THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Endangered archives blog

17 posts categorized "Newspapers"

07 June 2021

New online - April/May 2021

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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.

01 December 2020

New Collections Online - November 2020

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Again it's the time of month to round-up which EAP funded projects are newly available online to view over the past few weeks. This month we have made available the following four projects:

Continue reading for summaries of these projects, and to find out what we've made available previously, take a look at our other recent monthly posts.

EAP816 - Photographic archive of the ‘Vasile Parvan’ Institute of Archaeology, Bucharest, Romania

816-combined

This project was previously on an old version of the EAP website. Due to some technical issues it has only just been made available to view again.


The ‘Vasile Parvan’ Institute of Archaeology’s photography archive provides a unique source of information for archaeological research in Romania, especially of the Black Sea region. Over 2000 photographs have been digitised showing a wide range of activities covering the period 1875-1925. A large number of archaeological sites and monuments, then surviving across Romania, are represented in a vast array of excavation, exploration and restoration photographs. Many of the archaeological sites and landscapes represented in the photographs, along with a host of medieval churches and many villages, were totally destroyed during and after the two World Wars.


The majority of the earliest material focuses on the Romanian Black Sea area, a region called Dobrogea, the richest region of Romania in terms of its archaeological heritage. It also used to be the most ethnically diverse region of Romania and until the end of World War I was one of the most rural and arid. In the 1960s and 1970s huge agricultural programmes resulted in the loss of entire villages along with archaeological remains.


Archaeological artefacts – pottery, sculptures, metal objects – are also represented, along with other items of major historical importance: objects of religious art, paintings, sculptures and fabrics, many of them subsequently destroyed or lost, sometimes plundered by German, Russian or other troops during the wars that have affected Romania in the past 150 years. The on-site images include extremely beautiful local ethnographic photographs and rural landscape images depicting a world long gone.

EAP890 - The Last National Newspapers in Mongolia Printed in Traditional Script

Front page of newspaper (EAP890/1/1/2/5)

This project digitised over 900 editions of two newspapers held at the Sukhbaatar District Library, Mongolia. These newspapers were the last printed in the traditional Mongolian script before the change to using Cyrillic in 1945. The editions cover a period of major national and international change: 1936-1945.

  The two newspaper titles are available to view here:

You may also be interested in this recently published blog post which looks into some of the issues surrounding the change from traditional Mongolian script to Cyrillic:

EAP920 - District Administration Books for Regions in the Former British Colonial Territory of Nyasaland (Malawi)

Cover page of a District Notebook

This project digitised District Notebooks created by officers during the British colonial rule of Nyasaland, now Malawi. These notebooks were used to record detailed information regarding local institutions, people, and customs. It was deemed important to record in order to serve the interests of government, as well as for anthropologists and other potential users of this information. All British officers who served as District Commissioners were required to maintain such notebooks, which were then handed over to succeeding officers.

Common subjects dealt with in the district notebooks included 'handing in' and 'taking over' notes, tribal history, notes on population and statistics, succession and inheritance, native social beliefs and customs, health and sanitation, economics, labour, natural history, military medals, metrology etc.

These books were originally located in the respective districts of Dedza, Dowa, Fort Manning, (Mchinji), Karonga, Kasunga, Kota-kota (Nkhota-kota), Lilongwe, Mzimba, and Nkhatabay. As part of this project these books were relocated for preservation at the National Archive of Malawi.

EAP1119 - Documents from the Archives of Land Registration Division and Lands Commission of Ghana

Eap1119

This pilot project digitised a small selection of deed and mortgage registers, as well as some additional related records. The records were all created in the period 1843-1909 when Ghana was part of the British colony known as the Gold Coast. These records are an important source for research into land ownership and the registration and acquisition of land for public purposes. Other potential avenues of research identified include the commercial and industrial activities of named persons, and history of residential settlement in the region.

Please check back again next month for another round-up of collections made available. You may also want to follow us on Twitter for earlier updates about which collections are newly available, as well as other related news. 

18 November 2020

What’s in a name? The Sovietisation of the Mongolian language and the Challenges of Reversal

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One of the newest EAP projects to go online is EAP890, which contains two collections of Mongolian newspapers, covering the period 1936-1945.

Written in traditional Mongolian script, these newspapers offer a fascinating insight into the history of Mongolian politics and society. They also provide a Mongolian perspective on international affairs, including the dominant global event of the period: the Second World War.

What's in a name?

But beyond the content, even to the untrained eye, this collection shines a light on a key period in Mongolia’s history, as the influence of the Soviet Union intensified eastwards after the 1917 Russian revolution.

Even if you cannot read the traditional Mongolian script these newspapers are written in, a quick glance at different editions of the Ardyn Undesnii Erkh collection prompts a simple question: why did the name of this newspaper keep changing? The answer lies not in typographical errors and careless editing; it is much more profound.

The newspaper title when printed in traditional Mongolian script was always consistent (see yellow boxes below). But alongside this was a variant title written in an alternative script (see red boxes).

In the following examples from four different months in 1941, the variant titles were written differently in each edition. In February 1941, the variant title is very similar to the current Romanised transliteration. But month by month this gradually changed to something that closely resembles the modern Cyrillic spelling.

Part of newspaper title front cover
13 February 1941 (EAP890/1/1/54/3)

 

Part of newspaper title front cover
12 March 1941 (EAP890/1/1/55/4)

 

Part of newspaper title front cover
12 May 1941 (EAP890/1/1/57/2)

 

Part of newspaper title front cover
23 June 1941 (EAP890/1/1/58/6)

What is going on?

These changing titles are indicative of a pivotal period in Mongolian history.  They reveal a process of linguistic revolution, which act as an important indicator of the broader social and political changes that Mongolia experienced during the mid-20th century.

The Sovietisation of Mongolia

Situated in the heart of central Asia, Mongolia is surrounded by two global superpowers: Russia to the north and China to the south. Between the late 17th  and early 20th centuries, Mongolia was controlled by the Chinese Qing dynasty. Throughout this period, local dialects predominantly used the vertical Mongolian script, which was adapted from the Old Uyghur alphabet after Genghis Khan captured an Uyghur scribe at the beginning of the 13th century, during the formative years of the Mongol Empire.

After the fall of the Chinese Manchu dynasty in 1911, Mongolia swayed between independence and continued control by the new Republic of China, until Russian troops entered Mongolia in 1920 and defeated the Chinese army a few months later.

In 1924, the Mongolian People's Republic was established and during subsequent decades Mongolia became increasingly aligned with the recently formed Soviet Union. 

During the 1930s, Mongolia was subject to a series of brutal purges. Buddhist monasteries were destroyed and tens of thousands of people were killed. This process intensified as the world drifted towards war. Notable politicians, including Mongolian prime ministers Peljidiin Genden and Anandyn Amar were arrested and shot in the Soviet Union, accused of counterrevolutionary activity and spying for Japan.

These purges were ordered by the Soviets, but largely overseen by Khorloogiin Choibalsan - sometimes referred to as the 'Stalin of Mongolia'. Choibalsan was in Russia as a student when the 1917 Bolshevik revolution took place. He returned to Mongolia inspired by the Bolshevik cause and after Stalin came to power in Moscow, Choibalsan gradually emerged as the principal conduit for Soviet influence in Mongolia. By 1939, after the arrest of Amar, Choibalsan had become Mongolia's dominant political leader.

Extract from a newspaper including images of Joseph Stalin and Khorloogiin Choibalsan
12 March 1941 (EAP890/1/1/55/4). Pictured: Joseph Stalin (top); Khorloogiin Choibalsan (bottom right)
 
Khorloogiin Choibalsan with Soviet officials
Khorloogiin Choibalsan with Soviet military officers, 1940 (EAP264/1/2/1/10)

During the next few years, the Sovietisation of Mongolia continued unabated and part of this effort included Russifying the Mongolian language. 

Linguistic revolution

While violent purges provide stark evidence of political change, alterations to the national language were also a significant part of the Sovietisation process.

Initial attempts to unify languages within the communist sphere centred on the Latin script. A 1932 Soviet report explained that a unified script would create a system for use by the working masses, as opposed to multiple narrow systems designed for use by the ruling classes. During the late 1930s this objective continued, but Cyrillic became the preferred, unifying writing system.

The first two extracts above, from early 1941 editions of Ardyn Undesnii Erkh, represent a hangover from those initial aborted efforts to Latinise languages within the Soviet Union during the 1920s-30s and replica efforts in Mongolia. In the early 1930s, a Latin alphabet containing 24 dominant characters emerged in Mongolia. This shift was subsequently aborted and in 1937 the former Minster of Education  was prosecuted for crimes which included trying to destroy the Mongolian national script. But in early 1941, after the rise of Choibalsan, Latinisation re-emerged. And on 21 February 1941, a resolution was passed in Mongolia to approve a 42-letter Latin script. This decree was short-lived, though, as a month a later, on 25 March, Cyrillic was adopted as the preferred alternative to the traditional Mongolian script. Five years later, this change was enforced

The processes of both Latinising and Russifying the Mongolian language were neither straightforward nor definitive. The subtle and gradual alterations to both the Latin and the Cyrillic versions of the titles evident in these newspaper demonstrate this.  The task of using new alphabets to represent an existing language was subject to intense linguistic debate.

As the last national newspapers printed in traditional Mongolian script before the forceful switch to the Cyrillic script on 1 January 1946, these two newspaper collections offer an important insight into the nature of those debates and provide a potentially useful dataset to help better understand the mechanics and subtleties of this linguistic revolution.

By the time of this enforced change, Unen had already transitioned. When the final edition available in this collection was published on 31 December 1945, the only remnant of the traditional Mongolian script was the title; the rest of the newspaper was printed in Cyrillic.

Two front covers of Unen newspaper
Unen, 1 January 1942 (EAP890/1/2/1/1), left; Unen, 31 December 1945 (EAP890/1/2/45/11), right

When the Sovietisation process began, the titles were the first parts of these newspapers to change. When the process was complete, they were the last thing to remain.

Beyond communism and 21st century challenges

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the end of communism in Mongolia, efforts have been made to resurrect the traditional script, which is still used in the autonomous Inner Mongolian region of China. This was initially scheduled for 1994, but Cyrillic was re-confirmed as the national script by the Mongolian parliament in 1995.

Twenty years later, in February 2015, the Mongolian government passed a new law which asserted that the traditional Mongolian script, found in these two newspapers, should once again be the national script by 2025. But it may not be that simple.

As I discovered when cataloguing this project, implementing this policy requires technical change as well as political will. It had been our intention to catalogue the collection using the traditional Mongolian script that the newspapers were predominantly written in. However, while the traditional Mongolian script was added to the unicode standard in 1999, there are several design issues that remain unfixed and a lack of support for fonts required to display the script correctly. The 2025 target has provided renewed motivation to address these  issues. But it remains to be seen if and when the existing technical problems will be resolved.

For now, therefore, the titles for these collections appear in the EAP catalogue only in the modern Mongolian Cyrillic script and transliterated Latin script.

But once you get beyond the name, the digitised content is there to be explored in the traditional Mongolian script - providing a window into the past and possibly the very near future of Mongolia and the significance of its national script.

By Graham Jevon

With thanks to the EAP890 project team led by Bayasgalan Bayanbat for digitising this content, and to Eleanor Cooper with whom discussions about the language and scripts inspired this post.

Further reading

Charles Bawden, The Modern History of Mongolia, (2002).

Henry S Badsher, 'The Sovietization of Mongolia', Foreign Affairs (April 1972), pp. 545-553.

Uradyn E Bulag, Nationalism and Hybridity in Mongolia (1998).

Stephane Grivelet, 'The Latinization Attempt in Mongolia', http://acta.bibl.u-szeged.hu/16597/1/altaica_039_115-120.pdf

Stephane Grivelet, 'Reintroducing the Uighur-Mongolian Script in  Mongolia Today', Mongolian Studies, Vol. 18 (1995), pp. 49-60.

28 August 2020

New Collections Online - August 2020

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August has been another busy month for EAP with newspapers, manuscripts, books, and archival documents all being made available. Here is a summary of four of the most recent EAP projects to go online:

EAP498 - Provincial Newspapers in Peru (19th -20th century)

This project digitised 176 different newspaper titles from five regions of Peru:

Across the five collections, a total of 2,133 newspaper editions have been digitised and made freely available.

Two newspaper front pages
Dona Filo, 31 Agosto 1959 (EAP498/2/8/1); El Sol de Los Andes, 4 Abril 1889 (EAP498/1/13/5).

These unique collections offer important material that will help generate new research into the history of Peru, particularly the regions outside the largest cities. The Tacna collection, for example, includes important coverage of the the area's occupation by Chile between 1880-1929.

These collections contain a wide variety of topics, including satire, labour movements, literature, and education. 

 

EAP918 - Rare Books in Grantha script from South India

The EAP918 project team digitised ten collections owned by institutions and private scholars, containing a total of 1,112 books printed in Grantha script.

Two book pages
Srīraṅkanāta Pātukācahasram: uttarapākam, EAP918/1/13 (left); Āpastampa Kruhaya Sūtram, EAP918/5/12 (right).

Grantha script has mainly being used for reading Sanskrit in South India since the 6th century, but during the 20th century it became almost obsolete. Very few people use it and very few libraries continue to hold books written in Grantha script, which include accounts of topics including astrology, astronomy, history, philosophy, rituals, language and grammar, poetry, music, yoga, and society.

This digitisation project was therefore vital to help preserve this once widely used script and to make the knowledge it contains available to a new generation of researchers.

 

EAP922 - British Indian Association Archive

The British Indian Association, founded in 1851, was one of the earliest political associations of Indian colonial subjects. It was the first political body of the nation and can challenge the Indian National Congress for the title of the Grand Old Party.

The Association was largely composed of landholders who maintained a combination of conservatism and progress in their efforts to obtain freedom for colonial India.

Spanning the period 1851-1948, this collection contains a wealth of material relating to the British Indian Association and the wider political situation in India. The collection is divided into 11 series:

Newspaper front page and Police Report front cover
Hindoo Patriot, 18 January 1892 (EAP922/1/5/11, image 24); Report on the Police Administration of Burma, 1890 (EAP922/1/10/9).

 

EAP1023 - Rare Medieval Manuscripts from Newari Settlements in Nepal

Building on the work of previous projects EAP676 and EAP790, this latest project digitised 28 collections of manuscripts located in Newār settlements in Rural Kathmandu and hill areas of Nepal.

These Hindu and Buddhist manuscripts range from the 12th-18th centuries and cover a wide range of topics including:

  • Literature
  • Medicine
  • Music
  • Rituals
  • Epic stories
  • Narratives
  • Tantra
  • Shashtra
  • Iconography
  • Glorification
  • Eulogy
  • Grammar
  • Mahatmya
  • Puja
  • Indigenous Kiranta texts.
Manuscript page
सन्ध्योपासना बिधि [Sandhyopasana Vidhi], 17th century (EAP1023/27/18, image 2)

They are written in a wide range of languages and scripts. Languages include:

  • Kiranti
  • Mara
  • Nepali
  • Newari
  • Sanskrit
  • Tibetan.

Scripts include:

  • Bengali
  • Bhujimol
  • Devanagari
  • Lepcha
  • Limbu
  • Newari
  • Proto-Bengali
  • Tibetan.

Follow us on Twitter @bl_eap to keep up-to-date with the latest new collections going online.

We will be uploading many more collections from all over the world in the coming weeks and months.

30 July 2020

New Collections Online - July 2020

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Last week we announced that since lockdown began in March and we started working from home, EAP had put more than one million images online. In total, the EAP digital archive now contains more than 8.5 million images. This unexpected milestone is thanks to all of the EAP project teams that digitise endangered archival material all over the world.

You can find summaries of recently uploaded projects in March, April, May, June, and now here is July's summary of four of the most recent projects to go online - and you can expect another summary of new projects online in the very near future, as we have more to announce and still more to upload.

This month's summary continues to represent the variety of different projects that EAP funds, from the Caribbean to South East Asia, from 18th century manuscripts to 19th century newspapers:

EAP352 - Sufi Islamic Manuscripts from Western Sumatra and Jambi, Indonesia

This project digitised 11 Sufi Islamic manuscript collections located in two regions of Indonesia: Western Sumatra and Jambi. The manuscripts date from the 1700s to the 20th century.

The collections includes manuscripts that describe suluk mystical rituals, interesting examples of al-Qur’an and works on traditional medicine in Jambi. They also contain unique examples of calligraphy, illumination, and binding which are important to preserve.

Two manuscript pages
Dalail al-Khairat (EAP352/1/6), left; Tasawuf, Fiqh dan Tauhid (EAP352/1/3), right

Languages include:

  • Arabic
  • Dutch
  • Javanese
  • Malay
  • Minangkabau

Scripts include:

  • Arabic
  • Jawi
  • Latin

The collection also includes some correspondence, including a letter from Siti Afīyah to ʻAbd al-Karīm Amr Allāh, dated 22 September 1928.

A one page letter
Letter from Siti Afīyah to ʻAbd al-Karīm Amr Allāh (EAP352/8/6)

 

EAP766 - Rare Manuscripts from Balochistan, Pakistan

Balochistan is located at a geographical and cultural intersection between South Asia, Central Asia, and the Middle East. This project digitised twelve private collections of manuscripts owned by local inhabitants of this fascinating historical region.

Manuscript cover
شاہنامہ حکیم ابوالقاسم فردوسی طوسی [Shahnāmah-i-Abu-Al-Qāsim Firdawsī Ṭawsī], 1865, (EAP766/8/2)

These manuscripts shine a spotlight on the pre-colonial history and cultural formations of Balochistan and its neighbouring regions. They provide important historical insights and voices that are often missing from the English language colonial documents that much historical research on the region is often dependent upon.

Languages include:

  • Arabic
  • Baluchi
  • Brahui
  • Pashto
  • Persian
  • Urdu
  • Uzbek
Arabic manuscript page
تحفہ منگوچر [Toḥfah-i-Mangawchar], (EAP766/12/1)

 

EAP945 - Pre-modern Hindu Ritual Manuscripts from Kathmandu Valley, Nepal

This project digitised 154 rare manuscripts owned by 81 year old Mr Upendra Bhakta Subedi. Mr Subedi, also known as Govinda Baje, is a descendant of an illustrious family of Rajopadhyaya Brahmins from the heart of the Kathmandu Valley and the manuscripts are located at his ancestral home, which was severely damaged by the 2015 earthquake.

Yantra diagram
Yantra diagram, c 1870 (EAP945/1/2)

These manuscripts date from the 17th-19th centuries and are mostly manuals on Hindu rites and rituals.

Languages include:

  • Hindi
  • Nepali
  • Newari
  • Sanskrit

Scripts include:

  • Bengali
  • Devanagari
  • Kuṭākṣara
  • Prachalit Nepal
Manuscript page with Sanskrit writing
तुलसीव्रतविधि [Procedure for planting tulsi (Holy Basil, Ocimum sanctum)], c 1870 (EAP945/1/3)

 

EAP1251 - The Barbadian Newspaper (1822-1861)

Following on from a recent project to digitise the Barbados Mercury and Bridgetown Gazette (1783-1848), this project by the same team at the Barbados Archives Department digitised another 19th century Barbados newspaper: The Barbadian.

Like the Barbados Mercury, The Barbadian spans an important period in the history of the Caribbean and offers important insights into the period before, during, and after the emancipation of slavery. You can read more about this in our recent blog, which explored some of what these newspapers reveal about this period and how that relates to 21st century racial tensions.

Front covers of The New York Times and The Barbadian
Comparison of front covers of the New York Times, May 2020; and The Barbadian, April 1835

These newspapers are a rich resource for genealogists as well as those interested in social and political history. While newspapers such as these predominantly provided a voice for the white settler community via editorials, letters to the editor, and advertisements, the identities of the enslaved also emerge, often through acts of resistance.

Look out in the coming weeks, for another summary of recent projects put online.

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 the formerly enslaved man Olaudah Equiano, or Bussa - the enslaved person 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 enslaved black people 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 enslaved people 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 years 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 enslaved people detained their enslavers 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 enslavers 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 enslavers.

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 enslaver. When offered for sale, enslaved people usually remained nameless. The very first edition of The Barbadian contained an advertisement for the sale of two enslaved people; 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 enslavers were seeking the return of those who had absconded, their identities were necessarily revealed. The Barbados Mercury is strewn with advertisements requesting the recapture of enslaved people who had escaped.

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 enslaver; but it reflects the actions of the enslaved. The publication of these adverts, and the stories they reveal, were created by the enslaver, 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).

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.

02 January 2020

Beyond Digitisation: Engaging the Community Around The Barbados Mercury

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While digitisation of the Barbados Mercury (EAP1086) was completed in December 2018, it was not an endpoint. It allowed the Barbados Archives to initiate a series of workshops and initiatives aiming to involve the public, and promote the study and mining of the newspaper for further research.

Covering the years from 1783 to 1848, the Mercury is an important primary source for understanding life in a slave-holding British colony. It covers every aspect of life in Barbados during these decades. Although it reflects the worldview of the (white) planter and merchant class, reading the newspaper between the lines and against the grain allows us to get glimpses of the dystopian reality on the island.

Considering that several sources covering the 18th and 19th centuries are not readily accessible, either because they are fragile, or because they lack finding aids, or simply because they have been destroyed or lost, the information contained in Mercury can help us reconstruct many aspects of the history of that period: economic, military, social and cultural, gender, maritime, as well as geography and material culture.

One of the most important set of information is the “runaway slaves” ads appearing frequently in Mercury’s pages. They are important because they offer descriptive information about enslaved individuals for whom usually there is very little in the archives. Ads contain a variety of identifying information, such as names, age, appearance, skin colour, clothes, skills, accent, any distinguishing features, including “marks of their country” or signs that are obviously a result of violence (e.g., missing limbs, scars). More importantly, these ads offer information about relatives and friends that can allow us to reconstruct networks of the enslaved.

In March 2019, a new collaboration between the Barbados Archives and the Early Caribbean Digital Archive resulted in giving start to the “Barbados Runaway Slaves Digital Collection,” an initiative that as a first step aims to bring together all the “runaway slaves” ads in the newspaper and their transcriptions. The Early Caribbean Digital Archive, based at Northeastern University in Boston, aims to make accessible material related to black, enslaved and indigenous people of the Caribbean, and use the digital archive as a site of revision and for exploring ways to decolonise the archive.  The collaboration was officially initiated through a series of workshops and events in May 2019.

A group of people sitting at tables placed in a horseshoe, they are looking at laptop screens.

Mercury Runaways workshop, October 2019

These inaugural workshops were followed by monthly workshops during the fall and winter of 2019. The format of the workshops consisted of an introduction to the Mercury and its digitisation, and the aims of the workshop; overview of the Endangered Archives Programme portal and instructions about how to access and navigate the interface; instructions about doing the transcriptions and saving the documents; time for participants to do the transcriptions either alone or in a group; and finally a group discussion where people could present something interesting they had come upon in the ads they were transcribing, or any other related topic.

Workshops were led by Amalia S. Levi, archivist and project leader for EAP1086, Nicholas Mayers, genealogical researcher, and Dr. Tara Inniss, lecturer at the History Department at the University of West Indies, Cave Hill campus. Workshops were held in the evening to facilitate participation by all age levels. We arranged two of the workshops to fit two courses of Dr. Inniss, so that students in history and heritage studies at UWI were able to attend the workshops.

It was moving to see people interact with the digitised copies of the archival material during the workshops, especially as they realised that it was a source of rich information for understanding the Barbadian past, particularly in terms of genealogical research. This is important because many people are not aware of the many ways their enslaved ancestors resisted slavery to seek freedom. Discussions at the end of the workshops were lively. Participants wanted to share the many—often dreadful—human stories contained in the ads and in the pages of the newspaper. Discussions also allowed people to speak about a past that is often too painful to deal with.

About a dozen people sit in a horseshoe looking at their laptops.

Mercury Runaways workshop, November 2019

As workshops showed, engaging the public through consistent involvement creates community, and incentivises people to work together to research their history. We are committed to continue engaging the public in this work through regular monthly meetings. At this stage, we were interested in transcriptions, while at a later stage we hope to enrich these human stories with contextual information, and possibly construct a database out of them. We would also like to engage the public in more creative ways of interacting with the ads (for example, writing short stories, sketching a portrait or an artwork and other creative ways).

Blog written by Amalia S. Levi and Nicholas Mayers