THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Endangered archives blog

8 posts categorized "Digital scholarship"

05 February 2021

New online - December 2020 and January 2021

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We have a bumper blog this month, covering new projects that went online at the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021. While access to physical archives is currently restricted in many parts of the world, digital archives are increasingly important. Here are five recently digitised collections that are now freely available to access online:

EAP782 - Nineteenth-century records in the Sierra Leone Public Archives

Digitsation sample

The EAP782 project team led by Professor Suzanne Schwarz digitised police, court, and colonial records housed at the Sierra Leone Public Archives.

The documents span a period from the formation of the British Crown colony of Sierra Leone to the formation of the Sierra Leone Protectorate. These records offer significant insights into the lives of inhabitants of the region.

These provide rare insight into the life experiences of formerly enslaved people and their descendants. By the mid-nineteenth century, the population was comprised mainly of liberated Africans (and their descendants) drawn from across West Africa. The digitised records reveal the practices used by successive colonial governors to re-settle tens of thousands of liberated Africans in Freetown and surrounding colonial villages, including Regent and Wilberforce.

The police and court records include the depositions of witnesses, as well as those brought before the court for different offences. Testimony from formerly enslaved people is particularly rare, and provides a basis for reconstructing biographical information on individuals uprooted and displaced by the Atlantic slave trade.

 

EAP886 - Sanskrit Manuscripts and Books in the State of Jammu and Kashmir

Digitisation examples
The EAP886 team digitising; EAP886/1/26; EAP886/2/14.

Led by Mr Chetan Pandey, the EAP886 project team digitised 46 books and manuscripts located in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, in India. In particular, they focussed on material relating to:

  • Sanskritism
  • Hinduism
  • Kashmir Shaivism (a Tantric school of Mysticism indigenous to Kashmir)
  • Tantra
  • Mysticism.

 

EAP1017 - Manuscripts and Archival Documents of Russian Old Believers Escapists (Skrytniks)

Digitisation examples
The EAP1017 team cataloguing; EAP1017/1/66; EAP1017/1/140.

The EAP1017 project team, led by Dr Irina Belayeva, digitised manuscripts and documents of the Skrytniks (Old Believers Escapists) - a social group that was in opposition to the Russian state, first to the Russian Empire and then to the Soviet Union.

The digitised material shows the structure of Skrytniks, their traditions, faith and intercommunication with other social groups.

 

EAP1077 - Tibetan Bonpo Manuscripts

Project location and digitisation example

Dr Valentina Punzi and the EAP1077 team digitised 6 collection of Tibetan manuscripts belonging to private households in the Qinghai Province of China. These include rare and unique ritual texts from the late 19th and early 20 centuries.

 

EAP1123 - Thai-Mon palm-leaf manuscripts

Digitisation example

The Mons of Thailand and Burma were regional, cultural, and religious intermediaries and supported a palm leaf manuscript tradition into the 1920s. The EAP1123 project team, led by Dr Patrick McCormick, conducted a survey of 28 temples in and around Bangkok.

They also digitised a sample of manuscripts from six collections. Many of these texts are unknown in Burma, but they are key to understanding recent history in the region and the Mon role in intellectual history.

Combined, the survey and digitisation sample provide important insights into the history of the Mons in Thailand and Burma.

 

We will be continuing to publish more digital collections in the coming weeks, so keep an eye out for those!

18 November 2020

What’s in a name? The Sovietisation of the Mongolian language and the Challenges of Reversal

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One of the newest EAP projects to go online is EAP890, which contains two collections of Mongolian newspapers, covering the period 1936-1945.

Written in traditional Mongolian script, these newspapers offer a fascinating insight into the history of Mongolian politics and society. They also provide a Mongolian perspective on international affairs, including the dominant global event of the period: the Second World War.

What's in a name?

But beyond the content, even to the untrained eye, this collection shines a light on a key period in Mongolia’s history, as the influence of the Soviet Union intensified eastwards after the 1917 Russian revolution.

Even if you cannot read the traditional Mongolian script these newspapers are written in, a quick glance at different editions of the Ardyn Undesnii Erkh collection prompts a simple question: why did the name of this newspaper keep changing? The answer lies not in typographical errors and careless editing; it is much more profound.

The newspaper title when printed in traditional Mongolian script was always consistent (see yellow boxes below). But alongside this was a variant title written in an alternative script (see red boxes).

In the following examples from four different months in 1941, the variant titles were written differently in each edition. In February 1941, the variant title is very similar to the current Romanised transliteration. But month by month this gradually changed to something that closely resembles the modern Cyrillic spelling.

Part of newspaper title front cover
13 February 1941 (EAP890/1/1/54/3)

 

Part of newspaper title front cover
12 March 1941 (EAP890/1/1/55/4)

 

Part of newspaper title front cover
12 May 1941 (EAP890/1/1/57/2)

 

Part of newspaper title front cover
23 June 1941 (EAP890/1/1/58/6)

What is going on?

These changing titles are indicative of a pivotal period in Mongolian history.  They reveal a process of linguistic revolution, which act as an important indicator of the broader social and political changes that Mongolia experienced during the mid-20th century.

The Sovietisation of Mongolia

Situated in the heart of central Asia, Mongolia is surrounded by two global superpowers: Russia to the north and China to the south. Between the late 17th  and early 20th centuries, Mongolia was controlled by the Chinese Qing dynasty. Throughout this period, local dialects predominantly used the vertical Mongolian script, which was adapted from the Old Uyghur alphabet after Genghis Khan captured an Uyghur scribe at the beginning of the 13th century, during the formative years of the Mongol Empire.

After the fall of the Chinese Manchu dynasty in 1911, Mongolia swayed between independence and continued control by the new Republic of China, until Russian troops entered Mongolia in 1920 and defeated the Chinese army a few months later.

In 1924, the Mongolian People's Republic was established and during subsequent decades Mongolia became increasingly aligned with the recently formed Soviet Union. 

During the 1930s, Mongolia was subject to a series of brutal purges. Buddhist monasteries were destroyed and tens of thousands of people were killed. This process intensified as the world drifted towards war. Notable politicians, including Mongolian prime ministers Peljidiin Genden and Anandyn Amar were arrested and shot in the Soviet Union, accused of counterrevolutionary activity and spying for Japan.

These purges were ordered by the Soviets, but largely overseen by Khorloogiin Choibalsan - sometimes referred to as the 'Stalin of Mongolia'. Choibalsan was in Russia as a student when the 1917 Bolshevik revolution took place. He returned to Mongolia inspired by the Bolshevik cause and after Stalin came to power in Moscow, Choibalsan gradually emerged as the principal conduit for Soviet influence in Mongolia. By 1939, after the arrest of Amar, Choibalsan had become Mongolia's dominant political leader.

Extract from a newspaper including images of Joseph Stalin and Khorloogiin Choibalsan
12 March 1941 (EAP890/1/1/55/4). Pictured: Joseph Stalin (top); Khorloogiin Choibalsan (bottom right)
 
Khorloogiin Choibalsan with Soviet officials
Khorloogiin Choibalsan with Soviet military officers, 1940 (EAP264/1/2/1/10)

During the next few years, the Sovietisation of Mongolia continued unabated and part of this effort included Russifying the Mongolian language. 

Linguistic revolution

While violent purges provide stark evidence of political change, alterations to the national language were also a significant part of the Sovietisation process.

Initial attempts to unify languages within the communist sphere centred on the Latin script. A 1932 Soviet report explained that a unified script would create a system for use by the working masses, as opposed to multiple narrow systems designed for use by the ruling classes. During the late 1930s this objective continued, but Cyrillic became the preferred, unifying writing system.

The first two extracts above, from early 1941 editions of Ardyn Undesnii Erkh, represent a hangover from those initial aborted efforts to Latinise languages within the Soviet Union during the 1920s-30s and replica efforts in Mongolia. In the early 1930s, a Latin alphabet containing 24 dominant characters emerged in Mongolia. This shift was subsequently aborted and in 1937 the former Minster of Education  was prosecuted for crimes which included trying to destroy the Mongolian national script. But in early 1941, after the rise of Choibalsan, Latinisation re-emerged. And on 21 February 1941, a resolution was passed in Mongolia to approve a 42-letter Latin script. This decree was short-lived, though, as a month a later, on 25 March, Cyrillic was adopted as the preferred alternative to the traditional Mongolian script. Five years later, this change was enforced

The processes of both Latinising and Russifying the Mongolian language were neither straightforward nor definitive. The subtle and gradual alterations to both the Latin and the Cyrillic versions of the titles evident in these newspaper demonstrate this.  The task of using new alphabets to represent an existing language was subject to intense linguistic debate.

As the last national newspapers printed in traditional Mongolian script before the forceful switch to the Cyrillic script on 1 January 1946, these two newspaper collections offer an important insight into the nature of those debates and provide a potentially useful dataset to help better understand the mechanics and subtleties of this linguistic revolution.

By the time of this enforced change, Unen had already transitioned. When the final edition available in this collection was published on 31 December 1945, the only remnant of the traditional Mongolian script was the title; the rest of the newspaper was printed in Cyrillic.

Two front covers of Unen newspaper
Unen, 1 January 1942 (EAP890/1/2/1/1), left; Unen, 31 December 1945 (EAP890/1/2/45/11), right

When the Sovietisation process began, the titles were the first parts of these newspapers to change. When the process was complete, they were the last thing to remain.

Beyond communism and 21st century challenges

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the end of communism in Mongolia, efforts have been made to resurrect the traditional script, which is still used in the autonomous Inner Mongolian region of China. This was initially scheduled for 1994, but Cyrillic was re-confirmed as the national script by the Mongolian parliament in 1995.

Twenty years later, in February 2015, the Mongolian government passed a new law which asserted that the traditional Mongolian script, found in these two newspapers, should once again be the national script by 2025. But it may not be that simple.

As I discovered when cataloguing this project, implementing this policy requires technical change as well as political will. It had been our intention to catalogue the collection using the traditional Mongolian script that the newspapers were predominantly written in. However, while the traditional Mongolian script was added to the unicode standard in 1999, there are several design issues that remain unfixed and a lack of support for fonts required to display the script correctly. The 2025 target has provided renewed motivation to address these  issues. But it remains to be seen if and when the existing technical problems will be resolved.

For now, therefore, the titles for these collections appear in the EAP catalogue only in the modern Mongolian Cyrillic script and transliterated Latin script.

But once you get beyond the name, the digitised content is there to be explored in the traditional Mongolian script - providing a window into the past and possibly the very near future of Mongolia and the significance of its national script.

By Graham Jevon

With thanks to the EAP890 project team led by Bayasgalan Bayanbat for digitising this content, and to Eleanor Cooper with whom discussions about the language and scripts inspired this post.

Further reading

Charles Bawden, The Modern History of Mongolia, (2002).

Henry S Badsher, 'The Sovietization of Mongolia', Foreign Affairs (April 1972), pp. 545-553.

Uradyn E Bulag, Nationalism and Hybridity in Mongolia (1998).

Stephane Grivelet, 'The Latinization Attempt in Mongolia', http://acta.bibl.u-szeged.hu/16597/1/altaica_039_115-120.pdf

Stephane Grivelet, 'Reintroducing the Uighur-Mongolian Script in  Mongolia Today', Mongolian Studies, Vol. 18 (1995), pp. 49-60.

03 July 2020

New Projects Online - June 2020

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In recent weeks we have continued to put new collections online. Here is a summary of  four of the most recent projects to be made available.

EAP703 - Notary Books of Bahia, Brazil, 1664-1910

Until 1763, Bahia was the seat of the Portuguese colonial government in the Americas and a major sugar plantation economy based on African enslaved labour. Bahia received 33% of the Brazilian trade and 14.5% of the total. Being an administrative and economic centre, and until the late eighteenth century the most important port of trade in the South Atlantic, the production of documents in Bahia was intense. In Brazil, the Arquivo Público do Estado da Bahia (Bahia State Archives) is considered to be second in importance only to the National Archives in Rio de Janeiro.

This project digitised 1,329 volumes of Notary Books deposited at the Arquivo Público do Estado da Bahia. In total 306,416 pages were digitised as part of the project.

Project team digitising notary books
The EAP703 project team digitising the notary books in Bahia

The dates  for the volumes ranges from 1664 to 1910. They therefore include the first two decades of the republican and post-emancipation period. 

These documents represent perhaps the most dependable source for the study of the social and economic history of colonial and post-colonial Bahia up until the end of the 19th century. The notary books include records such as:

  • Bills of sale (for plantations, land, houses, ships, slaves, etc)
  • Wills and testaments
  • Inheritance partition
  • Power of attorney letters
  • Marriage
  • Dowry
  • Labour and business contracts
  • Children’s legitimisation papers
  • Slave manumission papers.
A notary book page
Livro de Notas do Tabelião [3 May 1680-19 Jun 1680] (EAP703/1/2/2)

 

EAP896 - Documentation of Endangered Temple Art of Tamil Nadu

EAP does not only fund the digitisation of manuscripts and documents that can be held in the hand. EAP supports digitisation of almost any at-risk historical material. The digitisation of temple art in Tamil Nadu is a prime example.

The rich cultural heritage of temple art in India is rapidly deteriorating because of vandalism, weather conditions, and practices such as burning camphor for ritual purposes. By digitising the artwork that adorns eight temples in Tamil Nadu, India, the EAP896 project team have helped preserve this art for research, enjoyment, and education.

Project Team Digitising a Temple Wall
The EAP896 project team digitising a temple wall

The drawing lines found on the temple walls represent abstract forms painted several centuries ago. In the evolution of human cognitive expressions, painting is a significant milestone. The paintings are essentially made up of lines and colours and the figures that are represented are mostly mythical.

Art on temple wall
Bodinayakkanur Zamin Palace, West Hall, North wall, top row (EAP896/1/2)

This project has resulted in a plethora of visually striking images.

 

EAP1150 - Fragile Palm Leaves Digitisation Initiative

In partnership with the Fragile Palm Leaves Foundation and the Buddhist Digital Resource Centre, this project digitised 300 Pali and vernacular manuscripts in Burmese script.

Bound palm leaf manuscript
Mhan nanḥ mahārājavaṅ tau krīḥ I (EAP1150/1/9, image 1)

Mostly created in the 18th and 19th century, these manuscripts contain approximately 1,000 discrete Buddhist texts on a variety of topics. These include:

  • Law
  • Poetry
  • Stories of the Buddha
  • Grammar
  • Religious rituals
A palm leaf manuscript
Mhan nanḥ mahārājavaṅ tau krīḥ I (EAP1150/1/9, image 15)

These manuscripts provide an invaluable primary resource for the study of Burmese and Theravada Buddhism, Pali philology, history, literature, regional codicology, pre-modern textual and scribal practices, and manuscript culture.

 

EAP1167 - Safeguarding Colonial Plantation Records of Malawi

This pilot project surveyed tea and tobacco plantation records from the colonial era in Nyasaland [Malawi]. The team located relevant records and created an inventory, which is available as an Excel spreadsheet.

A plan showing plots on a tobacco estate
Nchenga and Falls Dairy (EAP1167/1/11/1, image 1)

The team also digitised a sample of records from 13 estates (1922-1966), which are freely available to view. These include:

  • Title deeds
  • Legal agreements
  • Memoranda
  • Correspondence
  • Articles of association.

 

These four projects include a diverse range of content types and span three continents across several centuries. Combined, they aptly showcase the rich diversity of EAP projects.

Look out for even more diverse projects going online in the weeks in months ahead!

02 January 2020

Beyond Digitisation: Engaging the Community Around The Barbados Mercury

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While digitisation of the Barbados Mercury (EAP1086) was completed in December 2018, it was not an endpoint. It allowed the Barbados Archives to initiate a series of workshops and initiatives aiming to involve the public, and promote the study and mining of the newspaper for further research.

Covering the years from 1783 to 1848, the Mercury is an important primary source for understanding life in a slave-holding British colony. It covers every aspect of life in Barbados during these decades. Although it reflects the worldview of the (white) planter and merchant class, reading the newspaper between the lines and against the grain allows us to get glimpses of the dystopian reality on the island.

Considering that several sources covering the 18th and 19th centuries are not readily accessible, either because they are fragile, or because they lack finding aids, or simply because they have been destroyed or lost, the information contained in Mercury can help us reconstruct many aspects of the history of that period: economic, military, social and cultural, gender, maritime, as well as geography and material culture.

One of the most important set of information is the “runaway slaves” ads appearing frequently in Mercury’s pages. They are important because they offer descriptive information about enslaved individuals for whom usually there is very little in the archives. Ads contain a variety of identifying information, such as names, age, appearance, skin colour, clothes, skills, accent, any distinguishing features, including “marks of their country” or signs that are obviously a result of violence (e.g., missing limbs, scars). More importantly, these ads offer information about relatives and friends that can allow us to reconstruct networks of the enslaved.

In March 2019, a new collaboration between the Barbados Archives and the Early Caribbean Digital Archive resulted in giving start to the “Barbados Runaway Slaves Digital Collection,” an initiative that as a first step aims to bring together all the “runaway slaves” ads in the newspaper and their transcriptions. The Early Caribbean Digital Archive, based at Northeastern University in Boston, aims to make accessible material related to black, enslaved and indigenous people of the Caribbean, and use the digital archive as a site of revision and for exploring ways to decolonise the archive.  The collaboration was officially initiated through a series of workshops and events in May 2019.

A group of people sitting at tables placed in a horseshoe, they are looking at laptop screens.

Mercury Runaways workshop, October 2019

These inaugural workshops were followed by monthly workshops during the fall and winter of 2019. The format of the workshops consisted of an introduction to the Mercury and its digitisation, and the aims of the workshop; overview of the Endangered Archives Programme portal and instructions about how to access and navigate the interface; instructions about doing the transcriptions and saving the documents; time for participants to do the transcriptions either alone or in a group; and finally a group discussion where people could present something interesting they had come upon in the ads they were transcribing, or any other related topic.

Workshops were led by Amalia S. Levi, archivist and project leader for EAP1086, Nicholas Mayers, genealogical researcher, and Dr. Tara Inniss, lecturer at the History Department at the University of West Indies, Cave Hill campus. Workshops were held in the evening to facilitate participation by all age levels. We arranged two of the workshops to fit two courses of Dr. Inniss, so that students in history and heritage studies at UWI were able to attend the workshops.

It was moving to see people interact with the digitised copies of the archival material during the workshops, especially as they realised that it was a source of rich information for understanding the Barbadian past, particularly in terms of genealogical research. This is important because many people are not aware of the many ways their enslaved ancestors resisted slavery to seek freedom. Discussions at the end of the workshops were lively. Participants wanted to share the many—often dreadful—human stories contained in the ads and in the pages of the newspaper. Discussions also allowed people to speak about a past that is often too painful to deal with.

About a dozen people sit in a horseshoe looking at their laptops.

Mercury Runaways workshop, November 2019

As workshops showed, engaging the public through consistent involvement creates community, and incentivises people to work together to research their history. We are committed to continue engaging the public in this work through regular monthly meetings. At this stage, we were interested in transcriptions, while at a later stage we hope to enrich these human stories with contextual information, and possibly construct a database out of them. We would also like to engage the public in more creative ways of interacting with the ads (for example, writing short stories, sketching a portrait or an artwork and other creative ways).

Blog written by Amalia S. Levi and Nicholas Mayers

17 April 2018

Remote Capture: Digitising Documentary Heritage in Challenging Locations

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Remote Capture: Digitising Documentary Heritage in Challenging Locations is a practical guide for those about to embark on a digitisation project and it has just become available online. It is aimed at those who are planning to apply to EAP for future funding, but hopefully the advice will have wider appeal for anyone about to start a similar project.

It has been a joy working on this publication and I hope that people will find the information within its pages helpful. The uniqueness of the book lies in the advice given by those who have taken part in EAP projects and I am extremely grateful for their contributions. But of course, since submitting the draft manuscript to Open Book Publishers, I have received more images of projects being carried out in the field. Although it was too late to include them in the publication, I thought I would share just some in this blog to show that  projects continue to work successfully throughout the world, often in very unique circumstances.  

EAP935, digitising archival material in northern Ghana

EAP935: digitising archival material in northern Ghana

Digitising on Tristan da Cunha

EAP951: working on Tristan da Cunha

A portable set-up for Cham manuscripts in Vietnam

EAP1005: a portable set-up for Cham manuscripts in Vietnam

Working with the Cisse community in Senegal

EAP1042: working with the Cisse community in Senegal

01 September 2016

Call for Applications

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

Room interior with a high ceiling. The walls are covered in bookshelves with a ladder to reach the upper shelves.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Close-up of a woman picking grapes.
EAP755/1/1/86 Mendoza. Photographs taken by Annemarie Heinrich, Argentina. The team working on this project have also been awarded  a major grant.

Inside cover page of the diary, showing neat handwriting.
EAP856/1/6 Journal du Premier Ministre Rainilaiarivony (Tome III) [May 1881 - Sep 1881]. 19th century archives written by Prime Minister Rainilaiarivony (written in Malagasy.  Another project is also underway on Madagascar.

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

16 December 2015

Using face recognition to find an EAP Christmas Card

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Professor David Zeitlyn has written our final guest blog for 2015, again it is related to the British Library's current exhibition on West Africa. The post informs us about what can be discovered using face recognition software  - and it has a wonderfully festive theme.

The generous support of the Endangered Archives Programme enabled us to work with a Cameroonian studio photographer, Jacques Toussele, to archive his collection of negatives (and some remaining prints). The results are now available via the EAP catalogue (see descriptions in Zeitlyn 2010a and 2015)  

Jacques Toussele with photographs on the wall behind him.Jacques Toussele in 2001. Photo by author, CC BY-NC-ND.

The collection is a rare archive of local photographic practices which, because until relatively recently Mr Toussele was still working in the community where they were taken, have been documented with his assistance thus rendering the archive considerably more important for the future than a bare collection of negatives alone. Working with some helpers, he was able to recognise a few of the people in the photographs, enabling future research to be undertaken, which greatly enhanced the importance of the archive. The archive we have established enables scholars to raise a wide range of issues about the presentation of self, changing fashions and global patterns of influence as mediated by local norms of appropriate behaviour in public.

The convention among studio photographers in Cameroon (and elsewhere in West Africa) was that there was a two tier pricing structure. Clients paid a certain amount per print but had to make an additional payment if they wanted the negative as well. Strictly, therefore, the archiving project is concerned only with the negatives which the clients chose not to redeem.

Uses of Photographs

Clients commissioned photographs from studio photographers such as Photo Jacques for many reasons, but overwhelmingly the commonest reason was the requirement in Cameroon law for adult citizens to carry valid Identity Cards (which since the 1950s have included photographs). Once commissioned, the negative used to produce the passport style ID card photograph could also be used to produce other styles of prints. For example, I have discussed elsewhere (2010b) the style of photograph required by the state for the marriage certificates which document civil weddings.

As we shall see, these have another life in archives other than the municipal civil registry. Although photographers such as Jacques were sustained by the need for ID photographs such administrative requirements did not fully determine the sorts of images taken. They provided a secure economic basis for the studios, which also meant that for the clients the cost of other photographs was affordable.

In some cases a single print or image has had different uses at different points in time: the ID photos of the elderly are in many cases the only surviving photographs of grandparents. After their death the ID card may be copied so an enlarged print could be made of the passport photograph for display at the funeral and then hung on the wall of a surviving spouse or child.

Having established the archive the challenge has been how to start using it in research. One set of issues is posed by the lack of metadata. Unlike some other West African photographers (Augustt discussed by Werner or the better known case of Seidou Keita) Jacques Toussele did not maintain detailed records about his photographs. Although as part of the EAP project we did some basic cataloguing, one thing that background research in Mbouda has revealed is that local traditions are such that knowledge of names is not widely disseminated. A person may be recognised in a photograph and there may be agreement among informants (eg the cataloguers and Jacques Toussele himself) about their occupation and the village where they live, but no one would know their name, or at best a Christian name or nick name. Jacques Toussele, himself, was widely known as Photo Jacques but outside his immediate family few know his full name.

As a small step towards putting some order into the archive, I have done some collaborative research with colleagues (Andrew Zisserman and Omkar Parkhi) in the Oxford Engineering department to see how face recognition can help (see Zeitlyn et al 2010 for early experiments). One immediate task was being able to identify original negatives for the prints in the archive. There are a few actual prints which were either never collected or were test prints which had been filed rather than discarded. There are also some instances of negatives which are copy photographs. Someone will have come to the studio with a print and asked for a literal ‘photo copy’. When the original had been taken by Jacques Toussele, the negative may still exist in the archive but without a catalogue (metadata) it was impossible to locate. This is where face recognition, or in some cases pattern matching, can help match the print and original negative.

  Studio portrait of a man   Close up portrait of the same man

EAP054/1/161/248 Negative (dvd226_129)

EAP054/1/66/150 Double print eg for ID card or other administrative use (dvd297f1_017)

There is a further use which is topical: the recycling and refashioning of photographs by cutting, pasting and re-photographing to create family Christmas cards. Although not common in the Jacques Toussele archive, they do help us get a handle on the question of completeness: just how many other photographs were taken but which have not survived? It also allows us to explore how, over time, negatives might have moved accidentally between storage boxes.

So consider this Christmas card image

Cut out photograph of a couple with oval cut outs of babies around the central image.EAP054/1/7 dvd246_018

It was found in EAP054/1/37 box38 Old red Obi Brothers photographic paper box, which had 01/10/1990 written on the outside of the box. Using face recognition we were able to match several of the constituent images in this collage with prints in a mixed box of passport size prints (EAP054/1/93: Jacques Toussele Photographs: box 100 [c 1990])

Photograph of a baby.
EAP054/1/93/2 box100 dvd278_056 (top: north) 

Photograph of a baby.
EAP054/1/93/3 box100/dvd278_057 (bottom: south)

Photograph of a baby.
EAP054/1/93/4 box100/dvd278_058 (north-east) 

Photograph of a baby.
EAP054/1/93/5 box100/dvd278_059 (south-west) 

Photograph of a baby.
EAP054/1/93/6 box100/dvd278_060 (south-east) 

Other possible matches were

  Photograph of a baby.
EAP054/1/2/201 box2/dvd99_070 

and  

Photograph of a baby.
EAP054/1/2/121 box2/dvd101_121 

Of the nine images in this collage, face recognition locates five as well as identifying some possible matches which my human eye rejects. Sadly we cannot find the central image of the adults. Most of the matching images were in a box of miscellaneous passport size prints. In one case the print has been trimmed to the oval matte clearly visible on the Christmas Card. The other trimmed prints have not survived, nor have the negatives from which they come. So we have some evidence for how much more has been lost than exists in the material that we have been able to archive. I don’t take this as bad news. Any archive is always incomplete, and one of this nature perhaps more than most. As a seasonal reflection I think that demonstrating that it is possible to do any matching within the archive is an extraordinary finding and one that promises much for the new year.

Further reading

Introduction to the project

Zeitlyn, David. 2015. "Archiving a Cameroonian photographic studio." In From Dust to Digital: Ten Years of the Endangered Archives, 529-544. Cambridge: Open Book Publishers. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.11647/OBP.0052.16

Zeitlyn, David. 2010a. "Photographic Props / The Photographer as Prop: The Many Faces of Jacques Toussele."  History and Anthropology 21 (4):453- 477. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02757206.2010.520886.

Other work cited

Werner, J.-F. 2014. De la photographie africaine en tant qu’innovation technique. Continents manuscrits COMA

Zeitlyn, David, Ananth Garre, C. V. Jawahar, and Andrew Zisserman. 2010. "The Archive. Where Is the Archive?"  Photography & Culture 3 (3): 331–342. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.2752/175145109X12804957025679.

Zeitlyn, David. 2010b. "Representation/Self-representation: A Tale of Two Portraits; Or, Portraits and Social Science Representations."  Visual Anthropology 23 (5): 398 – 426. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/08949460903472978.

 

 

23 September 2015

5 million images online

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

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

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

  Late 19th century photograph of a party having a picnic in a wooded area.EAP164/1/2/3 Album of photos of representatives of a family - Perovskyh [1891-1990]

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

  Illuminated Ethiopic prayer scroll.

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

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

  Page in Arabic script.

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

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

  Drawing of a sari wearing deity standing on a lotus leaf.

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

  Advertisement for slipper shoes.

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

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

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

  Photograph showing the construction of a bridge.

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

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

  Stereograph images of a dam.

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

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

Page from the archive.

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

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

  Typewritten page.EAP541/1/1/88: Salaga-Site for septic Tank Laterines [1952-73]