THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Endangered archives blog

24 posts categorized "South Asia"

30 September 2020

New Collections Online - September 2020

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As the UK transitions from summer to autumn, EAP continues to publish newly digitised content. So as autumn leaves drift by your window, why not let these digital collections keep your curiosity warm?

From religious and mathematical manuscripts in South Asia and West Africa to colonial administration in East Africa and slavery related records in the Caribbean, these recently published collections once again represent the wide breadth of material that has and continues to be digitised by EAP project teams all over the world.

EAP913 - Arabic manuscripts from the Yattara Family Library, Timbuktu, Mali

Three photos of the digitsation process

The Yattara family library is a private manuscript collection that has been developed over centuries by a prominent family from the Malian city of Timbuktu. It consists of approximately 4,000 largely uncatalogued manuscripts ranging from single folio letters and historical documents to 100+ folio texts from diverse fields of Islamic studies.

This pilot project aimed to orchestrate initial cataloguing and triage preservation for the collection and to digitise a representative sample of the library’s holdings. The project team digitised 50 manuscripts, which are now free to access on the EAP website.

Although the collection originates from Timbuktu,  the manuscripts themselves were widely traded and have likely been produced in various parts of the regions surrounding that historical centre of scholarship. Most of the works date from the late 18th to the early 20th century and show the varied nature of manufacture and preservation of manuscripts from this region.

Currently, the material is located in Bamako after the library was moved for protection when Timbuktu was occupied by jihadist insurgents in 2012.

EAP1013 - Wills, Deed Books, and Power of Attorney records from the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, St Vincent

EAP1013_1_4_SEGMENT

This project sought to digitise documents relating to slavery and the immediate post-slavery era held at the Eastern Caribbean Courthouse, Kingstown, Saint Vincent. The digital collection includes:

Saint Vincent was an important sugar producing colony of the British Empire and the documents contain extensive information on land transactions, plantation ownership, testamentary practices, and slaveholding. These records are essential for investigation of slavery and plantation life on Saint Vincent and the post-slavery period from 1834 to 1865.

This pilot project was an extension of two previously completed investigations (EAP345 and EAP688) that digitised Deed Books for Saint Vincent.

EAP1063 - Mathematical Manuscripts from Pre-Modern India

Three photos of the digitsation process

This pilot project created a survey of historical Tamil and Malayalam language sources concerning mathematical practices among various occupations, communities, and institutions of teaching and learning. It digitised seven collections of manuscripts identified by the survey.

One surprising aspect of the survey was the large amount of manuscripts concerning architecture, which are often called the Manaiyadi Sastiram or Manai Alankaram and have hitherto received little attention from historians.

EAP1231 - District Administration Reports from the Colonial Territory Nyasaland (Malawi)

Image of the archive building and a digitised document
The National Archives of Malawi (left); EAP1231/1/4, Annual Report for Cholo District, 1934 (right)

This project digitised the annual reports produced by colonial administrators in the various districts of the Nyasaland [Malawi], between 1934-1935. These reports cover a wide range of topics including:

  • Agriculture
  • Cinema
  • Commerce
  • Crime
  • Education
  • Finance
  • Forestry
  • Health and Medicine
  • Industries
  • Land usage and boundaries
  • Law and legal affairs
  • Migration
  • Missionaries
  • Nature conservation
  • Weather

We will be publishing more digitised collections in the coming days, weeks, and months. To keep up-to-date, follow us on Twitter @bl_eap

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.

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!

26 May 2020

New projects online - May 2020

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May has been another busy month for new EAP projects going online. Here we showcase the first four now freely available, which cover a wide range of topics and regions.

EAP810 - Siddha Medicine Manuscripts, Tamil Nadu, India

Siddha refers to the traditional medical system of Tamil Nadu, India. Although recognised by the government of India, siddha medicine has not been systematically studied, partly due to the difficulty of access to its texts, mostly in form of manuscripts, kept in libraries or held by practitioners. This project makes these vital sources of traditional medicine available for research.

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

These palm leaf manuscripts cover a large range of subjects, including general siddha medicine and medical specialities such as acupressure, baby and mother care, eye diseases or toxicology (snake and scorpion bites; food and medicine intoxication), and socio-cultural topics rooted in the siddha tradition such as mantra, philosophy, alchemy, spirituality, and astrology.

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

EAP 931 - Indigenous Memories of Land Privatisation in Mexico

The privatization of indigenous lands—the reparto de tierras—is an epochal but poorly understood process in Mexican history. It is largely trapped in narratives of liberal nation‐building or postcolonial despoilment. Yet how did indigenous people actually experience/navigate the reparto? Was it ethnocide, or ethnogenesis? As the one complete surviving record of a state-wide Mexican reparto, the hijuelas promise historians valuable insights into a major agrarian/economic transformation and a deeper understanding of changes in indigenous notions of property, agricultural practice, ethnic rule, and identity.

The Libros de Hijuelas (“deed books” or “bequest books” in English) consist of 196 leather-bound volumes containing 75,000 documents dating from 1719‐1929, with additional copies of earlier, 16th‐ or 17th‐century documents. All the documents pertain to, or are precursors of, a centrally important historical process: the dissolution and privatisation of indigenous corporate property under 19th‐century liberal governments, in this case in the western state of Michoacán, Mexico.

These books contain:

  • Legal acts
  • Cadastral surveys
  • Village censuses
  • Hand‐tinted maps
  • Letters

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

EAP931 team in the digitisation room
The EAP931 project team

The hijuelas collection is unique in that it presents the pre‐history and a complete account of the privatisation process across a whole state, the collection as a whole being organized according to the 16 political districts into which Michoacán was divided.

EAP938 - Diplomatic archives of Merina Kingdom, Madagascar

This project digitised the diplomatic archives of the Merina Kingdom, which dominated Madagascar during the 19th century. These documents (1861-1897) which have been part of the UNESCO Memory of the World Register since 2009 illustrate the encounter between the precolonial kingdom of Madagascar, the abolitionist and religious policies of the United Kingdom and the French territorial ambitions in the Indian Ocean.

Both quantitatively and qualitatively, these documents are a rare and perfect example of the diplomacy of a non-Western State in the nineteenth century. These documents reveal the influence the kingdom tried to obtain among different Western governments and show the connection of the Merina kingdom of Madagascar with the rest of the world, prior to the advent of colonialism.

The availability will surely herald new insights on the pre-colonial period and the construction of the colonial state.

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

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

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

This collection is invaluable because it contains printed material dating from the period of transition from manuscript to print in the Arabic/Islamic tradition. Its known provenance and diverse nature gives insight into the Islamic history of East Africa.

The materials range from locally printed pamphlets to books printed in Cairo, from basic instruction to legal manuals, many with handwritten commentary by East Africa's leading scholars, as well as early locally printed Arabic-Swahili translations. The collection is a "snapshot" of an intellectual tradition in transition and a cross-section of the nascent networks of print in Islamic Africa.

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

11 May 2020

New projects online - April 2020

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We have another four new projects we can share with you this month that have recently been made available online. If you didn't read last month's blog you can see it here. It features projects from Kenya, Senegal, Uganda, and the small Caribbean island of Nevis. On to this month's projects:

  • Pa'O religious and literary manuscripts from Shan State, Myanmar [EAP104]
  • records relating to the Tamil Protestant community of the Jaffna Peninsula, Sri Lanka [EAP835]
  • colonial records from the French colony of Middle Congo (Republic of the Congo) [EAP844]
  • Sanskrit and Malayalam manuscripts from monasteries in Thrissur, Kerala, India [EAP1039]

EAP104

The manuscripts digitised during this project constitute the largest and most comprehensive Pa'O literary and religious studies resource outside of Pa'O regions in Myanmar and Thailand. The original manuscripts, a mixture of parabaik (accordion folded paper manuscripts), bound scrolls, and palm-leaf manuscripts, are owned by the Pa'O Literary and Cultural Council Committee Library in Taunggyi, Shan State, Myanmar. The texts consist mainly of Pa’O interpretations of the Theravada Buddhist canon, though other particularly interesting manuscripts include those that document Pa'O dynasties and claims on important historical sites in contemporary Myanmar. There are 71 manuscripts in total, the majority of them in the Pa’O language.

Lokadippa lokavvat‘ phrekyam-600wide
Page from a manuscript - Lokadippa Lokavvat‘ Phrekyam [EAP104]

EAP835

The aim of this ‘pilot’ project was to survey the print and manuscript materials of the Tamil Protestant community of Jaffna in Sri Lanka. There is a wealth of material documenting this community and the role of missionaries from the UK and United States. The American Ceylon Mission press for example printed more than 500,000 evangelical tracts in a 17-year period leading up to 1840. Much of this is Tamil-language translations of American texts, but there are also significant amounts of material relating to Tamil epic poetry and literature, ethical treatises, pedagogical works, devotional literature, and many polemical essays on Saivism and Christian‐Saivite exchanges.


The project surveyed 10 institutional and 3 private archives. They digitised a sample of records including church record books, correspondence between Missions, lists of parishes, issues of St. John’s College Magazine, and more from 5 of these institutions. You can read the survey reports and lists on the project page, as well as see a sample of 27 records that were digitised.

Eap835-3-1-religious tract society600wide
EAP835/3/1 - Religious Tract Society

EAP844

This pilot project set out to locate and document colonial archives from the former French colony of Middle Congo, in present-day Pointe-Noire, Republic of the Congo. While archives in Brazzaville have been more widely studied, the archives in Pointe-Noire have largely been unknown and inaccessible to researchers.


Research was carried out in three main archives:

  • Archives Municipales de Pointe-Noire (integrated into the city's town hall)
  • Archives de la Préfecture de Pointe-Noire (APPN-CON)
  • Archives du Chemin de Fer Congo-Océan (ACFCO-CON)


A survey and inventory of some of the holdings are available on the project page. The survey explains the history and provenance of the archives and their collections, and should be used as the starting point for exploring them. The project team also digitised a small sample of 3 dossiers from the APPN-CON containing mostly colonial era administration documents. These feature a wide-range of topics including: the impact of WW2 in the area; smuggling networks; development of trade unions; the ‘messianic’ movements of Lassyism (Bougism); xenophobic outbreaks against Dahomean and Togolese immigrants; social life in the Loango region.


Just from this small sample alone, it’s clear that these archives may have wide research interest, especially considering the amount of material that is uncatalogued. The team also estimated an additional 2500 ‘boxes’ of archival material at APPN-CON that they were unable to survey due to the time restraints of this small project. There obviously may be much more to discover. Whilst the focus was on colonial era records the team also sampled the vast trove of postcolonial records found in the archives. APPN-CON’s archive of postcolonial documents was singled out for its “spectacular possibilities” for research. 

Eap844-600wide
Example of a document digitised for the EAP844 project

EAP1039

This pilot project produced a survey of 238 of the 800 palm leaf manuscripts held in four monasteries that constitute the Hindu monastic complex of Thrissur in Kerala, India. This collection contains rare unpublished Sanskrit and Malayalam works, especially in the field of non-dualist philosophy (Advaita-Vedānta), Kerala history and hagiography. It therefore constitutes an invaluable resource for the study of the religious and social history of Kerala in the pre-modern times. 54 of these manuscripts were digitised and are now available to view online.

Eap1039-600wide
Example of a document digitised for the EAP1039 project

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.

20 January 2020

Using Urdu Periodicals to Uncover Women's Voices in India

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In this post, Sabera Bhayat, a PhD student at the University of Warwick tells us how she has used EAP digital collections in her research on Urdu periodicals, which she has just presented at the Print Unbound conference earlier this month.

Planning a PhD project, which includes an ambitious list of primary sources, can raise concerns of practicality over comprehensiveness. Besides the many primary materials located in various archives both in India and the UK, I had discovered a number of Indian vernacular language periodicals that would be particularly relevant to my own research.

My research examines the discursive history of polygamy in India from the late nineteenth to the early twentieth century. I explore how polygamy was invented as a specifically ‘Muslim’ problem, and how this problem was then articulated by different groups in South Asia during this period. A major element of my research includes Indian Muslim women’s own discourses on polygamy, and how they sought change to such practices within a wider movement for their social reform. As few women were literate during this time and fewer still left written records, a major source for accessing these women’s voices was the Urdu periodical, which had been established for the very purpose of promoting female education and social reform.

However, these Urdu language periodicals were scattered between several archives in India, which would have included much time travelling between distant locations. It is by chance, and a simple internet search, that I came across the extensive project of the Endangered Archives Programme (EAP) at the British Library. I was thrilled to find that the very Urdu periodicals that I was hoping to consult for my research had been digitised and were available to consult online, at my own pace and in my own time.

Cover illustration of magazine

Tahzib-i nisvan (Volume 35, Issue 19) [1932] EAP566/2/1/21/19

One of the periodicals that has been essential to my research, called Tahzib un-Niswan, (The Women’s Reformer) (EAP566/2/1), had been published bimonthly over fifty years, with over a thousand issues printed between 1898 and 1950. To have taken even a sample of these from each year would have taken much time. However, I was delighted to find that over nine hundred issues had been digitised and were available for me to consult online. This meant I could easily browse through as many issues as I had time for. As one of the more radical mouthpieces of the Indian Muslim women’s movement during the early twentieth century, Tahzib un-Niswan provides insights into the awakening to a Muslim feminist consciousness and campaigns for the acquisition of women’s rights.

Besides Tahzib un-Niswan, EAP has made available a range of Urdu periodicals from South Asia, including issues of Ismat (Modesty) [1908-1993] (EAP566/1/2) and Khatun (Lady/Gentlewoman) [1904-1914] (EAP566/5/1). These two periodicals were also instrumental in the promotion of female education for Muslim women during the early twentieth century and their social reform.

Cover illustration of magazine

Ismat (Volume 52, Issue 3) [1934] EAP566/1/2/6/1

Khatun

Khatun (Volume 3, Issue 1) [1906] EAP566/5/1/1/1

The convenience of accessing digitised materials through EAP has been very useful to my research and enabled me to deliver a talk at the Print Unbound Conference early this year. This conference, organised by Contextual Alternate, brought together a range of scholars working with newspapers and periodicals from Asia. This gave me the opportunity to share my research on Urdu periodicals and the role they played in the Indian Muslim women’s movement during the first half of the twentieth century. The research conducted for this paper was made possible almost entirely through access to the Urdu periodicals digitised through EAP. 

Exploring the material made available through EAP has also alerted me to further sources both in Hindi and Urdu that I would otherwise have not known about and that I plan to consult for further research into the history of women in India. These include a range of Hindi language periodicals and published literature that will further enrich my research and bring light to women’s voices that may otherwise have been lost.

Blog written by Sabera Bhayat, a third year PhD student in the History Department, at the University of Warwick

If you are just starting your PhD and would like to attend one of the British Library's Doctoral Open Days, please check the website for dates throughout 2020.