Endangered archives blog

5 posts categorized "East Asia"

18 November 2020

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

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

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

What's in a name?

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

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

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

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

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

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!

24 September 2018

Call for applications now open

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

David LaFevor standing next to a tripod and digitising while in Cuba,Digitising in Cuba

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

There three main types of grant:

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

A further type of grant will be introduced in 2019:

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

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

01 September 2016

Call for Applications

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

08 June 2016

New collections online - May 2016

Last month we put three new collection online - EAP689, EAP700 and EAP727

EAP689: Constituting a digital archive of Tamil agrarian history (1650-1950) - phase II

This project, digitising vulnerable documents relating to Tamil agrarian history, is a continuation of the earlier projects carried out in the same region – EAP314 and EAP458.  The project aimed to enhance the work already accomplished by visiting some of the locations identified in these earlier projects, as well as new locations, and digitising a variety of vulnerable documents held in private homes in Tamil Nadu.  36 new collections were digitised, bringing the total number, including those from previous projects, up to 74 collections in total. The sizes of the 36 new collections digitised vary from one single document to over a 300 documents per collection. The 36 collections comprise 135 different series which cover a wide variety of genres and topics such as: folk songs, poems, hymns, horoscopes, astrology, sorcery, nikantu, tamil lexicon, medicine, harvest accounts, land lease, land settlements, land partition, land dispute, land record, tax and temple accounts. judgements from the colonial courts and local judicial assemblies, petitions over land dispute, sale, punishment for communication with excommunicated persons, marriage agreement and caste integrity, compensation to families after self-immolation of widows, security rights (kaval), right to access water for agriculture from the lake, dowry details, business communications and accounts with Burma, film pamphlets.

A copper plate with writing in white etched into the plate.EAP689/6/1/1 - Agreement for temple renovation - Copper-plate

Letter with decorative borderEAP689/21/2/4 - Invitation Letters - Paper [1912-1931]

Cover of a book showing illustrations of animals and people.EAP689/27/1/53 -Music Guide book PB 53 [1939]

EAP700: Preservation of the manuscripts of the Jaffna Bishop's House (1850-1930)

The central aim of this pilot project was to digitise, preserve and disseminate the rare French manuscripts and other documents kept in the Jaffna Bishop’s House in Sri Lanka. These manuscripts are becoming more and more vulnerable to human and natural disasters and merit urgent digitisation for posterity. Jaffna, in the northern part Sri Lanka, inhabited by the Tamil ethnic minority since the independence of Sri Lanka (1948) has been subject to serious ethnic, cultural and political conflicts. One of the most tragic events was the burning of the Jaffna Public library along with its 97,000 volumes of books and manuscripts on 1 June 1981. The Jaffna public library was considered one of the biggest in Asia.

This collection of manuscripts has escaped the bombings and shelling of past decades. They have been stored in wooden cupboards in a reinforced room of the Bishop’s House adjoining the Cathedral, in a strategically sensitive district of Jaffna City. They are, however, highly vulnerable due to their age and their current condition of poor storage, insect infestations, occasional human mishandling, humidity and other natural and environmental disasters. Some of them are in such a fragile state that they are unable to be handled.

These manuscripts and documents are part of the collections of the Catholic mission in Sri Lanka and cover a wider geographical area including the Jaffna peninsula, Mannar, Puttalam and the Vanni regions. The majority of the manuscripts are in French. This makes the collection a rare and unique heritage and should shed new insights on the contribution of the French missions in this region. They contain a variety of information about the Diocese and the parish and the parishioners. They cover two periods: the second half of the 19th century with the commencement of the Missions; and the period before, during, and after the First World War, a period that is also of great historical importance because of its implications in the colonies. They pertain to two broad domains of the history of Christianity and Christian missions in Sri Lanka, and also the cultural history of ethnic minorities in general and with special reference to the Tamils.

The project digitised 58 files, creating a total of 16,944 digital images instead of the 7,000 that were originally planned. The files mostly consist of manuscripts dated from between 1850 and 1930. The project digitised a diverse collection of records such as memoirs of missionaries or codices; records detailing day to day life; observations on economic and social conditions; personal letters; account books giving detailed explanations of the income and expenses related to the missions, churches and cathedral, and daily accounts of the expenditures on different chapters like school, orphanage, and charity; catalogues of letters sent by missionaries; sermons and commentaries.

Page from the archiveEAP700/1/2/2 - The Jaffna Diocese and the OMI - Supplement, containing letters & documents [1848-1861]

Page from the archiveEAP700/1/8/1 - Statistics of the Diocese of Jaffna [1929]

EAP727: Preservation of Tibetan Ngakpa manuscripts in Amdo region (Qinghai and Gansu Provinces, PRC)

Amdo is a region located in the northeastern area of the Tibetan Plateau. Due to its geographical features of high mountain ranges and vast grasslands, fragmented and scattered institutions of local power have been the prevalent forms of the ruling agency, until its formal inclusion in the administrative system of People’s Republic of China in 1958. In this socio-historical context, Ngakpa have been playing a leading role in the religious life of Amdo Tibetan communities, embodying a sort of independent channel of transmission, alternative to monastic practice. Ngakpa are extremely knowledgeable bearers of the non-monastic tradition of Tibetan Buddhism and Bon religions. They mainly act as ritual masters for a number of different purposes and have a high level of expertise in Tibetan meditation practices, medicine, astronomy and traditional knowledge as a whole.

Despite the recent popularity of Ngakpa teachings in the Western world, their survival in the original context is threatened by the increasing marginalisation of their social role and the lack of potential students in the young generation, captivated by new opportunities offered by the Chinese fast-growing economy. The preservation of Ngakpa’s textual heritage is a factor of primary importance for ensuring the perpetuation of this ancient laic tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. This project was exclusively concerned with the preservation of the most endangered manuscripts of one specific group of Ngakpa in the Amdo region, those belonging to the Nyingmapa tradition, the most ancient school of Tibetan Buddhism.

A pilot survey was carried out by the local archival partner and it emerged that between 70 and 100 pecha (the traditional format of Tibetan books, made of long paper pages compressed between two wooden boards and bounded together with a string) of different lengths, privately-owned by thirty Ngakpa, were in very poor physical condition and situated in precarious locations, exposed to the damages of humidity, rats, use and age.

The manuscripts date from between the early 19th and the end of the 20th centuries. Several of them are unique copies that were rescued during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), when they were hidden in various provisional locations, wedged in wall fissures and buried underground. The topics covered by the texts are heterogeneous: rituals, medicine, history, astrology, astronomy, divination, hagiography, mantras, manuals for the construction of traditional ritual objects, such as mandala, stupa and torma (decorated and painted offerings made of barley flour and butter).

The scattered location of the texts and the difficulty to reach them in remote mountain areas required extensive travel among different villages in Huangnan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Haixi Mongolian and Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Hainan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Golok Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (all in Qinghai Province) and Southern Gansu Province.

Manuscript page showing two deities and text in Tibetan.EAP727/1/100 - རྒྱལ་བ་སྐུ་གསུམ་གྱི་རྣམ་ཐར་ཡོངས་འདུས་ལྗོན་པ་བཞུགས་སོ།། (rgyal ba sku gsum gyi rnam thar yongs 'dus ljon pa bzhugs) [Early 20th century]

Manuscript page 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]

 

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