30 May 2023
Every now and then, researchers notify us of a conference talk focusing on content digitised by EAP projects. We are always thrilled to be told about these talks and it prompted us to create a digital lecture series of our own. We approached a handful of people, who we knew had worked on EAP content and they, very kindly, agreed to take part. We have created two themes in the first instance: Narratives within the Archive and Manuscripts on Magic and the links to the individual lectures are below. The presentations are absolutely fascinating and we hope you enjoy listening to them.
Narratives within the Archive
Dr Helga Baitenmann - Hidden Narratives of Indigenous Women in Nineteenth-Century Mexico
Dr Mégane Coulon - Life histories in mid-nineteenth century Freetown, Sierra Leone
Manuscripts on Magic
Eyob Derillo (PhD student) - Ethiopian amulet scrolls, talisman and divination
Professor Fallou Ngom - Healing, Divination, and Protection Techniques in Wolof and Mandinka Manuscripts
Dr Sam van Schaik - Buddhist Magic
Dr Farouk Yahya - Malay Magic and Divination Manuscripts from Indonesia
We would like to take this opportunity to thank the contributors and if you are using EAP content for your own research and would like to notify us, please email us at [email protected].
04 August 2022
This month we are highlighting four pilot projects that have recently been made available online, from Indonesia, Kenya, Russia, and Tunisia.
- Early Cyrillic books and manuscripts of old believers communities in Kostroma, Russia [EAP990]
- Family Manuscript Libraries on the island of Jerba, Tunisia [EAP993]
- Endangered manuscripts digitised in Kampar, Riau Province, Indonesia [EAP1020]
- County Council of Nairobi Minute Books digitised at McMillan Memorial Library, Nairobi, Kenya [EAP1357]
Led by Dr Ilya Nagradov, this project (awarded in 2018) digitised a total of 174 books and manuscripts located at traditional residing places of old believers in the Kostroma region of Russia.
Old Believers are Eastern Orthodox Christians who follow a form of Christianity that pre-dates the reforms of Patriarch Nixon, who aimed to unite the practices of the Russian and Greek Orthodox churches in the mid 17th century.
This pilot project, led by Dr Paul Love, digitised manuscripts and documents located at the private residence of the El Bessi family. The manuscripts originally belonged to the endowed collection of the al-Bāsī mosque in Waligh, Jerba (Tunisia), which operated from the 18th to the early-20th century.
The texts in the El Bessi library deal with a variety of religious topics including law and theology, as well as biography and poetry. Alongside religious texts, however, the collection holds several works on rhetoric and language as well as the sciences. While many of the manuscripts were written by Sunni-Muslim authors from the Hanafi and Maliki schools of Islam, others were authored by the minority Ibadi-Muslim community on the island. Ibadis are neither Sunni nor Shi’i Muslims and most of their texts today remain in private collections like this one. Having been protected for centuries by Ibadis, collections like this one and many others on the island of Jerba are in danger of being lost forever.
Almost all items are in Arabic, although Turkish appears occasionally as a language of commentary or marginal notes.
This pilot project led to a follow on major project, which has digitised a further seven Arabic library collections in Jerba, Tunisia; the results of which will hopefully go online later this year. But in the meantime, the EAP993 project has produced nearly 100,000 digital images to keep you busy until then.
This pilot project, led by Mr Fiqru Mafar, produced a survey of manuscripts located in the Kampar region of Indonesia.
The team also digitised manuscripts at 11 different locations.
The dates of the manuscripts range from the 17th century to the 21st century. The oldest manuscript can be dated back to 1668.
Led by Ms Angela Wachuka, the EAP1357 team, including digitisation coordinator Maureen Mumbua, digitised minute book volumes for the County Council of Nairobi, Kenya from 1920s-1950s.
This collection, located at the McMillan Memorial Libary, provides unique visual documentation of Kenya’s politics, history and culture during the colonial era, by capturing the City Council’s meeting notes concerning parliamentary matters, historical events and daily life in this significant period.
22 June 2022
We have another 4 new projects online to bring to your attention. This time from Indonesia, Iran, India, and West Africa:
- Bima Manuscripts [EAP988]
- Zoroastrian historical documents and Avestan manuscripts [EAP1014]
- Private records of leading business families of Early Colonial Bengal [EAP1104]
- Pulaar Islamic Texts: Six Archives of the Taal Families in Senegal and Mali [EAP1245]
Bima Manuscripts [EAP988]
Led by Dr Titik Pudjiastuti, this pilot project digitised 205 manuscripts that represent the history and culture of Bima - one of the provinces in Nusa Tenggara Barat, in the eastern part of Sumabawa Island, Indonesia.
In 2016, these manuscripts survived an avalanche and flood that affected the region. And this project has gone some way to helping protecting the manuscripts against future natural disasters.
This major project was led by Dr Saloumeh Gholami. It digitised 11 manuscripts containing more than 8,000 pages. It also digitised more than 15,000 historical, economic, and legal documents regarding the religious minority of Zoroastrians in Iran.
The collection came to light in February 2016 in a Zoroastrian house in the Priests' Quarter [Maḥalle-ye dastūrān] in Yazd in Iran. Arabab Mehraban Poulad, a famous Zoroastrian merchant from a priest family, had accumulated and archived his own documents and Avestan manuscripts as well as the documents of his father and grandfather over the course of his lifetime. This collection now belongs to his grandchild Mehran Pouladi.
Led by Dr Tridibsantapa Kundu, this major project digitised the private records of 11 leading business families of colonial Bengal. This project built on the EAP906 pilot project, also led by Dr Tridibsantapa Kundu, where 25 business families were approached and a survey of the various collections was produced.
These collections are important for understanding the Bengali business community and their strategies in dealing with the English East India Company and the British Raj.
Led by Dr Mohamed Mwamzandi and Dr Samba Camara, this project digitised manuscripts written by some of the most influential Haalpulaar (speakers of Pulaar) Islamic scholars of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Pulaar is a variety of the Fula/Fulani language spoken by over five million people in the West African countries of Senegal, The Gambia, Mauritania, Guinea, and Mali. About 40 million Africans use varieties of the Fula/Fulani language. And you can read more about these manuscripts and the project to digitise them in a blog post written by the project's co-lead, Dr Samba Camara.
08 June 2022
This is a guest post by the EAP1245 project co-lead, Dr Samba Camara.
This project digitised Islamic manuscripts written by speakers of the Pulaar language – or the Haalpulaar people – in Senegal and Mali. Pulaar is a variety of the Fula/Fulani language spoken by over five million people in the West African countries of Senegal, The Gambia, Mauritania, Guinea, and Mali. About 40 million Africans use varieties of the Fula/Fulani language.
The Fuuta Toora region, the Pulaar language, and Islam
The original creators of this project’s 6,000 folios of manuscriptions hailed from Fuuta Tooro, a Pulaar-speaking cultural region situated around the middle of the Senegal River. Fuuta Tooro straddles parts of northern Senegal and southwestern Mauritania. Fuuta Jombuku, a Haalpulaar enclave, exists in southwestern Mali. It was born from the nineteenth-century settlements of Haalpulaar migrants who had followed Al Hajj Umar Taal (ca. 1797-1864) in his campaigns to spread Islam in West Africa. What the Haalpulaar have in common is not just a language. They also share a traditional rootedness in Islam and a distinctive Muslim culture carried in the Pulaar language.
Muslim culture and chanting local remembrance poetry
Mawluudu, or the chanting of local remembrance poetry (dhikr), constitutes an integral part of that culture. Professional singers perform mawluudu chant during religious events, such as the commemoration of prophet Muhammad’s birth (mawlud), Islamic graduation ceremonies (ɓaaral, refto), and during welcome ceremonies (teertooji). Modern technology and Internet have taken mawluudu poetry and culture to the media and online. The chanted texts include a panegyric praise poetry in Arabic and in ‘Ajamī (the use of the Arabic script to transcribe foreign languages). Arabic texts were composed by authors, such as Al Hajj Umar Taal, Egypt’s Imam al-Būsīrī, and others from the Tijaniyya Brotherhood. Pulaar ‘Ajamī poems were composed by several scholars of Al Hajj Umar Taal’s school of Tijaniyya in Fuuta Tooro and beyond. The texts extoll the attributes of God (Allāh), Islamic prophet Muhammad, and Algerian-born Ahmad al-Tījānī. The latter founded the Muslim Brotherhood of Tijaniyya to which the authors of this project’s manuscripts belong.
The digitisation project and team
Raised in Fuuta Tooro, Dr. Samba Camara, who is this project’s initiator, grew up listening to mawluudu, knowing some popular poems by heart like many Haalpulaar people.
In the EAP1245 project, Dr. Samba Camara collaborated with his UNC colleague Dr. Mohamed Mwamzandi and UNC digitization specialist Kerry Bannen to locate and digitise the written source of Haalpulaar Muslim culture. The effort was not only to preserve manuscripts from precarious storage conditions that exposed them to dust, termite, rain, natural fading, wear, and tear; but also, to facilitate their access and study by scholars of West African literature, popular music, and Islam.
The project’s field work began in 2019, shortly after the projects Principal Investigators were awarded a Major Project Award by the British Library’s Endangered Archives Programme to digitise Haalpulaar manuscripts. The team undertook three field trips to Senegal: in October 2019, December 2020, and June 2021. Unfortunately, the delays in the final trip, due to Covid-19 travel restrictions, hindered the digitization of several Pulaar ‘Ajamī materials in Fuuta Tooro.
In Dakar, the team took base in two studio bases – in the West African Research Center and at Ceerno Madani Taal’s residence – and photographed manuscripts collected from different locations in Fuuta Tooro region.
The team’s collection of local Islamic manuscripts in Fuuta was facilitated by Ceerno Madani Taal who made his library available to us along with a team of scholars to help with metadata production. The team benefitted from a preliminary research trip in 2018 to Koniakari (Mali) facilitated by regionally celebrated Ceerno Hamidou Bane. Director of the West African Research Center Ousmane Sene and his team, our research assistants Mountaga Ghali Ba, Oumar Sy, Seydou Nourou Ly, Abdoulaye Barry, Dr. Delivrance Nzale, and archivist Cheikh Oumar Tall brought immense support to this project.
Ceerno Madani Taal is the current custodian of the manuscripts recorded under his name and collected from his Dakar residence in Medina. The collection includes 11manuscripts in total. Ceerno Madani Taal’s collection is housed at his residence and includes unbound and bound manuscripts for a total of 4090 folios. The manuscripts were originally under the custodianship of Ceerno Seydou Nourou Taal (1880-1980). Upon his death, Ceerno Mountaga Tall (1914-2007) took over custodianship. Then, he passed on the library to Ceerno Madani Taal. The manuscripts are stored in leather folders and kept at Ceerno Madani Taal’s family library in Medina. The project’s metadata reveals that eight of the 11 manuscripts were composed by Al Hajj Umar Taal. The other three were authored by Haalpulaar scholars Shaykh Ahmad Ndiaye (aka Demba Raabi), Muhammad al-Jamrābal Mu’adh al- Fūta Jalūwī, and Mountaga Tāl. Al Hajj Umar Taal’s texts include his originals, as well as foreign books originally authored by Arab scholars. The manuscripts are wrapped in leather and cardboard folders, stored at Ceerno Madani Taal’s family library. The texts cover assorted topics about general Islamic education, Qur’an exegesis, panegyric poetry, hagiography, and the expansion of Islam. Texts also cover Tijaniyya teachings based on the text of founder Ahmad al-Tījānī and the well-known Imam Mālik’s al-Muwatta concerning Islamic law about marriage, trade relations, food and goods, lands and land-related law, civil and human rights, collective property, and leadership.
Mountaga Ba is the current custodian of the manuscripts recorded in his name and collected from the town of Pate Galo (northern Senegal). Ba’s family holding includes 54 small unbound book manuscripts and loose folios. The material was mostly authored by the custodian’s father, Muhammad al-Ghāli Bā who, during his lifetime had occupied important political and religious positions in both Senegal and Mauritania. In Senegal, al-Ghāli Ba was the biographer and member of the entourage of supreme leader (Khalif-General) of the Taal branch of Tijaniyya and he worked with both Ceerno Saydu Nuuru Taal and Mountaga Taal. In Mauritania, he was an adviser to Moktar Ould Daddah, the president of Mauritania from 1960 to 1978 and worked with the country’s national radio at the latter’s request. During his stay there, he authored several manuscripts documenting socioeconomic and political life in Mauritania. The manuscripts document al-Ghāli Bā’s lifework. The files are of varying sizes, ranging from manuscripts as big as 150 pages to short texts of only three folios in length. The book manuscripts cover Islamic sciences, history, Islamic education in Pulaar speaking society, praise poetry, Sufism, and several biographies of Sufis of the Tijaniyya brotherhood. The folios contain Islamic praise poems, correspondences and, sometimes, a mixture of both. The correspondence was written and/or received during religious and secular occasions. Majority of the manuscripts were composed by Muhammad al-Ghāli Ba (d.1991) of Pate Galo. Some other folios were authored by Mamad al- Amīn Āj, Sall Ahmad Al Hajj, Abubakr Sī, Mountaga Ba, and a few unknown authors.
Oumar Sy is the custodian of the manuscripts recorded in his name. Oumar Sy’s collection differs from the above collections in that it is comparatively recent – beginning in the 1980s – and was composed in Pulaar `Ajamī. The Sy collection includes ten small unbound manuscripts and folios. The material was mostly authored by Oumar Sy, and some of the files are copies of famous mawluudu songs originally composed by celebrated local poets, such as Oumar Sy’s teacher, Hamet Sy. A small set of unbound Arabic folios was authored by the custodian's friend, Ahmed Tijān Bah. The files are of varying sizes, ranging from manuscripts as big as fifty pages to works of two folios in length. The manuscripts are praise poems in panegyric style.
Today, the manuscripts in the EAP1245 collections constitute a living Haalpulaar culture. The locals’ engagement with the manuscripts has given the texts a continuity of modern social life through time.
17 December 2021
EAP has revised and expanded its recommended equipment list, which now includes DLSRs and mirrorless cameras. The information is split between two documents, both available on the EAP website. The first part compares these two types of camera so that you can judge which kind is best suited for your digitisation project. It also provides a comprehensive list of full-frame and APS-C cameras, suitable lenses, tripods, copy stands and lighting etc. Part two focusses on appropriate mirrorless cameras for an EAP project.
We hope this updated information will be of help, not only to applicants to EAP, but also anyone carrying out a digitisation project of their own.
23 August 2021
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.
20 July 2021
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.
07 June 2021
We have another four completed digitisation projects that have recently gone online. These four projects represent both the global breadth of EAP projects and the wide variety of content types:
- Temple manuscripts from Kerala and Karantaka, India [EAP908]
- Bound works and manuscripts from Tajikistan [EAP910]
- 19th century Haitian newspapers [EAP1024]
- Archives of public high schools in Chile [EAP1065]
Led by Dr Vayalkara Jayarajan, the EAP908 team digitised 283 palm leaf manuscripts located at seven different temples in the Indian states of Kerala and Karnataka. The exact sources of these manuscripts are unknown as they have been acquired from several priests and passed on from generation to generation.
Over time, the condition of these sacred and holy manuscripts has deteriorated. This project has therefore helped preserve the information on rites and rituals that these manuscripts contain.
Led by Dr Abdughani Mamdazimov, the EAP910 team identified and digitised pre-Soviet works from private collections in the Gissar region of Tajikistan.
These collections are particularly focused on education, both religious and secular.
The bound works include collections of poetry and a biography of the prophet Muhammad.
EAP1024 - 19th century Haitian newspapers
This pilot project digitised 26 different newspaper titles held by the Bibliothèque Haïtienne des Frères de l’Instruction Chrétienne (BHFIC) in Port-au-Prince.
The newspapers are printed in French (with occasional words in Haitian Creole). Topics include political, economic, and diplomatic news and debates. It also includes literary publications, like short stories and poems.
EAP1065 - Archives of public high schools in Chile
The EAP1065 project team, led by Mr Rodrigo Sandoval, digitised administrative records from eight high schools in Chile.
Dated 1848-1918, these records include:
- School subjects
- Enrolment records
- Punishment room books
- Religious class books
- Instructions for edification
This video provides an insight into the project.
Follow us on Twitter to help keep an eye out for many more projects being put online in the coming weeks and months.
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