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08 August 2014

New online collections – August 2014

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Last month seven collections went up online EAP140, EAP184, EAP231, EAP272, EAP454, EAP569 and EAP657.

EAP140 was a project to digitise the Tangut collection held at the Institute of Oriental Studies in St Petersburg.  The Tanguts were a people who established a kingdom during the 10th-13th centuries in present day northwest China. Once the area had been invaded by the Mongols in 1227 the usage of the Tangut language began to decline. These unique historical, literary, and administrative texts are of great value in understanding and preserving a lost writing system and culture. If you haven’t seen it already you can read more about this collection and the Tangut people in our last blog

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EAP184 digitised items from the Matanzas province in Cuba. The records that were digitised relate to African slaves and their descendants. Collections from seven different archives were digitised, six of these collections came from parish archives; the final collection from the Archives of the Provincial Government of Matanzas. 

During the nineteenth century, Matanzas became the centre of Cuban sugar production, which meant a high demand for slave labour. The territory became the major destination for African slaves in Cuba. The region's archives are very rich in all kinds of information on the African population living in Matanzas from the early 16th century to the end of the 19th century. This includes demographic statistics, information on ethnicity, resistance and occupations of free and enslaved Africans.

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EAP231 digitised court records of the Department of State for Justice in Banjul, the Gambia. The collections are valuable for researchers hoping to gain a deeper understanding of how colonial agents and local communities engaged with one another. Court records reveal struggles between men and women, elders and youths, elites and commoners. Since African women could visit colonial courts to seek divorce, court transcripts are one of the few places where historians can hear African women's voices. The records also reveal disputes over land, other forms of property, child custody and many other subjects.

Due to the nature of the material some items in this collection are only available to view via the reading rooms at the British Library.

IMG_4136Court of Request 1902-1904EAP231/1/1 - Image 177

EAP272 digitised and preserved 1,400 ephemera and 215 manuscripts that came from the Madan Puraskar Pustakalaya in Nepal.

The ephemera are mainly political but also cover religious, social and cultural topics. They are mainly pamphlets and leaflets, with some posters and postcards. The ephemera dating from 1900-1951 represents the last 50 years of the Rana Period.  The remainder date from 1951-1960, this covers the period of Nepal's short stint with parliamentary democracy, until the first elected government was toppled by a coup from King Mahendra in December 1960, replacing the multiparty democracy with his own brand of political system named the 'Panchayat'.

The manuscripts date from 1808 and cover a wide range of subjects such as religion, culture, philosophy, law, medicine, hagiography, natural history, and literature. The project rescued these items from poor storage conditions and ensured their long term preservation.

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EAP454 was a pilot project which surveyed privately held ecclesiastical documents in Mizoram, India.

The main focus was early religious and related records, particularly English and Welsh missionary records that recorded a history otherwise only transmitted by the then exclusively oral Mizo society. The project’s scope widened with the surprising discovery of hitherto unknown and early collections written in vernacular Mizo. Many of the earliest missionary educated Mizos were prolific writers of letters, manuscripts, diaries, and notebooks. Most of these sources still revolve around the distinctly religious axis of the Project's focus, but from the perspective of the Mizo.

The Project digitised much more material than initially expected; over 10,000 images are now available to view online.

EAP454_Lalengliani_296EAP454/2/9 Pt 2 – Image 3

EAP569 identified and collected information on relevant documents about Nzema in Ghana. These documents pertain to the land management system and local power structure that has been in place in Ghana since pre-colonial times and that still plays a fundamental role in Nzema society today.

The project looked at records from the Public Records and Archive Administration Department (PRAAD) in Secondi-Takoradi as well as the Western Nzema Traditional Council Archive in Beyin and the Eastern Nzema Traditional Council Archive in Atuabo (Ellembele District, Eastern Region).

The project was successful in identifying many relevant records, creating a list of these items and packaging the documents in archival materials. The project digitized 46 files (15 in the Eastern Nzema Traditional Council Archive, 31 in the Western Nzema Traditional Council Archive) and generated 5,039 digital photographs, which are now available to view on our website.

Due to the nature of the material some items in this collection are only available to view via the reading rooms at the British Library.

EAP569_ENTC_4_1_135EAP569/1/1/1 (as above) Image 135

EAP657 digitised and preserved a collection of archival material related to Taras Hryhorovych Shevchenko (9 March 1814–10 March 1861), the famous Ukrainian writer and painter whose literary heritage is regarded to be the foundation of modern Ukrainian writing. His archival collection had been dispersed until recently, and valuable nineteenth century documents had been kept in deteriorating conditions.

The materials digitised reflect different periods of the life of T H Shevchenko. The archival material had been held in different private collections of Shevchenko’s friends and relatives from all over Ukraine until just 10 years ago.

Some of the items in this collection, due to copyright reasons, are only available to view via the reading rooms at the British Library.

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Check back next month to see what else has been added!

You can also keep up to date with any new collections by joining our Facebook group.

 

24 July 2014

Tangut Manuscripts from St Petersburg

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We have another wonderful guest blog, this time by Sam Van Schaik, International Dunhuang Project Research and HE Manager. Sam is also based at the British Library and sits just along the corridor from EAP. His blog is all about the historical context for EAP140 material.

 

The Tangut kingdom is one of the great lost civilisations of Asia. The kingdom, also known as Westen Xia, came to prominence in the 11th century and flourished until the early 13th century, when it was crushed by the armies of Genghis Khan. In that brief span, the Tanguts invented a new script, translated thousands of texts into their language, and pioneered the use of print technology, including moveable type.

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Stupas at the northwest corner of Kharakhoto, taken in October 2008. (c) International Dunhuang Project.

Until the beginning of the 20th century the Tanguts were only known through a few scattered references in historical texts. That changed with the excavation of the ancient ruined city of Kharakhoto by the Russian explorer Pyotr Kuzmich Kozlov (1863-1935). During two visits to the site in 1908 and 1909, Kozlov discovered thousands of ancient manuscripts in Chinese, Tibetan, and an unknown language that would later be identified as Tangut. Along with other artefacts, including beautiful paintings on silk, Kozlov’s discoveries were taken back to St Petersburg, and are now housed in the Hermitage and the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts at the Russian Academy of Sciences.

There are over eight thousand Tangut manuscripts and block printed books from Kharakhoto in the St Petersburg collection. Most of these are Buddhist texts, found when Kozlov was excavating a stupa (a Buddhist reliquary), dating from the 12th and early 13th centuries. The Tangut state was located between China and Tibet, and was influenced equally by these two great Buddhist cultures. Thus the manuscripts contain texts from China, including the literature of the Chan and Huayan schools, and from Tibet, mainly tantric Buddhist practices from India that had only recently arrived in Tibet.

It is a testament to the commitment of the Tangut emperors to Buddhism that the whole of the canon of Buddhist sutras (scriptures recording the words of the Buddha) were translated into Tangut by the 12th century. As we see from the Kharakhoto collections, many of these sutras were copied by hand and printed in expensive editions on fine paper. The Tibetan tantric texts were translated in the late 12th and early 13th centuries due to the increasing influence of Tibetan Buddhists at the Tangut court.

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A copy of the Mahāprajñāpāramitā sūtra in concertina format. Tang.334/201 EAP140/1/35

A project under the Endangered Archives Programme (EAP140) has now digitized a significant portion of the Tangut manuscript collections at the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts, St Petersburg. These are manuscripts of the Mahāprajñāpāramitā sūtra, "The Great Sutra of the Perfection of Wisdom", the most numerous single text in the collection. Just like in Chinese and Tibetan Buddhism, this massive text was copied extensively for the religious merit thought to accrue from copying scripture.

These copies of the Mahāprajñāpāramitā sūtra are now available on the EAP website and will also be made available on the websites of the International Dunhuang Project. The high-quality colour images of these manuscripts make it possible to appreciate the variety of writing styles and book formats used in the Tangut kingdom. Book forms include concertina manuscripts like the one pictured above, and scrolls (see below).

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A scroll with a blue cloth cover. Tang.335/2.

The technology of woodblock printing was being used in China and Central Asia from the 7th century, and the production of both printed books and manuscripts continued in the following centuries. Though printing was a well-established technique in the Tangut kingdom, the great majority of these copies of the Mahāprajñāpāramitā sūtra were written by hand. Many of the manuscripts also have a block-printed frontispiece showing a scene of the Buddha teaching, an interesting combination of print and manuscript technologies. The fact that the same print is attached to many of the manuscripts suggests that they were produced around the same time. The Buddhist dynasties of China and Tibet sponsored major projects of copying the Perfection of Wisdom sutras, and it is likely that the Tangut emperors wanted to show that they could do the same.

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A block-printed illustration, the frontispiece to a Mahāprajñāpāramitā sūtra. Tang.334/204  EAP140/1/38

17 July 2014

New online collections – July 2014 – EAP now has over two million images!

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Last month five collections have gone up online EAP001, EAP038, EAP051, EAP117 and EAP458. These collections come from Iran, Cameroon, Indonesia and finally two from India. I am happy to say that with these new additions our online collections have grown to over two million images!

EAP001 was, as its number suggests, our first ever project. It was a pilot project which was interested in photography in Iran at the turn of the 19th century. It located photographic material from the 19th and early 20th century which was being kept in precarious conditions or in family collections. The project copied a sample of items and located many more for future possible digitisation projects.

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EAP038 surveyed and digitised pre-1947 Telugu printed materials in India. It located books and periodicals published during the 19th and first half of the 20th century which had been written in the Telugu language in South India. The first stirrings of cultural and religious renaissance were felt in the Telugu speaking districts of Madras Presidency under the British rule. Expressions of social and cultural interaction between the East and the West can be seen in Telugu print culture. From the revival of medical knowledge to various forms of literary genres such as classical Prabandha, Ithihasa and Puranic tradition and Panchangas [from 1860s] and Satakas and also western forms like novels, short stories, poems and drama.

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EAP051 aimed to preserve records which are written in Bamum script. This is an indigenous African writing system, from the Cameroon Grassfields. The project digitised collections of the Bamum Palace Archive, It also acquired relevant material in danger throughout the Bamum Kingdom and beyond, this material was digitised and deposited at the Bamum Palace Archives.

One book chronicles the arrival of the first German military officer and trader. Other books are devoted to the founding of the kingdom, to a new Bamum religion (fusing Christianity, Islam, and traditional beliefs), to other topics such as traditional medicine. One family’s collection included early Bamum script on banana leaves. Another collection is particularly important, containing thousands of documents on family and kingdom history, transcripts of speeches given by the Bamum King in the early twentieth century, commentaries on Islam and magic, and many beautiful maps of the Bamum Kingdom with place names and geographic features identified in the indigenous Bamum script.

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EAP117 digitised rare ancient manuscripts and artefacts from the 14th to the 20th century in Kerinca on the highlands of the Sumatra in Indonesia. The project digitised 65 private collections that contain information about an area of which little knowledge exists. The records held in private collections are often open to physical danger or degradation; this project helped ensure that the information contained in these rare documents is preserved and made available to a wide audience.

 

 

 

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The final project, EAP458, digitised records containing information about the Tamil region in India.

The documents are scattered in the homes of Tamil villagers. This material will open a new avenue of analysis at the level of micro-history of rural India, a field for which there is a lack of research material. The project liaised with record holders to survey and digitise their materials, aiding both in the preservation and dissemination of these important documents.

EAP458 UkZaminDiary24_0001EAP458/17/2/24 Image 2

Check back next month to see what else has been added!

You can also keep up to date with any new collections by joining our Facebook group.