THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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7 posts categorized "Modern history"

03 July 2020

New Projects Online - June 2020

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In recent weeks we have continued to put new collections online. Here is a summary of  four of the most recent projects to be made available.

EAP703 - Notary Books of Bahia, Brazil, 1664-1910

Until 1763, Bahia was the seat of the Portuguese colonial government in the Americas and a major sugar plantation economy based on African enslaved labour. Bahia received 33% of the Brazilian trade and 14.5% of the total. Being an administrative and economic centre, and until the late eighteenth century the most important port of trade in the South Atlantic, the production of documents in Bahia was intense. In Brazil, the Arquivo Público do Estado da Bahia (Bahia State Archives) is considered to be second in importance only to the National Archives in Rio de Janeiro.

This project digitised 1,329 volumes of Notary Books deposited at the Arquivo Público do Estado da Bahia. In total 306,416 pages were digitised as part of the project.

Project team digitising notary books
The EAP703 project team digitising the notary books in Bahia

The dates  for the volumes ranges from 1664 to 1910. They therefore include the first two decades of the republican and post-emancipation period. 

These documents represent perhaps the most dependable source for the study of the social and economic history of colonial and post-colonial Bahia up until the end of the 19th century. The notary books include records such as:

  • Bills of sale (for plantations, land, houses, ships, slaves, etc)
  • Wills and testaments
  • Inheritance partition
  • Power of attorney letters
  • Marriage
  • Dowry
  • Labour and business contracts
  • Children’s legitimisation papers
  • Slave manumission papers.
A notary book page
Livro de Notas do Tabelião [3 May 1680-19 Jun 1680] (EAP703/1/2/2)

 

EAP896 - Documentation of Endangered Temple Art of Tamil Nadu

EAP does not only fund the digitisation of manuscripts and documents that can be held in the hand. EAP supports digitisation of almost any at-risk historical material. The digitisation of temple art in Tamil Nadu is a prime example.

The rich cultural heritage of temple art in India is rapidly deteriorating because of vandalism, weather conditions, and practices such as burning camphor for ritual purposes. By digitising the artwork that adorns eight temples in Tamil Nadu, India, the EAP896 project team have helped preserve this art for research, enjoyment, and education.

Project Team Digitising a Temple Wall
The EAP896 project team digitising a temple wall

The drawing lines found on the temple walls represent abstract forms painted several centuries ago. In the evolution of human cognitive expressions, painting is a significant milestone. The paintings are essentially made up of lines and colours and the figures that are represented are mostly mythical.

Art on temple wall
Bodinayakkanur Zamin Palace, West Hall, North wall, top row (EAP896/1/2)

This project has resulted in a plethora of visually striking images.

 

EAP1150 - Fragile Palm Leaves Digitisation Initiative

In partnership with the Fragile Palm Leaves Foundation and the Buddhist Digital Resource Centre, this project digitised 300 Pali and vernacular manuscripts in Burmese script.

Bound palm leaf manuscript
Mhan nanḥ mahārājavaṅ tau krīḥ I (EAP1150/1/9, image 1)

Mostly created in the 18th and 19th century, these manuscripts contain approximately 1,000 discrete Buddhist texts on a variety of topics. These include:

  • Law
  • Poetry
  • Stories of the Buddha
  • Grammar
  • Religious rituals
A palm leaf manuscript
Mhan nanḥ mahārājavaṅ tau krīḥ I (EAP1150/1/9, image 15)

These manuscripts provide an invaluable primary resource for the study of Burmese and Theravada Buddhism, Pali philology, history, literature, regional codicology, pre-modern textual and scribal practices, and manuscript culture.

 

EAP1167 - Safeguarding Colonial Plantation Records of Malawi

This pilot project surveyed tea and tobacco plantation records from the colonial era in Nyasaland [Malawi]. The team located relevant records and created an inventory, which is available as an Excel spreadsheet.

A plan showing plots on a tobacco estate
Nchenga and Falls Dairy (EAP1167/1/11/1, image 1)

The team also digitised a sample of records from 13 estates (1922-1966), which are freely available to view. These include:

  • Title deeds
  • Legal agreements
  • Memoranda
  • Correspondence
  • Articles of association.

 

These four projects include a diverse range of content types and span three continents across several centuries. Combined, they aptly showcase the rich diversity of EAP projects.

Look out for even more diverse projects going online in the weeks in months ahead!

17 June 2020

The Legacy of Slavery: A 19th Century Newspaper and 21st Century Racial Inequity

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The Barbadian newspaper is EAP’s latest digitised collection to go online. It does so at a particularly apposite moment. From coronavirus to #BlackLivesMatter this 19th century colonial era newspaper provides stark parallels with the cultural and political issues so prevalent today.

Listing victims

These parallels first came into focus the day after I began working on the collection when, on Saturday 23 May 2020, The New York Times published an emotive front page: a solemn list of obituaries; the names and descriptions of 1,000 people killed by Covid-19. It was a format strikingly similar to a series of front pages issued by The Barbadian almost 200 years previously, during the spring of 1835. Two days later, after the death of George Floyd and the protests that followed, the parallels came into even sharper focus because The Barbadian printed an altogether different list of people. These were not the victims of a disease, but the supposed victims of the abolition of slavery.

Front Pages of the New York Times and The Barbadian newspapers

While the NYT informed us that 85 year old Ellis Marshal from New Orleans was ‘a jazz pianist and patriarch of a family of musicians’; ‘no-one made creamed potatoes or fried sweet corn the way’ 85 year old June Beverley Hill from Sacramento did; and that John Herman Cloxer Jr, 62, was ‘one of the few African-American corporate bond traders on Wall Street’. In contrast, The Barbadian informed its readers that the honourable Nathaniel Forte claimed compensation for 53 slaves in Warley; John Frere sought recompense for 238 slaves at the Lower Estate; and Maria Frazer and her children requested indemnity for 1 slave in the parish of St Michael.

Compensation for abolition

Britain's slave plantation model began in Barbados in the 17th century before spreading throughout the Caribbean. Built on the enslavement of men, women, and children from Africa, it was a lucrative system that generated excessive wealth for many slave owners and drove the British economy. As the anti-slavery movement gained momentum in the late 18th century, plantation owners and merchants throughout the empire blamed abolitionists for their own economic woes. In tandem with calls to abolish slavery, they demanded reciprocal compensation on the basis that laws protecting inanimate property also applied to slaves. This campaign had political support from absentee proprietors in the UK parliament and when the 1833 Slavery Abolition Act came into force, it was in conjunction with a system that enabled 46,000 slave owners, including more than 80 MPs, to claim compensation.

The British government paid a total of £20 million - 40% of its national budget - to compensate thousands of slave owners; the equivalent of approximately £17 billion today. It required enormous borrowing by the government, so much that the debt was not fully repaid until 2015.

This statistic was announced to the world in a 2018 fact of the day tweet by the UK Treasury and prompted a sharp rebuke by historian David Olusoga. The tweet was pitched as a pat on the back for UK taxpayers’ contribution towards abolishing slavery. Instead it was an unsightly reminder that 21st century taxpayers had continued to fund the ill-gotten gains of human enslavement.

Tweet by the UK Treasury

Patriotic memory

The Treasury’s tweet is indicative of a predilection towards a patriotic view of the past. One that gravitates towards remembering Britain’s role in abolition, rather than its part in establishing and maintaining a system of racial servitude; and one that obscures the structural inequalities that abolition failed to end.

This patriotic imagining of Britain’s imperial legacy is prevalent in the tendency to laud British advocates of abolition, the white allies of those enslaved, such as campaigner William Wilberforce and missionary John Smith - also known as the Demerera Martyr.

Black advocates of abolition such as freed slave Olaudah Equiano, or Bussa - the slave widely attributed with leading the largest Barbados rebellion in 1816 - are largely absent from British public discourse on the topic.

Emancipation Statue in Barbados
The Emancipation Statue in Barbados, often referred to as the Bussa Emancipation Statue

Within the Barbadian context, an article published in 1979 by J T Gilmore concluded that Reverend William Marshall Harte made ‘a change in Barbadian society as great as that brought by the Emancipation Act’. Quite the accolade for a man who successfully claimed more than £2,500 in compensation for 112 slaves across four locations, and who preached that ‘slavery [was] not inconsistent with Christianity’.

William Harte's compensation claim and an advertisement for a sermon on Slavery and Christianity
List of compensation claims, EAP1251/1/14/3/7 (left); William Harte's sermon, EAP1251/1/2/12/3 (right).

Harte could be considered a quintessential example of the white colonialist on a civilising mission. His contribution to emancipation, according to Gilmore, was his belief that despite his ‘very low opinion of the morals and capacities of the negroes, he firmly believed that these could be improved by instruction, and that at least where matters of grace were concerned, the black slave could truly be made the equal of his white master’.

Freedom of expression

The case of William Harte is indicative of one of the key structural tenets of racial inequality. Colonial control is often based on three principles: expression, violence, and law. Newspapers often represent all three. The Barbadian reported violence, announced laws, and offered a means of expression to men like Reverend William Harte.

Harte’s attempts to civilise the enslaved were not well received by a significant chunk of the white population in Barbados. When, in 1819, he and his associates were threatened by white parishioners angry that black slaves were invited into the church, his privileged position enabled him a right of reply in the form of a letter to the editor of the Barbados Mercury and Bridgetown Gazette (which is also available on the EAP website). And when he was chastised in the Barbados Mercury in 1827, his friendship with Abel Clinckett, the editor and proprietor of The Barbadian, afforded him an indirect defence in the form of a supportive editorial. The enslaved had no such right of reply.

William Harte's letter to the editor of the Barbados Mercury
William Harte's letter to the editor of the Barbados Mercury and Bridgetown Gazette, 21 September 1819, EAP1086/1/18/9/6.

Licence to kill

Without freedom of expression, the enslaved were reliant on the legal system for protection. But the system of governance was intentionally rigged against them. Laws are not inherently moral or just. Often they are means of enforcing compliance and subjugation in the interests of those who make them. An 1824 proclamation by King George IV asserted that  the ‘Slave Population … will be undeserving of Our Protection if they shall fail to render entire Submission to the Laws, as well as dutiful Obedience to their Masters’. The objective was to dampen thoughts of rebellion; the means was to suggest that continued enslavement was a slave’s only hope of protection. Protection from what, was left unsaid. Had the king wished to be more succinct, he may simply have remarked that ‘When the looting starts, the shooting starts’.

Proclamation by King George IV
Supplement to the Barbadian, 23 April 1824, EAP1251/1/3/4/7

If slaves were to comply with the law, it was surely only right that the colonial powers did too. The traditionalist argument in support of the British Empire is that in comparison to other imperial powers, British imperialists mostly acted legally. But as Matthew Hughes’s recent study of Britain’s colonial pacification of Palestine showed, the British maintained colonial control by constantly altering the law to make considerable brutality permissible.

The counter-insurgency tactics employed by the British in the Middle East in the 1930s - the combination of brutal force and legal dictate - are not so different from the methods used to control the colonies in the Americas one hundred year earlier.

In August 1823 The Barbadian reported on a revolt in the colony of Demerera-Essequibo (modern day Guyana), in which more than 10,000 slaves detained their masters and demanded that the governor listen to their grievances and grant them ‘rights’. While the revolt itself was predominantly non-violent, the government response was uncompromising. Governor John Murray proclaimed martial law and military detachments, including the British army’s all black West India Regiment, killed and wounded rebelling slaves.

Moreover, in the interests of protecting British subjects and property, the governor’s proclamation of martial law included an instruction for all ‘faithful subjects of His Majesty … to govern themselves accordingly’. It was a call to arms that essentially permitted the white population to kill members of the black population.

Proclamation of Martial Law in Demerera and Essequebo
The Barbadian, 30 August 1823, EAP1251/1/2/8/9

Police brutality beyond emancipation

The trans-Atlantic slave system was inherently racist, but the 1833 Abolition of Slavery Act, despite its stated intention, did little to dismantle the structures of racial inequality. Freedom was not immediate. Instead, slavery was replaced by a new system of apprenticeships: a transitional scheme that required hitherto enslaved persons to continue working for their previous owners for 45 hours per week in return for free board and lodging. By any other name they remained enslaved. 

They also remained reliant on a system of law and order that privileged the white settler population. Emancipation coincided with the establishment, in 1834, of the first formal police force in Barbados and one of the first reported interactions between the police and the black community was indicative of the continued inequality.

According to a report printed in The Barbadian, police officer Thomas Green took a loose goat from the market. When the goat was claimed by an ‘apprenticed’ woman named Benebah, the officer refused to return the goat unless she paid him. But Benebah did not comply. Instead she returned to the market where she vented her frustration. When the officer heard that she had been abusing him, he confronted the pregnant woman. Still enraged at the injustice, she abused him directly. The officer grabbed Benebah, intent on dragging her to the police station. She resisted; clenched her teeth on his hand. Green responded, pulled her towards him, and forced his knee into her abdomen. Benebah threw the officer to the floor, before others joined the scuffle and the officer was retrieved by two colleagues.

When the incident was over, Green was brought before the magistrate and sent to prison. But he was swiftly released on the basis of a certificate from Dr Cleare stating that ‘the woman [was] in no immediate danger’.

Newspaper accounts of an incident between a Barbados police officer and a former slave
The Barbadian, 27 August 1834, EAP1251/1/13/8/8

Bolster the police

Beyond the lack of legal accountability for the police officer, the editorial comment was starkly in the officer’s favour. The Barbadian demanded an increased police presence and lamented that: ‘The overbearing insolence of the ill disposed negroes, especially the females, when they see so small a portion of the police in the way, is very trying to human patience, as we find in the case of Saturday’. While the piece went on to ‘earnestly intreat our Police officers to keep a strict guard over their own tempers, to be patient under provocation, but firm in the execution of their duty, not regarding colour, rank, or station’, the subtle distinction between ‘human’ and ‘negroes’ puts the racial motivation of the views expressed into sharp relief.

The racial slant was reminiscent of the editorial comment on the 1823 revolt in Demerera, which took the form of a vitriolic tirade against the abolitionist African Institution and its leading figures, including William Wilberforce and James Stephen, blaming them for sowing disorder and describing them as ‘a junta of fanatics … specious friends of humanity, who have not one spark of christian feeling for the millions of human beings of their own colour’.

Telling the stories of the enslaved

As a newspaper written by the white community, for the white community, The Barbadian does not provide a mouthpiece for the enslaved. But it is a vital historical source that reveals much about the attitudes and incidents of this period and of the overt and covert forms of racial inequality that preceded and succeeded emancipation.

It is also a useful resource for tracing the stories of those enslaved. Take pregnant Benebah, for example. The newspaper report of the police incident remarked that she was an apprentice of John Piggot Maynard. By cross referencing this with the slave register available online via Ancestry.com, we find that in 1834 Benebah was a 30 year old black Barbadian gifted to John Maynard’s 7 year old daughter by Richard Grannum.

1834 slave register
1834 slave register from Ancestry.com

Slave registration was first introduced in 1812. After the abolition of the slave trade in 1807, this was one method of combatting illegal trading and the registers later became integral to the calculation of slave owners’ compensation claims. In January 1823, The Barbadian printed a schedule, which it copied from the Barbados Mercury, as guidance for slave owners.

Slave register schedule for guidance
The Barbadian, 29 January 1823, EAP1251/1/2/1/9

These registers were essentially a census that had to be completed every three years, and they enable us to trace the registration of 13 year old Benebah as a sheep keeper in 1817, through to her final registration in 1834.

1817 slave register
1817 slave register from Ancestry.com

With a bit more digging it may well be possible to track Benebah’s story further, including that of her unborn child who felt the full force of the law while still in his/her mother’s womb.

The degree to which the voices of the enslaved emerge from the page often depends on the needs of the slaver. When offered for sale, slaves usually remained nameless. The very first edition of The Barbadian contained an advertisement for the sale of two slaves; both identified simply by their gender, number of children, and domestic skills.

Slaves for sale advert
The Barbadian, 14 December 1822, EAP1251/1/1/1

But when masters were seeking the return of those who had absconded, their identities were necessarily revealed. The Barbados Mercury is strewn with advertisements requesting the return of runaway slaves.

Runaway slave advert
Barbados Mercury and Bridgetown Gazette, 18 January 1823, EAP1086/1/22/1/7

To achieve their objective, these adverts required detailed descriptions and consequently offer a significant means of identifying individuals and revealing their lineage. This enhanced level of detail represents the interests of the slaver; but it reflects the actions of the enslaved. The publication of these adverts, and the stories they reveal, were created by the slaver, but born out acts of resistance.

For those tracing their ancestors or broadly researching the period, newspapers such as these can therefore be crucial for starting that search or expanding upon it. It shines a light on individual stories, highlights moments of protest, and demonstrates the structural inequalities that continued during the transition towards and beyond emancipation.

21st century parallels

Recent events have shown that the transition from slavery to racial equality is far from complete. US citizen George Floyd was a free man. But he lacked freedom to express. He had no access to an opinion piece in a national newspaper. He did not even have the freedom to breathe or express his opposition to being strangled to death by an officer of the law. Freedom of expression, though, was afforded to US Senator Tom Cotton whose recent opinion piece on the protests sparked by the death of George Floyd called on the US Government to ‘send in the troops’. Like the response to the 1823 revolt in Demerera and the 1816 rebellion in Barbados, Tom Cotton essentially advocated the implementation of martial law in order to subdue those people protesting racial inequality. Reminiscent of the response to the assault on Benebah, Tom Cotton called for more force rather than more understanding; prioritised punishment over change.

While racism in its most overt form - black people in chains - may be largely in the past, its legacy continues. When comments on slavery in a 19th century newspaper draw parallels with 21st century attitudes to race; when standing for the national anthem is deemed more important than protesting racial injustice; and when the fate of a statue is more concerning than the death of a fellow human being; it is clear that for some, jingoism trumps equality, and that the structural inequities of slavery remain significantly unchanged.

By Graham Jevon

Related digital resources

The Barbadian (1822-1861)

The Barbados Mercury and Bridgetown Gazette (1783-1848)

UCL Legacies of British Slave-ownership

Slave Registers – available online via Ancestry.com or in person at The National Archives (UK)

"Barbados Runaways" Public History & Outreach Platform 

Selected further reading

Colonial counterinsurgency methods

David Anderson, Histories of the Hanged: Dirty War in Kenya and the End of Empire (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2005).

Ilana Feldman, Governing Gaza: Bureaucracy, Authority, and the Work of Rule, 1917-1967 (Duke University Press, 2008).

Laleh Khalili, Time in the Shadows: Confinement in Counterinsurgencies (Stanford University Press, 2012).

Matthew Hughes, Britain’s Pacification of Palestine: The British Army, the Colonial State, and the Arab Revolt, 1936-1939 (Cambridge University Press, 2019).

Slavery and emancipation

Hilary Beckles, A History of Barbados: From Amerindian Settlement to Caribbean Single Market (Cambridge University Press, 2006)

Hilary Beckles and Verene A Shepherd, Liberties Lost: The Indigenous Caribbean and Slave Systems (Cambridge University Press, 2004).

Hilary Beckles, Jerome S Handler, and Diane Lumsden Brandis, 'The 1816 Slave Revolt in Barbados: An Exchange in Barbados Newspapers', https://glc.yale.edu/sites/default/files/files/mpi/2011/1816-Revolt-2000.pdf.

Kathleen Mary Butler, The Economics of Emancipation: Jamaica & Barbados, 1823-1843 (University of North Carolina Press, 1995).

Emilia Viotti da Costa, Crowns of Glory, Tears of Blood: The Demerera Slave Rebellion of 1823 (Oxford University Press, 1997).

Don Foster, Chapter 1: ‘Liberation psychology’, in Norman Duncan, Kopano Ratele, Derek Hook, Nhlanhla Mkhize, Peace Kiguwa, Anthony Collins (eds.), Self, Community and Psychology (UCT Press, 2004).

J T Gilmore, ‘The Rev. William Harte and Attitudes to Slavery in Early Nineteenth-Century Barbados’, Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 30/4 (October 1979).

Miles Ogborn, The Freedom of Speech: Talk and Slavery in the Anglo-Caribbean World (University of Chicago Press, 2019).

David Olusoga, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/feb/12/treasury-tweet-slavery-compensate-slave-owners.

Edwin Angel Wallbridge, The Demerera Martyr: Memoirs of the Rev. John Smith, Missionary to Demerera (Charles Gilpin, 1848).

26 May 2020

New projects online - May 2020

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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.

EAP810 - Siddha Medicine Manuscripts, Tamil Nadu, India

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.

A bound palm leaf manuscript
A bound palm leaf manuscript, EAP810/6/1

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.

A palm leaf manuscript page with Tamil writing
அகத்தியர் கர்ம சூத்திரம் [Akattiyar Karma Cūttiram], EAP810/6/1/image 8

EAP 931 - Indigenous Memories of Land Privatisation in Mexico

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
  • Letters

Many of the letters are written by indigenous michoacanos of Purépecha (Tarascan), Nahua, Mazahua, Matzatlinca, or Otomí descent.

EAP931 team in the digitisation room
The EAP931 project team

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.

EAP938 - Diplomatic archives of Merina Kingdom, Madagascar

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.

A folder of diplomatic correspondence between European individuals and the Malagasy government, and a treaty between Madagascar and the United States of America
Correspondence between European Individuals and the Malagasy government, EAP938/1/90 (left); Treaty between Madagascar and the United States, EAP938/1/7 (right)

EAP1114 - East African Islamic texts from the library of Maalim Muhammad Idris

Maalim Muhammad IdrisThis project digitised the library of the late Zanzibari scholar Maalim Muhammad Idris (d.2012) - 123 Islamic texts dating from the late nineteenth century to the 1940s.

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.

A colourful page from the Qur'an
The Qur'an, EAP1114/1/13/image 8

20 April 2020

Archival Contingencies and Eclectic Sources: Using Digitised Newspapers and Periodical Literature

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In this post, Mobeen Hussain, Doctoral Candidate at the Faculty of History, University of Cambridge, tells us how she has used digitised Urdu newspapers and periodicals in her research.

In the summer of 2018, I travelled to Lahore to undertake research in various Pakistani archives including the Pakistani Research Society at the University of Panjab and the Punjab State Archives. Prior to my visit, I had spoken to various researchers about navigating archives in Punjab. One private library, the Abdul Majeed Khokhar Yadgar Library, was suggested to me and I was greatly looking forward to visiting. The Library, named as such to commemorate the collector’s father, is the personal collection of Mr. Zia Ullah Khokhar based in Gujranwala, a city about an hour and half away from Lahore. This Library consists of rare Urdu books, journals and periodical literature including preserved runs of women and children’s magazines collected diligently by the Khokhar and his father who had subscribed to several newspapers and magazines in late colonial period. Unfortunately, I was unable to visit this archive in person during my trip due to the poor health of the collector. However, the British Library’s Engendered Archive Programme (EAP) has digitised some material from this very Library, part of which is pertinent to my area of research.  

EAP566a

EAP566/1/14/1/1 An advert for Lux soap in Avaz (1948) 

My PhD project examines the intersections of racial politics, gender and beauty in late colonial and immediate post-independence India and Pakistan (c.1900-1950), specifically focusing on colourism and skin-lightening within discourses of hygiene, health and beautification. My source base consists of an eclectic mix of printed literature including periodicals, newspapers and instructional literature. Urdu magazines, such as Tahzib-i Nisvan (EAP566/2/1), as well as other literature held at the Khokar Memorial Library (EAP566/2) enabled me to collect a rich host of visual and textual ephemera. For instance, part of my thesis involves undertaking a survey of personal commodity advertising in various regional newspapers and magazines across early twentieth century India– commodities including soaps, creams, hair oils, powders, scents and domestic hygiene products. The collections digitised through EAP inform this survey by providing extensive examples of advertising. Other useful sources are the Amrita Bazaar Patrika newspaper (EAP262/1/1), a Calcutta based Hindi and English-language newspaper and Avaz, a fortnightly journal published by All India Radio (EAP566/1/14). Surveying advertising and marketing strategies in popular print mediums allows researchers to trace the evolution of particular products into Indian consumer markets, map the potentialities of consumer behaviours, and suggest how emerging middle-class subjects were fashioning themselves within conflicting urban modernities.

Two advertisements side by side

EAP566/5/6/1 advertising Paramount Brain Tonic and Paramount Body Cream (1931)

My thesis also looks at the role of aesthetic markers, skin colour and expressions of colourism in the burgeoning medium of matrimonial adverts. Matrimonial adverts were initially placed in caste association journals and newspapers and, by the 1920s, matrimonial columns were a consistent feature in dailies like Amrita Bazar Patrika as well as in other regional Indian newspapers. Matrimonial adverts also periodically appeared in women’s magazines such as Delhi-based Ismat (EAP566/1/2), commonly under headings such as “Rishta Zaroorat”, translating as match required.  Lastly, my thesis also examines contemporary debates about domestic and personal self-fashioning. The Urdu-language women’s magazines available via EAP, such as Ismat, Tahzib-i-Niswan, and Saheli (EAP566/5/4), allow for insights into Muslim women’s voices in North India which supplement my research on other women’s magazines such as the Bengali-language Bangalakshmi and The Indian Ladies’ Magazine, an English-language monthly published in Madras. In Ismat magazine, for instance, columns on domestic health and hygiene practices demonstrate the ruptures between reformist western and indigenous interlocutors of health and how women navigated these knowledge forms in their quotidian practices.

 

List of wanted ads for brides and grooms

EAP262/1/1/2512 Matrimonial column in Amrita Bazar Patrika (1936) 

Not only has the Programme supplemented physical archival visits, I am also able “revisit” the digital archive; we have all made archival errors in note-taking, wish we could have taken a better photograph and have that one source we would like to go back to check– these virtual visits have been invaluable. There are definite merits of physically visiting an archive– the spontaneity of searching through documents, the materiality of the archive and the partially-digitisation practices which can obscure one’s phenomenological reading of an archive. Indeed, much can also be learned from engaging with the specialist knowledge of local archivists. However, like my experience in Pakistan, sometimes physical visits are not possible either due to archival difficulties or researcher restrictions. Physical travel is often a racialised, class and health-based privilege. Many researchers are at the mercy of visas and pernicious border controls and are dependent on extensive financial resources and healthy and able bodies. Undoubtedly, these issues disproportionately affect BAME researchers, those from poorly funded universities who have limited access to research grants, and those who may not have a pool of resources to tap into discrete from university infrastructures. Having access to digitised archives, though by no means an equaliser, does allow people to access materials for research that may not have been possible for previous generations. Indeed, during the current pandemic of Covid-19, the convenience and necessity of access to digitised archives allows those who are able to, to continue with some research. This year, many undergraduate and masters’ students completing desk-based dissertations will also benefit from the extensive EAP collections. I am certainly grateful to EAP for facilitating a useful contingency for my own research plans.

17 June 2019

Marking Refugee Week with the EAP collections

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17 June is the start of Refugee Week, which takes place every year across the world. The U.K. has a programme of cultural and educational events to celebrate the contribution refugees have made.  This year’s theme  ‘You, me and those who came before' is ‘an invitation to explore the lives of refugees – and those who have welcomed them – throughout the generations’.

Looking through the Endangered Archives’ collection, I came across a file of photographs taken by Madanmani Dixit, the first photojournalist in Nepal.

The photographs were taken at a refugee camp in Bangai village in 1971, and depict refugees who have escaped the atrocities of  the Bangladesh Liberation War. It seemed appropriate at the start of this week to share some of these powerful images on the EAP blog.

Close up of a woman with the refugee camp in the background

 

Group of women and children sitting huddled together and looking at the camera

Photograph looking down at the camp, people standing in the shade of a wall with cows eating the straw on the ground

Extreme close up of a young woman with her head covered. She looks directly at the camera

To view more images from the file EAP166/1/1/30, please visit the EAP Website.

04 November 2015

Gaskiya ta fi Kwabo, World War II and the Romanisation of Hausa

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This is our second guest blog celebrating West Africa: Word, Symbol, Song, the current exhibition at the British Library. This time we are delighted to have a piece written by Professor John Philips whose project digitised the early years of the Hausa language newspaper Gaskiya ta fi Kwabo

Hausa is the largest indigenous language spoken in West Africa. It is used by tens of millions of people as a first language from Ghana to Sudan, especially in Nigeria and Niger, and by tens of millions more from Cote d’Ivoire to the central Sahara to central Africa. As the language of the mainly Muslim Hausa people, it has not only spread with them as a first language but it has also spread in markets as an important language of trade and become a lingua franca throughout a wide area of west central Africa. As a major language in Islamic Africa, it has been written for centuries in a modified form of the Arabic script, with some special characters for Hausa sounds not found in Arabic itself. Hausa was chosen by the early colonial government of Northern Nigeria as the official language of administration because it was generally understood among the people of the area, especially the non-Hausa minority groups from whom the Nigerian colonial administration disproportionately recruited its army. This was done not so much to promote the Hausa language in particular or African culture in general as it was to prevent Africans from learning English, through which medium it was feared they would be exposed to nationalist and anti-colonial sentiments.

Page of the newspaper with a photograph of Churchill.EAP485/1/1/30: Gaskiya ta fi Kwabo, Issue 31, 1 Apr 1941

EAP 485 was a project to preserve the very first issues of Gaskiya ta fi Kwabo, the first entirely Hausa newspaper, begun in Nigeria by the colonial government in the months leading up to World War II. The newspaper became an important source of information about the war and its progress throughout Northern Nigeria. As a reliable, informative and excitingly-written periodical the newspaper kept people in Northern Nigeria, Muslim or not, up-to-date about events in the outside world, especially related to the war. Thus it proved a popular venture that helped change the course of African, especially Nigerian, history forever. It also changed the predominant orthography and literary style of Hausa itself. Gaskiya’s contributing first editor, Alhaji Abubakar Imam, became not only one of the earliest authors of books in Latin script Hausa, but he also became one of the most influential authors in Hausa literature.

  Page of the newspaper with several photographs.
EAP485/1/1/404: Gaskiya ta fi Kwabo, Issue 874, 7 Nov 1958

The popularity of Gaskiya not only led to increasing popularity of Latin alphabet literacy in Hausa areas, but it also increased the attention that speakers of Hausa, both first and second language speakers, paid to the outside world. By so increasing the attention Africans in the interior of the continent paid to events beyond their localities, it became an important factor in the emergence and spread of modern nationalism in Africa, especially among Muslims, although also among Christians. It is indispensable source material for historians of Africa interested in the nationalist movement in particular, and modernisation in general. It is also the earliest known example of what later became the much imitated style of modern literature called “Gaskiyanci” (Gaskiya dialect), named after the newspaper and created by its editor, Alhaji Abubakar Imam.

Page of the newspaper. The top half has small announcements, the bottom has an advertisement for Lifebuoy soap.EAP485/1/1/410: Gaskiya ta fi Kwabo, Issue 880, 19 Dec 1958 

Professor John Philips

Hirosaki University 

23 September 2015

5 million images online

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In February, the Endangered Archives Programme celebrated its tenth anniversary and the various press releases and newspaper articles all quoted that we had 4 million images online. It is hard to believe that today we reached the milestone of 5 million images.

I thought I would use this opportunity to reflect on some of the projects that have gone online since the beginning of the year – doing a ‘round the world’ selection.

One of the first projects to be made available this year was EAP164, which consisted of people's memoirs and diaries from rural societies along the Ukrainian Steppe. As well as paper archives, there is a wonderful selection of photographs giving a real sense of community, as this picnic illustrates.

  Late 19th century photograph of a party having a picnic in a wooded area.EAP164/1/2/3 Album of photos of representatives of a family - Perovskyh [1891-1990]

From the Africa collections, we put EAP286 online, a project from Ethiopia that digitised both Muslim and Christian manuscripts. A substantial part of the collection consists of Asmat prayers,  and this is an example of part of a 19th century scroll.

  Illuminated Ethiopic prayer scroll.

EAP286/1/1/38 Asmat Prayers [19th century]

To show the variety of the collection, this is the first page of an incomplete Taḫmīs al-Fayyūmī on the "Poem of the Mantle" by al-Būṣīrī.

  Page in Arabic script.

EAP286/1/1/489 Uncomplete Taḫmīs al-Fayyūmī on the "Poem of the Mantle" by al-Būṣīrī, The Unwān
al-šarīf ("The Token of the Noble") on the birth of the Prophet [18th century]

EAP566 is an example of one of the Asian projects that went online, a very impressive collection of 18th and 19th century Urdu periodicals. The articles cover an incredibly broad range of subject matter and the accompanying illustrations are a joy to browse through, as can be seen from these pages from Nairang-i khiyal.

  Drawing of a sari wearing deity standing on a lotus leaf.

EAP566/1/4/10/1 Nairang-i_khiyal (Volume and Issue not known) [1932]

  Advertisement for slipper shoes.

EAP566/1/4/10/1 Nairang-i_khiyal (Volume and Issue not known) [1932]

My final continent from the EAP worldwide whistle-stop tour, of course, is the Americas and one important project that went online was EAP563 – the archives of the engineering firm ‘Hume Brothers’ which was set up in Argentina in 1880. The company's main work consisted of planning and building thousands of kilometers of roads, not only in Argentina but also throughout Uruguay, Chile and Brazil. It is a project that contains a mixture of texts, drawings and photographs.

This is a photograph of the construction of a lift bridge over the Riachuelo in Buenos Aires.

  Photograph showing the construction of a bridge.

EAP563/1/5/4/3 Construction of a lift bridge over the Riachuelo in Buenos. Aires. It belonged to Ferrocarril Sud ( F.C.S.) [Early 20th century]

And this example is a stereoscopic view of the San Roque Dam in Argentina.

  Stereograph images of a dam.

EAP563/1/5/5/1252 San Roque Dam (Argentina). [c 1945]

But of course I must not leave out the two projects that went online this month and got us to 5 million images. The first was EAP753, a pilot project that carried out an inventory and sample digitisation of parish documents in the area of Belém do Pará, Brazil.

Page from the archive.

EAP753/1/1/4 Cairary Baptisms, n 4 [1895-1901]

and EAP541, which digitised the historical archives in the Public Records and Archives Administration (PRAAD) in Tamale, Northern Ghana. I rather liked the fact that we have records about latrines - this has to be a first for EAP!

  Typewritten page.EAP541/1/1/88: Salaga-Site for septic Tank Laterines [1952-73]