THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Endangered archives blog

17 posts categorized "Slavery"

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.

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).

19 June 2019

New collections online - June 2019

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Over the past few months we have made six new projects available to view online through our website. These new collections demonstrate the diverse variety of archives the EAP digitises, and includes eighteenth-century Brazilian royal orders, artwork and photography by Lalit Mohan Sen, colonial archives, Coptic manuscripts and prayer scrolls, war photography, and historic newspapers.

EAP627 - Digitising endangered seventeenth to nineteenth century secular and ecclesiastical sources in São João do Carirí e João Pessoa, Paraíba, Brazil

Open page of a fragile manuscript with parts of the page corroded awayEAP627/1/1/1 - Book 1: Baptisms, Marriages, and Deaths (1752-1808) / Livro 1 Batizados, casamengtos e óbitos anos de 1752 a 1808

The aim of EAP627 was to digitise the oldest historical documents in the state of Paraíba, Brazil (located in the semi-arid hinterlands and on the humid coastline). The project team successfully digitised 266 historical documents, ranging from 1660 to 1931 and their digitisation resulted in c. 83,000 TIFF images being created. It includes the entire collection of ecclesiastical documents at Paróquia de Nossa Senhora dos Milagres do São João do Cariri (comprised of 54 volumes produced between 1752 and 1931). During digitisation, the team uncovered the original, signed Constitution of Paraíba of 1891 – the first constitution of this state after Brazil was declared a republic in 1889. To the best of their knowledge and research, the project team believes this is the only existing copy of the document. The digital preservation of these documents have already contributed to shifting the historical narrative of the state’s back lands, and will ensure the ongoing possibility of study in the history of Paraíba’s Afro-Brazilian, indigenous, and mestiço populations.

EAP781 - Santipur and its neighbourhood: text and image production history from early modern Bengal through public and private collections

Drawing of a woman wearing a sariEAP781/1/7/1 - Photographs and artwork by Lalitmohan Sen

This was a continuation of EAP643, an earlier pilot project. The project team were able to digitise almost all the records discovered in the pilot. The collection includes 1265 manuscripts from Santipur Bangiya Puran Parishad, 78 bound volumes from Santipur Municipality, and 510 images of Lalit Mohan Sen’s artwork and photography.  Some of Sen’s work can be seen in this previous EAP blog post.

EAP820 - Documenting Slavery and Emancipation in Kita, Western Mali

Single page with the upper left corner torn and missingEAP820/1/1/3/1 - Compte-rendu d’une tournée de recensement dans le Birgo 1899 (Report of a census tour)

Kita is an important site in the history of rural slave emancipation in Western Mali (occurring at the turn of the twentieth century). It hosted the highest number of ‘Liberty villages’ (17 in total) following the French conquest (Western Mali was the first region of today’s Mali to be colonised by the French from the 1890s). Liberty villages hosted the slaves of the defeated enemies of the French army. The project team captured this specific history of slavery and emancipation in Kita through digitised reports, correspondence and court registers held in the Cercle archives of Kita. The collection is extensive, ancient and rare in its content, and is of great scholarly significance.

EAP823 - Digitisation and preservation of the manuscript collection at the Monastery of St Saviour in Old Jerusalem

Page of an illustrated manuscript with Arabic writingEAP823/1/2/25 - Risālat al-ḣajj min Al-Ḣasan al-Baṡrī - Trakt on the pilgrimage and its benefits by Ḣasan al-Baṡrī

Page of a manuscript written in GreekEAP823/1/3/1 - Šarakan

The objective of this project was to digitise and make widely available the manuscripts at the Franciscan monastery of St Saviour in the Old City of Jerusalem. The collection dates from the 12th to the 20th century, and is written in seventeen languages: Amharic, Arabic, Armenian, Classical Ethiopic, Coptic (Bohairic & Sahidic), English, French, Old German, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, Latin, Samaritan, Spanish, Syriac and Turkish. The digitised material is remarkably diverse and is a valuable resource for scholars interested in Christian, Islamic and Jewish traditions, as well as to linguists and philologists, art historians, and musicologists. The texts contain theological and philosophical treatises, biblical and liturgical books, dictionaries, profane and religious poetry, collections of sermons, pilgrim accounts, and also cooking recipes and magic prayers. Among the books are also rare items, for instance texts written in Armenian and Arabic scripts but in Turkish language, and the fragments of Byzantine manuscripts used for the flyleaves in bindings. A special group is made up by large size liturgical books with musical notations, produced for monastic choirs, as well as precious volumes lavishly decorated and illuminated with miniatures, initials and aniconic ornamentation. Research material of particular value consists of a variety of book covers (leather, textile, metal, decorative cardboards etc.) representing diverse binding methods.

Narrow Ethiopic manuscript with illustrationEAP823/1/1/11 - Prayer scroll

EAP894 - Endangered photographic collections about the participation of pre-industrial Bulgaria in three wars in the beginning of the 20th century

Photograph of womenEAP894/1/24 - Single and group photographs of Rada Bozhinova (Box 24)

Photograph of an interior, possibly a dining roomEAP894/1/15 - Scenes from urban and rural life (Box 15)

The EAP894 project team digitised two collections of photographs (and other records) from the pre-industrial development era of Bulgaria, covering the period 1880-1930. Colonel Petar Darvingov, the Chief of Staff of the Bulgarian Army and a commander of the occupation corps in Moravia (now the Czech Republic and Serbia) created the first collection. He captured moments of military action in the Balkans and Central Europe across three wars: the Balkan War, the Second Balkan War, and World War I. Within the collection are a large volume of photos from different fronts – positional photos of infantry and artillery units, fighting marches, frontline parades and prayers, aviation and motorized units, moments from tactical exercises, building of trenches, laying of roads and telephone wires, views of settlements, etc. Preserved are also the portraits, both group and individual, of the entire command staff of the Bulgarian army during the wars. The photographs record not only the military life at the front, but also at the rear – the camps and bivouacs, clothing, supplies, military equipment and everyday life of the Bulgarian soldier. Many of the backs of the photos have explanatory notes about specific events and characters. They include initiations, names and occasionally short biographical data on individual persons etc. The collection also includes military business cards with author´s notes, operational sketches of battlefields, sketches of the Bulgarian headquarters where the Serbian and Bulgarian troops were positioned during the Balkan Wars, stories of warfare during World War I, and sketches of military sites.

The second collection contains photos, cartoons and caricatures created by the renowned artist and photographer Aleksandar Bozhinov. He was one of the first significant cartoonists of the 20th century and a war correspondent. He documented military positions and the social life in the Balkan villages and towns in the time of war – daily life, work, calendar and festive rituals. The sketches and caricatures in the collection are both the originals and those published in albums and newspapers from the early 20th century. Copies of the Bulgarian comic newspaper (authored by Aleksandar Bozhinov) are also preserved in this collection.

EAP1086 - Preserving and digitising the historic newspaper, The Barbados Mercury Gazette

Front page of the Barbados Mercury dated Saturday, April 5, 1783EAP1086/1/1/1/1 - The Barbados Mercury. 5 April 1783

This project digitised the Barbados Mercury and Bridgetown Gazette, a newspaper printed in Barbados from 1783 to 1839. The Gazette was printed biweekly and each issue was four pages long. It is the most complete set of the Gazette and the only copies known to exist. The newspaper is crucial for understanding Barbados’ 18th and 19th century history, particularly because these were formative years for the island. The newspaper sheds light on the everyday life of a slaveholding society; Bussa’s 1816 rebellion; and the events that led to the abolition of the slavery on the island (1834). Digitisation of the newspaper offers the opportunity to unearth an untold history of the enslaved people of the island and their resistance in the early nineteenth century. EAP1086 was a collaborative effort between a team of practitioners and scholars, based both in Barbados and abroad. At the end of the project around 2,331 issues were digitised with around 9,000 digital images in total.

 

Written by Alyssa Ali, EAP Apprentice

16 January 2018

Doctoral Research into the Migration and Settlement of Liberated Africans

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Each year, the British Library organises Doctoral Open Days, with the aim of helping students explore the Library’s collections. Two years ago, I met Jake Richards at an Asia and Africa focused Open Day. I am absolutely thrilled to share this blog post, the first to be written by a PhD student using EAP material as part of their research.

In April 1839, J. B. Hazely, an official in the Liberated African Department in Freetown, Sierra Leone, requested that his colleague, S. Thorpe, ‘with all possible speed, send up to this Department six able Boys, capable of speaking English, & fitting to be placed on board Her Majesty’s Brig of War Harlequin’. The Harlequin was one of several Royal Navy ships that patrolled the Atlantic to suppress the slave trade. Naval ships intercepted hundreds of slave ships in the nineteenth century, and transferred the embarked slaves to particular ports where they would be declared free from slavery, and then apprenticed for up to fourteen years – a process which labelled them ‘liberated Africans’. The Liberated African Department Letter Books, digitised by the Endangered Archives Programme, contain correspondence between departmental officials, Royal Navy officers, and missionaries who were involved in different stages of this process of ‘liberation’. As Hazely’s letter reveals, the six boys would work to suppress the slave trade from which they or their relatives had recently been rescued.

Page from a letterbook.EAP443/1/18/6 Liberated African Department; Letterbook [22 Aug 1837-15 Feb 1843]

Sierra Leone handled around half of the approximately 200,000 slaves rescued after Britain abolished the slave trade in 1807 – more than any other location in the nineteenth century. Britain’s colony in Sierra Leone had begun twenty years previously as a site not much larger than Freetown, established as a home for black soldiers and sailors who had fought for Britain during the American War of Independence, plus Maroons from Jamaica and freed slaves from Nova Scotia. After 1807, colonial governors and the Church Missionary Society founded a series of villages outside Freetown to manage the influx of liberated Africans, and appointed managers, such as Thorpe, to run them as part of the Liberated African Department. Many of these villages still bear their English-sounding names: Hastings, Kent, and York.

Page from a letterbook.EAP443/1/18/7 Liberated African Department; Letterbook [1842-1847]

The Letter Books suggest that the managers combined jobs as administrative heads, magistrates, and experimenters in labour patterns – a local social engineer before ‘decentralisation’ became a buzzword. One of the most noticeable patterns of experimentation was a division of work and opportunities according to whether the Department identified a liberated African as male or female. Managers distributed male apprentices to naval ships, to the West India Regiments, and to settle Tombo (or Tumbu) on the southern fringe of the colony. Although girls went to school, some women were married off soon after arrival, including several ‘Eboe’ women who were presented with husbands soon after disembarking from their slave ship at Freetown’s Liberated African Yard in 1838. Sometimes women worked for ‘respectable married women’ to learn domestic skills until they were eligible for marriage, as a letter from April 1842 attests. The Letter Books give only glimpses of the other work women did beyond the oversight of village managers, such as food hawking or market selling. The lack of choice in deciding labour and domestic relationships may seem surprising, but many contemporary workers in Britain had similar constraints on their choices. The Letter Books continually remind their reader that there were many gradations between enslavement and free labour, and that the processes of moving between them were unpredictable and halting.

The EAP is a cherished window into documentation at the frontier of historical research, and I am grateful to the archivists and researchers whose EAP grants made these sources accessible, to Jody Butterworth for telling me about them at the BL’s Doctoral Open Day for the Africa and Asia collections in 2016, and to the staff who ran a wonderfully helpful open day.

Jake Christopher Richards (University of Cambridge) is conducting doctoral research into the migration and settlement of liberated Africans around the South Atlantic, c. 1839 – 1871.

If you are interested in attending this year's Open Day, it is on Monday 22 January 2018.

05 May 2016

New collections online - April 2016

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In April six collections were made available through the EAP website and BL Sounds. The variety of subjects, locations, and types of record really highlight the broad range of projects that the Endangered Archives Programme is involved in.

EAP190: Digitising archival material pertaining to 'Young India' label gramophone records

1427 recordings can be listened to on BL Sounds

Related record label ephemera, including catalogues and advertisements

Close up of a record label for Young india Young India record and sleeve

The project digitised gramophone records, disc labels, record catalogues and publicity material from ‘The National Gramophone Record Manufacturing Company Ltd. Bombay’, which issued records under the ‘Young India’ label between 1935-1955. The company produced over 10,000 titles on 78-rpm, 10 inch diameter shellac discs with two songs per disc. The recordings of film, popular, classical and folk music, as well as educational material were issued mainly from amateur or up-and-coming artists. They feature music from different regions of India, sung in many different languages. The recordings have never been reissued on audio tape or CD and are therefore now available for many people to listen to for the first time. We have already received some great feedback about this collection, including one person who recalled his music teacher many years ago telling the students about Young India and how he used to be a tabla player for the label and regular D V Paluskar accompanist. He was delighted to find that he could now hear the actual music that his teacher talked about all those years ago. Hopefully, with this collection now available for anyone to listen to worldwide, many more people will discover or rediscover the recordings from the Young India label.

EAP468: To preserve Indian recordings on 'Odeon' label shellac discs

1404 recordings can be listened to on BL Sounds

Related record label ephemera, including catalogues and advertisements

Advert for Odeon, showing a woman picking a lotus from a pond.Odeon record label advert

This project digitised shellac discs, record labels and associated ephemera from the Odeon record label. Odeon label shellac discs were issued in India between 1912-1938. The company produced over 2,000 titles of north and south Indian music. About 600 titles [1,200 songs] have survived and are with private collectors

Odeon label shellac discs were issued in India in two phases: during 1912-16; and during 1932-38. During the first phase, Odeon's first Indian recordings were made in late 1906 on a grand tour that took the engineers from Calcutta to Benares, then on to Lucknow, Cawnpore, Delhi, Amritsar, Lahore, Bombay and finally back to Calcutta. In all, they recorded some 700 titles, which were duly shipped back to Berlin for processing and manufacture in what was then the established worldwide pattern. Disc records manufactured and pressed in Germany were shipped back to India by 1908. Gramophone records were the only mode of public and family entertainment in that period. Because of the diversity of language and cultural taste, Odeon's engineers recorded a great deal of regional music for local consumption. In a time before film music swept regional variations away, Odeon's activities allowed Indians to listen to the music that would otherwise have been irretrievable. Very few disc records from this period have survived.

In the second phase, the Odeon disc manufacturing company operated during 1932-38. Its operations were mainly from Mumbai and Madras and the company produced over 2,000 titles in north and south Indian music. At this time, radio and film songs had just entered the entertainment era. Disc manufacturing and distribution activity continued until the outbreak of World War II. Because of the embargo imposed on German goods, the company had to wind up their business in India, leaving behind hundreds of titles. The musical genre recorded on these discs include drama songs, speeches, folk music, classical music, drama sets, skits and plays, vocal and instrumental music.

EAP462: Preservation of Kaya district colonial archives and assessment of the potential and feasibility of recovering other former district capitals' collections, Burkina Faso

Close up of a telegramEAP462/1/1/6 - Telegrams

This project digitised a wide variety of documents related to the administration of the Cercle de Kaya colonial district. They are of interest to a wide range of historical study fields: population, politics, economy, development, customary law. These documents provide an insight into the local intricacies of the administration, politics, economy and social life of the district.

The material in Kaya though was at risk of neglect, physical deterioration and destruction. The documents were stacked on shelves and on the floor in a shed behind the administrative buildings, exposed to dust and moisture and at the mercy of rats, termites and mildew. More recent documents continued to be piled haphazardly on top of the old colonial ones. These colonial archives that for decades had been piled up in a shed in the former colonial district capital, Kaya, were packed up and transported to the Centre National des Archives (CNA) in Ouagadougou. At the CNA, the documents were thoroughly dusted and subsequently sorted, selected and subjected to an initial analysis. The documents were sorted into 4,200 files, with an average of 20 documents per file. Of these, about 40% were from the period 1919-1960 and eligible for digitisation.

Unfortunately, very little metadata was provided with this collection so file descriptions and titles are very limited. If you would like to volunteer your time to making this collection a more usable resource, please get in touch with us.

EAP650: Grima in Caloto Viejo: archiving Afro-Colombian history

Cover of a file

This project made an inventory of the historical, notarial and judicial collections held in Caloto’s alcaldía (town hall), Colombia, and digitised a sample of the most valuable and damaged documents.

First founded in 1543, Caloto Viejo (Old Caloto) was the administrative capital of a wide region northeast of Popayán that included Native American groups, European settlers, their enslaved Africans, and maroon communities formed by escaped slaves. By the 1940s this rural region had not yet experienced industrialisation, yet many of Caloto Viejo’s towns had become autonomous districts. Now only the head of a small municipality, Caloto still houses the pre-modern documents of Caloto Viejo.

Caloto Viejo’s documents are crucial for Afro-Colombian history. Caloto and adjacent regions of the Cauca constituted the nineteenth century heartland of slavery, with Julio Arboleda’s massive Japio estate in Caloto the towering symbol of landholding power. The archives of Caloto are important for tracing the wider history of elites, native Americans, and Africans, and essential for salvaging the local history of important Afro-Colombian towns such as Puerto Tejada or the scholarly unknown maroon community of Caricacé with unique linguistic traditions, whose documentary history exists only in the endangered collections of Caloto.

EAP688: Digitisation of the Deed books in Saint Vincent for the slavery era, 1763-1838

  Page showing immaculate handwritingEAP688/1/1/72 - Deed book 1822-1823

This project digitised surviving Deed books for Saint Vincent from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

The Eastern Caribbean Court House, St Vincent, holds numerous historic manuscript documents connected with the colonial administration of the island. The earliest records date from 1763, when Saint Vincent was ceded to Britain at the end of the Seven Years’ War, until 1838, the date when Apprenticeship for slaves ended in the British Caribbean and slave emancipation was fully implemented in accordance with the Emancipation Act of 1834.

The Deed books include important material for researchers. After 1763, Saint Vincent was drawn into the orbit of slavery in the British Empire. Its sugar plantation sector expanded rapidly after that date and the island became (along with other Windward Islands such as Dominica, Grenada and Tobago) a new, expanding frontier for British slavery. The Deed books, compiled in the offices of the island’s Colonial Secretary and the Registrar, proved a comprehensive record of all land and property transactions carried out during the seventy-five years when slave plantations were the main type of investment and employment on the island. The Deed books are large bound volumes that are available for every year in the period from 1763 to 1838. The land and property details recorded in these records provide the names of investors, along with their occupation and residence, and precise financial details, either in sterling or in the island’s currency. The information on investors includes whites and free blacks, men and women, and absentee residents (in other West Indian Islands or in Britain) as well as those living in Saint Vincent. The financial information is wide-ranging. Credit transactions are included. Mortgages, annuities, loans and bonds are all specified, with the names of the parties involved. The Deed books contain much material on slave sales between individuals connected with Saint Vincent and they also have information on slave manumissions. Where sugar plantations are identified in these records, the numbers, and sometimes the valuations, of slaves are given. This is particularly useful for researchers for the period from 1763 to 1815 because it was not until after the end of the Napoleonic Wars that slave registration was commonly carried out throughout the British Caribbean.

EAP749: The narrative and ritual texts, narrative paintings and other performance related material belonging to the Buchen of Pin Valley, India

The head of a metal sculpture. The eyes have been painted on.EAP749/2/3/9 - Statue: Kunda (Wylie sku 'dra)

The Buchen are performers of specialist rituals, travelling actors, healers and exorcists, and disciples of the 14th/15th century Tibetan ‘crazy saint’ Tangtong Gyalpo. They reside in the culturally Tibetan Pin Valley in North India and are most famous for performing an elaborate exorcism ritual called the ‘Ceremony of Breaking the Stone’.

Buchen enact dramatisations of popular folk-tales, Buddhist morality plays which illustrate principles of karma and ideas of impermanence and are frequently enlivened with comedy. Buchen spread the teachings of Buddha through entertainment. These performances are related to the Tibetan Opera and to a tradition of lay religious performers called lama manipa, who retell the life stories of Tibetan saints whilst pointing out key scenes on narrative painted cloth scrolls (thangkas) with a metal pointer. Buchen theatrical performances contain a similar manipa-like introduction.

This project digitised or took images of a variety of texts, paintings and objects associated with these traditions, including images of masks, clothing, instruments and objects used in performances; thangkas; handwritten decorated and unbound Tibetan books (pecha).

Painting of the diety Green Tara, depictions of daily life can be seen around the central figure.EAP749/3/2/1 - Drowa Zangmo Thankga

Contemporary photograph of a Buchen in full costume.EAP749/3/4/1 - Meme Buchen in full costume

 

07 January 2016

Freetown and the transatlantic slave trade

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EAP has funded three projects at the Sierra Leone Public Archives (EAP284, EAP443, EAP782) and we are lucky to have a joint blog post written by the grant holders of these projects; Professor Paul Lovejoy (York University) and Professor Suzanne Schwarz (University of Worcester).

Over the past five years, several British Library Endangered Archives projects have focused on preserving documents in the Sierra Leone Public Archives at Freetown which are of enormous importance for an understanding of the transatlantic slave trade and the African diaspora. A long-running programme of digitisation has contributed to the preservation of rare and invaluable sources which are perishing in woefully deficient storage conditions characterised by extremely high humidity. The oldest document held in Freetown is a treaty dated 1788, in which British officials claimed that the land on which the original settlement was built had been granted to ‘the said ffree community to be theirs, their Heirs and successors for ever...’. The treaty, now encased in Perspex, recorded how the land had been secured for a bundle of goods including a ‘Crimson Sattin Embroidered waistcoat, a Lead Coloured Sattin Coat, a Waistcoat and Breeches, a mock Diamond Ring, two pair of Pistols, one Tellascope, Two pair of Gold Ear Rings with Necklasses...’.

  Page of writing.
EAP284/4/1: Treaty from 1788

Among the most important sources held in the Public Archives is a long series of Registers of Liberated Africans (c. 1808-1848), which document the African names and physical characteristics of tens of thousands of Africans, labelled 'recaptives,' released at Freetown from illegal slave-ships by Royal Navy patrols in the aftermath of British abolition of the slave trade. These registers include rare biographical information on the African names and physical appearance of individuals released from slaving voyages originating from all the main provenance zones of the Atlantic slave trade from Senegambia to West-Central Africa.

Page from a register.EAP284/1/1: "Liberated African Department; Register 1814-1815; Nos 4,684 - 7,507"

EAP443_1_17_20_Pt_2-eap443_liberated_african_register_1808_1812_425_LEAP443/1/17/6 Pt 2: Liberated African Department; Register 8529 - 9758 [1816-1817]

As such, the evidence documents the characteristics of Africans who were part of the forced intercontinental migration by sea in the first half of the nineteenth century. Importantly, a number of the registers and letter books from the Liberated African Department include information which makes it possible to reconstruct the subsequent life histories of individuals following their disembarkation at Freetown. This includes details of the enlistment of men and boys in the Royal Navy and Royal African Corps, as well as the ‘disposal’ of men, women and children as apprentices in the colony for periods of up to fourteen years. The role of colonial officials in the dispersion of recaptive children to settlers was modelled to some extent on the example of parish officials in distributing pauper and orphan children in England to reduce the immediate and long-term burden on the rates during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. As such, the ‘disposal’ of Liberated Africans in Sierra Leone emerged as an important test case in the development of prototype systems of apprenticeship for the management of peoples uprooted and displaced by the transatlantic slave trade. This test case had wider ramifications, as principles and systems developed in Freetown were subsequently applied to other national jurisdictions for recaptive Africans in South Africa, Cuba and Brazil as well as in the British colonies of the West Indies and elsewhere following the emancipation of the enslaved population after 1834.

Page of writing.EAP284/1/2: Liberated African Department; Letterbook; 1820-1826; Vol. 1

Letter books in the Liberated African series also record the distribution of 'recaptives' to colony villages, including the settlement of Wilberforce outside Freetown, and their patterns of employment, education and accommodation. The correspondence of colonial governors and letter books that record exchanges with local citizens, missionaries, and merchants have also been digitised.

Page from a register.EAP443/1/3/2: Births; District Freetown [13 Apr 1857-12 Apr 1860]

Series of birth and death registers for Freetown and outlying districts provide evidence that charts the composition of the colony’s population in the second half of the nineteenth century. Subsequent phases of digitisation in the British Library Endangered Archives Programme will include police and court records from the nineteenth century, which include testimonies by Liberated Africans and their descendants. Other materials include Arabic letterbooks involving correspondence with indigenous rulers and officials in the interior of the Colony, records of fugitives who escaped slavery from the hinterland, and registers of children whose status in the Colony was sometimes uncertain, if not dubious.

These projects have received additional support from the University of Worcester and the Harriet Tubman Institute for Research on Africa and its Diasporas at York University, Canada.

18 February 2015

Stories they tell: clues from endangered archives

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Documents, manuscripts, photographs and sound recordings that capture much of the world’s memory are preserved in vulnerable collections around the globe. If they perish, part of history is irrevocably lost. In the past, efforts to preserve these collections and make them available for scholarly interpretation often meant removing them to the safety of western libraries. Though well intentioned, these actions frequently had unintended consequences. Preserved and available to scholars, the materials became inaccessible to the communities whose history they captured. This had a twofold effect: it impaired the communities’ ability to write their own history and at the same time, by detaching documents from original context, led to the loss of an important layer of historical information.

A courtyard of a monastery with monks digitising outside.
EAP039 Buddhist manuscripts from the library of the remote Gangtey monastery in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan © Dr Karma Phuntsho

The Endangered Archives Programme uses digitisation to preserve records and to make them freely accessible to all, without removing original materials from their custodians. Whenever possible the projects help the keepers to secure the survival of the original documents. Because the materials are often too fragile to be handled on a regular basis, the digital surrogates frequently provide the only point of access not only for scholars worldwide, but also for local readers. By making digital records available to all, the programme ensures that the history they capture is open to wide audiences, multiple perspectives and diverse interpretations.

Inside someones home, the walls are med from reeds. Three men smile and look very happy. Two of them stand by a metal trunk.
EAP334 Locating and digitising manuscripts in Wolof Ajami script, written by members of the Muridiyya Sufi order founded in Senegal in 1883 © Dr Fallou Ngom

The “From Dust to Digital” volume, which marks the 10th anniversary of the Endangered Archives Programme, showcases the historical importance and research potential of the digitised collections. The open access online version of the book is designed to ensure that not only the primary sources, but also the research they have inspired, are freely available to all. The book brings together 19 articles from the 244 projects that the programme has supported since its inception. We asked the authors to focus on the digitised collections, but gave them complete freedom in choosing specific questions they wanted to explore. The intention was to ensure that the volume illustrates a wide range of research that the EAP collections make possible.

Front cover of the book From Dust to Digital

The chapters discuss inscriptions in Libya; manuscripts in India, Ethiopia, Kenya and Mali; archival records in Bulgaria, Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Nigeria, Senegal, Palestine; photographic collections in Argentina, India, Russia and Cameroon; and sound recordings from Guinea, Iran and the Russian Federation. The articles tackle the fundamental problems of transcribing and translating – sometimes for the very first time – languages that have nearly fallen silent. They investigate historical transmission of texts and explore the processes underlying collection formation. They bring to light unknown events and cast new light on historical phenomena. They provide vivid insights into local and even personal histories. 

Three men look directly at the camera, they stand next to three large piles of Ethiopian manuscripts.
EAP526 The priests of May Wäyni monastery with their manuscripts, Ethiopia © Professor Michael Gervers

Many of the contributions stress the importance of the original context for our understanding of the materials. The physical location of inscriptions within a landscape; the ceremonies preceding a reading of a manuscript; the place that a manuscript or a photograph holds within a larger collection, are all important for our interpretation of these documents. Without them we can only see a part of the story.

Most of the sources discussed here were not previously subjects of scholarly attention. We hope that this publication will open new debates and inspire scholars to explore the archives preserved by the Endangered Archives Programme. We also hope that open access to both the primary sources and to the articles in the “From Dust to Digital” volume will encourage future authors to make their research freely available to all.

  The Chief Executive of the British Library, with Ambassador of the Lao Embassy and the third Secretary.Roly Keating, Chief Executive of the British Library, with Ambassador of the Lao Embassy, H.E. Mr. Sayakane Sisouvong and the 3rd Secretary, Mr Moungkhoun Chansavath at the book launch held at the Library on the 17th February 2015.


Piles of the book 'From Dust to Digital' with two people browsing through one of the copies.
Gabriela Ramos and Evelyne Mesclier browsing through the publication.

Dr Maja Kominko

Cultural Grants Manager at Arcadia and the editor for the publication “From Dust to Digital”