03 July 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.
- Notary Books of Bahia, Brazil, 1664-1910 [EAP703]
- Documentation of Endangered Temple Art of Tamil Nadu [EAP896]
- Fragile Palm Leaves Digitisation Initiative [EAP1150]
- Safeguarding Colonial Plantation Records of Malawi [EAP1167]
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.
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
- Labour and business contracts
- Children’s legitimisation papers
- Slave manumission papers.
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.
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.
This project has resulted in a plethora of visually striking images.
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.
Mostly created in the 18th and 19th century, these manuscripts contain approximately 1,000 discrete Buddhist texts on a variety of topics. These include:
- Stories of the Buddha
- Religious rituals
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.
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.
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
- 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!
26 May 2020
May has been another busy month for new EAP projects going online. Here we showcase the first four now freely available, which cover a wide range of topics and regions.
- Siddha Medicine Manuscripts, Tamil Nadu, India [EAP810]
- Indigenous Memories of Land Privatisation in Mexico [EAP931]
- Diplomatic archives of Merina Kingdom, Madagascar [EAP938]
- East African Islamic texts from the library of Maalim Muhammad Idris [EAP1114]
Siddha refers to the traditional medical system of Tamil Nadu, India. Although recognised by the government of India, siddha medicine has not been systematically studied, partly due to the difficulty of access to its texts, mostly in form of manuscripts, kept in libraries or held by practitioners. This project makes these vital sources of traditional medicine available for research.
These palm leaf manuscripts cover a large range of subjects, including general siddha medicine and medical specialities such as acupressure, baby and mother care, eye diseases or toxicology (snake and scorpion bites; food and medicine intoxication), and socio-cultural topics rooted in the siddha tradition such as mantra, philosophy, alchemy, spirituality, and astrology.
The privatization of indigenous lands—the reparto de tierras—is an epochal but poorly understood process in Mexican history. It is largely trapped in narratives of liberal nation‐building or postcolonial despoilment. Yet how did indigenous people actually experience/navigate the reparto? Was it ethnocide, or ethnogenesis? As the one complete surviving record of a state-wide Mexican reparto, the hijuelas promise historians valuable insights into a major agrarian/economic transformation and a deeper understanding of changes in indigenous notions of property, agricultural practice, ethnic rule, and identity.
The Libros de Hijuelas (“deed books” or “bequest books” in English) consist of 196 leather-bound volumes containing 75,000 documents dating from 1719‐1929, with additional copies of earlier, 16th‐ or 17th‐century documents. All the documents pertain to, or are precursors of, a centrally important historical process: the dissolution and privatisation of indigenous corporate property under 19th‐century liberal governments, in this case in the western state of Michoacán, Mexico.
These books contain:
- Legal acts
- Cadastral surveys
- Village censuses
- Hand‐tinted maps
Many of the letters are written by indigenous michoacanos of Purépecha (Tarascan), Nahua, Mazahua, Matzatlinca, or Otomí descent.
The hijuelas collection is unique in that it presents the pre‐history and a complete account of the privatisation process across a whole state, the collection as a whole being organized according to the 16 political districts into which Michoacán was divided.
This project digitised the diplomatic archives of the Merina Kingdom, which dominated Madagascar during the 19th century. These documents (1861-1897) which have been part of the UNESCO Memory of the World Register since 2009 illustrate the encounter between the precolonial kingdom of Madagascar, the abolitionist and religious policies of the United Kingdom and the French territorial ambitions in the Indian Ocean.
Both quantitatively and qualitatively, these documents are a rare and perfect example of the diplomacy of a non-Western State in the nineteenth century. These documents reveal the influence the kingdom tried to obtain among different Western governments and show the connection of the Merina kingdom of Madagascar with the rest of the world, prior to the advent of colonialism.
The availability will surely herald new insights on the pre-colonial period and the construction of the colonial state.
This collection is invaluable because it contains printed material dating from the period of transition from manuscript to print in the Arabic/Islamic tradition. Its known provenance and diverse nature gives insight into the Islamic history of East Africa.
The materials range from locally printed pamphlets to books printed in Cairo, from basic instruction to legal manuals, many with handwritten commentary by East Africa's leading scholars, as well as early locally printed Arabic-Swahili translations. The collection is a "snapshot" of an intellectual tradition in transition and a cross-section of the nascent networks of print in Islamic Africa.
11 May 2020
We have another four new projects we can share with you this month that have recently been made available online. If you didn't read last month's blog you can see it here. It features projects from Kenya, Senegal, Uganda, and the small Caribbean island of Nevis. On to this month's projects:
- Pa'O religious and literary manuscripts from Shan State, Myanmar [EAP104]
- records relating to the Tamil Protestant community of the Jaffna Peninsula, Sri Lanka [EAP835]
- colonial records from the French colony of Middle Congo (Republic of the Congo) [EAP844]
- Sanskrit and Malayalam manuscripts from monasteries in Thrissur, Kerala, India [EAP1039]
The manuscripts digitised during this project constitute the largest and most comprehensive Pa'O literary and religious studies resource outside of Pa'O regions in Myanmar and Thailand. The original manuscripts, a mixture of parabaik (accordion folded paper manuscripts), bound scrolls, and palm-leaf manuscripts, are owned by the Pa'O Literary and Cultural Council Committee Library in Taunggyi, Shan State, Myanmar. The texts consist mainly of Pa’O interpretations of the Theravada Buddhist canon, though other particularly interesting manuscripts include those that document Pa'O dynasties and claims on important historical sites in contemporary Myanmar. There are 71 manuscripts in total, the majority of them in the Pa’O language.
The aim of this ‘pilot’ project was to survey the print and manuscript materials of the Tamil Protestant community of Jaffna in Sri Lanka. There is a wealth of material documenting this community and the role of missionaries from the UK and United States. The American Ceylon Mission press for example printed more than 500,000 evangelical tracts in a 17-year period leading up to 1840. Much of this is Tamil-language translations of American texts, but there are also significant amounts of material relating to Tamil epic poetry and literature, ethical treatises, pedagogical works, devotional literature, and many polemical essays on Saivism and Christian‐Saivite exchanges.
The project surveyed 10 institutional and 3 private archives. They digitised a sample of records including church record books, correspondence between Missions, lists of parishes, issues of St. John’s College Magazine, and more from 5 of these institutions. You can read the survey reports and lists on the project page, as well as see a sample of 27 records that were digitised.
This pilot project set out to locate and document colonial archives from the former French colony of Middle Congo, in present-day Pointe-Noire, Republic of the Congo. While archives in Brazzaville have been more widely studied, the archives in Pointe-Noire have largely been unknown and inaccessible to researchers.
Research was carried out in three main archives:
- Archives Municipales de Pointe-Noire (integrated into the city's town hall)
- Archives de la Préfecture de Pointe-Noire (APPN-CON)
- Archives du Chemin de Fer Congo-Océan (ACFCO-CON)
A survey and inventory of some of the holdings are available on the project page. The survey explains the history and provenance of the archives and their collections, and should be used as the starting point for exploring them. The project team also digitised a small sample of 3 dossiers from the APPN-CON containing mostly colonial era administration documents. These feature a wide-range of topics including: the impact of WW2 in the area; smuggling networks; development of trade unions; the ‘messianic’ movements of Lassyism (Bougism); xenophobic outbreaks against Dahomean and Togolese immigrants; social life in the Loango region.
Just from this small sample alone, it’s clear that these archives may have wide research interest, especially considering the amount of material that is uncatalogued. The team also estimated an additional 2500 ‘boxes’ of archival material at APPN-CON that they were unable to survey due to the time restraints of this small project. There obviously may be much more to discover. Whilst the focus was on colonial era records the team also sampled the vast trove of postcolonial records found in the archives. APPN-CON’s archive of postcolonial documents was singled out for its “spectacular possibilities” for research.
This pilot project produced a survey of 238 of the 800 palm leaf manuscripts held in four monasteries that constitute the Hindu monastic complex of Thrissur in Kerala, India. This collection contains rare unpublished Sanskrit and Malayalam works, especially in the field of non-dualist philosophy (Advaita-Vedānta), Kerala history and hagiography. It therefore constitutes an invaluable resource for the study of the religious and social history of Kerala in the pre-modern times. 54 of these manuscripts were digitised and are now available to view online.
20 January 2020
In this post, Sabera Bhayat, a PhD student at the University of Warwick tells us how she has used EAP digital collections in her research on Urdu periodicals, which she has just presented at the Print Unbound conference earlier this month.
Planning a PhD project, which includes an ambitious list of primary sources, can raise concerns of practicality over comprehensiveness. Besides the many primary materials located in various archives both in India and the UK, I had discovered a number of Indian vernacular language periodicals that would be particularly relevant to my own research.
My research examines the discursive history of polygamy in India from the late nineteenth to the early twentieth century. I explore how polygamy was invented as a specifically ‘Muslim’ problem, and how this problem was then articulated by different groups in South Asia during this period. A major element of my research includes Indian Muslim women’s own discourses on polygamy, and how they sought change to such practices within a wider movement for their social reform. As few women were literate during this time and fewer still left written records, a major source for accessing these women’s voices was the Urdu periodical, which had been established for the very purpose of promoting female education and social reform.
However, these Urdu language periodicals were scattered between several archives in India, which would have included much time travelling between distant locations. It is by chance, and a simple internet search, that I came across the extensive project of the Endangered Archives Programme (EAP) at the British Library. I was thrilled to find that the very Urdu periodicals that I was hoping to consult for my research had been digitised and were available to consult online, at my own pace and in my own time.
Tahzib-i nisvan (Volume 35, Issue 19)  EAP566/2/1/21/19
One of the periodicals that has been essential to my research, called Tahzib un-Niswan, (The Women’s Reformer) (EAP566/2/1), had been published bimonthly over fifty years, with over a thousand issues printed between 1898 and 1950. To have taken even a sample of these from each year would have taken much time. However, I was delighted to find that over nine hundred issues had been digitised and were available for me to consult online. This meant I could easily browse through as many issues as I had time for. As one of the more radical mouthpieces of the Indian Muslim women’s movement during the early twentieth century, Tahzib un-Niswan provides insights into the awakening to a Muslim feminist consciousness and campaigns for the acquisition of women’s rights.
Besides Tahzib un-Niswan, EAP has made available a range of Urdu periodicals from South Asia, including issues of Ismat (Modesty) [1908-1993] (EAP566/1/2) and Khatun (Lady/Gentlewoman) [1904-1914] (EAP566/5/1). These two periodicals were also instrumental in the promotion of female education for Muslim women during the early twentieth century and their social reform.
Ismat (Volume 52, Issue 3)  EAP566/1/2/6/1
Khatun (Volume 3, Issue 1)  EAP566/5/1/1/1
The convenience of accessing digitised materials through EAP has been very useful to my research and enabled me to deliver a talk at the Print Unbound Conference early this year. This conference, organised by Contextual Alternate, brought together a range of scholars working with newspapers and periodicals from Asia. This gave me the opportunity to share my research on Urdu periodicals and the role they played in the Indian Muslim women’s movement during the first half of the twentieth century. The research conducted for this paper was made possible almost entirely through access to the Urdu periodicals digitised through EAP.
Exploring the material made available through EAP has also alerted me to further sources both in Hindi and Urdu that I would otherwise have not known about and that I plan to consult for further research into the history of women in India. These include a range of Hindi language periodicals and published literature that will further enrich my research and bring light to women’s voices that may otherwise have been lost.
Blog written by Sabera Bhayat, a third year PhD student in the History Department, at the University of Warwick
19 June 2019
Over the past few months we have made six new projects available to view online through our website. These new collections demonstrate the diverse variety of archives the EAP digitises, and includes eighteenth-century Brazilian royal orders, artwork and photography by Lalit Mohan Sen, colonial archives, Coptic manuscripts and prayer scrolls, war photography, and historic newspapers.
EAP627 - Digitising endangered seventeenth to nineteenth century secular and ecclesiastical sources in São João do Carirí e João Pessoa, Paraíba, Brazil
The aim of EAP627 was to digitise the oldest historical documents in the state of Paraíba, Brazil (located in the semi-arid hinterlands and on the humid coastline). The project team successfully digitised 266 historical documents, ranging from 1660 to 1931 and their digitisation resulted in c. 83,000 TIFF images being created. It includes the entire collection of ecclesiastical documents at Paróquia de Nossa Senhora dos Milagres do São João do Cariri (comprised of 54 volumes produced between 1752 and 1931). During digitisation, the team uncovered the original, signed Constitution of Paraíba of 1891 – the first constitution of this state after Brazil was declared a republic in 1889. To the best of their knowledge and research, the project team believes this is the only existing copy of the document. The digital preservation of these documents have already contributed to shifting the historical narrative of the state’s back lands, and will ensure the ongoing possibility of study in the history of Paraíba’s Afro-Brazilian, indigenous, and mestiço populations.
EAP781 - Santipur and its neighbourhood: text and image production history from early modern Bengal through public and private collections
This was a continuation of EAP643, an earlier pilot project. The project team were able to digitise almost all the records discovered in the pilot. The collection includes 1265 manuscripts from Santipur Bangiya Puran Parishad, 78 bound volumes from Santipur Municipality, and 510 images of Lalit Mohan Sen’s artwork and photography. Some of Sen’s work can be seen in this previous EAP blog post.
Kita is an important site in the history of rural slave emancipation in Western Mali (occurring at the turn of the twentieth century). It hosted the highest number of ‘Liberty villages’ (17 in total) following the French conquest (Western Mali was the first region of today’s Mali to be colonised by the French from the 1890s). Liberty villages hosted the slaves of the defeated enemies of the French army. The project team captured this specific history of slavery and emancipation in Kita through digitised reports, correspondence and court registers held in the Cercle archives of Kita. The collection is extensive, ancient and rare in its content, and is of great scholarly significance.
EAP823 - Digitisation and preservation of the manuscript collection at the Monastery of St Saviour in Old Jerusalem
The objective of this project was to digitise and make widely available the manuscripts at the Franciscan monastery of St Saviour in the Old City of Jerusalem. The collection dates from the 12th to the 20th century, and is written in seventeen languages: Amharic, Arabic, Armenian, Classical Ethiopic, Coptic (Bohairic & Sahidic), English, French, Old German, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, Latin, Samaritan, Spanish, Syriac and Turkish. The digitised material is remarkably diverse and is a valuable resource for scholars interested in Christian, Islamic and Jewish traditions, as well as to linguists and philologists, art historians, and musicologists. The texts contain theological and philosophical treatises, biblical and liturgical books, dictionaries, profane and religious poetry, collections of sermons, pilgrim accounts, and also cooking recipes and magic prayers. Among the books are also rare items, for instance texts written in Armenian and Arabic scripts but in Turkish language, and the fragments of Byzantine manuscripts used for the flyleaves in bindings. A special group is made up by large size liturgical books with musical notations, produced for monastic choirs, as well as precious volumes lavishly decorated and illuminated with miniatures, initials and aniconic ornamentation. Research material of particular value consists of a variety of book covers (leather, textile, metal, decorative cardboards etc.) representing diverse binding methods.
EAP894 - Endangered photographic collections about the participation of pre-industrial Bulgaria in three wars in the beginning of the 20th century
The EAP894 project team digitised two collections of photographs (and other records) from the pre-industrial development era of Bulgaria, covering the period 1880-1930. Colonel Petar Darvingov, the Chief of Staff of the Bulgarian Army and a commander of the occupation corps in Moravia (now the Czech Republic and Serbia) created the first collection. He captured moments of military action in the Balkans and Central Europe across three wars: the Balkan War, the Second Balkan War, and World War I. Within the collection are a large volume of photos from different fronts – positional photos of infantry and artillery units, fighting marches, frontline parades and prayers, aviation and motorized units, moments from tactical exercises, building of trenches, laying of roads and telephone wires, views of settlements, etc. Preserved are also the portraits, both group and individual, of the entire command staff of the Bulgarian army during the wars. The photographs record not only the military life at the front, but also at the rear – the camps and bivouacs, clothing, supplies, military equipment and everyday life of the Bulgarian soldier. Many of the backs of the photos have explanatory notes about specific events and characters. They include initiations, names and occasionally short biographical data on individual persons etc. The collection also includes military business cards with author´s notes, operational sketches of battlefields, sketches of the Bulgarian headquarters where the Serbian and Bulgarian troops were positioned during the Balkan Wars, stories of warfare during World War I, and sketches of military sites.
The second collection contains photos, cartoons and caricatures created by the renowned artist and photographer Aleksandar Bozhinov. He was one of the first significant cartoonists of the 20th century and a war correspondent. He documented military positions and the social life in the Balkan villages and towns in the time of war – daily life, work, calendar and festive rituals. The sketches and caricatures in the collection are both the originals and those published in albums and newspapers from the early 20th century. Copies of the Bulgarian comic newspaper (authored by Aleksandar Bozhinov) are also preserved in this collection.
This project digitised the Barbados Mercury and Bridgetown Gazette, a newspaper printed in Barbados from 1783 to 1839. The Gazette was printed biweekly and each issue was four pages long. It is the most complete set of the Gazette and the only copies known to exist. The newspaper is crucial for understanding Barbados’ 18th and 19th century history, particularly because these were formative years for the island. The newspaper sheds light on the everyday life of a slaveholding society; Bussa’s 1816 rebellion; and the events that led to the abolition of the slavery on the island (1834). Digitisation of the newspaper offers the opportunity to unearth an untold history of the enslaved people of the island and their resistance in the early nineteenth century. EAP1086 was a collaborative effort between a team of practitioners and scholars, based both in Barbados and abroad. At the end of the project around 2,331 issues were digitised with around 9,000 digital images in total.
Written by Alyssa Ali, EAP Apprentice
04 April 2019
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’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.
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.
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.
More information on Lalit Mohan Sen and his work can be found in the video below
Written by Alyssa Ali, Endangered Archives Apprentice
13 August 2018
As the English football season has just begun, I thought I would have a look to see what we have in the collections that was football related. When you have a collection of over 6.5 million images it's hard to keep track of what's actually in the archive. With the old EAP online platform, it would have been quite a frustrating experience. You would have had to search the Library’s Archives and Manuscripts catalogue first and then try to find the relevant image on our website, sometimes having to scroll through hundreds of other images first before finding the desired one. With the ability to now search directly from our website, you can easily find related images, however it does highlight the need for good quality metadata. These images are only discoverable if someone has been able to describe them properly, adding keywords and other relevant information that researchers may look for.
With this in mind, I searched for football, soccer, futbol etc., and was pleasantly surprised to find many great photographs I thought were worth sharing. Most of the images come from the Haynes Publishing Company Archive in Argentina, with others from Bulgaria, Cameroon, Guatemala, India, and Mali, truly showing the global appeal of the sport. The Argentinian ones in particular are quite spectacular and give an idea of the popularity of the game in the country! There are images of spectators crammed into stadiums, and others show fans being dangerously hoisted up the outer wall of the stadium in a desperate attempt to watch the game. As always, follow the links to see the full size versions and discover what else is in the archive.
Posted by Rob Miles
12 May 2017
Photography arrived in India in the 1840s with the first photographic society in South India being created in Madras in 1856. During the early decades of Indian photography, it was accessible almost exclusively to the colonial administration and Indian elite. However by the 1880s, commercial photography studios had found their way into the bazaars of the Presidency’s and family portraits started to appear inside Tamil households. Previously no local forms of popular portraiture existed aside from representations of the divinities.
Tamil portrait photography, often facing restricted access to technological improvements, rapidly developed into a rich practice, where technical inventions, ingenious adaptions and artistic achievements rubbed shoulders. The early Tamil commercial studio photographers created their own visual language to represent south India selves and families. Their idioms combined the use of props, accessories, backdrops, over-painting, collage, and montage. Throughout the first half of the 20th century constraints imposed by high costs and difficulties in importing recent photographic equipment resulted in the prolonged use of older photographic equipment and processes by small family-run studios.
The advent of mechanised processing and printing of colour photography followed by the digital revolution radically transformed photographic practices and production. A very large number of studios closed down (with their archives often, but not always, lost) as they could not financially manage to acquire the expensive equipment necessary. The studios that did manage to survive these successive technological revolutions discarded manual processing and printing of black and white portraiture which had been their trade and skill for over a century (cf. Article in The Hindu, “In a Fading Light”, by A. Shripathi, 13/07/2015).
Over the last 25 years, the 'visual turn' in South Asian Studies, has afforded glimpses into numerous visual media produced in the Indian subcontinent over the last century and a half. Concerning the field of Indian photography, the vast majority of publications and archives concern colonial practices of photography and north or central Indian appropriations of the photographic media during the 20th century. The productions of South Indian studio photographers are largely unexplored and no archive exists to foster research on this vast and rich topic of study. The material digitised during the project will provide visual evidence of Tamil society at moments of crucial social and cultural changes.
This major project will create the first archive of Tamil studio photography, namely family portraiture, from the time of the introduction of commercial photo studios in the second half of the 19th century up to the introduction of mechanised photographic processing. The project aims to cover the different productions of black and white manually processed studio photography (prints, negatives and glass plates) which are rapidly disappearing either through natural degradation or, in many cases, voluntary destruction. The feasibility of creating this archive was explored in the pilot project EAP737 through the survey of 100 studios in 14 localities.
The EAP946 archive aims to provide researchers with unique visual material and metadata of Tamil society at moments of crucial social and cultural changes. Besides the study of photographic processes and mediums throughout history, of the evolutions of representation of women and men, a wide range of issues could be investigated such as the consequences of the introduction of photo portraits in the homes; the ways in which these have affected vernacular notions of individuality and dual dimension of personhood (akam/interior and puram/exterior); their impact on representations of marriage from alliance to conjugality; the uses of family portraits as hybrid photo-objects subject to daily domestic ritual venerated alongside chromolithographs of divinities in Tamil households; the transformation of regional and sectarian dress codes etc.
These unique photographic productions are severely endangered by chemical, climatic and human factors. Firstly, many of the earlier photographs produced by the commercial photo studios are showing signs of accelerated deterioration due to the chemical processes used for developing and printing during the first decades of photographic productions. This situation is aggravated by the tropical climate of southern India with its year round high level of humidity which is particularly detrimental to both prints and negatives. Secondly, large parts of photographic productions have been destroyed and continue to be destroyed due to a lack of awareness about the importance of preserving this heritage. During a century (1880-1980) of black and white photographic productions, many studios were regularly destroying their collections by selling negatives (glass and film) to silver-extractors. Similarly, families are discarding the portraits of the older generations by selling them to second-hand wood and glass dealers who dismantle the frame to recycle the materials. The photos (generally piled on the ground of the shop) are kept by these dealers for the occasional passer-by who can purchase these private portraits for a minimal price. Thirdly, the lack of awareness about the value of this unique heritage further results in the deterioration of the remaining photographic material in Tamil Nadu. Many of the earliest studios have closed over the last 30 years and the descendants of studio photographers often have minimal knowledge of preservation conditions for negatives and prints, nor an understanding for the value and vulnerability of their forefathers’ photographic productions. Besides the major objective of creating an archive of this endangered material, the project will also raise awareness and interest of the collection holders in order to preserve in the best possible conditions the remnants of this invaluable heritage.
Private photo collections from photo studios will be the primary source for digitisation efforts. Researchers will be able to study the technical and ‘stylistic’ transformation of studio photography over the decades, and eventually, when compared to other studios in other places, the study of regional variations. The digitisation of each studio archives constitutes a corpus of its own that enables systematic image analysis to be done. The project will also aim to digitise photographic material from private homes which should provide interesting documentation on the photographic consumption of families. Digitising sessions will be conducted in 8 medium and large sized towns in Tamil Nadu: Kumbakonam, Karaikudi, Cuddalore, Pondicherry, Madurai, Chennai, Tirunelveli, and Coimbatore.
Written by Zoé Headley, French Institute of Pondicherry. Zoé is the grant holder for the ongoing EAP946 major project along with Ramesh Kumar and Alexandra de Heering. Zoé and Ramesh conducted the pilot project EAP737. There are already some fantastic images online from the pilot project to check out. I've added a few below, and you can see more here. We're really looking forward to seeing what we receive for EAP946!
EAP737/4/4/31 - Studio Portrait Photo Prints [1955-1978]
EAP737/4/4/31 - Studio Portrait Photo Prints [1955-1978]
EAP737/4/4/12 - Studio Portrait Negatives Box 12 [1960-1978]
EAP737/4/4/12 - Studio Portrait Negatives Box 12 [1960-1978]
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