THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Endangered archives blog

News about the projects saving vulnerable material from around the world

14 May 2019

From Colombo to London: Encounters with the Endangered Archives Programme

I first read about the Endangered Archives Programme (EAP) in 2015. I also discovered that EAP had funded several projects in Sri Lanka, ranging from community manuscripts to religious collections. In 2017, I was working for a human rights archive in Sri Lanka, and at a conference on archiving, EAP was discussed at length, particularly with regard to the CAVR archive. Two years later, I was sitting at the nerve centre of the Programme on the fifth floor of the British Library—the world’s largest national library (or as I call it, the brick-lined colossus of the library world).

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My arrival at EAP, however, was hardly a matter of chance. A prestigious Chevening scholarship brought me to UCL to read for an MA in Archives and Records Management. When asked by my Programme Director where I would like to head off to for my work placement, EAP was at the very top of my list. I was curious about the nuts and bolts of it all. In my mind, EAP’s mission addressed one aspect of my archival work—the digital preservation of endangered human rights records and heritage material. Any further insight into the Programme—the approaches to archival description, the development of metadata and the types of software utilised—would expand my own archival tool-shed.

There were a few other factors that influenced my decision. The British Library’s position as an authority in librarianship and archival management is widely recognised. Throughout the MA programme at UCL, I had numerous interactions with the Library. One thing that struck me at the time, perhaps unsurprisingly, was that the spirit of openness, intellectual exchange and collaboration appeared to be embedded in the Library’s internal culture. From the Sound Archive and the Oral History team to Digital Preservation and Collections Care, the Library’s practitioners, partners and thought leaders were always generous with their time, hospitable to archival neophytes such as myself and open to exchanges that challenged and shaped my understanding of archival praxis.

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It wasn’t much of a surprise when I walked into a similar environment at EAP. Over the course of two weeks, Jody Butterworth, Graham Jevon and Rob Miles made sure I was exposed to as much of EAP as possible. I was immersed in EAP’s archival workflow; running through metadata processing, sitting through meetings on technical developments and learning about EAP’s plans for the future. In the midst of this very serious work, there were plenty of vivifying interludes—for example, the Library’s 21st Century talks—where new research on OCR was presented and discussed—and a guided tour of the Imaging Studio—where I stood enthralled at the various uses of multispectral imaging. During the second week of my placement, I was able to work on a digitised collection from Sri Lanka, specifically the manuscripts and records of the Bishop’s House in Jaffna, some of which date back to the 16th century. All in all, it was a privilege to participate in efforts to make the collection accessible to researchers around the world.

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Examples from EAP981

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On my last day at EAP, as I was browsing through the images of the collection, I recognised a name. I had just stumbled upon a letter written by my great-aunt, Louise Nugawela, who was married to Major E. A. Nugawela, the Minister of Education in the first Cabinet of Independent Ceylon. I believe the letter (reproduced below) is addressed to the Bishop of Jaffna, inviting him to join them for dinner on the 26th of June, 1948.

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The discovery was a fitting way to end my work placement. My sincere thanks for an immensely rewarding experience at EAP. I hope the Programme goes from strength to strength in the years to come.

Nigel Nugawela is a Chevening Scholar at UCL, where he is reading for an MA in Archives and Records Management. His full profile can be viewed here.

 

04 April 2019

The artwork of Lalit Mohan Sen

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Lalit Mohan Sen (1898-1954) was an Indian artist born in West Bengal. Despite having a successful career working within the world of art and being a prolific artist in his own lifetime, relatively little is known about him today.

Sen graduated from the government School of Art in Lucknow in 1917, and then went on to study at London’s Royal College of Art in 1925. In 1931, he was one of ten artists hired to decorate the newly built India House in London. His artistic career included periods as an art teacher, commercial artist, landscape artist and photographer.

Sen blog 2EAP781/1/7/1/10. A dancing figurine

Sen’s work has been displayed in Victoria and Albert Museum and the British Royal Collections, his work has also been in exhibitions at the Royal Academy and the Exhibition of Photographic Art. In 2018, his art was chronicled in the exhibition “Unravelling a Modern Master: The Art of Lalit Mohan Sen (1898-1954), which took place at Victoria Memorial Hall in Kolkata.

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EAP781/1/7/1/30. Portrait of a woman, Bhird Kheri, U.P

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EAP781/1/7/1/18. A seated man in a headress

Sen’s art spans a range of media, which include painting, sculpture, sketches, photography, textiles, printmaking, pen and ink, and posters encouraging tourism in India. His work encapsulates a variety of subjects, such as animals, deities, abstract design, portraiture, landscapes, nature and nudes. Much of his work has not only artistic value, but cultural, as they capture early twentieth century Indian dress, people and performance. Although his art focuses primarily on India, his body of work also shows interest in European landscapes and figures.

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EAP781/1/7/1/12. Pot O Ghot

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EAP781/1/7/1/235. Dance performance

From our project EAP781, “Santipur and its neighbourhood: text and image production history from early modern Bengal through public and private collections”, our archives now contain over 500 digitised images of Sen’s art. These images demonstrate the diverse range of Sen’s artistic abilities.

Browsing through Sen’s body of work reveals the proficiency he had in creating art in different forms. It is fascinating to scroll through the collection of digitised images, and see how his artistic style remained distinct within each medium yet seemed to change quite considerably when working with another medium. In all, this collection of Sen’s work is a great source for research, inspiration and enjoyment.

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EAP781/1/7/1/139. Block design of Saree

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EAP781/1/7/1/153. Brass work in the shape of a face - used as an ashtray

Take a look here for the full set of images

More information on Lalit Mohan Sen and his work can be found in the video below

 

Written by Alyssa Ali, Endangered Archives Apprentice

19 March 2019

“The Barbados Mercury”: Thoughts from the digitisation team

In December 2018, we completed the digitisation of The Barbados Mercury Gazette, funded through EAP1086. We have previously written about different stages of the project, such as the start and the digitisation training. In addition, on February 1, 2019, the Barbados Archives held an event to celebrate the launch of the digitised newspaper online. You can see information and images about this event here.

In this post, two members of the digitisation team, Brian Inniss and Lenora Williams, discuss their thoughts about and experience during the digitisation process.

Conserving the Mercury Newspaper at the Barbados Archives

My name is Brian Inniss and I am the Senior Archive Technical Assistant at the Barbados Department of Archives. I am attached to the Conservation Unit which is comprised of myself and two other individuals who handle the care, conservation and preservation of the collections at the archives and the buildings that house them.  Our part in the Mercury digitisation project was to prepare the volumes for digitisation. The following are some details on our process.

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Brian Inniss, Senior Archives Technical Assistant, preparing the Mercury for digitisation.

An important part of any digitisation project is preparation. The preparation for digitisation meant dis-bounding the bound volumes and doing all that was necessary to stabilise them, making it easier for the digitisation team to handle them. Volumes were carefully collected from storage and transferred to the lab for assessment and disassembly. Disassembling the bound newspaper was a first for the team. Working with these volumes in this way gave us more experience with techniques from the 1800s. It was truly exciting to see original loop and stab stitch that were used for many of these volumes.

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The Barbados Mercury Gazette being disbound at the Conservation Department

The project was not without some challenges. All the material in this collection was well over 150 years old, some exceeding 200 years old, and over time, even with the best care at the archives, had become very brittle. Some newspaper issues were made brittle by various derogating factors such as acid-catalysed hydrolysis, oxidation, and insects (bookworms) and humidity. It was this deterioration that first inspired the project. Safely removing the pages, while minimising the damage which could lead to loss of vital information, was labour-intensive and required further research and ingenuity, but we were successful in the end.

After preparation by the conservation unit, these unbound volumes were secured between sheets of blotting paper so they could be transported safely to the digitisation unit to be digitised. After digitisation, these volumes will be bound and safely housed back in the repository for preservation.

This was truly an experience to behold and assisted in the further enhancing of our skills in dealing with paper of different grades and texture. Hopefully the Archives will have more opportunities like this and we will enthusiastically participate as we look toward the future.

Digitising the Mercury newspaper

Lenora Williams, Mercury Digitisation Project Assistant

Working with The Barbados Mercury Gazette as the Project Assistant was a capacity building experience. Of the many experiences, working with photography equipment for digitisation was the most exciting. Having previous experience in photography and a love for landscape photography, it was a chance to focus on another subject – paper.

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 Jennifer Breedy, Archives Assistant, and Lenora Williams, Mercury Digitisation Project Assistant, working to digitise a fragile page

The day to day requirements of the project required concentration and timing. It also demanded a high level of attention to detail and forethought to see a product that researchers can utilise. The set up was partially comprised of a copy stand and a Nikon D810 DSRL Camera. These technical aspects included creating even lighting, understanding just how subtle changes can impact on the image quality and understanding how the positioning of the subject can be as important in the end of product. This was one of our most challenging parts of the process, but a vital part in meeting the guidelines set out in the grant. Most of what I know about lighting a subject now comes from the intricacies of the FADGI standards.

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Lenora Williams, Project Assistant

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Timothy Sealy, Archives Technical Assistant, assisting the digitisation team

Over the first few months the daily process became familiar and even welcome. It was then that the team would meet one of our most memorable challenges yet. As an archives user, I know the disappointment of being told a book or pamphlet is closed, but never fully appreciated what that actually means until I handled issues from the 1812 and 1813 of this collection. Careful consideration was placed into transferring the material from the conservation department to the room where the digitisation process was being carried out and the special training and instruction given to the team on handling these delicate issues. Even with careful handling, these pages crumbled. They seemed to dissolve right by merely existing and it was then that the real importance of this project made its impact to all involved.

 The more you interact with the material the more one can gain an appreciation of 1700-1800 Barbados. The Mercury Newspaper opens up 18th and 19th century Barbados though the eyes of a select, literate few. The newspaper as a resource sheds light on the way they saw themselves and the ideals they held for country, their businesses and themselves. I began seeing their words and exploring the similarities and differences of Barbados then and now. One great example is the newspaper itself. At present, several media houses publish a daily newspaper that has some 10 pages or more with cleverly merged articles. The Mercury newspaper as evidenced by this collection, was published twice per week usually around 3 or 4 pm.

It was striking to find that Barbadians then were no less materialistic. For example, one feature of the Mercury is the considerable number of advertisements each issue contains; sometimes taking up a large percentage of any given page. Many subscribers through the years give detailed lists of items for sale.

The newspaper will surely be most noted for its information on enslaved persons. Subheadings of “Absconded” or “A reward” preceded such notices which often give an avid description including occupation, location and family connections of enslaved person. Related information includes regular updates of the list of enslaved persons in the cage and owners. Uploading this resource into an open platform with free access to the full content will encourage users to engage with the content at their convenience.

I am thankful for the opportunity to work in this Endangered Archives Programme grant, and I look forward to being involved in other such projects in the future.

To see more images from the conservation and digitisation of the Mercury, please see here.

Written by Lenora Williams, Brian Inniss and Amalia S. Levi

Photos credit: Lenora Williams and Brian Innis.