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07 September 2014

New online collections – September 2014 – three million images online!

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Last month eight collections went up online EAP010, EAP040, EAP105, EAP219, EAP254, EAP341, EAP443 and EAP644.

It was only two months ago that we reached two million images online and this month we are happy to report that we have now broken the three million barrier! This is largely thanks to EAP341 a project which contains around 750,000 images.

EAP341 is a project that preserved printed books and periodicals held in public institutions in Eastern India. Many of the public libraries in that area are now suffering from a financial crisis that makes most of the documents vulnerable to loss or degradation. The project digitised materials from eight public libraries in the districts of Howrah, Hooghly, 24 Parganas North and 24 Parganas South, all located in semi-urban and rural areas within the proximity of Calcutta. This project helped to preserve these materials digitally and make them available to researchers.

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EAP644 digitised part of the Fouad Debbas collection. This consists of over 3000 photographs which were produced by the Maison Bonfils from 1867-1910.

Established in 1867, the Bonfils house set out the first photographic studio in Beirut. Mr Bonfils and his wife Lydie, apparently the first woman photographer of the area, along with their children succeeded in capturing some fascinating images. These include pictures of a region of immense physical beauty, landscape photos of Beirut and Baalbeck and portraits of different ethnic groups. They also provide a record of rapid socio-economic change during a crucial moment of the region’s history. The Bonfils Debbas collection is an invaluable document registering the history of a region at a crucial crossroads in the wake of great historical upheaval. For more information about the collection have a look at our previous blog ‘The Good Woman named Bonfils’.

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EAP040 digitised medieval and early modern archival material of the Brasov/Kronstadt and Burzenland region in central Romania.

The material from 14th to 17th centuries from this archive is one of the main sources for Transylvanian history in today’s central Romania. Documents that were digitised included
; ecclesiastical material with focus on the 16th to 17th centuries, the collection of Joseph Trausch (manuscript copies covering the whole period), documents on educational matters focusing on the 16th to 17th centuries, cultural matters (music, liturgy, buildings, local traditions and legends) and correspondence (warfare, defence, political relations).

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EAP254 digitised the library of the church Romanat Qeddus Mikael Dabre Mehret, Enderta in Ethiopia. The library possesses around 70 codices and includes several valuable manuscripts of high quality, some of them with illuminations and valuable marginalia. The library of Romanat Qeddus Mikael was built up over more than 300 years. The collection builds an indigenous and integral local record in a region important for the history of Ethiopia. The library remains practically unknown and is endangered due to the poor preservation conditions.

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EAP010 preserved rare periodical publications from Mongolia. Mongolia underwent significant political and economic change during the collapse of Communism. The euphoria of revolution led to neglect or even intentional eradicating of documents, publications and other materials from socialist times. Political and economic dependence upon the Soviet Union for seven decades and the resulting sudden release from political ties meant that everything related to the Soviet Union and the period of its dominance was subject to denial. In addition, the deep economic crisis in the 1990s meant that cultural issues including the maintenance and development of libraries, publication of books and actions to safeguard the documentary heritage of Mongolia were not the priority for the government or public for a while.

The periodicals digitised cover the transition period of 1990-1995. They document the political changes in Mongolia after the fall of Communism. The project resulted in scanning 39,029 pages from 6,189 issues.

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EAP219 is a project that catalogued and digitally preserved the endangered Nôm archive at the Institute of Social Science Information (ISSI) in Hanoi, Vietnam. Nôm was the national script used in Vietnam for over 1,000 years since the country's independence from China in 939.

The project completed a thorough inventory of the archive and digitised the volumes from the most vulnerable section of the archive. These include village and district records of families, land ownership, real estate and property exchanges, contacts with the royal courts, decrees by various emperors as well as some maps. Since Nôm was the national script used in Vietnam for over 1,000 years, the archives have an inestimable historical value providing, together with Han-Viet records, the main written record of the history and culture of Vietnam for 10 centuries.

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EAP105 digitised the manuscript collections of Drametse Monastery and Ogyen Choling in Bhutan.

Drametse Monastery, founded in 1511 by Ani Choten Zangmo, the grand-daughter of the famous Bhutanese saint Padma Lingpa (1450-1521), is one of the major monasteries in eastern Bhutan.
Drametse's manuscript collection includes the 46-volume rNying ma rGyud 'bum, sixteen volumes of Prajnaparamitasutras and about a hundred and fifty volumes of miscellaneous titles including religious hagiographies, histories, liturgies, meditation manuals and philosophical treatises. Many of the books are written in dbu med script, indicating that the books were most likely brought from Tibet in the distant past.

Ogyen Choling, located in central Bhutan, is a seat of two famous Nyingmapa saints, Longchenpa (1308-1363) and Dorje Lingpa (1346-1405). Although historically a religious establishment, it is now a manor house of the family which claims direct descent from Dorje Lingpa. Its library, housed in three of the five temple rooms in the manor complex, contains several hundred titles of manuscripts ranging from pilgrimage guides to philosophical treatises, including a beautifully executed 21-volume set of Dorje Lingpa's writings. Professor Samten Karmay has recently catalogued the collection highlighting some of the rare works of Zhang Lama Drowai Gonpo (1123-93), Lhodrak Drubchen Namkha Gyaltshan (1326-1401), Wensa Lobzang Dondrub (1504-1566) and Jangchub Tsondru (1817-57). In addition to the manuscripts, Ogyen Choling also owns a large body of books printed from xylographic blocks.

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EAP443 carries on the work of pilot project EAP284, which surveyed records related to the slave trade held at the Sierra Leone Public Archives.

The materials being targeted here include valuable documents of immense importance for research on the transatlantic slave trade and its repercussions. The original Registers of Liberated Africans who were taken off slave ships by the Royal Navy from 1808 to the 1840s document more than 85,000 individuals. In addition, there are Letter books which provide information on the treatment and ‘disposal’ of tens of thousands of “receptive” Africans, court records, treaties with local chiefs, and other documents that are essential materials for any research on Sierra Leone. Moreover, there is important genealogical information for many people in Sierra Leone, including birth and death registers from the 1850s. Additional materials include registers of “foreign” children resident in Freetown, dating from the 1860s onwards, and registers of slaves who had escaped from the interior to Freetown, as well as letter books in Arabic that relate to political and commercial relations with the interior of West Africa in the second half of the 19th century.

More than 170 volumes held in the Public Archives of Sierra Leone were digitised, with over 32,000 images. Collectively, these volumes provide information on the identities, origins and experiences of enslaved Africans forcibly relocated to the British Crown Colony in the nineteenth century. Other volumes relate to the inward migration of people from the colony’s hinterland, including registers of slaves who had escaped from the interior to Freetown. The volumes include series of registers of births and deaths, which are in a particularly fragile and endangered condition.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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