08 June 2022
Digitising Haalpulaar Islamic Manuscripts (EAP1245 Project)
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.
The collection of Ceerno Madani Tall
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.
06 May 2022
New online - April 2022
In this month's round-up we have a collection of portrait photographs from Lima, Peru (EAP1234), and two collections from Sri Lanka, palm-leaf manuscripts from the Jaffna, Vanni, and Mannar districts (EAP1056), and Tamil Protestant records from the Jaffna Peninsula (EAP971). You can read more about each of the projects below and follow the links to see the catalogued records, digitised images, and project information.
EAP1234 - Preservation of Film Negatives of the Elias del Aguila Collection of the Historical Archive of Centro de la Imagen
When the Elías del Águila collection first arrived at the Centro de la Imagen in Lima, Peru, it was concealed within another acquisition, the Fotografia Central/Estudio Courret archive. Though originally attributed to the Courret brothers, research in 2015 revealed the true source to be the photographer Elías del Águila and his studio, E. del Águila y Cía in central Lima, operational from 1903 until the late 1930s. Until this discovery, Elías remained practically unknown and there are still relatively few details known about his life.
His studio was popular with Lima’s burgeoning middle class of the early 20th century. Among his subjects, researchers have identified important businessmen, intellectuals, and politicians, including child portraits of the two-time President of Peru, Fernando Belaúnde Terry. Other notable portraits in the archive include those of the architect Ricardo Malachowski, the former mayor of Lima Augusto Benavides, and the scientist and diplomat Vitold de Szyszlo.
The Centro de la Imagen holds over 20,000 of Elías’s negatives in their archive. For this pilot project the local team catalogued, digitised, and rehoused some of the most endangered of them. Over 2,000 of these images are now available to view on the EAP website.
EAP1056 - Survey and digitisation of individual manuscript collections in Northern Sri Lanka
This project surveyed and digitised endangered Tamil and Sanskrit palm-leaf manuscript collections in the Jaffna, Vanni, and Mannar districts of Northern Sri Lanka. The team conducted more than 150 field visits and identified 49 different collections. Many of these were located in temples, medical centres, and local libraries, while others are in the care of families and individuals including priests, medical practitioners, and astrologers.
135 manuscripts were digitised from 21 different collections in total and broadly cover the following subjects: traditional Siddha and Ayurvedic medicine; Hindu religious and temple ritual texts; astrology/astronomy works; local histories; literature; mathematics; unorthodox Hindu folk practice-related works including those on tantra, mesmerism, witchcraft, and folklore; and archival records including birth charts and budgets.
EAP971 - Jaffna Protestant Digital Archive
This project is a continuation of the EAP835 pilot project, which produced a survey (and some sample digitisation) of archives from the Tamil Protestant community of the Jaffna Peninsula. EAP971 built on the knowledge and experience from this earlier project and returned to carry out larger-scale digitisation from eight different archives. They include collections from Jaffna College Archive, St John's College, Evelyn Rutnam Institute, and Uduvil Girls' College. Digitised records include church record and ledger books, correspondence, and college magazines.
There are over 240 digitised items available to view here. An additional 27 items can be vieweed from the earlier project here.
17 January 2022
New online - December 2021
This month's round-up of newly available collections features archives from India, Romania, Moldova, and Indonesia.
- Digitisation of the Kováts Napfényműterem photographic archive (Odorheiu Secuiesc, Romania) (EAP1130)
- Preserving the History of Indian Cinema through Digitising Early Urdu Film Magazines (EAP1262)
- Safeguarding of the intangible Romani heritage in the Republic of Moldova threatened by the volatilisation of the individual unexplored collections (EAP699)
- Personal Manuscripts on the Periphery of Javanese Literature: A Survey and Digitisation of Private Collections from the Javanese North Coast, its Sundanese Hinterlands and the Fringes of Court (EAP1268)
EAP1130 - Digitisation of the Kováts Napfényműterem photographic archive (Odorheiu Secuiesc, Romania)
This project digitised photographs from the Kovats Photographic Museum and Studio in Romania. The vast majority of the photos represent the work of several generations of photographers from the Kovats family. A small part of the photographic archive consists of images created by collaborators of the Kovats studio, and of donations of photographic materials from the local population of Odorheiul Secuiesc.
The first photographic studio in Székelyudvarhely (Odorheiu Secuiesc) was founded by Ferenczy Lukács (1850-1926) in 1876. In 1903 Kováts István Sr.(1881-1942) bought the studio from Lukács and in 1906 reopened it under his own name – Kováts Napfényműterem (Kováts Sunlight Studio). It still operates today at the same address. Ferenczy Lukács and Kováts István Sr. were not only photographers, but also amateur historians and ethnographers. They documented with passion and attention for detail the life of the small rural communities, mainly of Hungarian and Székely ethnicity, around Székelyudvarhely (Odorheiu Secuiesc).
Kováts István Sr. was also a photographer in the army of the Austro-Hungarian Empire during the First World War, and he was dispatched throughout Europe on the Romanian, Galician and Italian battlefields. He brought back around 400 negatives with images from the trenches, portraits of fellow soldiers, and daily life of his company – a personal view of a war that re-shaped Europe and changed the life of millions of its inhabitants, a view that offers to any military historian precious documents. Living for most of his life in Székelyudvarhely, Kováts István Sr. documented everything – social life, architecture, traditions, and his studio was a central point in the life of the city.
Over 5000 photographs can be viewed here.
EAP1262 - Preserving the History of Indian Cinema through Digitising Early Urdu Film Magazines
This project aimed to preserve the rich record of cinema history in India through digitising Urdu film magazines and periodicals from the early twentieth century. Shedding new light on South Asian film journalism and readership, this material highlights aspects of local engagement with film that have remained unexamined so far and are under threat of being lost forever. Given the scarcity of Urdu material that survives today, the digitisation of rare film magazines makes a significant contribution to future scholarship on the subject. This material constitutes an invaluable resource for early Indian film history and Urdu writing on cinema.
While Indian film journalism has not been widely studied, this is all the more concerning for Urdu materials that are less accessible and less widely read than those in other languages, especially English. The production triangle of Hindu-Urdu cinema that spanned Bombay, Calcutta, and Lahore changed irrevocably with partition, and many publications and films from Lahore are believed to be lost forever. The periodicals surveyed and digitised under EAP1262 were largely published in Calcutta, with the exception of one very rare publication from Lahore, and represent a valuable record of an undivided Hindi-Urdu film culture. While Bombay became the major centre for Hindi-Urdu film production, and a more important site for Urdu publishing than Calcutta, these publications offer an invaluable off-centre vantage point of colonial-era Hindi-Urdu film culture and journalism.
The archives can be viewed here.
EAP699 - Safeguarding of the intangible Romani heritage in the Republic of Moldova threatened by the volatilisation of the individual unexplored collections
This project digitised the personal archives of several Roma families in Moldova. The archives mostly consist of individual photographs and photo albums. The albums are notable for their use of illustrations and collage alongside the photographs of loved ones.
During the project the team were able to discover and digitise material from the families of some well-known Roma personalities from the past, as well as material from ordinary Roma families. The digitised material is now publicly available in the Moldovan National Archive as well as the British Library, and is an important source of information for Romani studies.
The project digitised 2557 images from 36 individual collections dating from between 1925-2013. They can be viewed here.
EAP1268 - Personal Manuscripts on the Periphery of Javanese Literature: A Survey and Digitisation of Private Collections from the Javanese North Coast, its Sundanese Hinterlands and the Fringes of Court
The project highlights the periphery of Javanese and Sundanese literature. It covers tales written by scribes residing near shrines, notebooks scribbled by commoners, and works produced by courtiers on their own behalf without apparent patronage from nobles or sovereigns. The grant holder came across these sources while doing fieldwork in places like Gresik, Yogyakarta, Surakarta and Tasikmalaya. Their vernacular provenance increases their obscurity and simultaneously limits their preservation due to a lack of patrons. Thus, it also allows for an interesting survey on the more personal sides of Javanese and Sundanese writing.
Other than surveying and digitising these sources, the project team also used them for Natural Language Processing (NLP). The diversity of the writing styles and vernacular languages found within these manuscripts is expected to contribute to the development of a comprehensive Javanese handwritten text and entity recognition model called Gado2.
399 digitised records can be viewed here.
21 September 2021
New online - August 2021
This month's round-up of newly available collections features archives from India, Mauritius, and Bulgaria.
- Lama Mani: the texts and narrative thangkas of India’s exiled Tibetan storytellers [EAP1016]
- Preserving a unique archive of diaspora and disease in the Indian Ocean from 1867 to 1930: a test case from Mauritius [EAP863]
- Minority press in Ottoman Turkish in Bulgaria [EAP696]
EAP1016 - Lama Mani: the texts and narrative thangkas of India’s exiled Tibetan storytellers
Lama Manis are traditional storytellers who travel around Tibet visiting communities to perform and tell stories of Buddhist practices. They travel with performance related objects, texts, and sets of large colourful thangkas (traditional Tibetan painted scrolls).
The material in this collection was brought to India from Tibet by Lami Mani storytellers who continued to perform within the communities of the Tibetan diaspora in India and Nepal. It includes items from Dolma Ling Nunnery, and several prominent Lami Mani figures. The project team digitised texts and thangkas, as well as objects including a prayer wheel, dagger, and brass pointers.
EAP863 - Preserving a unique archive of diaspora and disease in the Indian Ocean from 1867 to 1930: a test case from Mauritius
This project digitised a near-complete set of burial records of individuals buried in the Bois Marchand Cemetery since 1867. These records effectively provide a unique repository of demographic and disease data, and bridge historic, archaeological and anthropological concerns. It has huge potential for historians, archaeologists and anthropologists researching disease, demography, and diaspora in this part of the world.
The records detail the demographic data for individuals buried in Bois Marchand, a cemetery that is segregated according to religious/vocational affiliation i.e. Christian, Hindu or Muslim, for example, or, Military Personnel, or Police Force. Along with its local historical value, the records include details as to the point of origin for the interred, in some instances as far afield as Ireland and Jamaica, but generally focused on India, Africa and China; cause of death; where the individual died on Mauritius etc. This forms a remarkable dataset for historians to mine in order to better understand the context of political action and reaction in response to death and disease.
EAP696 - Minority press in Ottoman Turkish in Bulgaria
This project digitised a small selection of Ottoman Turkish language periodicals from the Bulgarian National Library’s collections. The Ottoman Turkish press in Bulgaria in the 1878-1943 period was a unique phenomenon within the post Ottoman Balkans. Not only for the significant number of newspapers and magazines published, but also because some of them continued to be printed in Arabic script years after 1928 when Turkey itself changed to the Latin script.
There was a literal publishing explosion in the ten years following 1878 in which there were more Ottoman Turkish newspapers in circulation than during all the previous years of the 19th century combined. The newly founded Bulgarian state was a multi-ethnic country with a significant minority population – a predominantly Turkish speaking one. The official Bulgarian authorities recognised this as evidenced by the Bulgarian State Gazette, which was printed in both Ottoman Turkish and Bulgarian for the first two years of its run. Yet surprisingly these issues are extremely hard to come by and are not digitised. These newspapers are an invaluable source for understanding the transitions and obstacles for modernisation for the minority populations in the Balkans.
Further reading: Motherhood: A Form of Emancipation in the Turkish Minority Press in Bulgaria (1878-1944), by Seda İzmirli-Karamanlı. Published on the British Library’s Asian and African studies blog, 19 August 2021.
23 August 2021
The Backstory to Digitising the Barbados Gazette
Today is the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition. Today also sees the launch of the second crowdsourcing task of the Agents of Enslavement project. To coincide with these two events we are delighted to share this guest post by Dr Lissa Paul, a literary scholar at Brock University who specialises in children’s literature and Caribbean literary studies.
When Graham Jevon emailed just a day after launching 'Agents of Enslavement' on Monday 21 July 2021, to say that the project had hit over 23,000 views, I found myself suddenly close to tears. The early nineteenth century people in the fugitive slave ads of the Barbados Gazette were going to be as alive in the minds of those who accessed the site that day as they had been when I first encountered them in the National Library in Bridgetown Barbados on disintegrating microfilms ten years ago in 2011. My blog story is about how a community of readers, an army of readers, grows out of one reader reading.
At the recommendation of Alissandra Cummins, Director of the Barbados Museum and Historical Society, I had gone to the library in Bridgetown in search of the microfilm copies of the Gazette in order to look for the subject of my research, radical British author and teacher Eliza Fenwick (1766-1840). Between late 1814 and 1822, Eliza had run a school, a Seminary for Young Ladies, in Barbados with her daughter, Eliza Ann Rutherford (1789-1828).
The microfilms were stored in manilla cardboard boxes in a metal filing cabinet on the dimly lit second floor of the library. They had apparently not been disturbed in years and the only way to view them was on an ancient desk-sized microfilm reader with no copy function. A kind librarian set up a stool for my laptop so that I could at least take notes, but the films even then were fragile and had to be coaxed gently through the reader. The Gazette published twice a week, Tuesdays and Saturdays, and I simply started reading, issue-by-issue from 1812 as that is when Eliza's daughter (an unwilling actress at best) had arrived to join the Theatre Royal Company opening in Bridgetown in January that year. As soon as I began, I was immersed in the terrifying conflict zone of a slave-dependant community.
The political news in the papers—between 1812 and 1816—mostly consisted of objections by the colonial government in Barbados to Wilberforce's initial attempts to pass a slave-registration bill, the purpose of which was to enforce the 1807 ban on the slave trade. The official line was that Barbados was a profitable, well-run island and the slaves were perfectly happy and well-managed. The proposed bill, they argued, would destroy the peace and prosperity of the island, and, picking up the slogan from the American Revolution, they claimed that the bill was a form of taxation without representation.
In the fugitive slave ads, however, there was a completely different story, one that spoke to sustained resistance in the face of what now appears as appalling, incomprehensible brutality. In the ads were people—men, women and children—who were arrestingly alive: there were details of what they looked like, how they spoke, what they wore, distinguishing features, who their relatives were, and where they might have gone. As I approached the dates of what later become known as Bussa's Rebellion on the Easter weekend in April 1816, it was business as usual as far as the news was concerned, even on Saturday 13 April, the day before the rebellion began.
I couldn't wait to see what the paper would report on the following Tuesday, but, as the records show, there was no paper on Tuesday 16 April. There's a gap in the run. The Gazette, like the rest of the island, was shut down for two weeks. The next issue was published on Tuesday 30 April 1816 and there is nothing on the rebellion on the front page. On the top-left of the first column, there is an ad for the 5'3" Philley-Melia who had absconded. She might, the ad suggests, have gone to her mother in one parish or her husband in another (indicating that families maintained their networks despite all attempts to split them up) and that she might be using a 'false pass to move around the island (a sign that she had likely planned her escape with care).
Philley-Melia, I thought at the time, was a resistance fighter, and like so many others in the fugitive slave ads was a member of Bussa's de facto guerilla army. The brief report of the rebellion in the Tuesday 30 April issue was on page two, column one, under the ad for second-quality butter and it was only there to explain the publication gap to readers from other islands who might not have heard the news. Even in my first reading, I knew that the Gazette revealed important stories, ones that spoke both to the individual heroism of the enslaved and to the brutality and obliviousness of the enslavers. While Bussa (about whom little is known) received credit for the rebellion here were the people whose courage and persistence deserved recognition—which is why the Agents of Enslavement project stands as so important.
At this point I should probably say that I'm a white Canadian scholar, a professor at Brock University in the Niagara region of Ontario and that my research on Eliza Fenwick is generously funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada. I have no connection to the Caribbean except through my work. My biography, Eliza Fenwick: Early Modern Feminist, published by the University of Delaware Press, 2019 partly traces Eliza's move from the radical, abolitionist company of Mary Wollstonecraft, William Godwin and others in their circle, to Barbados and then via New Haven and New York to Niagara (where I work) and Toronto (where I live).
As I'd gone to the Gazette to find traces of Eliza's presence in Barbados after I'd returned home I did what scholars do: I ordered microfilm copies through my university library and expected that they would arrive eventually. They didn't. I tried several times and kept getting rejected. Eventually, after repeated requests for an explanation I received an answer from Stewart Gillis, the (long retired) British Library Reference Team manager who had been responsible for the (now closed) unit dealing with requests for copies of microfilms.
In 2012 he wrote to me, patiently explaining that because the films were 'pretty old', as well as 'badly scratched and damaged', they were 'not suitable for further reproduction'. The films were made, he explained, on 'diazo', something I later found out to be a non-preservation medium only used for 'disposable or frequently updated' material according to information provided by the American Library Association.
When I tried to access copies of the Gazette on microfilm in libraries closer to home, I found a few but all listed their holdings as partial (only much later did I realise that that the April 1816 gap in the issues caused by the rebellion, would have counted—without explanation—as simply missing from the catalog record). And when I tried to access the physical paper copies of the Gazette in the National Archives in Barbados I was told that they were locked and that 'it would take an act of Parliament' to release them. Although my SSHRC grant covered research trips to Barbados, as the microfilms were disintegrating and the papers locked, I was overwhelmed by a sense that unless the papers were digitised, the people in the ads would die.
This is the 'it takes a village' part of the story of the long road to the digitisation of the Gazette and later the Barbadian. As a scholar I know how to find and use archival material, but initially I had no idea how to go about accessing funding to digitise the papers or who might do it or how. On my trips to Barbados, I had, however, started to make friends with people at the University of the West Indies (UWI) in Cave Hill. Again, it was Alissandra Cummins who provided the key: she had invited Dr. Evelyn O'Callaghan--Caribbean scholar, UWI professor, and most recently the editor, with Tim Watson of Caribbean Literature in Transition: 1800-1920 (Cambridge UP, 2021)--to an early 'Eliza' talk I'd given at the Barbados Museum. It was Evelyn who eventually introduced me to Dr. Laurie Taylor and Dr. Leah Rosenberg of the Digital Library of the Caribbean (dLOC) based at the University of Florida.
When they found that I was going to be doing the first draft of my Eliza biography while on a fellowship in the autumn of 2014 at Lucy Cavendish College Cambridge, they put me in touch with Erich Kesse (who was there at the time but is now at the University of London). And it was Erich who suggested that the British Library Endangered Archives Programme Grant was the right body to approach for the digitisation project. On reading the application requirements I also realised, instantly, that I had no standing as I was, essentially, a tourist. Only the National Archives of Barbados, operating under the auspices of the Government of Barbados could apply. And so began what I regarded as a campaign to generate support for the application to the British Library Endangered Archives Programme. It would be, I knew, difficult.
As David Waldstreicher explains in a 1999 essay, 'Reading the Runaways' (William and Mary Quarterly 56:2), colonial papers have been read 'as rude reminder[s] of forms of unfreedom that were doomed' (246). The last thing anyone wants to do is circulate racist propaganda, so there were clearly strong arguments for keeping the papers locked up. But as scholars of slavery studies--Sir Hilary Beckles, Sir Woodville Marshall, and Dr. Pedro Welch among others--demonstrate, it is also possible to read against the grain.
The Gazette, I found when I checked, had not been accessed for new research in about thirty-five years, around the time the microfilms were made, and the papers locked. References in the scholarly literature were typically second-hand: a citation from someone who had used the physical papers when they had been available. One person who had done an early form of data analysis (of the kind at the heart of the 'Agents of Enslavement' project) was Dr. Gad Heuman. In his 1985 essay, "Runaway Slaves in Nineteenth Century Barbados," Abolition and Slavery 6:3, Heuman used an early form of data analysis—the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS)—to analyze fugitive slave ads in the Gazette. The new more powerful tools available to scholars working in digital humanities, I realised, could potentially reveal so much more and I wondered, for instance, if it might be possible to identify 'hot spots' of resistance from the ads.
It was Evelyn who helped me try to recruit support in Barbados for the digitization of the Gazette. She suggested to Dr. Rodney Worrell in the History Department at Cave Hill that I give a talk (in 2016) on what I'd found in the Gazette. That talk, as it happened, just preceded a trip to Barbados by Laurie Taylor, of dLOC, who was coming to launch the digitization of the Jewish archives in Barbados, a project recently completed by Amalia Levi, an accomplished archivist originally from Greece and founder of HeritEdge.
Though we missed meeting each other on that occasion it was Amalia, who, in the company of Laurie, convinced the archivist at the National Library of Barbados, Ingrid Thompson, that digitising the Gazette was a worthwhile project. And that's how the application to the Endangered Archives Programme began. Ingrid, as the head of the Archives, became the principal applicant and took overall responsibility, Amalia, with her expertise as an archivist, took on the role as co-applicant and project manager. I was the other co-applicant. Given that I had the grant experience and the scholarly credentials, I was able to explain why the project was important. Laurie, through dLOC provided the technical expertise. The grant to digitise the Gazette was awarded in 2017, and it was the first won for Barbados.
After its completion in 2018, I was asked by Amalia to consult on a second application, this time for the Barbadian. It was again, successful. And now, in the summer of 2021, with the fully digitised versions of the Gazette and the Barbadian available, Graham Jevon has launched 'Agents of Enslavement', and the people of the fugitive slave ads in the Gazette and the Barbadian are, at last, on the verge of being recognised for their heroic resistance.
As I think back to that first day reading the microfilms in the National Library, I also remember being approached by two little boys, about ten, who were curious about what I was doing. At the time I was too embarrassed to tell them, so I turned the question and asked what they were doing. Their faces fell as they told me that they were researching slavery for school. One asked, pointing to his own ribs, if I knew that slaves had been poked in the ribs with cattle prods. I did, though in the moment I asked if they knew about the British children in the 1790s who had given up sugar in support of the movement to abolish the slave trade. They had not known, but they brightened when they realized that they had a positive story to take back to their class, one about children supporting children. While that story served its purpose at the time, it wasn't the story they needed. With 'Agents of Enslavement' now up and running, however, wonderful stories of courage and active resistance will be available for future generations of children.
11 August 2021
New online - July 2021
This month's round-up of newly available collections features archives from Nepal, Serbia, and Ghana.
- Digitisation of the photographic collection from DirghaMan and GaneshMan Chitrakar Art Foundation [EAP838]
- Safeguarding the fragile collection of the private archive of the Lazic family [EAP833]
- Safeguarding the British Colonial and Regional Administrative Archive in Northern Ghana [EAP935]
EAP838 - The DirghaMan and GaneshMan Chitrakar Art Foundation photographic collection
This important and unique collection of photographs gives a fascinating insight into life in Nepal at a time when the country was under self-imposed isolation from the outside world. During this period cameras were still quite rare and only owned by the elites and court photographers. As a result, there are relatively few photographic records documenting late 19th and early 20th Century Nepal.
The collection consists of images taken by the Royal Painter and Court Photographer Dirgha Man Chitrakar (1877-1951), and his only son Ganesh Man Chitrakar (1916-1985), who took over the role in 1945. Dirgha Man was a skilled painter and employed in the palace from the age of 14. After his brother received treatment from the Court Physician, Dirgha Man presented him with a painted medallion as a way of thanks. Prime Minister Chandra Shamsher (ruled 1901-1929) saw this medallion and impressed with the painting skills, decided to employ him as Royal Painter and Court Photographer in his palace. This important role enabled him to capture court and local life, official events and state visits that otherwise would not have been recorded.
After his father retired at the age of 71, Ganesh Man took over the role of Royal Painter and Court Photographer. After the country opened up to the outside world at the end of the Rana rule in 1951, Ganesh Man then worked for USAID as Chief Photographer where he documented the landscape of Kathmandu Valley and the surrounding cities. He made the first aerial photographs in 1955 and was the first person in the country to develop colour slides. He also opened a black and white photo studio, Ganesh Photo Lab., in 1971.
Their photographs are a rich resource that captures key moments in Nepal’s history. The photographs include portraits, diplomatic visits, landscapes, historic structures, and festivals. They capture images of urbanization, changes in the lifestyle and infrastructural transformation in Nepal. The collection is not only one family’s patrimony but also an account of Nepal’s history.
EAP833 - The Lazic family private archive
This project digitised and preserved valuable private archives and library collections owned by the Lazić family in Serbia, who for six generations have collected important and rare material. Aleksandar Lazić (1846–1916) was the founder and owner of the Library until 1910 when his son Luka Lazić (1876-1946) took over and enriched the collection with material documenting the Great War. He acquired much of the material in or around the battlefield and continued to purchase related material until his death in 1946. Along with his son and successor Milorad Lazić (1912–1977), they also accumulated a significant collection of law books. The majority of these were acquired between 1930-1950 and are crucial for theoretical and historical research of the Serbian state, law, and society. The collection has continued to grow as other members of the Lazić family care for this important archive.
Much of this material relating to the First World War is unique and not found in any other library or archive. The collection includes Serbian newspapers printed in exile in Corfu and Thessaloniki during the Austro-Hungarian occupation of Serbia. There are also copies of the rare journal ‘Pregled Listova’, published in Geneva for members of the Serbian government in exile.
EAP935 - Safeguarding the British Colonial and Regional Administrative Archive in Northern Ghana
This project continued the work of two previous EAP projects (EAP256 and EAP541) to digitise the material from the Public Records and Archives Administration (PRAAD) in Tamale, northern Ghana. During the earlier projects, the research team was able to assess PRAAD’s collection of rare historical records on the colonial administration and history of Northern Ghana, resulting in a comprehensive survey of the Northern Regional Administration Records and District Assembly Records collections. Subsequently, through the EAP541 Major project, the research team digitised five records series amounting to 126,239 images. The EAP935 project completed this work by digitising a further eight collections, adding over 212,000 images to the archive from three regions of the Northern Territories of the Gold Coast: Northern region records collections, Upper West Region records collection and Upper East Region records collection.
20 July 2021
Help trace the stories of enslaved people in the Caribbean using colonial newspapers
We are excited to launch a new crowdsourcing project that explores the links between slavery and newspapers in late 18th and early 19th century Barbados: Agents of Enslavement: Colonial newspapers in the Caribbean and hidden genealogies of the enslaved.
This project will examine the extent to which newspapers facilitated and challenged the practice of slavery. It will also help to reveal the identities, networks, and acts of resistance of enslaved people hidden within these printed texts.
You can find details of how to get involved at the bottom of this blog post.
Focus on Barbados
Barbados is particularly significant in the history of Caribbean enslavement because this is where Britain’s trans-Atlantic slave plantation model began in the 17th century, before spreading throughout the region.
Other European empires had enslaved and transported Africans to plantations in the Americas since the 1500s, but it was in the 17th century that English capitalists industrialised this process and created what historian Hilary Beckles described as the ‘first black slave society’ in Barbados. English (and later British) capitalists purchased men, women and children enslaved in Africa, brought them to the Caribbean, forced them to work against their will, and then enslaved their children, grandchildren, and so on.
This model officially ended after the 1807 act to prohibit the trade of enslaved people and the 1833 act to abolish slavery altogether – though enslavement effectively continued until 1838 in the guise of transitional ‘apprenticeships’, which was essentially enslavement by another name. Even after this date, many people had little choice but to continue working for their former enslavers on very low pay.
While the British enslaved people for hundreds of years across the Caribbean, this project is centred specifically on the abolition and emancipation period of the late 18th and early 19th century in Barbados, the place where Britain’s barbaric colonial slave plantation system began.
The research material
This project will focus on two newspaper titles, which are already free to view online:
The physical copies of these newspapers are located at the Barbados Archives Department, where they were digitised by a local team thanks to funding from the British Library’s Endangered Archives Programme.
While these newspapers are already available to view online, this project will help researchers interrogate the content, assist family historians to trace their ancestors, and help to memorialise individuals who resisted enslavement.
Disturbing and offensive content
We are conscious that the material we are asking people to engage with is disturbing to read. The nature of this project means that users will see terms that are now considered discriminatory, harmful or offensive. The newspapers also contain graphic descriptions of how enslaved people were mistreated.
While this was a period in which calls to end slavery were eventually enshrined in law, racialised enslavement was nonetheless rife and accepted. Abolition and emancipation were far from unanimous and these newspapers reflect this. The way that these publications normalise slavery and abuse is particularly shocking.
We therefore strongly recommend that users consider this carefully before engaging with this project. And if you do get involved, please consider taking regular breaks and referring to the resources we have included to offer support.
The project has two main aims:
- To examine the role that newspapers played in facilitating and challenging the practice of slavery
- To create a database of enslaved people and their acts of resistance identified in these newspapers.
The first task - Launched 20 July 2021
The first crowdsourcing task launched on 20 July will contribute to both these aims. It asks contributors to identify four specific types of newspaper advertisement / notice:
- Enslaved people advertised for sale
- Enslaved people wanted for purchase
- Adverts seeking the recapture of fugitives (enslaved people who have escaped)
- Notices informing enslavers that they can collect fugitives who have been captured.
The second task - Launching 23 August 2021
The second crowdsourcing task will ask contributors to transcribe key information from the adverts identified in the first task. This will include information such as names, ages, and places. It will provide the platform for creating a database of people identified within these newspapers, but also create a dataset for analysing trends within these adverts.
Finding the voices of the enslaved in the words of enslavers
These tasks could seem depressing, as users identify advert after advert that facilitated and supported the practice of slavery and dehumanised the people who were enslaved.
Yet while the adverts are written from the perspective of enslavers, they often provide a unique record of an enslaved person’s existence, identity, and actions. This is particularly true of the fugitive advertisements as every advert seeking the re-capture of an enslaved person who had escaped captivity represents an act of resistance.
The degree to which the actions and identities of enslaved people emerge from the page often depends on the needs of the enslaver. When offered for sale, people were usually anonymised. The very first edition of The Barbadian newspaper contained an advertisement for the sale of two people; both identified simply by their gender, number of children, and domestic skills.
But when enslavers were seeking the return of those who had escaped, their identities were necessarily revealed. To achieve their objective these adverts required detailed descriptions. The better the description the easier it would be to track down the fugitive.
Now, two hundred years later, these adverts act as a record of each fugitive’s individual existence and agency. These descriptions enable us to identify individuals and map both social and geographic connections. Fugitive adverts usually specify locations and often mention family members and other associates who might know where a fugitive is hiding. This will therefore enable us to try to establish networks of people and places and potentially identify patterns of resistance.
This enhanced level of detail represents the interests of the enslaver; but it reflects the actions of the enslaved. These adverts reveal a powerful narrative of resistance that reminds us that these people were neither generic nor passive victims. They were individuals, with families and friends, who fought against oppression.
What will we do with these adverts?
This project seeks to help bring these acts of resistance to the fore, individually and collectively.
Once we have a dataset of adverts drawn, classified, and transcribed by crowdsourcing contributors, we will use these in several ways.
Database of people
These transcriptions will form the basis for a database of enslaved people identified within these adverts. A database that not only identifies individuals, but which also maps family connections and other networks of enslaved people.
Analyse at scale
The results of these first two tasks will also enable us to analyse the adverts at scale, to observe patterns and answer compelling questions. Did one newspaper do more to facilitate the practice of slavery than another? Did a particular type of advertisement increase or decrease at any given time? If so, can these trends be linked to other events, such as major revolts or legislative changes?
Share the datasets
We will also make the datasets freely available via the British Library’s Research Repository so that anyone can access and re-use the crowdsourcing results for their own research purposes.
The current task to identify four types of advertisement and notices is just one aspect of this project. Further tasks will include one to transcribe key information from these adverts and another that will ask users to label selected articles as either pro- or anti-slavery.
This latter task will help us understand whether attitudes expressed within these newspapers changed over time and the extent to which these newspapers provided a means to challenge the practice of slavery as well as facilitate it.
How to get involved
To achieve the aims of this project, we need your help to reveal the secrets hidden within these newspapers.
Anyone can get involved simply by visiting the crowdsourcing site and going to the “Classify” page.
You do not need to register to take part. However, if you choose to register as a contributor, this will enable you to engage in discussions and ask questions on the talk boards. It will also allow us to acknowledge your contribution to the project.
We recognise that engaging with this will be a painful experience for many, but we believe this is a worthy and significant endeavour that will help researchers understand the relationship between newspapers and slavery, and help to remember and highlight the humanity and resistance of people who suffered and fought against enslavement.
It is thanks to the award of the British Library’s Coleridge Fellowship that we are able to carry out this research project. And it is thanks to the work of the Barbados Archives Department that we have access to the digitised newspapers to work with.
12 July 2021
New online - June 2021
Over the past month we've continued making new archive collections available to view through our website. You can read about the individual projects below.
- Records from the archives of Tristan da Cunha [EAP951]
- Records relating to the Shevchenko Scientific Society, Ukraine [EAP900]
- Archival material relating to the 'Young India' gramophone record label [EAP190]
EAP951 - Records from the archives of Tristan da Cunha
Tristan da Cunha is a small island located in the southern Atlantic Ocean and known as “the remotest island in the world”. Its isolated location means it has unique flora and fauna which have been studied in scientific expeditions since the 19th century. Some of the records include diaries and other documents related to these expeditions, as well as reports on the number of penguins, seals, and other wildlife on the island.
The isolation of this British Overseas Territory is also interesting from a social history perspective. Records include copies of correspondence about life on the island, appeals for members of the clergy, and even a letter from 1815 regarding the establishment of the British colony.
This blog post written by the project holder gives further information about this project and the challenges involved in setting up the project in such a remote location.
EAP900 - Records relating to the Shevchenko Scientific Society, Ukraine
The Shevchenko Scientific Society (ShSS) in Lviv is a Ukrainian institution that specialises in the history of Central and Eastern Europe. It was founded in 1873 and is dedicated to the promotion of academic research and publication. Subject areas include Philosophy, Philology, Ethnography, Mathematics, and Natural Studies. The ShSS played the role of the Academy of Sciences before the foundation and opening of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, Kiev in 1918.
Records digitised include a complete set of the scientific journal "The Notes (Memoirs) of the ShSS" (1892-1937). There are also many other documents regarding scientific and organizational activities of the ShSS. These include: minutes of general meetings; statutes; details on commissions granted by individual sections of the society.
EAP190 - Archival material relating to the 'Young India' gramophone record label
This project digitised gramophone records, disc labels, record catalogues and publicity material from ‘The National Gramophone Record Manufacturing Company Ltd. Bombay’, which issued records under the ‘Young India’ label between 1935-1955. The company produced over 10,000 titles on 78-rpm, 10 inch diameter shellac discs with two songs per disc. The recordings of film, popular, classical and folk music, as well as educational material were issued mainly from amateur or up-and-coming artists. They feature music from different regions of India, sung in many different languages. While the audio recordings have been available on BL Sounds for some time, the related images of Young India ephemera are only now available again via the EAP website.
Endangered archives blog recent posts
- EAP Digital Lecture Series
- PhD Placement focussing on Manuscripts from West Africa
- New online - February 2023
- New online - November 2022
- New online - September 2022
- EAP video
- New online - July 2022
- New online - June 2022
- Digitising Haalpulaar Islamic Manuscripts (EAP1245 Project)
- New online - April 2022
- 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