Endangered archives blog

News about the projects saving vulnerable material from around the world

26 February 2021

New online - February 2021

February may be the shortest month of the year, but it is another month packed with newly digitised collections being added to the EAP website. The three latest projects to go online include:

EAP791 - Manuscripts of the Lanten community in northern Laos

The digitisation process and digitised manuscript pages

Led by Professor Dr Josephus Platenkamp and Joseba Estevez, the EAP791 project team digitised 768 manuscripts owned by private collectors within the Lanten community in northern Laos.

Members of the Lanten community migrated from the Guizhou, Guangxi and Yunnan Provinces of China into Laos and Vietnam following the social, political and economic upheavals during the last century of the Qing Dynasty (1644 to 1912).

Lanten (also known as Lao Huay and Yao Mun) are classified as one of the 39 ‘ethnic minorities’ of northern Laos that are officially acknowledged by the People’s Democratic Republic of Laos.

Written in Classical Chinese supplemented with lexemes from Lanten language, these manuscripts mediate the transfer across the generations of the religious knowledge and verbal and non-verbal expertise enabling ritual experts to communicate with the Deities of the Lanten pantheon. To that end the manuscripts contain instructions for rituals of healing, marriage, death, ordination, and exorcism, specifying the sacrificial procedures and the Deities involved.

EAP981 - Documents at the Jaffna Bishop's House, Sri Lanka

EAP981_Panorama600ppi

This major project followed on from pilot project EAP700. Led by Dr Appasamy Murugaiyan, the EAP981 team digitised the remaining rare documents kept under the guardianship of the Jaffna Bishop House in Sri Lanka.

The digitised material covers the period between 1775 and 1948.

The range of material digitised includes handwritten bound registers, personal memoirs, chronicles, account books, correspondence, registers of marriage, baptism, birth and death, newspaper clippings, pastoral letters, biographies of the local bishops, and some religious books.

The material also covers a wide range of languages, including French, English, Tamil, Latin, Portuguese, Sinhalese, and Dutch.

EAP1145 - Documentary heritage of traditional Protestant communities in Bulgaria

The digitisation process and digitised manuscript pages

This pilot project, led by Dr Magdalena Slavkova, produced a survey of 52 collections of material relating to Protestant communities in Bulgaria.

These collections contain a wide variety of content types including photographs, notebooks, correspondence, books, wedding and baptism certificates, religious booklets, newspaper clippings, and postcards.

In addition to the survey, the EAP1145 project team, which also included Dr Mila Maeva, Dr Yelis Erolova, and Dr Plamena Stoyanova, digitised a sample of 69 files from these collections.

 

05 February 2021

New online - December 2020 and January 2021

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!

01 February 2021

The Endangered Archives Programme in a time of change - looking back on 2020

Wall painting of a woman climbing the steps of a temple. She is running away from someone holding a bow and arrow Bodinayakkanur Zamin Palace wall

EAP896/1/8 Bodinayakkanur Zamin Palace mural

We're now fully embarked on 2021, with changes and new challenges happening all the time, and yet every day feeling much like the last. With a little distance from 2020, it seems the right time to step back and look at the year that has just been, and what it meant for EAP in particular. 

When I have time to read, I try to keep track of interesting passages that I might want to revisit later. Several years ago, I copied these words from John Gray's Straw Dogs into my notes, and I just came across them again this week:

 "As a side effect of climate change, new patterns of disease could trim the human population. Our bodies are bacterial communities, linked indissolubly with a largely bacterial biosphere. Epidemiology and microbiology are better guides to our future than any of our hopes or plans."

In this book, written in 2002, Gray is pretty pessimistic about humanity's prospects, too much so for me, but it is striking to see how right he was. In 2020 we had to rethink almost all of our hopes and plans, due to a pandemic that is indeed inextricably linked to the climate crisis (see this article in The Lancet).

For EAP, this meant completely rethinking our way of operating. In February, we began to question whether our international panel would be able to come to London to review the year's applications, and by early March it was clear that it wouldn't be possible. We decided to postpone the whole round of funding, giving us and our project applicants the space to wait and reassess what would be possible and what might not. And for the projects EAP is currently funding, we offered extensions and advice, reaching out to them over the course of the year to see where they were, and what adjustments they needed to make to ensure they stayed safe through the pandemic.

In the meantime, as the EAP team adjusted to working from home, we found it was still possible to put new digital collections from completed projects online. Over the course of 2020 over a million images went up on the EAP website, representing a vast range of materials, geographic regions and time periods. To pick five of these almost at random:

  • EAP813 Preservation of the disappearing book heritage of Siberian Buddhists
  • EAP816 Selective digitisation and preservation of the photographic archive of the ‘Vasile Parvan’ Institute of Archaeology, Bucharest, Romania
  • EAP820 Documenting Slavery and Emancipation in Kita, Western Mali
  • EAP880 Fragments of Sikkim: Preserving and presenting the palace archives of a Himalayan Kingdom, 1875-1975
  • EAP896 Documentation of Endangered Temple Art of Tamil Nadu

Global lockdowns meant more people visiting us online as well. When we looked at our website statistics at the end of the year, one thing was especially good to see: people were coming to the site from the countries where new projects had just been completed and put online. For example, we saw a big increase in users from Peru after a collection of Peruvian newspapers (EAP498) went online. This was helped by many Peruvian and other Spanish-speaking users of social media enthusiastically posting about the new collection being made available.

The first months of lockdown turned out to be a good opportunity to trial a crowdsourcing project we had been thinking about. The EAP team chose EAP016, a collection of Siberian photographs and used the free platform Zooniverse. Among our contributors were the British Library’s own Russian language curators who also translated Zooniverse site terms into Russian. We also had help from the amazing Steppe Sisters Network, a group of more than 100 female archaeologists who study and/or live in the region.

As debates and action on colonialism and racism intensified, we looked at ways to address this in EAP's practices. For instance, our cataloguing guidelines meant that we recorded colonial-era names such as Rhodesia and Dutch East Indies if these were in use at the time of the archive; yet this meant these names appeared as key terms on the EAP website, without comment or context. We decided to change our cataloguing practice and use modern place names in the field that appears as index terms on the website, and keep historical place names in free-text fields where they can be discussed in context. We tried to highlight the resources for Black Studies in the EAP collections, created by so many great projects in Africa and the Caribbean (see this earlier blog post for example.)

As we moved towards the autumn and some of our grant applicants decided they weren't going ahead with their applications, we decided to make a limited call for another round. In the midst of a period of great uncertainty, and as the second wave of the pandemic loomed in many places, we weren't sure what response we would see. It was both surprising and heartening to receive so many applications planning new projects across the world. This above everything has made me realise that we humans will not give up on our hopes and plans. We may need new hopes, and we definitely need to be creative about coming up with different, more flexible plans, but we continue to strive to make things better. And in a time when we are separated from each other, our thoughts turn to new ways of connecting. 

Having started this post with a rather pessimistic quote, I'll end with a hopeful one, by one of my favourite poets, Langston Hughes:

Hope

Sometimes when I'm lonely,

Don't know why,

Keep thinking I won't be lonely

By and by.

 

Post written by Sam van Schaik, Head of EAP