26 February 2021
New online - February 2021
February may be the shortest month of the year, but it is another month packed with newly digitised collections being added to the EAP website. The three latest projects to go online include:
- Manuscripts of the Lanten community in northern Laos [EAP791]
- Documents at the Jaffna Bishop's House, Sri Lanka [EAP981]
- Documentary heritage of traditional Protestant communities in Bulgaria [EAP1145]
EAP791 - Manuscripts of the Lanten community in northern Laos
Led by Professor Dr Josephus Platenkamp and Joseba Estevez, the EAP791 project team digitised 768 manuscripts owned by private collectors within the Lanten community in northern Laos.
Members of the Lanten community migrated from the Guizhou, Guangxi and Yunnan Provinces of China into Laos and Vietnam following the social, political and economic upheavals during the last century of the Qing Dynasty (1644 to 1912).
Lanten (also known as Lao Huay and Yao Mun) are classified as one of the 39 ‘ethnic minorities’ of northern Laos that are officially acknowledged by the People’s Democratic Republic of Laos.
Written in Classical Chinese supplemented with lexemes from Lanten language, these manuscripts mediate the transfer across the generations of the religious knowledge and verbal and non-verbal expertise enabling ritual experts to communicate with the Deities of the Lanten pantheon. To that end the manuscripts contain instructions for rituals of healing, marriage, death, ordination, and exorcism, specifying the sacrificial procedures and the Deities involved.
EAP981 - Documents at the Jaffna Bishop's House, Sri Lanka
This major project followed on from pilot project EAP700. Led by Dr Appasamy Murugaiyan, the EAP981 team digitised the remaining rare documents kept under the guardianship of the Jaffna Bishop House in Sri Lanka.
The digitised material covers the period between 1775 and 1948.
The range of material digitised includes handwritten bound registers, personal memoirs, chronicles, account books, correspondence, registers of marriage, baptism, birth and death, newspaper clippings, pastoral letters, biographies of the local bishops, and some religious books.
The material also covers a wide range of languages, including French, English, Tamil, Latin, Portuguese, Sinhalese, and Dutch.
EAP1145 - Documentary heritage of traditional Protestant communities in Bulgaria
This pilot project, led by Dr Magdalena Slavkova, produced a survey of 52 collections of material relating to Protestant communities in Bulgaria.
These collections contain a wide variety of content types including photographs, notebooks, correspondence, books, wedding and baptism certificates, religious booklets, newspaper clippings, and postcards.
In addition to the survey, the EAP1145 project team, which also included Dr Mila Maeva, Dr Yelis Erolova, and Dr Plamena Stoyanova, digitised a sample of 69 files from these collections.
05 February 2021
New online - December 2020 and January 2021
We have a bumper blog this month, covering new projects that went online at the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021. While access to physical archives is currently restricted in many parts of the world, digital archives are increasingly important. Here are five recently digitised collections that are now freely available to access online:
- Nineteenth-century records in the Sierra Leone Public Archives [EAP782]
- Sanskrit Manuscripts and Books in the State of Jammu and Kashmir [EAP886]
- Manuscripts and Archival Documents of Russian Old Believers Escapists (Skrytniks) [EAP1017]
- Tibetan Bonpo Manuscripts [EAP1077]
- Thai-Mon palm-leaf manuscripts [EAP1123]
EAP782 - Nineteenth-century records in the Sierra Leone Public Archives
The EAP782 project team led by Professor Suzanne Schwarz digitised police, court, and colonial records housed at the Sierra Leone Public Archives.
The documents span a period from the formation of the British Crown colony of Sierra Leone to the formation of the Sierra Leone Protectorate. These records offer significant insights into the lives of inhabitants of the region.
These provide rare insight into the life experiences of formerly enslaved people and their descendants. By the mid-nineteenth century, the population was comprised mainly of liberated Africans (and their descendants) drawn from across West Africa. The digitised records reveal the practices used by successive colonial governors to re-settle tens of thousands of liberated Africans in Freetown and surrounding colonial villages, including Regent and Wilberforce.
The police and court records include the depositions of witnesses, as well as those brought before the court for different offences. Testimony from formerly enslaved people is particularly rare, and provides a basis for reconstructing biographical information on individuals uprooted and displaced by the Atlantic slave trade.
EAP886 - Sanskrit Manuscripts and Books in the State of Jammu and Kashmir
Led by Mr Chetan Pandey, the EAP886 project team digitised 46 books and manuscripts located in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, in India. In particular, they focussed on material relating to:
- Kashmir Shaivism (a Tantric school of Mysticism indigenous to Kashmir)
EAP1017 - Manuscripts and Archival Documents of Russian Old Believers Escapists (Skrytniks)
The EAP1017 project team, led by Dr Irina Belayeva, digitised manuscripts and documents of the Skrytniks (Old Believers Escapists) - a social group that was in opposition to the Russian state, first to the Russian Empire and then to the Soviet Union.
The digitised material shows the structure of Skrytniks, their traditions, faith and intercommunication with other social groups.
EAP1077 - Tibetan Bonpo Manuscripts
Dr Valentina Punzi and the EAP1077 team digitised 6 collection of Tibetan manuscripts belonging to private households in the Qinghai Province of China. These include rare and unique ritual texts from the late 19th and early 20 centuries.
EAP1123 - Thai-Mon palm-leaf manuscripts
The Mons of Thailand and Burma were regional, cultural, and religious intermediaries and supported a palm leaf manuscript tradition into the 1920s. The EAP1123 project team, led by Dr Patrick McCormick, conducted a survey of 28 temples in and around Bangkok.
They also digitised a sample of manuscripts from six collections. Many of these texts are unknown in Burma, but they are key to understanding recent history in the region and the Mon role in intellectual history.
Combined, the survey and digitisation sample provide important insights into the history of the Mons in Thailand and Burma.
We will be continuing to publish more digital collections in the coming weeks, so keep an eye out for those!
18 November 2020
What’s in a name? The Sovietisation of the Mongolian language and the Challenges of Reversal
One of the newest EAP projects to go online is EAP890, which contains two collections of Mongolian newspapers, covering the period 1936-1945.
Written in traditional Mongolian script, these newspapers offer a fascinating insight into the history of Mongolian politics and society. They also provide a Mongolian perspective on international affairs, including the dominant global event of the period: the Second World War.
What's in a name?
But beyond the content, even to the untrained eye, this collection shines a light on a key period in Mongolia’s history, as the influence of the Soviet Union intensified eastwards after the 1917 Russian revolution.
Even if you cannot read the traditional Mongolian script these newspapers are written in, a quick glance at different editions of the Ardyn Undesnii Erkh collection prompts a simple question: why did the name of this newspaper keep changing? The answer lies not in typographical errors and careless editing; it is much more profound.
The newspaper title when printed in traditional Mongolian script was always consistent (see yellow boxes below). But alongside this was a variant title written in an alternative script (see red boxes).
In the following examples from four different months in 1941, the variant titles were written differently in each edition. In February 1941, the variant title is very similar to the current Romanised transliteration. But month by month this gradually changed to something that closely resembles the modern Cyrillic spelling.
What is going on?
These changing titles are indicative of a pivotal period in Mongolian history. They reveal a process of linguistic revolution, which act as an important indicator of the broader social and political changes that Mongolia experienced during the mid-20th century.
The Sovietisation of Mongolia
Situated in the heart of central Asia, Mongolia is surrounded by two global superpowers: Russia to the north and China to the south. Between the late 17th and early 20th centuries, Mongolia was controlled by the Chinese Qing dynasty. Throughout this period, local dialects predominantly used the vertical Mongolian script, which was adapted from the Old Uyghur alphabet after Genghis Khan captured an Uyghur scribe at the beginning of the 13th century, during the formative years of the Mongol Empire.
After the fall of the Chinese Manchu dynasty in 1911, Mongolia swayed between independence and continued control by the new Republic of China, until Russian troops entered Mongolia in 1920 and defeated the Chinese army a few months later.
In 1924, the Mongolian People's Republic was established and during subsequent decades Mongolia became increasingly aligned with the recently formed Soviet Union.
During the 1930s, Mongolia was subject to a series of brutal purges. Buddhist monasteries were destroyed and tens of thousands of people were killed. This process intensified as the world drifted towards war. Notable politicians, including Mongolian prime ministers Peljidiin Genden and Anandyn Amar were arrested and shot in the Soviet Union, accused of counterrevolutionary activity and spying for Japan.
These purges were ordered by the Soviets, but largely overseen by Khorloogiin Choibalsan - sometimes referred to as the 'Stalin of Mongolia'. Choibalsan was in Russia as a student when the 1917 Bolshevik revolution took place. He returned to Mongolia inspired by the Bolshevik cause and after Stalin came to power in Moscow, Choibalsan gradually emerged as the principal conduit for Soviet influence in Mongolia. By 1939, after the arrest of Amar, Choibalsan had become Mongolia's dominant political leader.
During the next few years, the Sovietisation of Mongolia continued unabated and part of this effort included Russifying the Mongolian language.
While violent purges provide stark evidence of political change, alterations to the national language were also a significant part of the Sovietisation process.
Initial attempts to unify languages within the communist sphere centred on the Latin script. A 1932 Soviet report explained that a unified script would create a system for use by the working masses, as opposed to multiple narrow systems designed for use by the ruling classes. During the late 1930s this objective continued, but Cyrillic became the preferred, unifying writing system.
The first two extracts above, from early 1941 editions of Ardyn Undesnii Erkh, represent a hangover from those initial aborted efforts to Latinise languages within the Soviet Union during the 1920s-30s and replica efforts in Mongolia. In the early 1930s, a Latin alphabet containing 24 dominant characters emerged in Mongolia. This shift was subsequently aborted and in 1937 the former Minster of Education was prosecuted for crimes which included trying to destroy the Mongolian national script. But in early 1941, after the rise of Choibalsan, Latinisation re-emerged. And on 21 February 1941, a resolution was passed in Mongolia to approve a 42-letter Latin script. This decree was short-lived, though, as a month a later, on 25 March, Cyrillic was adopted as the preferred alternative to the traditional Mongolian script. Five years later, this change was enforced
The processes of both Latinising and Russifying the Mongolian language were neither straightforward nor definitive. The subtle and gradual alterations to both the Latin and the Cyrillic versions of the titles evident in these newspaper demonstrate this. The task of using new alphabets to represent an existing language was subject to intense linguistic debate.
As the last national newspapers printed in traditional Mongolian script before the forceful switch to the Cyrillic script on 1 January 1946, these two newspaper collections offer an important insight into the nature of those debates and provide a potentially useful dataset to help better understand the mechanics and subtleties of this linguistic revolution.
By the time of this enforced change, Unen had already transitioned. When the final edition available in this collection was published on 31 December 1945, the only remnant of the traditional Mongolian script was the title; the rest of the newspaper was printed in Cyrillic.
When the Sovietisation process began, the titles were the first parts of these newspapers to change. When the process was complete, they were the last thing to remain.
Beyond communism and 21st century challenges
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the end of communism in Mongolia, efforts have been made to resurrect the traditional script, which is still used in the autonomous Inner Mongolian region of China. This was initially scheduled for 1994, but Cyrillic was re-confirmed as the national script by the Mongolian parliament in 1995.
Twenty years later, in February 2015, the Mongolian government passed a new law which asserted that the traditional Mongolian script, found in these two newspapers, should once again be the national script by 2025. But it may not be that simple.
As I discovered when cataloguing this project, implementing this policy requires technical change as well as political will. It had been our intention to catalogue the collection using the traditional Mongolian script that the newspapers were predominantly written in. However, while the traditional Mongolian script was added to the unicode standard in 1999, there are several design issues that remain unfixed and a lack of support for fonts required to display the script correctly. The 2025 target has provided renewed motivation to address these issues. But it remains to be seen if and when the existing technical problems will be resolved.
For now, therefore, the titles for these collections appear in the EAP catalogue only in the modern Mongolian Cyrillic script and transliterated Latin script.
But once you get beyond the name, the digitised content is there to be explored in the traditional Mongolian script - providing a window into the past and possibly the very near future of Mongolia and the significance of its national script.
By Graham Jevon
With thanks to the EAP890 project team led by Bayasgalan Bayanbat for digitising this content, and to Eleanor Cooper with whom discussions about the language and scripts inspired this post.
Charles Bawden, The Modern History of Mongolia, (2002).
Henry S Badsher, 'The Sovietization of Mongolia', Foreign Affairs (April 1972), pp. 545-553.
Uradyn E Bulag, Nationalism and Hybridity in Mongolia (1998).
Stephane Grivelet, 'The Latinization Attempt in Mongolia', http://acta.bibl.u-szeged.hu/16597/1/altaica_039_115-120.pdf
Stephane Grivelet, 'Reintroducing the Uighur-Mongolian Script in Mongolia Today', Mongolian Studies, Vol. 18 (1995), pp. 49-60.
04 November 2020
New Collections Online - October 2020
The latest set of projects to go online are truly global, spanning Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Caribbean. Here's a brief summary:
- The Palace Archives of the Buddhist Himalayan Kingdom of Sikkim [EAP880]
- Government and Church Records from the Turks and Caicos Islands [EAP914]
- 19th Century Bulgarian Manuscripts [EAP989]
- The Ghana Railway Corporation Archive [EAP1144]
EAP880 - The Palace Archives of the Buddhist Himalayan Kingdom of Sikkim
Located near the Himilayas, where India meets China, Sikkim is one of the newest Indian states, merging with India in 1975. This project digitised the hitherto neglected royal archives of the former Himalayan Buddhist kingdom of Sikkim. It contains a wealth of invaluable documents that date between 1807 and 1998. As such, this collection offers crucial insights into crucial historical events including the merger with India in 1975 and military border clashes between India and China.
This collection covers the entire spectrum of political activities, from domestic and religious issues to foreign affairs. This archive therefore offers unique and important insights into the history of this kingdom and its geopolitical significance.
While it is an archive that represents elite perspectives, the Sikkim Palace Archives is also the first collection of local origin to be made freely and universally accessible for international scholarship, presenting a perspective of events and characters as experienced from within looking out. This provides a valuable contrast to the earlier need to rely very largely on colonial sources for the history of Sikkim. The collection adds considerably to the available sources on the history and culture of Sikkim, with very little duplication of material with that available elsewhere, namely in the British Library's India Office collection, and to a lesser extent in the National Archives of India and the Sikkim State Archives.
EAP914 - Government and Church Records from the Turks and Caicos Islands
This project digitised some of the most vulnerable and important collections located at the Turks and Caicos National Museum. It contains two sub-collections:
The government records include documents and correspondence involving the colonial secretary and despatches to the governor-in-chief. It also includes legislative and executive council records. This collection thus offers important insights into the colonial governance of the islands, which is still a British Overseas Territory.
Meanwhile, both the government and church collections contain registers of births, baptisms, marriages, burials, and wills. The church collection includes both Methodist and Anglican church records, spanning 1799-1922. These registers provide an invaluable resource for genealogists researching their family history.
EAP989 - 19th Century Bulgarian Manuscripts
This pilot project focused on three collections of 19th century and early 20th century manuscripts located at the Institute for Ethnology and Folklore Studies with Ethnographic Museum, within the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. It produced a detailed survey of the collections and digitised a sample of manuscripts.
These manuscripts reflect the cultural and folklore heritage of Bulgarian and Balkan areas and include hand painted texts, images, and notated songs.
EAP1144 - The Ghana Railway Corporation Archive
The EAP1144 project team encountered an archive that was in a significant state of disrepair. One of their first tasks was to erect plastic sheets to provide immediate protection to the documents from rain water leaking through the roof.
This pilot project resulted in a survey of the archive and the digitisation of a sample of documents. These include 68 personnel files for railway employees and two files containing correspondence.
08 June 2016
New collections online - May 2016
Last month we put three new collection online - EAP689, EAP700 and EAP727
EAP689: Constituting a digital archive of Tamil agrarian history (1650-1950) - phase II
This project, digitising vulnerable documents relating to Tamil agrarian history, is a continuation of the earlier projects carried out in the same region – EAP314 and EAP458. The project aimed to enhance the work already accomplished by visiting some of the locations identified in these earlier projects, as well as new locations, and digitising a variety of vulnerable documents held in private homes in Tamil Nadu. 36 new collections were digitised, bringing the total number, including those from previous projects, up to 74 collections in total. The sizes of the 36 new collections digitised vary from one single document to over a 300 documents per collection. The 36 collections comprise 135 different series which cover a wide variety of genres and topics such as: folk songs, poems, hymns, horoscopes, astrology, sorcery, nikantu, tamil lexicon, medicine, harvest accounts, land lease, land settlements, land partition, land dispute, land record, tax and temple accounts. judgements from the colonial courts and local judicial assemblies, petitions over land dispute, sale, punishment for communication with excommunicated persons, marriage agreement and caste integrity, compensation to families after self-immolation of widows, security rights (kaval), right to access water for agriculture from the lake, dowry details, business communications and accounts with Burma, film pamphlets.
EAP689/6/1/1 - Agreement for temple renovation - Copper-plate
EAP689/21/2/4 - Invitation Letters - Paper [1912-1931]
EAP689/27/1/53 -Music Guide book PB 53 
EAP700: Preservation of the manuscripts of the Jaffna Bishop's House (1850-1930)
The central aim of this pilot project was to digitise, preserve and disseminate the rare French manuscripts and other documents kept in the Jaffna Bishop’s House in Sri Lanka. These manuscripts are becoming more and more vulnerable to human and natural disasters and merit urgent digitisation for posterity. Jaffna, in the northern part Sri Lanka, inhabited by the Tamil ethnic minority since the independence of Sri Lanka (1948) has been subject to serious ethnic, cultural and political conflicts. One of the most tragic events was the burning of the Jaffna Public library along with its 97,000 volumes of books and manuscripts on 1 June 1981. The Jaffna public library was considered one of the biggest in Asia.
This collection of manuscripts has escaped the bombings and shelling of past decades. They have been stored in wooden cupboards in a reinforced room of the Bishop’s House adjoining the Cathedral, in a strategically sensitive district of Jaffna City. They are, however, highly vulnerable due to their age and their current condition of poor storage, insect infestations, occasional human mishandling, humidity and other natural and environmental disasters. Some of them are in such a fragile state that they are unable to be handled.
These manuscripts and documents are part of the collections of the Catholic mission in Sri Lanka and cover a wider geographical area including the Jaffna peninsula, Mannar, Puttalam and the Vanni regions. The majority of the manuscripts are in French. This makes the collection a rare and unique heritage and should shed new insights on the contribution of the French missions in this region. They contain a variety of information about the Diocese and the parish and the parishioners. They cover two periods: the second half of the 19th century with the commencement of the Missions; and the period before, during, and after the First World War, a period that is also of great historical importance because of its implications in the colonies. They pertain to two broad domains of the history of Christianity and Christian missions in Sri Lanka, and also the cultural history of ethnic minorities in general and with special reference to the Tamils.
The project digitised 58 files, creating a total of 16,944 digital images instead of the 7,000 that were originally planned. The files mostly consist of manuscripts dated from between 1850 and 1930. The project digitised a diverse collection of records such as memoirs of missionaries or codices; records detailing day to day life; observations on economic and social conditions; personal letters; account books giving detailed explanations of the income and expenses related to the missions, churches and cathedral, and daily accounts of the expenditures on different chapters like school, orphanage, and charity; catalogues of letters sent by missionaries; sermons and commentaries.
EAP700/1/2/2 - The Jaffna Diocese and the OMI - Supplement, containing letters & documents [1848-1861]
EAP700/1/8/1 - Statistics of the Diocese of Jaffna 
EAP727: Preservation of Tibetan Ngakpa manuscripts in Amdo region (Qinghai and Gansu Provinces, PRC)
Amdo is a region located in the northeastern area of the Tibetan Plateau. Due to its geographical features of high mountain ranges and vast grasslands, fragmented and scattered institutions of local power have been the prevalent forms of the ruling agency, until its formal inclusion in the administrative system of People’s Republic of China in 1958. In this socio-historical context, Ngakpa have been playing a leading role in the religious life of Amdo Tibetan communities, embodying a sort of independent channel of transmission, alternative to monastic practice. Ngakpa are extremely knowledgeable bearers of the non-monastic tradition of Tibetan Buddhism and Bon religions. They mainly act as ritual masters for a number of different purposes and have a high level of expertise in Tibetan meditation practices, medicine, astronomy and traditional knowledge as a whole.
Despite the recent popularity of Ngakpa teachings in the Western world, their survival in the original context is threatened by the increasing marginalisation of their social role and the lack of potential students in the young generation, captivated by new opportunities offered by the Chinese fast-growing economy. The preservation of Ngakpa’s textual heritage is a factor of primary importance for ensuring the perpetuation of this ancient laic tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. This project was exclusively concerned with the preservation of the most endangered manuscripts of one specific group of Ngakpa in the Amdo region, those belonging to the Nyingmapa tradition, the most ancient school of Tibetan Buddhism.
A pilot survey was carried out by the local archival partner and it emerged that between 70 and 100 pecha (the traditional format of Tibetan books, made of long paper pages compressed between two wooden boards and bounded together with a string) of different lengths, privately-owned by thirty Ngakpa, were in very poor physical condition and situated in precarious locations, exposed to the damages of humidity, rats, use and age.
The manuscripts date from between the early 19th and the end of the 20th centuries. Several of them are unique copies that were rescued during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), when they were hidden in various provisional locations, wedged in wall fissures and buried underground. The topics covered by the texts are heterogeneous: rituals, medicine, history, astrology, astronomy, divination, hagiography, mantras, manuals for the construction of traditional ritual objects, such as mandala, stupa and torma (decorated and painted offerings made of barley flour and butter).
The scattered location of the texts and the difficulty to reach them in remote mountain areas required extensive travel among different villages in Huangnan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Haixi Mongolian and Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Hainan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Golok Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (all in Qinghai Province) and Southern Gansu Province.
EAP727/1/100 - རྒྱལ་བ་སྐུ་གསུམ་གྱི་རྣམ་ཐར་ཡོངས་འདུས་ལྗོན་པ་བཞུགས་སོ།། (rgyal ba sku gsum gyi rnam thar yongs 'dus ljon pa bzhugs) [Early 20th century]
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]
06 October 2014
September online collections 2014
This month four collections have gone up online, these are EAP127, EAP266, EAP550 and EAP607.
EAP127 is a project that digitised Bengali 'popular books', street literature targeted at a wide population geared to the non-elites.
The material covers such varied subjects as religion, folk culture, local history, popular literature, pornography and erotica, fashion and cookery, instruction on traditional rural pursuits such as agriculture and animal farming, citizen's rights, public hygiene and social reform.
The books are of unique sociological interest, illustrating the changing society, culture and economy of Bengal. They illustrate sectors of Bengali printing history and book trade and developments of the Bengali language. They were usually printed cheaply on poor paper that discoloured quickly. Digitising these collections has ensured that they will be preserved as a resource for future researchers.
A large amount of this collection unfortunately is not able to be viewed online because of copyright reasons, however over 13,000 images are available and the remainder can be viewed in the British Library reading rooms.
EAP266 is a pilot project which aimed to reorganise the Bolama collection in Guinea-Bissau. Bolama was the first capital of Portuguese Guinea, these records relate to the city and island dated from 1870’s to the 1960’s. They are currently held by the National Historical Archives of Guinea-Bissau after being transferred from the Mayoral Office of Bolama in 1988. It includes all the documents of the public administration which could be found in Bolama in 1988.
The Bolama collection is of great historical value. It reflects the fundamental change in Portuguese colonial rule from outside administration (directed from the Cape Verde Islands) to significant Portuguese presence and the political and economic penetration of the Guinean mainland.
In January 2009 some additional research was undertaken in Bolama and other public documents from the colonial period on the island were found. Relevant documents of the Bolama Court were stored in the archives of the Ministry of Justice in Bissau; these records were in a vulnerable state as the archive was stored in the loft of the old Palace of Justice which has a roof in a bad state of repair.
As part of the project these additional records were transported to the National Historical Archives of Guinea-Bissau. The documents of the entire collection were painstakingly restored to their original order and rearranged and re-packaged in 279 boxes. A digital sample of the records was taken and this is now available to view via our website.
EAP550 surveyed and digitised Yao manuscripts from Yunnan province in Southern China. Yao manuscripts are very unique writings which are significant for understanding Yao people, their religion and culture in general. They are mainly used in religious activities including funerals, annual festivals and special rituals for telling fortunes and expelling evils. Yao manuscripts record texts on various subjects but in a relatively standard poetic format. Since the texts cover the local knowledge on history, literature, astrology, geography, agriculture and many other subjects, they are regarded as the encyclopaedia of Yao people. The texts are read or sang normally by the indigenous priests, known as shigong in Chinese, sometimes they are accompanied by a couple of female singers. It seems that being a shigong shaman is a family profession succeeding in the patrilineal lineage, therefore Yao manuscripts are preserved in individual families and traditionally it is prohibited to show manuscripts to strangers. Yao manuscripts can be accessed in numbers only when the social changes drive shigong shaman to a marginal status and manuscripts are no longer as cherished.
The Yao manuscripts are endangered in many aspects. Firstly, the quality of the original material and their preservation conditions. Secondly, the modernisation process in China after the 1980s brought dramatic changes to the Yao societies. Shigong shamans were marginalised and the indigenous religious activities mostly abandoned. Yao manuscripts were viewed as insignificant and destroyed at an astonishing speed. Thirdly, smuggling and illegal trading brought further threats to the records.
The project was successful in digitising over 200 volumes of Yao manuscripts and creating the first database on the records surviving in China.
EAP607 digitised Native Administration records which were generated between 1891 and 1964 by the Native Authorities (traditional chiefs) in Malawi, formerly Nyasaland.
Prior to British colonialism, Malawi was a predominantly oral society where everything was transacted and captured orally. The establishment of Native Authorities marked a historic transition as traditional leaders were required to conduct and capture official business on paper. The Native Administration records are therefore immensely unique and historical as they portray the interaction between the literate Western culture and oral African culture and the subsequent triumph of literacy over illiteracy in Malawi. The records are a lasting legacy of the impact of colonialism on the people of Malawi.
From July to September 2011, the National Archives of Malawi carried out an earlier pilot project (EAP427) which inspected 32 traditional authorities in the northern region of Malawi to confirm whether traditional chiefs were still keeping the records and to assess the condition of them. The results of the survey established that there were significant volumes of vital records relating to the native administration between 1891 and 1964. The Native Administration records are regarded as personal property inherited by successive chiefs over the past century. EAP607 carried on this work and further identified and assessed the nature and volume of Native Administration records in Malawi. The project digitised the most endangered records. Approximately 20,000 records were digitised and are now available to view online
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.
07 September 2014
New online collections – September 2014 – three million images online!
Last month eight collections went up online EAP010, EAP040, EAP105, EAP219, EAP254, EAP341, EAP443 and EAP644.
It was only two months ago that we reached two million images online and this month we are happy to report that we have now broken the three million barrier! This is largely thanks to EAP341 a project which contains around 750,000 images.
EAP341 is a project that preserved printed books and periodicals held in public institutions in Eastern India. Many of the public libraries in that area are now suffering from a financial crisis that makes most of the documents vulnerable to loss or degradation. The project digitised materials from eight public libraries in the districts of Howrah, Hooghly, 24 Parganas North and 24 Parganas South, all located in semi-urban and rural areas within the proximity of Calcutta. This project helped to preserve these materials digitally and make them available to researchers.
EAP644 digitised part of the Fouad Debbas collection. This consists of over 3000 photographs which were produced by the Maison Bonfils from 1867-1910.
Established in 1867, the Bonfils house set out the first photographic studio in Beirut. Mr Bonfils and his wife Lydie, apparently the first woman photographer of the area, along with their children succeeded in capturing some fascinating images. These include pictures of a region of immense physical beauty, landscape photos of Beirut and Baalbeck and portraits of different ethnic groups. They also provide a record of rapid socio-economic change during a crucial moment of the region’s history. The Bonfils Debbas collection is an invaluable document registering the history of a region at a crucial crossroads in the wake of great historical upheaval. For more information about the collection have a look at our previous blog ‘The Good Woman named Bonfils’.
EAP040 digitised medieval and early modern archival material of the Brasov/Kronstadt and Burzenland region in central Romania.
The material from 14th to 17th centuries from this archive is one of the main sources for Transylvanian history in today’s central Romania. Documents that were digitised included
; ecclesiastical material with focus on the 16th to 17th centuries, the collection of Joseph Trausch (manuscript copies covering the whole period), documents on educational matters focusing on the 16th to 17th centuries, cultural matters (music, liturgy, buildings, local traditions and legends) and correspondence (warfare, defence, political relations).
EAP254 digitised the library of the church Romanat Qeddus Mikael Dabre Mehret, Enderta in Ethiopia. The library possesses around 70 codices and includes several valuable manuscripts of high quality, some of them with illuminations and valuable marginalia. The library of Romanat Qeddus Mikael was built up over more than 300 years. The collection builds an indigenous and integral local record in a region important for the history of Ethiopia. The library remains practically unknown and is endangered due to the poor preservation conditions.
EAP010 preserved rare periodical publications from Mongolia. Mongolia underwent significant political and economic change during the collapse of Communism. The euphoria of revolution led to neglect or even intentional eradicating of documents, publications and other materials from socialist times. Political and economic dependence upon the Soviet Union for seven decades and the resulting sudden release from political ties meant that everything related to the Soviet Union and the period of its dominance was subject to denial. In addition, the deep economic crisis in the 1990s meant that cultural issues including the maintenance and development of libraries, publication of books and actions to safeguard the documentary heritage of Mongolia were not the priority for the government or public for a while.
The periodicals digitised cover the transition period of 1990-1995. They document the political changes in Mongolia after the fall of Communism. The project resulted in scanning 39,029 pages from 6,189 issues.
EAP219 is a project that catalogued and digitally preserved the endangered Nôm archive at the Institute of Social Science Information (ISSI) in Hanoi, Vietnam. Nôm was the national script used in Vietnam for over 1,000 years since the country's independence from China in 939.
The project completed a thorough inventory of the archive and digitised the volumes from the most vulnerable section of the archive. These include village and district records of families, land ownership, real estate and property exchanges, contacts with the royal courts, decrees by various emperors as well as some maps. Since Nôm was the national script used in Vietnam for over 1,000 years, the archives have an inestimable historical value providing, together with Han-Viet records, the main written record of the history and culture of Vietnam for 10 centuries.
EAP105 digitised the manuscript collections of Drametse Monastery and Ogyen Choling in Bhutan.
Drametse Monastery, founded in 1511 by Ani Choten Zangmo, the grand-daughter of the famous Bhutanese saint Padma Lingpa (1450-1521), is one of the major monasteries in eastern Bhutan.
Drametse's manuscript collection includes the 46-volume rNying ma rGyud 'bum, sixteen volumes of Prajnaparamitasutras and about a hundred and fifty volumes of miscellaneous titles including religious hagiographies, histories, liturgies, meditation manuals and philosophical treatises. Many of the books are written in dbu med script, indicating that the books were most likely brought from Tibet in the distant past.
Ogyen Choling, located in central Bhutan, is a seat of two famous Nyingmapa saints, Longchenpa (1308-1363) and Dorje Lingpa (1346-1405). Although historically a religious establishment, it is now a manor house of the family which claims direct descent from Dorje Lingpa. Its library, housed in three of the five temple rooms in the manor complex, contains several hundred titles of manuscripts ranging from pilgrimage guides to philosophical treatises, including a beautifully executed 21-volume set of Dorje Lingpa's writings. Professor Samten Karmay has recently catalogued the collection highlighting some of the rare works of Zhang Lama Drowai Gonpo (1123-93), Lhodrak Drubchen Namkha Gyaltshan (1326-1401), Wensa Lobzang Dondrub (1504-1566) and Jangchub Tsondru (1817-57). In addition to the manuscripts, Ogyen Choling also owns a large body of books printed from xylographic blocks.
EAP443 carries on the work of pilot project EAP284, which surveyed records related to the slave trade held at the Sierra Leone Public Archives.
The materials being targeted here include valuable documents of immense importance for research on the transatlantic slave trade and its repercussions. The original Registers of Liberated Africans who were taken off slave ships by the Royal Navy from 1808 to the 1840s document more than 85,000 individuals. In addition, there are Letter books which provide information on the treatment and ‘disposal’ of tens of thousands of “receptive” Africans, court records, treaties with local chiefs, and other documents that are essential materials for any research on Sierra Leone. Moreover, there is important genealogical information for many people in Sierra Leone, including birth and death registers from the 1850s. Additional materials include registers of “foreign” children resident in Freetown, dating from the 1860s onwards, and registers of slaves who had escaped from the interior to Freetown, as well as letter books in Arabic that relate to political and commercial relations with the interior of West Africa in the second half of the 19th century.
More than 170 volumes held in the Public Archives of Sierra Leone were digitised, with over 32,000 images. Collectively, these volumes provide information on the identities, origins and experiences of enslaved Africans forcibly relocated to the British Crown Colony in the nineteenth century. Other volumes relate to the inward migration of people from the colony’s hinterland, including registers of slaves who had escaped from the interior to Freetown. The volumes include series of registers of births and deaths, which are in a particularly fragile and endangered condition.
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.
08 August 2014
New online collections – August 2014
Last month seven collections went up online EAP140, EAP184, EAP231, EAP272, EAP454, EAP569 and EAP657.
EAP140 was a project to digitise the Tangut collection held at the Institute of Oriental Studies in St Petersburg. The Tanguts were a people who established a kingdom during the 10th-13th centuries in present day northwest China. Once the area had been invaded by the Mongols in 1227 the usage of the Tangut language began to decline. These unique historical, literary, and administrative texts are of great value in understanding and preserving a lost writing system and culture. If you haven’t seen it already you can read more about this collection and the Tangut people in our last blog.
EAP140/1/35 – Image 92
EAP184 digitised items from the Matanzas province in Cuba. The records that were digitised relate to African slaves and their descendants. Collections from seven different archives were digitised, six of these collections came from parish archives; the final collection from the Archives of the Provincial Government of Matanzas.
During the nineteenth century, Matanzas became the centre of Cuban sugar production, which meant a high demand for slave labour. The territory became the major destination for African slaves in Cuba. The region's archives are very rich in all kinds of information on the African population living in Matanzas from the early 16th century to the end of the 19th century. This includes demographic statistics, information on ethnicity, resistance and occupations of free and enslaved Africans.
EAP184/1/11 Pt 1 – Image 257
EAP231 digitised court records of the Department of State for Justice in Banjul, the Gambia. The collections are valuable for researchers hoping to gain a deeper understanding of how colonial agents and local communities engaged with one another. Court records reveal struggles between men and women, elders and youths, elites and commoners. Since African women could visit colonial courts to seek divorce, court transcripts are one of the few places where historians can hear African women's voices. The records also reveal disputes over land, other forms of property, child custody and many other subjects.
Due to the nature of the material some items in this collection are only available to view via the reading rooms at the British Library.
EAP231/1/1 - Image 177
EAP272 digitised and preserved 1,400 ephemera and 215 manuscripts that came from the Madan Puraskar Pustakalaya in Nepal.
The ephemera are mainly political but also cover religious, social and cultural topics. They are mainly pamphlets and leaflets, with some posters and postcards. The ephemera dating from 1900-1951 represents the last 50 years of the Rana Period. The remainder date from 1951-1960, this covers the period of Nepal's short stint with parliamentary democracy, until the first elected government was toppled by a coup from King Mahendra in December 1960, replacing the multiparty democracy with his own brand of political system named the 'Panchayat'.
The manuscripts date from 1808 and cover a wide range of subjects such as religion, culture, philosophy, law, medicine, hagiography, natural history, and literature. The project rescued these items from poor storage conditions and ensured their long term preservation.
EAP272/1/1/226 - Image 1
EAP454 was a pilot project which surveyed privately held ecclesiastical documents in Mizoram, India.
The main focus was early religious and related records, particularly English and Welsh missionary records that recorded a history otherwise only transmitted by the then exclusively oral Mizo society. The project’s scope widened with the surprising discovery of hitherto unknown and early collections written in vernacular Mizo. Many of the earliest missionary educated Mizos were prolific writers of letters, manuscripts, diaries, and notebooks. Most of these sources still revolve around the distinctly religious axis of the Project's focus, but from the perspective of the Mizo.
The Project digitised much more material than initially expected; over 10,000 images are now available to view online.
EAP454/2/9 Pt 2 – Image 3
EAP569 identified and collected information on relevant documents about Nzema in Ghana. These documents pertain to the land management system and local power structure that has been in place in Ghana since pre-colonial times and that still plays a fundamental role in Nzema society today.
The project looked at records from the Public Records and Archive Administration Department (PRAAD) in Secondi-Takoradi as well as the Western Nzema Traditional Council Archive in Beyin and the Eastern Nzema Traditional Council Archive in Atuabo (Ellembele District, Eastern Region).
The project was successful in identifying many relevant records, creating a list of these items and packaging the documents in archival materials. The project digitized 46 files (15 in the Eastern Nzema Traditional Council Archive, 31 in the Western Nzema Traditional Council Archive) and generated 5,039 digital photographs, which are now available to view on our website.
Due to the nature of the material some items in this collection are only available to view via the reading rooms at the British Library.
EAP569/1/1/1 (as above) Image 135
EAP657 digitised and preserved a collection of archival material related to Taras Hryhorovych Shevchenko (9 March 1814–10 March 1861), the famous Ukrainian writer and painter whose literary heritage is regarded to be the foundation of modern Ukrainian writing. His archival collection had been dispersed until recently, and valuable nineteenth century documents had been kept in deteriorating conditions.
The materials digitised reflect different periods of the life of T H Shevchenko. The archival material had been held in different private collections of Shevchenko’s friends and relatives from all over Ukraine until just 10 years ago.
Some of the items in this collection, due to copyright reasons, are only available to view via the reading rooms at the British Library.
EAP657/1/3 – Image 2
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.
Endangered archives blog recent posts
- New online - February 2021
- New online - December 2020 and January 2021
- What’s in a name? The Sovietisation of the Mongolian language and the Challenges of Reversal
- New Collections Online - October 2020
- New collections online - May 2016
- September online collections 2014
- New online collections – September 2014 – three million images online!
- New online collections – August 2014
- New online collections - January 2014
- Dongjing musical scores feature on Music in the British Library
- Black & Asian Britain
- Central Asia
- Contemporary Britain
- Digital images
- Digital scholarship
- East Asia
- Folk tales
- Gods and Demons
- Government records
- Medieval history
- Middle East
- Modern history
- Oral history
- Palm leaf manuscripts
- Printed books
- Printed texts
- Rare books
- Religious records
- Research collaboration
- Russian Revolution
- Social sciences
- Sound and vision
- Sound Archive
- South Asia
- South East Asia
- Traditional music
- Visual arts
- West Africa
- Women's histories
- Wood-block prints