sy is the custodian of the manuscripts recorded in his name. Oumar Sy’s collection differs from the above collections in that it is comparatively recent – beginning in the 1980s – and was composed in Pulaar `Ajamī. The Sy collection includes ten small unbound manuscripts and folios. The material was mostly authored by Oumar Sy, and some of the files are copies of famous mawluudu songs originally composed by celebrated local poets, such as Oumar Sy’s teacher, Hamet Sy. A small set of unbound Arabic folios was authored by the custodian's friend, Ahmed Tijān Bah. The files are of varying sizes, ranging from manuscripts as big as fifty pages to works of two folios in length. The manuscripts are praise poems in panegyric style.
Today, the manuscripts in the EAP1245 collections constitute a living Haalpulaar culture. The locals’ engagement with the manuscripts has given the texts a continuity of modern social life through time.
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