11 August 2021
This month's round-up of newly available collections features archives from Nepal, Serbia, and Ghana.
- Digitisation of the photographic collection from DirghaMan and GaneshMan Chitrakar Art Foundation [EAP838]
- Safeguarding the fragile collection of the private archive of the Lazic family [EAP833]
- Safeguarding the British Colonial and Regional Administrative Archive in Northern Ghana [EAP935]
This important and unique collection of photographs gives a fascinating insight into life in Nepal at a time when the country was under self-imposed isolation from the outside world. During this period cameras were still quite rare and only owned by the elites and court photographers. As a result, there are relatively few photographic records documenting late 19th and early 20th Century Nepal.
The collection consists of images taken by the Royal Painter and Court Photographer Dirgha Man Chitrakar (1877-1951), and his only son Ganesh Man Chitrakar (1916-1985), who took over the role in 1945. Dirgha Man was a skilled painter and employed in the palace from the age of 14. After his brother received treatment from the Court Physician, Dirgha Man presented him with a painted medallion as a way of thanks. Prime Minister Chandra Shamsher (ruled 1901-1929) saw this medallion and impressed with the painting skills, decided to employ him as Royal Painter and Court Photographer in his palace. This important role enabled him to capture court and local life, official events and state visits that otherwise would not have been recorded.
After his father retired at the age of 71, Ganesh Man took over the role of Royal Painter and Court Photographer. After the country opened up to the outside world at the end of the Rana rule in 1951, Ganesh Man then worked for USAID as Chief Photographer where he documented the landscape of Kathmandu Valley and the surrounding cities. He made the first aerial photographs in 1955 and was the first person in the country to develop colour slides. He also opened a black and white photo studio, Ganesh Photo Lab., in 1971.
Their photographs are a rich resource that captures key moments in Nepal’s history. The photographs include portraits, diplomatic visits, landscapes, historic structures, and festivals. They capture images of urbanization, changes in the lifestyle and infrastructural transformation in Nepal. The collection is not only one family’s patrimony but also an account of Nepal’s history.
EAP833 - The Lazic family private archive
This project digitised and preserved valuable private archives and library collections owned by the Lazić family in Serbia, who for six generations have collected important and rare material. Aleksandar Lazić (1846–1916) was the founder and owner of the Library until 1910 when his son Luka Lazić (1876-1946) took over and enriched the collection with material documenting the Great War. He acquired much of the material in or around the battlefield and continued to purchase related material until his death in 1946. Along with his son and successor Milorad Lazić (1912–1977), they also accumulated a significant collection of law books. The majority of these were acquired between 1930-1950 and are crucial for theoretical and historical research of the Serbian state, law, and society. The collection has continued to grow as other members of the Lazić family care for this important archive.
Much of this material relating to the First World War is unique and not found in any other library or archive. The collection includes Serbian newspapers printed in exile in Corfu and Thessaloniki during the Austro-Hungarian occupation of Serbia. There are also copies of the rare journal ‘Pregled Listova’, published in Geneva for members of the Serbian government in exile.
This project continued the work of two previous EAP projects (EAP256 and EAP541) to digitise the material from the Public Records and Archives Administration (PRAAD) in Tamale, northern Ghana. During the earlier projects, the research team was able to assess PRAAD’s collection of rare historical records on the colonial administration and history of Northern Ghana, resulting in a comprehensive survey of the Northern Regional Administration Records and District Assembly Records collections. Subsequently, through the EAP541 Major project, the research team digitised five records series amounting to 126,239 images. The EAP935 project completed this work by digitising a further eight collections, adding over 212,000 images to the archive from three regions of the Northern Territories of the Gold Coast: Northern region records collections, Upper West Region records collection and Upper East Region records collection.
05 February 2021
We have a bumper blog this month, covering new projects that went online at the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021. While access to physical archives is currently restricted in many parts of the world, digital archives are increasingly important. Here are five recently digitised collections that are now freely available to access online:
- Nineteenth-century records in the Sierra Leone Public Archives [EAP782]
- Sanskrit Manuscripts and Books in the State of Jammu and Kashmir [EAP886]
- Manuscripts and Archival Documents of Russian Old Believers Escapists (Skrytniks) [EAP1017]
- Tibetan Bonpo Manuscripts [EAP1077]
- Thai-Mon palm-leaf manuscripts [EAP1123]
The EAP782 project team led by Professor Suzanne Schwarz digitised police, court, and colonial records housed at the Sierra Leone Public Archives.
The documents span a period from the formation of the British Crown colony of Sierra Leone to the formation of the Sierra Leone Protectorate. These records offer significant insights into the lives of inhabitants of the region.
These provide rare insight into the life experiences of formerly enslaved people and their descendants. By the mid-nineteenth century, the population was comprised mainly of liberated Africans (and their descendants) drawn from across West Africa. The digitised records reveal the practices used by successive colonial governors to re-settle tens of thousands of liberated Africans in Freetown and surrounding colonial villages, including Regent and Wilberforce.
The police and court records include the depositions of witnesses, as well as those brought before the court for different offences. Testimony from formerly enslaved people is particularly rare, and provides a basis for reconstructing biographical information on individuals uprooted and displaced by the Atlantic slave trade.
Led by Mr Chetan Pandey, the EAP886 project team digitised 46 books and manuscripts located in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, in India. In particular, they focussed on material relating to:
- Kashmir Shaivism (a Tantric school of Mysticism indigenous to Kashmir)
The EAP1017 project team, led by Dr Irina Belayeva, digitised manuscripts and documents of the Skrytniks (Old Believers Escapists) - a social group that was in opposition to the Russian state, first to the Russian Empire and then to the Soviet Union.
The digitised material shows the structure of Skrytniks, their traditions, faith and intercommunication with other social groups.
EAP1077 - Tibetan Bonpo Manuscripts
Dr Valentina Punzi and the EAP1077 team digitised 6 collection of Tibetan manuscripts belonging to private households in the Qinghai Province of China. These include rare and unique ritual texts from the late 19th and early 20 centuries.
EAP1123 - Thai-Mon palm-leaf manuscripts
The Mons of Thailand and Burma were regional, cultural, and religious intermediaries and supported a palm leaf manuscript tradition into the 1920s. The EAP1123 project team, led by Dr Patrick McCormick, conducted a survey of 28 temples in and around Bangkok.
They also digitised a sample of manuscripts from six collections. Many of these texts are unknown in Burma, but they are key to understanding recent history in the region and the Mon role in intellectual history.
Combined, the survey and digitisation sample provide important insights into the history of the Mons in Thailand and Burma.
We will be continuing to publish more digital collections in the coming weeks, so keep an eye out for those!
01 December 2020
Again it's the time of month to round-up which EAP funded projects are newly available online to view over the past few weeks. This month we have made available the following four projects:
- Photographic archive of the ‘Vasile Parvan’ Institute of Archaeology, Bucharest, Romania [EAP816]
- The Last National Newspapers in Mongolia Printed in Traditional Script [EAP890]
- District Administration Books for Regions in the Former British Colonial Territory of Nyasaland (Malawi) [EAP920]
- Documents from the Archives of Land Registration Division and Lands Commission of Ghana [EAP1119]
Continue reading for summaries of these projects, and to find out what we've made available previously, take a look at our other recent monthly posts.
This project was previously on an old version of the EAP website. Due to some technical issues it has only just been made available to view again.
The ‘Vasile Parvan’ Institute of Archaeology’s photography archive provides a unique source of information for archaeological research in Romania, especially of the Black Sea region. Over 2000 photographs have been digitised showing a wide range of activities covering the period 1875-1925. A large number of archaeological sites and monuments, then surviving across Romania, are represented in a vast array of excavation, exploration and restoration photographs. Many of the archaeological sites and landscapes represented in the photographs, along with a host of medieval churches and many villages, were totally destroyed during and after the two World Wars.
The majority of the earliest material focuses on the Romanian Black Sea area, a region called Dobrogea, the richest region of Romania in terms of its archaeological heritage. It also used to be the most ethnically diverse region of Romania and until the end of World War I was one of the most rural and arid. In the 1960s and 1970s huge agricultural programmes resulted in the loss of entire villages along with archaeological remains.
Archaeological artefacts – pottery, sculptures, metal objects – are also represented, along with other items of major historical importance: objects of religious art, paintings, sculptures and fabrics, many of them subsequently destroyed or lost, sometimes plundered by German, Russian or other troops during the wars that have affected Romania in the past 150 years. The on-site images include extremely beautiful local ethnographic photographs and rural landscape images depicting a world long gone.
This project digitised over 900 editions of two newspapers held at the Sukhbaatar District Library, Mongolia. These newspapers were the last printed in the traditional Mongolian script before the change to using Cyrillic in 1945. The editions cover a period of major national and international change: 1936-1945.
The two newspaper titles are available to view here:
You may also be interested in this recently published blog post which looks into some of the issues surrounding the change from traditional Mongolian script to Cyrillic:
EAP920 - District Administration Books for Regions in the Former British Colonial Territory of Nyasaland (Malawi)
This project digitised District Notebooks created by officers during the British colonial rule of Nyasaland, now Malawi. These notebooks were used to record detailed information regarding local institutions, people, and customs. It was deemed important to record in order to serve the interests of government, as well as for anthropologists and other potential users of this information. All British officers who served as District Commissioners were required to maintain such notebooks, which were then handed over to succeeding officers.
Common subjects dealt with in the district notebooks included 'handing in' and 'taking over' notes, tribal history, notes on population and statistics, succession and inheritance, native social beliefs and customs, health and sanitation, economics, labour, natural history, military medals, metrology etc.
These books were originally located in the respective districts of Dedza, Dowa, Fort Manning, (Mchinji), Karonga, Kasunga, Kota-kota (Nkhota-kota), Lilongwe, Mzimba, and Nkhatabay. As part of this project these books were relocated for preservation at the National Archive of Malawi.
This pilot project digitised a small selection of deed and mortgage registers, as well as some additional related records. The records were all created in the period 1843-1909 when Ghana was part of the British colony known as the Gold Coast. These records are an important source for research into land ownership and the registration and acquisition of land for public purposes. Other potential avenues of research identified include the commercial and industrial activities of named persons, and history of residential settlement in the region.
Please check back again next month for another round-up of collections made available. You may also want to follow us on Twitter for earlier updates about which collections are newly available, as well as other related news.
04 November 2020
The latest set of projects to go online are truly global, spanning Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Caribbean. Here's a brief summary:
- The Palace Archives of the Buddhist Himalayan Kingdom of Sikkim [EAP880]
- Government and Church Records from the Turks and Caicos Islands [EAP914]
- 19th Century Bulgarian Manuscripts [EAP989]
- The Ghana Railway Corporation Archive [EAP1144]
Located near the Himilayas, where India meets China, Sikkim is one of the newest Indian states, merging with India in 1975. This project digitised the hitherto neglected royal archives of the former Himalayan Buddhist kingdom of Sikkim. It contains a wealth of invaluable documents that date between 1807 and 1998. As such, this collection offers crucial insights into crucial historical events including the merger with India in 1975 and military border clashes between India and China.
This collection covers the entire spectrum of political activities, from domestic and religious issues to foreign affairs. This archive therefore offers unique and important insights into the history of this kingdom and its geopolitical significance.
While it is an archive that represents elite perspectives, the Sikkim Palace Archives is also the first collection of local origin to be made freely and universally accessible for international scholarship, presenting a perspective of events and characters as experienced from within looking out. This provides a valuable contrast to the earlier need to rely very largely on colonial sources for the history of Sikkim. The collection adds considerably to the available sources on the history and culture of Sikkim, with very little duplication of material with that available elsewhere, namely in the British Library's India Office collection, and to a lesser extent in the National Archives of India and the Sikkim State Archives.
This project digitised some of the most vulnerable and important collections located at the Turks and Caicos National Museum. It contains two sub-collections:
The government records include documents and correspondence involving the colonial secretary and despatches to the governor-in-chief. It also includes legislative and executive council records. This collection thus offers important insights into the colonial governance of the islands, which is still a British Overseas Territory.
Meanwhile, both the government and church collections contain registers of births, baptisms, marriages, burials, and wills. The church collection includes both Methodist and Anglican church records, spanning 1799-1922. These registers provide an invaluable resource for genealogists researching their family history.
EAP989 - 19th Century Bulgarian Manuscripts
This pilot project focused on three collections of 19th century and early 20th century manuscripts located at the Institute for Ethnology and Folklore Studies with Ethnographic Museum, within the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. It produced a detailed survey of the collections and digitised a sample of manuscripts.
These manuscripts reflect the cultural and folklore heritage of Bulgarian and Balkan areas and include hand painted texts, images, and notated songs.
EAP1144 - The Ghana Railway Corporation Archive
The EAP1144 project team encountered an archive that was in a significant state of disrepair. One of their first tasks was to erect plastic sheets to provide immediate protection to the documents from rain water leaking through the roof.
30 September 2020
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?
- Arabic manuscripts from the Yattara Family Libary, Timbuktu, Mali [EAP913]
- Wills, Deed Books, and Power of Attorney records from the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, St Vincent [EAP1013]
- Mathematical Manuscripts from Pre-Modern India [EAP1063]
- District Administration Reports from the Colonial Territory Nyasaland (Malawi) [EAP1231]
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.
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.
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:
- Deed Books [1774-1857]
- Power of Attorney [1789-1880]
- Secretary's Record Book [1812-1813]
- Marriages, Baptisms, and Burials Registers [1765-1820]
- Wills [1800-1835]
- French Power of Attorney volume [1789-1800]
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 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.
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:
- Health and Medicine
- Land usage and boundaries
- Law and legal affairs
- Nature conservation
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
16 April 2020
Four new projects have recently been made available on the EAP website that can now be viewed in full. Three of these projects are from the African continent:
- a collection of medical records from Mengo Hospital, Uganda [EAP617];
- Ajami manuscripts and other records from Senegal [EAP1042];
- photographs from the Nairobi Railway Museum showing areas of Kenya and Uganda before the railway development [EAP1143].
Finally, we have a collection of administrative records from Nevis Island in the Caribbean [EAP794].
This project digitised a collection of patient medical records from Mengo Hospital in Uganda, held at the Albert Cook Library, College of Health Sciences at Makerere University. Sir Albert Cook arrived in Uganda as a missionary doctor in 1897 and founded the Mengo Hospital shortly after. These records dating from 1897-1944 are a valuable source of information about the rich history of modern medicine in Uganda. They also show the value of preserving archives and how they can be used for research in ways other than their intended use. For example, these records are currently being used by academics to study socioeconomic history of Uganda and also missionary views of sexuality, morals and sin.
Building on the work of pilot project EAP093, this major project digitised records from the Caribbean island of Nevis spanning three centuries of history, from 1705-1974. This collection contains a rich source of material for historians and genealogists alike. It includes:
- Common Deed Record Books, 1707-1956 (49 volumes)
- Court of King’s/Queen’s Bench and Common Pleas, 1705-1873 (39 volumes)
- Supreme Court, 1874-1962 (9 volumes)
- Other Courts, 1815-1943 (8 volumes)
- Wills, 1763-1880 (7 volumes)
- Ships Bonds, 1847-1867 (7 volumes)
- Provost Marshal’s Sales, 1847-1935 (9 volumes)
- Land Title Register Books, 1887-1922 (3 volumes)
- Miscellaneous Records, 1840-1940 (23 volumes)
- Maps and plans, 1888-1974 (205 individual maps/plans, or montages of plans)
Ajami is a modified Arabic script used for writing some African languages, including Mande languages (such as Bamanankan, Eastern Maninka, Western Mandinka (or Mandinka), Jakhanke, Jula, and Susu). These Mandinka Ajami manuscripts are particularly valuable as Ajami texts in Mande languages are some of the least documented.
Though the project initially focused on digitising Mandinka Ajami texts they soon found many important manuscripts in other languages that help to document the preoccupations and intellectual traditions of the Mandinka people of Senegambia and beyond. This includes multilingual manuscripts written in Arabic, Mandinka, and Soninke, and a few written in Wolof and Fula.
The manuscripts cover a wide range of topics including astrology, divination, Islamic education, poetry, jurisprudence, and many other subjects.
This pilot project produced a detailed survey of all the material held at the Nairobi Railway Museum’s archive and digitised a small sample of photographs. The sample images were taken circa 1901 before and during the construction of the Uganda railway, which runs through present day Kenya and Uganda. They depict the landscape and daily life of the region’s local inhabitants.
19 June 2019
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
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
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.
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
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.
EAP894 - Endangered photographic collections about the participation of pre-industrial Bulgaria in three wars in the beginning of the 20th century
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.
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
08 January 2019
During the last part of 2018 two identical photographic exhibitions celebrating the involvement of the Endangered Archives Programme with the manuscripts of Djenné, Mali have been mounted. The first of these, named : ‘Beyond Timbuktu, the manuscripts of Djenné’ had its opening on the 27th of September with a glittering private view at the British Library with addresses by Lisbet Rausing, the Trustee and Founder of Arcadia, which funds the Endangered Archives Programme, as well as by H.E. Cat Evans, the British Ambassador to Mali ; Roly Keating, the Chief Executive of the British Library and Sophie Sarin, who has co-ordinated the Djenné Library’s four consecutive EAP projects since 2009. These projects have resulted in a treasure trove of around 400,000 images of the Arabic manuscripts of Djenné, which are now available on-line.
Speeches at the opening in London
The private view in London
Since it was unfortunately not possible to bring the Djenné team to London, it was decided that the exhibition should be duplicated and shown in Bamako. Djenné itself is now considered too dangerous because of the deteriorating security situation. A hard drive containing the digitised Djenné manuscript images of the first project EAP488 had already been delivered to the Archives Nationales in Bamako in a ceremony in 2013, attended by the then British Ambassador Philip Boyle. The last hard drives containing the EAP projects EAP690 and EAP879 needed to be delivered and at the same time a final ceremony /celebration for the projects seemed a suitable way to end a long and fruitful collaboration . It was therefore decided that the handing over ceremony of these last hard drives should take place at the same time as the opening of the concurrent Djenné photographic exhibition. This took place on the 7th of December.
The photographs are a mixture of images from the manuscripts in the EAP digitised collection and pictures taken by different photographers of the island city of Djenné, which enjoys UNESCO World Heritage status celebrating its monumental mud architecture with its crowning glory the Great Mosque. The pictures were expertly printed and mounted by La Maison Africaine de la Photographie, an institution connected to the Ministry of Culture which has plenty of experience in mounting exhibitions in this country, which is rightly proud of its star-studded photographic heritage featuring names such as Malick Sidibe and Seydou Keita.
An additional attraction to the exhibition display on the morning of the ceremony in Bamako was a 3-D display called a ‘Google experience’, which showed images of Djenné and the library with the aid of cardboard 3-D viewers in combination with smart phones. This feature was supplied courtesy of http://www.4dheritage.com
Captivated by a virtual tour of Djenné
The 7th of December was a Friday- this is always a half-day in Bamako as everyone is intent on going to Friday Prayers at the Mosque. The ceremony was therefore scheduled to start early enough with the guests being seated by 9.30, since Malian official events are always very tied to protocol and the longer the list of illustrous guests, the longer the introductions to each of the speeches must become, since protocol demands that every VIP is greeted individually by every person giving a speech. The list of VIPs who would be present kept changing in the 24 hours before the event and at one point it included one ex- President ; the First Lady of Mali ; three ministers as well as four ambassadors. Therefore the Archives Nationales underwent a hasty and much- needed clean-up and face-lift.
Preparations for the National Archives ceremony in Bamako
However, the list of VIP’s had eventually shrunk to a more manageable size comprising one minister (Madame Sanogo, Secretaire Generale du Gouvernement) who presided ; 3 ambassadors (South Africa, Sweden and UK) and the Honorary Malian consul to the UK Mark Saade who had flown out especially for the event.
A short film in French had been produced on the evening of the British Library’s private view, which included a greeting to the people of Djenné and Library team by Sophie Sarin and Kolado Landoure, from a well known Djenné family greeting his townsmen in Saurai ; addresses by Mark Saade and by Dr Marion Wallace, Lead Curator of African collections at the British Library. This film was shown during Sophie Sarin’s short address.
Showing the film at the ceremony, Bamako
The British ambassador Cat Evans once more graced the proceedings and addressed the assembly as did Hasseye Traore, the President of the Djenné Manuscript Library who raised the important matter of the future funding of the Library since the projects have now come to an end. He spoke in Bambara with interpretation from the MC Mamadou Samake, who worked for many years on the Djenné Projects. Finally the Minister Madame Sanogo brought things to a close, and people were about to go for refreshments and to view the exhibition when one last dramatic incident threatened to derail the entire ceremony.
The Djenné projects have, from the very beginning, had a small but powerful group of detractors in Djenné, at first led by the late Imam Korobara, and lately by the new traditional village chief of Djenné. The latter has done all in his power to get the EAP projects closed and with them the library itself, including going to see the Minister of Culture and UNESCO to complain and to insinuate that the British Library’s EAP projects are illegal. Having investigated the situation, the Minister of Culture then sent a letter to the village chief, which was leaked to anyone who was somehow concerned in the affair. This letter stated that the digitisation of manuscripts was a legal act as long as the manuscript owners agreed to it and that the Ministry of Culture warmly encouraged the digitisation of the Djenné manuscript. Everyone now thought this problem had finally disappeared.
However, on the morning of the ceremony, one of the first guests to arrive was the Djenné village chief. He took his seat and bided his time. After Madame Sanogo’s final speech wrapping up the procedings he stood up and indicated that he wanted to say something. Of course he was given the opportunity to speak. Mamadou Samake the MC went over with the microphone and the village chief started to voice his by now well-known discontent in Bambara. After a short while, and before Samake had time to interpret, Madame Sanogo whispered something in the ear of her assistant who went over to Samake and passed on the message. What followed was a remarkably graceful manoevre when Samake politely said thank you to the village chief, removed the microphone and ‘interpreted’ the following "For Your Excellences the ambassadors who may not speak Bambara, The village chief is expressing how very thrilled he is to be here at this ceremony and he is congratualting the Djenné Manuscript Library on the wonderful work they have done !"
The assembled guest then went to look at the exhibition and enjoy their refreshments, and the ceremony and celebration of Djenné came to a happy conclusion.
Blog written by Sophie Sarin, grant holder for the projects in Djenné
Photographs of Bamako opening: © Souleyman Bathieno
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