THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Endangered archives blog

19 posts categorized "Arabic"

14 November 2018

Mandinka Ajami and Arabic Manuscripts of Casamance, Senegal

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This a wonderful blog written by Eleni Castro, OpenBU & ETD Program Librarian at Boston University as well as Project Technical Lead for EAP1042.

This October we presented a poster entitled, “Digital Preservation of Mandinka Ajami Materials of Senegal” at FORCE2018 (Montreal, Canada), which is an annual conference on making research and scholarship more broadly and openly available. This poster provided a project overview and update on the work we have been doing for EAP 1042 - an international research collaboration between Boston University, the West African Research Center, and local experts in Senegal, which involves visiting manuscript owners in the Casamance region of Senegal to work with them to digitally preserve and make more broadly available manuscripts written in Arabic and Mandinka Ajami (Mandinka using Arabic script) from their personal libraries.

In January 2018, we gave a three day digital preservation workshop at the West African Research Center (WARC) in Dakar, and shortly thereafter went to Ziguinchor to begin our digitisation field work. Overall, the team is spending 15 months 1) interviewing manuscript owners and digitising rare manuscripts from Ziguinchor, Kolda, and Sédhiou, 2) curating and post-processing over 14,000 digital images, and 3) depositing three independent copies at: WARC in Dakar, the British Library, and Boston University’s African Ajami Library on OpenBU. At the time of writing, we have digitised over 10,000 Arabic and Mandinka Ajami manuscript pages (some bilingual).

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Digitisation Workshop team at the West African Research Center in Dakar, Senegal (Jan. 2018)

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Project PI, Dr. Fallou Ngom, looking over manuscripts with manuscript owner, El-hadji Lamine Bayo

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Ibrahima Ngom (photographer) and Ablaye Diakité (local project manager) photographing manuscripts from the Abdou Khadre Cisse collection (Jan. 2018)

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Ibrahima Yaffa interviewing manuscript owner Abdou Khadre Cisse and his brother Cherif Cisse. Filmed by project photographer, Ibrahima Ngom

As we began our digitisation, we noticed that there was a large number of bilingual manuscripts written in both Arabic and Mandinka Ajami, which is very different from the mostly unilingual Wolof Ajami manuscripts digitised in EAP 334. The genres and subject matter found in these works varied widely, from religious to secular topics, such as: astrology, poetry, divination, Islamic education, jurisprudence, Sufism, code of ethics, translations & commentaries of the Quran and Islamic texts from Arabic into Mandinka, stories about Mandinka leaders and important historical figures (including women), records of important local events such as the founding of villages, ancestral traditions, and Mandinka social institutions.

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Manuscript of a long form poem praising the Prophet Muhammad, written in Arabic with marginalia in Arabic and some Mandinka Ajami (Abdou Khadre Cisse Collection)

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Mandinka healing document (Abdou Karim Thiam Collection)

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19th Century watermark found in Biniiboo manuscript (Abdou Khadre Cisse Collection)

Since we are working in remote areas, with non-studio conditions, we encountered some technical issues early on. Finding the right lighting has been an ongoing challenge, since our time in the homes of manuscript owners is precious and limited, and so we have had to work with available light and the help of a macro ring flash. Our camera overheats after +1h of continuous use, but we found that by replacing an extra hot battery with a cooler one, helps us resume digitisation much faster. Since we have a geographically dispersed team, we have setup a communication channel via WhatsApp, and upload files on Google Drive for backup and review as soon as a new collection is being worked on. Internet speeds can be quite slow when sending these large raw image files, but a mobile hotspot modem has helped with internet access while working in the field.

While we will be wrapping up digitisation and curation of these manuscripts by April 2019, there is still more work to be done to help researchers more effectively study and explore these materials. We will be looking into using a IIIF image viewer for scholars to better be able to compare various manuscripts and annotate them. Transcription is a longer term goal, since more unicode work is needed to extend Arabic script characters for African Ajami manuscripts to be full-text searchable in their actual languages.

24 September 2018

Call for applications now open

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Do you know of any collections that are currently at risk and need preserving? The Endangered Archives Programme is now accepting preliminary applications for the next annual funding round – the deadline for submission of preliminary applications is 12 noon 19 November 2018 and full details of the application procedures and documentation are available on the EAP website.

DCL 0003Digitising in Cuba

The Endangered Archives Programme (EAP) has been running at the British Library since 2004 through funding by Arcadia, a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin, with the aim of preserving rare vulnerable archival material around the world. The Programme awards grants to relocate the material to a safe local archival home where possible, to digitise it, and to deposit copies with local archival partners and with the British Library. These digital collections are then available for researchers to access freely through the British Library website or by visiting the local archives. The Programme has funded over 350 projects in 90 countries world-wide and has helped to preserve manuscripts, rare printed books, newspapers and periodicals, audio and audio-visual materials, photographs and temple murals.

There three main types of grant:

  • Pilot projects investigate the potential for and/or feasibility of a major grant. A pilot can also be a small digitisation project. They should last for no more than 12 months and have a budget limit of £15,000.
  • Major projects gather and copy material. This type of grant may also relocate the material to a more secure location/institution within the country. These projects usually last 12 months, or up to 24 months and have a budget limit of £60,000.
  • Area grants will be awarded for larger scale projects. They are similar to a major grant, but larger in scale and ambition. Applicants must demonstrate an outstanding track record of archival preservation work and be associated with an institution that has the capacity to facilitate a large-scale project. The EAP will only award a maximum of two area grants in each funding round. They can last for up to 24 months and have a budget limit of £150,000.

A further type of grant will be introduced in 2019:

  • Rapid-response grants can be used to safeguard an archive which is in immediate and severe danger. These grants are intended for the most urgent situations where a delay in the decision process could result in extensive damage to the material. These grants are not subject to the time restrictions of the yearly EAP funding cycle and can be applied for at any time. They must last for less than 12 months and have a budget limit of £15,000.

If you know of an archive in a region of the world were resources are limited, we really hope you will apply. If you have any questions regarding the conditions of award or the application process, do email us at endangeredarchives@bl.uk

01 September 2016

Call for Applications

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Do you know of any collections that are currently at risk and need preserving? The Endangered Archives Programme is now accepting grant applications for the next annual funding round – the deadline for submission of preliminary applications is 4 November 2016 and full details of the application procedures and documentation are available on the EAP website. This year we will also be accepting online applications.

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EAP843: Part of the Archibishopric’s Archive, Sandiago de Cuba. A pilot project undertaken in 2015 with a major project about to begin.

The Endangered Archives Programme has been running at the British Library since 2004 through funding by Arcadia, with the aim of preserving rare vulnerable archival material around the world. This aim is achieved through the award of grants to relocate the material to a safe local archival home where possible, to digitise the material, and to deposit copies with local archival partners and with the British Library. These digital collections are then available for researchers to access freely through the British Library website or by visiting the local archives. The digital collections from 165 projects are currently available online, consisting of over 5 million images and several thousand sound recordings.

This year we have started making our sound recordings available for online streaming and one of our most popular archives is the Syliphone Label.

The Programme has helped to preserve manuscripts, rare printed books, newspapers and periodicals, audio and audio-visual materials, photographs and temple murals. Since 2004 approximately 300 projects have been funded. Last year awards were given for projects based in Argentina, Bulgaria, Cuba, Ghana, India, Ivory Coast, Madagascar, Malawi, Mexico, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Russia, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan and Turks and Caicos Islands.

The following images give a sense of the type of material that went online over the past year.

Image 4EAP692/1/1/2  Alagar kovil Kallalagar Inner Mandapa Ceiling East [17th Century]. Part of the pilot project to digitise temple murals in Tamil Nadu. The team have now started a major grant.

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EAP727/6/25: བླ་མའི་རྣལ་འབྱོར་བསམ་པ་ལྷུན་འགྲུབ་དང་མྱུར་འགྲུབ་མ་བཞུགས་སོ།། (bla ma'i rnal 'byor bsam pa lhun 'grub dang myur 'grub ma bzhugs so) [Mid-19th century]. Tibetan Buddhist manuscript from Amdo, PR China

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EAP755/1/1/86 Mendoza. Photographs taken by Annemarie Heinrich, Argentina. The team working on this project have also been awarded  a major grant.

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EAP856/1/6 Journal du Premier Ministre Rainilaiarivony (Tome III) [May 1881 - Sep 1881]. 19th century archives written by Prime Minister Rainilaiarivony (written in Malagasy.  Another project is also underway on Madagascar.

So, if you know of an archive in a region of the world were resources are limited, we really hope you will apply. If you have any questions regarding the conditions of award or the application process, do email us at endangeredarchives@bl.uk

23 September 2015

5 million images online

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In February, the Endangered Archives Programme celebrated its tenth anniversary and the various press releases and newspaper articles all quoted that we had 4 million images online. It is hard to believe that today we reached the milestone of 5 million images.

I thought I would use this opportunity to reflect on some of the projects that have gone online since the beginning of the year – doing a ‘round the world’ selection.

One of the first projects to be made available this year was EAP164, which consisted of people's memoirs and diaries from rural societies along the Ukrainian Steppe. As well as paper archives, there is a wonderful selection of photographs giving a real sense of community, as this picnic illustrates.

  Image 1EAP164/1/2/3 Album of photos of representatives of a family - Perovskyh [1891-1990]

From the Africa collections, we put EAP286 online, a project from Ethiopia that digitised both Muslim and Christian manuscripts. A substantial part of the collection consists of Asmat prayers,  and this is an example of part of a 19th century scroll.

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EAP286/1/1/38 Asmat Prayers [19th century]

To show the variety of the collection, this is the first page of an incomplete Taḫmīs al-Fayyūmī on the "Poem of the Mantle" by al-Būṣīrī.

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EAP286/1/1/489 Uncomplete Taḫmīs al-Fayyūmī on the "Poem of the Mantle" by al-Būṣīrī, The Unwān
al-šarīf ("The Token of the Noble") on the birth of the Prophet [18th century]

EAP566 is an example of one of the Asian projects that went online, a very impressive collection of 18th and 19th century Urdu periodicals. The articles cover an incredibly broad range of subject matter and the accompanying illustrations are a joy to browse through, as can be seen from these pages from Nairang-i khiyal.

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EAP566/1/4/10/1 Nairang-i_khiyal (Volume and Issue not known) [1932]

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EAP566/1/4/10/1 Nairang-i_khiyal (Volume and Issue not known) [1932]

My final continent from the EAP worldwide whistle-stop tour, of course, is the Americas and one important project that went online was EAP563 – the archives of the engineering firm ‘Hume Brothers’ which was set up in Argentina in 1880. The company's main work consisted of planning and building thousands of kilometers of roads, not only in Argentina but also throughout Uruguay, Chile and Brazil. It is a project that contains a mixture of texts, drawings and photographs.

This is a photograph of the construction of a lift bridge over the Riachuelo in Buenos Aires.

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EAP563/1/5/4/3 Construction of a lift bridge over the Riachuelo in Buenos. Aires. It belonged to Ferrocarril Sud ( F.C.S.) [Early 20th century]

And this example is a stereoscopic view of the San Roque Dam in Argentina.

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EAP563/1/5/5/1252 San Roque Dam (Argentina). [c 1945]

But of course I must not leave out the two projects that went online this month and got us to 5 million images. The first was EAP753, a pilot project that carried out an inventory and sample digitisation of parish documents in the area of Belém do Pará, Brazil.

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EAP753/1/1/4 Cairary Baptisms, n 4 [1895-1901]

and EAP541, which digitised the historical archives in the Public Records and Archives Administration (PRAAD) in Tamale, Northern Ghana. I rather liked the fact that we have records about latrines - this has to be a first for EAP!

  Image 9EAP541/1/1/88: Salaga-Site for septic Tank Laterines [1952-73]

11 August 2015

New online collections - August 2015

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This month two projects have gone online, EAP352 and EAP764.

The first of these projects is EAP352. The project digitised Arabic and Jawi (Arabic Malay) manuscripts that come from two regions in Indonesia - Western Sumatra (Minangkabau region) and Jambi. The 11 collections held in private hands contain manuscripts from two Sufi brotherhoods: Shattariyah and Naqshbandiyah.

The texts include treatises on the peculiarities of regional Islam such as the history of local religious traditions, hagiographical works and documents on the Naqshbandiyah and Shattariyah mystical conceptions written by local Shaikh’s. They also contain unique examples of calligraphy, illumination and bookbinding. The manuscripts describing Suluk mystical ritual are particularly noteworthy, as the ritual is practiced only in the remote corners of Sumatra and is considered to be unpopular among younger generations of Muslims. They contain interesting examples of al-Qur’an and works on traditional medicine in Jambi.

Study of such written heritage can contribute greatly to the history of Sumatra as well as the history of Islam and Sufism. 

EAP352_ EMWSPJCSB_SSSB _06_ EMWSPJCSB_039EAP352/1/6: Dalail al-Khairat [19th century copy of the famous work of Shadziliyah Sheikh of the 15th cent. Muhammad al-Jazuli from Northern Africa] – Image 39

The second project is EAP764, a pilot project which surveyed documentary material located in the archive of the Prefecture of Bandiagara (Mali). This was undertaken in order to preserve collections of historical and anthropological relevance from the early decades of French colonialism. The archival material falls within the wide area of the Cercle, an administrative unit introduced in 1903 by the French, which came to encompass a territory reaching up to Burkina Faso. Bandiagara is still the capital of the Dogon country, an area of extraordinary cultural interest and is included in the UNESCO World Heritage list. Since the region is rich with oral traditions and has few written records, such documents, written in French by the colonial administrators, represent valuable and unique evidence of a historical period which has been little investigated. The collections identified will be of great interest for researchers looking at the history, law, religion, anthropology, politics, demography and economy of the region.

The project was successful in identifying the most endangered and precious collections dating back to the early decades of the 20th century. A sample of these collections was digitised and is now available to view online.

EAP764_JR_1912_1914_006EAP764/1/1/1: Tribunal de Province du premier janvier 1912 au 28 avril 1914 Court of Province from Jan 1, 1912 to April 28, 1914 – Image 6

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.

09 April 2015

New online collections - April 2015

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This month three projects have gone up online. EAP031, EAP039 and EAP286. EAP031 and EAP039 both digitised Buddhist manuscripts, the first from Mongolia and the latter from Bhutan. EAP286 digitised a collection of manuscripts from Ethiopia.

EAP031 digitised the private collection of Danzan Ravjaa. Ravjaa was the 5th incarnation in the lineage of the Gobi Noyons, whose monastery was at the centre of a political and artistic renaissance located at the crossroads of Tibet, Mongolia and China during the 19th century. These Buddhist manuscripts have recently been unearthed from caves in the Outer Mongolian province of Dorngobi. During the communist regime Buddhism was suppressed and in 1938 the manuscripts were hidden for their protection. The location of these records, as well as other records from the local monastery, was passed down through the generations of monastery gatekeepers.

The project created over 40,000 images. This includes all of the manuscripts found in the collection that were authored by Ravjaa himself. These constituted the heart of the collection and consisted of manuscripts in both classic Mongolian and Tibetan. Subject matter ranged from poetry, astrology, medicine, plays (original manuscripts of the Moon Cuckoo operetta) and sadhanas (including some of Ravjaa’s ‘pure visions’ centring on the figure of Guru Rinpoche and his two consorts Yeshe Tsogyal and Lady Mandarava). This material will help scholars and researchers open up new areas in the field of Tibetan and Mongol studies.

EAP031-0558-0002EAP031/1/532: Tibetan title: slob dpon chen po pad+ma kA ra'i zhabs kyis … – Image 2

EAP039 successfully digitised the entire collection of manuscripts at Gangtey monastery in Bhutan. Gangtey Gonpa, founded by Gyalse Pema Thinley (the grandson of the famous Bhutanese saint Pema Lingpa), houses an enormous manuscript collection. This includes a set of the 100-volume bKa’ ’gyur, two sets of the 46-volume rNying ma rGyud ’bum, the world’s largest Astasahasrikaprajñaparamita, and about a hundred miscellaneous titles. The collection, mostly written in the 17th century as a funerary tribute to the founder of Gangtey, holds a unique textual, artistic and historical value of immense religious significance.

Gangteng_kanjur_'bum_014_pha (3)EAP039/1/1/1/14: Sher phyin ‘Bum: Volume 14 – Image 3

EAP286 digitised archives held at the Institute of Ethiopian Studies (IES). The IES is the major custodian of cultural and historical antiquities in Ethiopia. Manuscripts in the collection have come from government offices, monasteries, churches, mosques, public libraries, and private collections.

One of the largest parts of the collection is made up of Ge'ez manuscripts representing the history and literature of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Numbering more than 1,500 items, these manuscripts cover a wide range of genres: bibles, liturgies, histories, theologies, grammars, and magic scrolls produced by the Church.

Another substantial part of the collection is the Arabic manuscripts representing the history and literature of the Muslim community in Ethiopia and the set of Amharic manuscripts representing the last 150 years of Ethiopia's emergence into the international community.

EAP286IES00788_069EAP286/1/1/119: Commentary on 1-4 Kings, Commentary on Ecclesiasticus… -  Image 69

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.

18 February 2015

Stories they tell: clues from endangered archives

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Documents, manuscripts, photographs and sound recordings that capture much of the world’s memory are preserved in vulnerable collections around the globe. If they perish, part of history is irrevocably lost. In the past, efforts to preserve these collections and make them available for scholarly interpretation often meant removing them to the safety of western libraries. Though well intentioned, these actions frequently had unintended consequences. Preserved and available to scholars, the materials became inaccessible to the communities whose history they captured. This had a twofold effect: it impaired the communities’ ability to write their own history and at the same time, by detaching documents from original context, led to the loss of an important layer of historical information.

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EAP039 Buddhist manuscripts from the library of the remote Gangtey monastery in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan © Dr Karma Phuntsho

The Endangered Archives Programme uses digitisation to preserve records and to make them freely accessible to all, without removing original materials from their custodians. Whenever possible the projects help the keepers to secure the survival of the original documents. Because the materials are often too fragile to be handled on a regular basis, the digital surrogates frequently provide the only point of access not only for scholars worldwide, but also for local readers. By making digital records available to all, the programme ensures that the history they capture is open to wide audiences, multiple perspectives and diverse interpretations.

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EAP334 Locating and digitising manuscripts in Wolof Ajami script, written by members of the Muridiyya Sufi order founded in Senegal in 1883 © Dr Fallou Ngom

The “From Dust to Digital” volume, which marks the 10th anniversary of the Endangered Archives Programme, showcases the historical importance and research potential of the digitised collections. The open access online version of the book is designed to ensure that not only the primary sources, but also the research they have inspired, are freely available to all. The book brings together 19 articles from the 244 projects that the programme has supported since its inception. We asked the authors to focus on the digitised collections, but gave them complete freedom in choosing specific questions they wanted to explore. The intention was to ensure that the volume illustrates a wide range of research that the EAP collections make possible.

Front-cover

The chapters discuss inscriptions in Libya; manuscripts in India, Ethiopia, Kenya and Mali; archival records in Bulgaria, Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Nigeria, Senegal, Palestine; photographic collections in Argentina, India, Russia and Cameroon; and sound recordings from Guinea, Iran and the Russian Federation. The articles tackle the fundamental problems of transcribing and translating – sometimes for the very first time – languages that have nearly fallen silent. They investigate historical transmission of texts and explore the processes underlying collection formation. They bring to light unknown events and cast new light on historical phenomena. They provide vivid insights into local and even personal histories. 

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EAP526 The priests of May Wäyni monastery with their manuscripts, Ethiopia © Professor Michael Gervers

Many of the contributions stress the importance of the original context for our understanding of the materials. The physical location of inscriptions within a landscape; the ceremonies preceding a reading of a manuscript; the place that a manuscript or a photograph holds within a larger collection, are all important for our interpretation of these documents. Without them we can only see a part of the story.

Most of the sources discussed here were not previously subjects of scholarly attention. We hope that this publication will open new debates and inspire scholars to explore the archives preserved by the Endangered Archives Programme. We also hope that open access to both the primary sources and to the articles in the “From Dust to Digital” volume will encourage future authors to make their research freely available to all.

  EAP_2015_066Roly Keating, Chief Executive of the British Library, with Ambassador of the Lao Embassy, H.E. Mr. Sayakane Sisouvong and the 3rd Secretary, Mr Moungkhoun Chansavath at the book launch held at the Library on the 17th February 2015.


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Gabriela Ramos and Evelyne Mesclier browsing through the publication.

Dr Maja Kominko

Cultural Grants Manager at Arcadia and the editor for the publication “From Dust to Digital”

11 February 2015

New online collections – February 2015 – Part 1

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This month we have had seven new projects go online with over five hundred thousand images. These are EAP164, EAP171, EAP387, EAP505, EAP566, EAP638 and EAP684 and include rural records from the Ukrainian Steppe, parish records from Brazil, endangered Urdu periodicals and the archives from a publishing company in Argentina. This blog will focus on four projects EAP171, EAP387, EAP505 and EAP638. Another blog will feature the final three projects in a couple of weeks.

EAP638 follows on from the work of EAP375, digitising material from the Haynes publishing company archive in Argentina. The company was created by Albert M. Haynes, a British citizen who went to Argentina originally to work for the Buenos Aires Western Railway. After his retirement he founded the Haynes Publishing Company in 1904, it remained active until its closure in 1968.

The project digitised the most significant articles on specific subjects published by Haynes and other newspapers. As they offer an extended coverage of events from all the main newspapers of the region they present a fantastic resource for researchers. The material contains marvels such as photographs, painted illustrations, memoirs, statistical data, personal letters, and even film. The image below is a photograph of the acclaimed Argentine lyrical soprano Isabel Marengo.

F00019_0198_0000.00.00_0002EAP638/1/1/198: Isabel Marengo – Image 3

EAP387 digitised 93 manuscripts of Fulfude jihad poetry. The bulk consists of 43 poems by Usman dan Fodio and 26 poems by his daughter Nana Asma'u.

In Northern Nigeria the tradition of reciting religiously inspired poetry is supported by the existence of written copies of these poems. These manuscripts are sometimes hundreds of years old and they have been handed down as precious treasures from generation to generation. The poems in this particular collection are all written in Fulfulde, and in Ajami, the Arabic alphabet adapted for African languages. Below is a page from the poem Shi'irut Tawbati about forgiveness and repentance.

TMI05_a1-17EAP387/1/4/4: Shi'irut tawbati [19th Century ] – Image 1

EAP505 digitised parish records from Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil. These include baptism, marriage and death registers from the parishes of Nossa Senhora de Apresentacao, Angicos, Canguaretama, Goianinha and Santana do Matos. These records can help to build a demographic history of those regions. The Catholic Church Records are incredibly useful as a large amount of the Brazilian population was a member of the church. There was no civil registration until after 1850 so baptismal records became the longest and most uniform serial data available for understanding the history of the population in Brazil. Once baptised the person and their descendants became eligible for the sacraments of marriage and Christian burial, thus generating additional records of their lives.

EAP505_Goianinha_Baptism Registers_0007EAP505/4/1/2: Baptism Register. No. 2. Goianinha [1860-1864] – Image 7

The last project, EAP171 was a pilot project which surveyed 18th - 20th Century documents from Nepal. The project digitised a small selection of the material; this is available to view now.

EAP171DSC_9701EAP171/1/3: Record of sale of tax exempt land – Image 1

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.