Endangered archives blog

81 posts categorized "Manuscripts"

08 June 2022

Digitising Haalpulaar Islamic Manuscripts (EAP1245 Project)

This is a guest post by the EAP1245 project co-lead, Dr Samba Camara.

This project digitised Islamic manuscripts written by speakers of the Pulaar language – or the Haalpulaar people – in Senegal and Mali. Pulaar is a variety of the Fula/Fulani language spoken by over five million people in the West African countries of Senegal, The Gambia, Mauritania, Guinea, and Mali. About 40 million Africans use varieties of the Fula/Fulani language.

View of Mount Tapa from town of Koniakary
A view of the Mount Tapa in town of Koniakary in southwestern Mali

The Fuuta Toora region, the Pulaar language, and Islam

The original creators of this project’s 6,000 folios of manuscriptions hailed from Fuuta Tooro, a Pulaar-speaking cultural region situated around the middle of the Senegal River. Fuuta Tooro straddles parts of northern Senegal and southwestern Mauritania. Fuuta Jombuku, a Haalpulaar enclave, exists in southwestern Mali. It was born from the nineteenth-century settlements of Haalpulaar migrants who had followed Al Hajj Umar Taal (ca. 1797-1864) in his campaigns to spread Islam in West Africa. What the Haalpulaar have in common is not just a language. They also share a traditional rootedness in Islam and a distinctive Muslim culture carried in the Pulaar language.

A metal signpost
Signpost in Koniakary indicating location of historic mud waal built in 1855 by Sayku Umar Taal (ca.1797-1864)

Muslim culture and chanting local remembrance poetry

Mawluudu, or the chanting of local remembrance poetry (dhikr), constitutes an integral part of that culture. Professional singers perform mawluudu chant during religious events, such as the commemoration of prophet Muhammad’s birth (mawlud), Islamic graduation ceremonies (ɓaaral, refto), and during welcome ceremonies (teertooji). Modern technology and Internet have taken mawluudu poetry and culture to the media and online. The chanted texts include a panegyric praise poetry in Arabic and in ‘Ajamī (the use of the Arabic script to transcribe foreign languages). Arabic texts were composed by authors, such as Al Hajj Umar Taal, Egypt’s Imam al-Būsīrī, and others from the Tijaniyya Brotherhood. Pulaar ‘Ajamī poems were composed by several scholars of Al Hajj Umar Taal’s school of Tijaniyya in Fuuta Tooro and beyond. The texts extoll the attributes of God (Allāh), Islamic prophet Muhammad, and Algerian-born Ahmad al-Tījānī. The latter founded the Muslim Brotherhood of Tijaniyya to which the authors of this project’s manuscripts belong.

The digitisation project and team

Raised in Fuuta Tooro, Dr. Samba Camara, who is this project’s initiator, grew up listening to mawluudu, knowing some popular poems by heart like many Haalpulaar people.

In the EAP1245 project, Dr. Samba Camara collaborated with his UNC colleague Dr. Mohamed Mwamzandi and UNC digitization specialist Kerry Bannen to locate and digitise the written source of Haalpulaar Muslim culture. The effort was not only to preserve manuscripts from precarious storage conditions that exposed them to dust, termite, rain, natural fading, wear, and tear; but also, to facilitate their access and study by scholars of West African literature, popular music, and Islam.

The project’s field work began in 2019, shortly after the projects Principal Investigators were awarded a Major Project Award by the British Library’s Endangered Archives Programme to digitise Haalpulaar manuscripts. The team undertook three field trips to Senegal: in October 2019, December 2020, and June 2021. Unfortunately, the delays in the final trip, due to Covid-19 travel restrictions, hindered the digitization of several Pulaar ‘Ajamī materials in Fuuta Tooro.

Six people standing by digitisation equipment in discussion
Left to right: UNC Digitisation Specialist Kerry Bannen, Dr. Samba Camara, Dr. Delivrance Nzal, Dr. Mohamed Mwamzandi, Mr Cheikh O. Tall, and Warc Director Dr. Ousmane Sene, at Team studio at WARC

In Dakar, the team took base in two studio bases – in the West African Research Center and at Ceerno Madani Taal’s residence – and photographed manuscripts collected from different locations in Fuuta Tooro region.

The team’s collection of local Islamic manuscripts in Fuuta was facilitated by Ceerno Madani Taal who made his library available to us along with a team of scholars to help with metadata production. The team benefitted from a preliminary research trip in 2018 to Koniakari (Mali) facilitated by regionally celebrated Ceerno Hamidou Bane. Director of the West African Research Center Ousmane Sene and his team, our research assistants Mountaga Ghali Ba, Oumar Sy, Seydou Nourou Ly, Abdoulaye Barry, Dr. Delivrance Nzale, and archivist Cheikh Oumar Tall brought immense support to this project.

The collection of Ceerno Madani Tall

Ceerno Madani Taal is the current custodian of the manuscripts recorded under his name and collected from his Dakar residence in Medina. The collection includes 11manuscripts in total. Ceerno Madani Taal’s collection is housed at his residence and includes unbound and bound manuscripts for a total of 4090 folios. The manuscripts were originally under the custodianship of Ceerno Seydou Nourou Taal (1880-1980). Upon his death, Ceerno Mountaga Tall (1914-2007) took over custodianship. Then, he passed on the library to Ceerno Madani Taal. The manuscripts are stored in leather folders and kept at Ceerno Madani Taal’s family library in Medina. The project’s metadata reveals that eight of the 11 manuscripts were composed by Al Hajj Umar Taal. The other three were authored by Haalpulaar scholars Shaykh Ahmad Ndiaye (aka Demba Raabi), Muhammad al-Jamrābal Mu’adh al- Fūta Jalūwī, and Mountaga Tāl. Al Hajj Umar Taal’s texts include his originals, as well as foreign books originally authored by Arab scholars. The manuscripts are wrapped in leather and cardboard folders, stored at Ceerno Madani Taal’s family library. The texts cover assorted topics about general Islamic education, Qur’an exegesis, panegyric poetry, hagiography, and the expansion of Islam. Texts also cover Tijaniyya teachings based on the text of founder Ahmad al-Tījānī and the well-known Imam Mālik’s al-Muwatta concerning Islamic law about marriage, trade relations, food and goods, lands and land-related law, civil and human rights, collective property, and leadership.

The collection of Mountaga Ba

Mountaga Ba is the current custodian of the manuscripts recorded in his name and collected from the town of Pate Galo (northern Senegal). Ba’s family holding includes 54 small unbound book manuscripts and loose folios. The material was mostly authored by the custodian’s father, Muhammad al-Ghāli Bā who, during his lifetime had occupied important political and religious positions in both Senegal and Mauritania. In Senegal, al-Ghāli Ba was the biographer and member of the entourage of supreme leader (Khalif-General) of the Taal branch of Tijaniyya and he worked with both Ceerno Saydu Nuuru Taal and Mountaga Taal. In Mauritania, he was an adviser to Moktar Ould Daddah, the president of Mauritania from 1960 to 1978 and worked with the country’s national radio at the latter’s request. During his stay there, he authored several manuscripts documenting socioeconomic and political life in Mauritania. The manuscripts document al-Ghāli Bā’s lifework. The files are of varying sizes, ranging from manuscripts as big as 150 pages to short texts of only three folios in length. The book manuscripts cover Islamic sciences, history, Islamic education in Pulaar speaking society, praise poetry, Sufism, and several biographies of Sufis of the Tijaniyya brotherhood. The folios contain Islamic praise poems, correspondences and, sometimes, a mixture of both. The correspondence was written and/or received during religious and secular occasions. Majority of the manuscripts were composed by Muhammad al-Ghāli Ba (d.1991) of Pate Galo. Some other folios were authored by Mamad al- Amīn Āj, Sall Ahmad Al Hajj, Abubakr Sī, Mountaga Ba, and a few unknown authors.

Three people digitisting manuscripts
Dr. Samba Camara, Dr. Mwamzandi, and Mountaga Ba digitising at Studio at WARC

The collection of Oumar Sy

Oumar Sy is the custodian of the manuscripts recorded in his name. Oumar Sy’s collection differs from the above collections in that it is comparatively recent – beginning in the 1980s – and was composed in Pulaar `Ajamī. The Sy collection includes ten small unbound manuscripts and folios. The material was mostly authored by Oumar Sy, and some of the files are copies of famous mawluudu songs originally composed by celebrated local poets, such as Oumar Sy’s teacher, Hamet Sy. A small set of unbound Arabic folios was authored by the custodian's friend, Ahmed Tijān Bah. The files are of varying sizes, ranging from manuscripts as big as fifty pages to works of two folios in length. The manuscripts are praise poems in panegyric style.

Today, the manuscripts in the EAP1245 collections constitute a living Haalpulaar culture. The locals’ engagement with the manuscripts has given the texts a continuity of modern social life through time.

06 May 2022

New online - April 2022

In this month's round-up we have a collection of portrait photographs from Lima, Peru (EAP1234), and two collections from Sri Lanka, palm-leaf manuscripts from the Jaffna, Vanni, and Mannar districts (EAP1056), and Tamil Protestant records from the Jaffna Peninsula (EAP971). You can read more about each of the projects below and follow the links to see the catalogued records, digitised images, and project information.

EAP1234 - Preservation of Film Negatives of the Elias del Aguila Collection of the Historical Archive of Centro de la Imagen 

Eap1234/1 family portrait

When the Elías del Águila collection first arrived at the Centro de la Imagen in Lima, Peru, it was concealed within another acquisition, the Fotografia Central/Estudio Courret archive. Though originally attributed to the Courret brothers, research in 2015 revealed the true source to be the photographer Elías del Águila and his studio, E. del Águila y Cía in central Lima, operational from 1903 until the late 1930s. Until this discovery, Elías remained practically unknown and there are still relatively few details known about his life.

His studio was popular with Lima’s burgeoning middle class of the early 20th century. Among his subjects, researchers have identified important businessmen, intellectuals, and politicians, including child portraits of the two-time President of Peru, Fernando Belaúnde Terry. Other notable portraits in the archive include those of the architect Ricardo Malachowski, the former mayor of Lima Augusto Benavides, and the scientist and diplomat Vitold de Szyszlo.


The Centro de la Imagen holds over 20,000 of Elías’s negatives in their archive. For this pilot project the local team catalogued, digitised, and rehoused some of the most endangered of them. Over 2,000 of these images are now available to view on the EAP website.

Eap1234/1 portrait of two boys

 

EAP1056 - Survey and digitisation of individual manuscript collections in Northern Sri Lanka

Eap1056 project work

This project surveyed and digitised endangered Tamil and Sanskrit palm-leaf manuscript collections in the Jaffna, Vanni, and Mannar districts of Northern Sri Lanka. The team conducted more than 150 field visits and identified 49 different collections. Many of these were located in temples, medical centres, and local libraries, while others are in the care of families and individuals including priests, medical practitioners, and astrologers.

135 manuscripts were digitised from 21 different collections in total and broadly cover the following subjects: traditional Siddha and Ayurvedic medicine; Hindu religious and temple ritual texts; astrology/astronomy works; local histories; literature; mathematics; unorthodox Hindu folk practice-related works including those on tantra, mesmerism, witchcraft, and folklore; and archival records including birth charts and budgets.

Eap1056-2-blog

 

EAP971 - Jaffna Protestant Digital Archive

Eap971 sample

This project is a continuation of the EAP835 pilot project, which produced a survey (and some sample digitisation) of archives from the Tamil Protestant community of the Jaffna Peninsula. EAP971 built on the knowledge and experience from this earlier project and returned to carry out larger-scale digitisation from eight different archives. They include collections from Jaffna College Archive, St John's College, Evelyn Rutnam Institute, and Uduvil Girls' College. Digitised records include church record and ledger books, correspondence, and college magazines.

There are over 240 digitised items available to view here. An additional 27 items can be vieweed from the earlier project here

Eap971 sample

17 January 2022

New online - December 2021

This month's round-up of newly available collections features archives from India, Romania, Moldova, and Indonesia.

EAP1130 - Digitisation of the Kováts Napfényműterem photographic archive (Odorheiu Secuiesc, Romania)

Eap1130 sample image

This project digitised photographs from the Kovats Photographic Museum and Studio in Romania. The vast majority of the photos represent the work of several generations of photographers from the Kovats family. A small part of the photographic archive consists of images created by collaborators of the Kovats studio, and of donations of photographic materials from the local population of Odorheiul Secuiesc.

The first photographic studio in Székelyudvarhely (Odorheiu Secuiesc) was founded by Ferenczy Lukács (1850-1926) in 1876. In 1903 Kováts István Sr.(1881-1942) bought the studio from Lukács and in 1906 reopened it under his own name – Kováts Napfényműterem (Kováts Sunlight Studio). It still operates today at the same address. Ferenczy Lukács and Kováts István Sr. were not only photographers, but also amateur historians and ethnographers. They documented with passion and attention for detail the life of the small rural communities, mainly of Hungarian and Székely ethnicity, around Székelyudvarhely (Odorheiu Secuiesc).

Kováts István Sr. was also a photographer in the army of the Austro-Hungarian Empire during the First World War, and he was dispatched throughout Europe on the Romanian, Galician and Italian battlefields. He brought back around 400 negatives with images from the trenches, portraits of fellow soldiers, and daily life of his company – a personal view of a war that re-shaped Europe and changed the life of millions of its inhabitants, a view that offers to any military historian precious documents. Living for most of his life in Székelyudvarhely, Kováts István Sr. documented everything – social life, architecture, traditions, and his studio was a central point in the life of the city.

Over 5000 photographs can be viewed here.

EAP1262 - Preserving the History of Indian Cinema through Digitising Early Urdu Film Magazines

Eap1262/1/1/1 image 88

This project aimed to preserve the rich record of cinema history in India through digitising Urdu film magazines and periodicals from the early twentieth century. Shedding new light on South Asian film journalism and readership, this material highlights aspects of local engagement with film that have remained unexamined so far and are under threat of being lost forever. Given the scarcity of Urdu material that survives today, the digitisation of rare film magazines makes a significant contribution to future scholarship on the subject. This material constitutes an invaluable resource for early Indian film history and Urdu writing on cinema.

While Indian film journalism has not been widely studied, this is all the more concerning for Urdu materials that are less accessible and less widely read than those in other languages, especially English. The production triangle of Hindu-Urdu cinema that spanned Bombay, Calcutta, and Lahore changed irrevocably with partition, and many publications and films from Lahore are believed to be lost forever. The periodicals surveyed and digitised under EAP1262 were largely published in Calcutta, with the exception of one very rare publication from Lahore, and represent a valuable record of an undivided Hindi-Urdu film culture. While Bombay became the major centre for Hindi-Urdu film production, and a more important site for Urdu publishing than Calcutta, these publications offer an invaluable off-centre vantage point of colonial-era Hindi-Urdu film culture and journalism.

The archives can be viewed here.

EAP699 - Safeguarding of the intangible Romani heritage in the Republic of Moldova threatened by the volatilisation of the individual unexplored collections

EAP699 sample image

This project digitised the personal archives of several Roma families in Moldova. The archives mostly consist of individual photographs and photo albums. The albums are notable for their use of illustrations and collage alongside the photographs of loved ones.

During the project the team were able to discover and digitise material from the families of some well-known Roma personalities from the past, as well as material from ordinary Roma families. The digitised material is now publicly available in the Moldovan National Archive as well as the British Library, and is an important source of information for Romani studies.

The project digitised 2557 images from 36 individual collections dating from between 1925-2013. They can be viewed here.

EAP1268 - Personal Manuscripts on the Periphery of Javanese Literature: A Survey and Digitisation of Private Collections from the Javanese North Coast, its Sundanese Hinterlands and the Fringes of Court

Eap1268/3/3 image 3

The project highlights the periphery of Javanese and Sundanese literature. It covers tales written by scribes residing near shrines, notebooks scribbled by commoners, and works produced by courtiers on their own behalf without apparent patronage from nobles or sovereigns. The grant holder came across these sources while doing fieldwork in places like Gresik, Yogyakarta, Surakarta and Tasikmalaya. Their vernacular provenance increases their obscurity and simultaneously limits their preservation due to a lack of patrons. Thus, it also allows for an interesting survey on the more personal sides of Javanese and Sundanese writing.

Other than surveying and digitising these sources, the project team also used them for Natural Language Processing (NLP). The diversity of the writing styles and vernacular languages found within these manuscripts is expected to contribute to the development of a comprehensive Javanese handwritten text and entity recognition model called Gado2.

399 digitised records can be viewed here.

07 June 2021

New online - April/May 2021

We have another four completed digitisation projects that have recently gone online. These four projects represent both the global breadth of EAP projects and the wide variety of content types:

EAP908 - Temple manuscripts from Kerala and Karantaka, India

Outside of temple and the digitisation team with manuscripts

Led by Dr Vayalkara Jayarajan, the EAP908 team digitised 283 palm leaf manuscripts located at seven different temples in the Indian states of Kerala and Karnataka. The exact sources of these manuscripts are unknown as they have been acquired from several priests and passed on from generation to generation.

Over time, the condition of these sacred and holy manuscripts has deteriorated. This project has therefore helped preserve the information on rites and rituals that these manuscripts contain.

 

EAP910 - Bound works and manuscripts from Tajikistan

Manuscript pages

Led by Dr Abdughani Mamdazimov, the EAP910 team identified and digitised pre-Soviet works from private collections in the Gissar region of Tajikistan. 

These collections are particularly focused on education, both religious and secular.

The bound works include collections of poetry and a biography of the prophet Muhammad.

EAP1024 - 19th century Haitian newspapers

Newspaper front page

This pilot project digitised 26 different newspaper titles held by the Bibliothèque Haïtienne des Frères de l’Instruction Chrétienne (BHFIC) in Port-au-Prince.

The newspapers are printed in French (with occasional words in Haitian Creole). Topics include political, economic, and diplomatic news and debates. It also includes literary publications, like short stories and poems.

 

EAP1065 - Archives of public high schools in Chile

The EAP1065 project team, led by Mr Rodrigo Sandoval, digitised administrative records from eight high schools in Chile.

Dated 1848-1918, these records include:

  • Correspondence
  • School subjects
  • Enrolment records
  • Directories
  • Punishment room books
  • Religious class books
  • Diaries
  • Exams
  • Instructions for edification

This video provides an insight into the project.

 

Follow us on Twitter to help keep an eye out for many more projects being put online in the coming weeks and months.

31 March 2021

New online - March 2021

This month we have a special Southeast Asia edition of our regular round-up blogs to let you know what’s newly available on the EAP website.

EAP855 - Preserving the archival records of the early history of the Iglesia Filipina Independente

EAP855 sample image

This project digitised records related to the early history of the Iglesia Filipina Independente (IFI), a Filipino Catholic movement for religious independence from Rome. They are a significant resource of documents of anti-colonial self-assertion and religious emancipation in Asia at the turn of the century.

The IFI was founded in August 1902 through the activities of the Filipino intellectual, Isabelo de los Reyes (1864–1938) and the former Catholic priest, Gregorio Aglipay (1860–1940). The split with Rome occurred partly due to the mistreatment of Filipinos by Spanish priests, and the execution of three native priests during the Cavite mutiny in 1872, and was further exacerbated during the Philippines Revolution.

The materials document the process of negotiation between the needs of a local elite and the administration of two subsequent colonial powers. They also document an important part of the early history of transregional and transcontinental interaction between different non-missionary Christian movements in different parts of Asia, and are an early sign of a developing pan-Asianism at the turn of the century.

EAP1005 - Digitisation of the Endangered Cham Manuscripts in Vietnam

EAP1005 sample image

This project is a continuation of two earlier projects (EAP531 and EAP698) to help identify, preserve, and digitise manuscripts held by Cham communities in Vietnam. The project team visited the households of 33 different families from villages in the provinces of Ninh Thuan and Binh Thuan and helped preserve their manuscripts whilst digitising many of them. 464 manuscripts were digitised in total, adding to the 507 already digitised in the preceding projects.

The project team also created this short film which demonstrates the sort of work that this project and many others carry out in the field.

EAP1029 - Sundanese Manuscripts of Paseban Tri Panca Tunggal Collections

EAP1029 sample image

The manuscripts collection of Paseban Tri Panca Tunggal contains handwritten documents by Prince Madrais Sadewa Alibassa Kusuma Wijaya Ningrat (1832-1939). He wrote the manuscripts from the late 1800s until the mid-1900s during Dutch colonial rule. He was a leading figure in the anti-colonial movement and was involved in various insurgencies against the colonial government. He also guided his followers in spiritual matters such as the ‘ultimate goal of life’, sampuraning hirup, sajaning pati (to achieve perfection in life, then to attain the genuine death).

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.

 

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

04 November 2020

New Collections Online - October 2020

The latest set of projects to go online are truly global, spanning Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Caribbean. Here's a brief summary:

EAP880 - The Palace Archives of the Buddhist Himalayan Kingdom of Sikkim

The project team and two document extracts

Located near the Himilayas, where India meets China, Sikkim is one of the newest Indian states, merging with India in 1975. This project digitised the hitherto neglected royal archives of the former Himalayan Buddhist kingdom of Sikkim. It contains a wealth of invaluable documents that date between 1807 and 1998. As such, this collection offers crucial insights into crucial historical events including the merger with India in 1975 and military border clashes between India and China.

This collection covers the entire spectrum of political activities, from domestic and religious issues to foreign affairs. This archive therefore offers unique and important insights into the history of this kingdom and its geopolitical significance.

While it is an archive that represents elite perspectives, the Sikkim Palace Archives is also the first collection of local origin to be made freely and universally accessible for international scholarship, presenting a perspective of events and characters as experienced from within looking out. This provides a valuable contrast to the earlier need to rely very largely on colonial sources for the history of Sikkim. The collection adds considerably to the available sources on the history and culture of Sikkim, with very little duplication of material with that available elsewhere, namely in the British Library's India Office collection, and to a lesser extent in the National Archives of India and the Sikkim State Archives.

EAP914 - Government and Church Records from the Turks and Caicos Islands

An image of the digitisation process and two digitised manuscript pages

This project digitised some of the most vulnerable and important collections located at the Turks and Caicos National Museum. It contains two sub-collections:

The government records include documents and correspondence involving the colonial secretary and despatches to the governor-in-chief. It also includes legislative and executive council records. This collection thus offers important insights into the colonial governance of the islands, which is still a British Overseas Territory.

Meanwhile, both the government and church collections contain registers of births, baptisms, marriages, burials, and wills. The church collection includes both Methodist and Anglican church records, spanning 1799-1922. These registers provide an invaluable resource for genealogists researching their family history.

EAP989 - 19th Century Bulgarian Manuscripts

Pages from three digitised manuscripts

This pilot project focused on three collections of 19th century and early 20th century manuscripts located at the Institute for Ethnology and Folklore Studies with Ethnographic Museum, within the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. It produced a detailed survey of the collections and digitised a sample of manuscripts.

These manuscripts reflect the cultural and folklore heritage of Bulgarian and Balkan areas and include hand painted texts, images, and notated songs.

EAP1144 - The Ghana Railway Corporation Archive

Three images of the project team surveying the site

The EAP1144 project team encountered an archive that was in a significant state of disrepair. One of their first tasks was to erect plastic sheets to provide immediate protection to the documents from rain water leaking through the roof.  

This pilot project resulted in a survey of the archive and the digitisation of a sample of documents. These include 68 personnel files for railway employees and two files containing correspondence.

 

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