18 February 2015
Stories they tell: clues from endangered archives
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”
20 March 2014
Flowers of Persian Song and Music
Today is Persian New Year known as Nowruz. It celebrates the first day of spring and so to mark
the occasion we have another guest blog, this time from Jane Lewisohn who was
the grant holder for EAP088, a project about Persian poetry and music.
The Golha (‘Flowers of Persian Song and Music’) radio programmes were broadcast on Iranian National Radio for 23 years from 1956 through 1979, comprising approximately 850 hours of programmes made up of literary commentary with the declamation of poetry, which was sung with musical accompaniment interspersed with solo musical pieces. The programmes were the brainchild of Davoud Pirnia, a one-time Assistant Prime Minister, enthusiastic patriot and scholar who harboured a deep love for Persian culture and its rich literary and musical traditions. He retired from political life in 1956, for the next eleven years he devoted himself tirelessly to producing of the Golha programmes. The foremost literary, academic and musical talents of his day offered Mr. Pirnia their collaboration and support. The greatest Iranian vocalists of the twentieth century saw their careers launched on these radio programmes. Besides having such a rich pool of talent at his fingertips, Mr Pirnia had the support of the Director of the Iranian National Radio (1950–1960s), Nusrato’llah Mu‘niyan who transformed the radio from a commercial advertising platform for entertainers and a parking place for relatives of political elites into a respected and influential vehicle for the preservation and promotion of Persian culture. The Golha programmes became exemplars of excellence in the sphere of music literature, setting standards that are still looked up to in Iran today, referred to by scholars and musicians as an encyclopaedia of Persian music and poetry. Most of the great ballads and songs in modern Persian literature were commissioned specifically for these programmes.
Mr. Pirnia produced five different categories of programme: ‘Perennial Flowers’ (Golha-yi javidan, up to 157), ‘Particoloured Flowers’ (Golha -yi rangarang, 481), ‘A Green’ (Barg-i sabz, 312), ‘A Single Rose’ (Yik shakh-i gol, 465), ‘Desert Flowers’ (Golha-yi ṣaḥra’i, 64), each featuring choice selections from the lyrics of the great classical, and contemporary Persian poets, combining song, declamation with musical accompaniment, learned commentary and Persian folk music.
The Golha marked a watershed in Persian culture. Heretofore, due to the conservative socio-religious bias, serious music had been practised behind closed doors. Where performed in public spaces, performers were branded as street minstrels. Due to the high literary and musical quality of these programmes, public perception of music and musicians in Iran shifted and its participants became referred to—for the first time—as maestros, virtuosos, divas and adepts of a fine art, no longer inhabiting the lowest rung of the social ladder.
The Golha programmes were so popular that people organized their schedules around listening to the broadcasts. The Golha programmes also evoked a neo-classical revival in Persian song and verse of the late Qajar period which were re-interpreted and performed by modern musicians and vocalists, and likewise promoted Persian vernacular music that was carefully researched, recorded, and broadcast, thus helping to preserve both the vernacular and classical traditions of Persian music and poetry which were under threat from influences outside and within Iran that wished to modernize the society.
The most important effect of the Golha programmes on Iranian society, (illiteracy was 85% in the 1950s –1960s), was that they accustomed people to hearing good poetry and good music, re-introducing over 560 Persian poets from the ancients to the moderns, thus reinvigorating interest in classical Persian literature. The Divans of poets never properly edited and published before suddenly became in high demand!
Abdolvahab Shahidi with accompanying musicians © Golha Project
When Pirnia retired 1967, several other musicians, scholars and poets, succeeded him. In 1972, Hushang Ibtihaj, a well-known modern Persian poet, took responsibility for the programmes, changing their name, consolidating all the various types of ‘flowers’ into one programme called ‘Fresh Flowers’ (Golha-yi tazeh, 201). Ebtehaj patronized the revival of interest in Persian music of the Qajar period (1794-1925); as a partial result of Ebtehaj’s vision, a movement to preserve and cultivate the traditions of Persian urban art music is still alive and flourishing in present-day Iran.
The “Golha Project” began in early 2005 with a pilot project supported by the Iran Heritage Foundation, the British Institute of Persian Studies and the Department of Music at SOAS to see if was possible to collect, archive and digitalise the Golha programmes. Following the success of the pilot project, over the next two years, with the support of the Department of Music at SOAS and British Library Endangered Archives Programme (EAP), assisted by many generous private and institutional collectors in Iran, France, Germany, Canada and the United States, all the Golha programmes were collected. In July 2007, a digital copy of the complete Golha archive was deposited in the British Library’s World Sound Archive.
In 2008, the second phase of the Golha project was launched, supported by the Iran Heritage Foundation, the British Academy, the Parsa Foundation, British Institute of Persian Studies and the Department of Music at SOAS. To construct a searchable, relational database for the Golha programmes which includes bio-bibliographical data on the performers and authors, photographs, musical notation of the songs and transcriptions of the poetry. The database is searchable through a purpose-built website allowing one to search it by programme name, number, singer of the avaz and tarana, song writer, poet of the avaz, first line of the song or poem sung, name of the song, instrument, musician, composer, name of poet whose poetry is sung or declaimed, poetic genre, dastgah or avaz and gusha of the music performed, etc.
The searchable relational database for this important archive, has become a unique cultural resource for students and lovers of Persian culture and a teaching tool for Persian music and Persian literature in many Universities in Europe and North America, was launched in August 2012, with the support of Iran Heritage Foundation, and is available Completely free for all to access at. www.golha.co.uk.
Since 2005, many other archives and important collections have been collected by or donated to the Golha project, including folk recordings, private recordings and additional archives of radio programmes, comprising thousands of hours of twentieth-century Persian music. Some of these resources have already been digitalised, but over 1000 reel and cassette recordings still need to be digitalised, archived, indexed and included in the Golha database. It is our hope that in its future phases, the Golha Project will find the support it needs to make this intangible cultural heritage of Iran freely available to all there by the revealing the important role Iran’s cultural heritage has played in shaping world culture.
For more information on the Golha project please refer to
http://www.iranheritage.org/golha_project/default.htm or [email protected].
Jane Lewisohn director of the Golha Project
Research associate Music Department SOAS, University of London
14 April 2011
March Accessions Part Two
As promised, here are the details of the other four projects which submitted material to the EAP in March:
EAP298 Preserving endangered ethnographic audiovisual materials of expressive culture in Peru
This project builds on the work and achievements of the EAP022 project conducted by the Institute of Ethnomusicology at the Catholic University of Peru. That project digitised audiovisual material documenting Peruvian ritual dance, music and drama from the provinces of Cajamarca, Ancash and Junin; this follow up project will digitise material from the provinces of Ayacucho, Arequipa and Puno, located to the south of Lima, and culturally and linguistically distinct from the Northern provinces.
EAP357 Identifying endangered monastic collections in the Saharti and Enderta regions of Tigray, Ethiopia
Project EAP357 is undertaking a survey of monastic libraries in the Saharti and Enderta regions of Tigray, Northern Ethiopia. More information can be found in our January Accessions blog.
EAP365 Preservation of Makassarese Lontara' pilot project
This pilot project aims to discover and evaluate collections of Lontara' manuscripts in the Makassarese language of South Sulawesi, Indonesia. Written in two syllabaries, with the oldest extant manuscripts dating back to the 17th century, Lontara' manuscripts consist largely of chronicles or histories of local kingdoms, collections of rules relating to customary law, and court diaries and daybooks. The project will digitise a selection of the materials surveyed, and will investigate the feasibility of conducting a large scale digitisation project.
EAP399 Historical collections of manuscripts located at the al-Jazzar mosque library in Acre
The al-Jazzar Mosque library (al-Ahmadiyya) in the city of Acre in northern Israel is home to a large collection of unique Arabic language manuscripts. Dating back to the 14th century, the surviving manuscripts are tightly bound and have been damaged through constant use, the lack of a comprehensive preservation programme, and inhospitable environmental conditions.
The project digitised 54 manuscripts, creating 17,965 image files which will be made accessible to researchers at the al-Jazzar Mosque library and the British Library.
27 October 2010
UNESCO World Day for Audiovisual Heritage
Just a quick post to draw your attention to the fact that today is the UNESCO World Day for Audiovisual Heritage, established to raise awareness of the value of audiovisual material , and the challenges we face in ensuring its preservation for current and future generations. The UNESCO web pages have more information about the day, including details of a programme of short films to be screened in Paris this evening in celebration.
EAP projects have digitised a range of audiovisual materials, documenting such varied performances and events as Chinese Dongjing performances, initiation rites for the Dagara Bagr cult of Northern Ghana and Southern Burkina Faso, records created by the East Timor Commission on Return, Truth and Reconciliation from 2002-2004, and recordings of North Indian Classical Music.
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