THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Endangered archives blog

News about the projects saving vulnerable material from around the world

08 June 2016

New collections online - May 2016

Last month we put three new collection online - EAP689, EAP700 and EAP727

EAP689: Constituting a digital archive of Tamil agrarian history (1650-1950) - phase II

This project, digitising vulnerable documents relating to Tamil agrarian history, is a continuation of the earlier projects carried out in the same region – EAP314 and EAP458.  The project aimed to enhance the work already accomplished by visiting some of the locations identified in these earlier projects, as well as new locations, and digitising a variety of vulnerable documents held in private homes in Tamil Nadu.  36 new collections were digitised, bringing the total number, including those from previous projects, up to 74 collections in total. The sizes of the 36 new collections digitised vary from one single document to over a 300 documents per collection. The 36 collections comprise 135 different series which cover a wide variety of genres and topics such as: folk songs, poems, hymns, horoscopes, astrology, sorcery, nikantu, tamil lexicon, medicine, harvest accounts, land lease, land settlements, land partition, land dispute, land record, tax and temple accounts. judgements from the colonial courts and local judicial assemblies, petitions over land dispute, sale, punishment for communication with excommunicated persons, marriage agreement and caste integrity, compensation to families after self-immolation of widows, security rights (kaval), right to access water for agriculture from the lake, dowry details, business communications and accounts with Burma, film pamphlets.

EAP689_6_1_1-EAP689_Agreement_PP_001_001_LEAP689/6/1/1 - Agreement for temple renovation - Copper-plate

EAP689_21_2_4-EAP689_Invitation_PP_001_017_LEAP689/21/2/4 - Invitation Letters - Paper [1912-1931]

EAP689_27_1_53-EAP689_Music_PB_053_001_LEAP689/27/1/53 -Music Guide book PB 53 [1939]

EAP700: Preservation of the manuscripts of the Jaffna Bishop's House (1850-1930)

The central aim of this pilot project was to digitise, preserve and disseminate the rare French manuscripts and other documents kept in the Jaffna Bishop’s House in Sri Lanka. These manuscripts are becoming more and more vulnerable to human and natural disasters and merit urgent digitisation for posterity. Jaffna, in the northern part Sri Lanka, inhabited by the Tamil ethnic minority since the independence of Sri Lanka (1948) has been subject to serious ethnic, cultural and political conflicts. One of the most tragic events was the burning of the Jaffna Public library along with its 97,000 volumes of books and manuscripts on 1 June 1981. The Jaffna public library was considered one of the biggest in Asia.

This collection of manuscripts has escaped the bombings and shelling of past decades. They have been stored in wooden cupboards in a reinforced room of the Bishop’s House adjoining the Cathedral, in a strategically sensitive district of Jaffna City. They are, however, highly vulnerable due to their age and their current condition of poor storage, insect infestations, occasional human mishandling, humidity and other natural and environmental disasters. Some of them are in such a fragile state that they are unable to be handled.

These manuscripts and documents are part of the collections of the Catholic mission in Sri Lanka and cover a wider geographical area including the Jaffna peninsula, Mannar, Puttalam and the Vanni regions. The majority of the manuscripts are in French. This makes the collection a rare and unique heritage and should shed new insights on the contribution of the French missions in this region. They contain a variety of information about the Diocese and the parish and the parishioners. They cover two periods: the second half of the 19th century with the commencement of the Missions; and the period before, during, and after the First World War, a period that is also of great historical importance because of its implications in the colonies. They pertain to two broad domains of the history of Christianity and Christian missions in Sri Lanka, and also the cultural history of ethnic minorities in general and with special reference to the Tamils.

The project digitised 58 files, creating a total of 16,944 digital images instead of the 7,000 that were originally planned. The files mostly consist of manuscripts dated from between 1850 and 1930. The project digitised a diverse collection of records such as memoirs of missionaries or codices; records detailing day to day life; observations on economic and social conditions; personal letters; account books giving detailed explanations of the income and expenses related to the missions, churches and cathedral, and daily accounts of the expenditures on different chapters like school, orphanage, and charity; catalogues of letters sent by missionaries; sermons and commentaries.

EAP700_1_2_2-EAP_700_REG_160_0005_LEAP700/1/2/2 - The Jaffna Diocese and the OMI - Supplement, containing letters & documents [1848-1861]

EAP700_1_8_1-EAP_700_STAT_JAF_1929_0009_LEAP700/1/8/1 - Statistics of the Diocese of Jaffna [1929]

EAP727: Preservation of Tibetan Ngakpa manuscripts in Amdo region (Qinghai and Gansu Provinces, PRC)

Amdo is a region located in the northeastern area of the Tibetan Plateau. Due to its geographical features of high mountain ranges and vast grasslands, fragmented and scattered institutions of local power have been the prevalent forms of the ruling agency, until its formal inclusion in the administrative system of People’s Republic of China in 1958. In this socio-historical context, Ngakpa have been playing a leading role in the religious life of Amdo Tibetan communities, embodying a sort of independent channel of transmission, alternative to monastic practice. Ngakpa are extremely knowledgeable bearers of the non-monastic tradition of Tibetan Buddhism and Bon religions. They mainly act as ritual masters for a number of different purposes and have a high level of expertise in Tibetan meditation practices, medicine, astronomy and traditional knowledge as a whole.

Despite the recent popularity of Ngakpa teachings in the Western world, their survival in the original context is threatened by the increasing marginalisation of their social role and the lack of potential students in the young generation, captivated by new opportunities offered by the Chinese fast-growing economy. The preservation of Ngakpa’s textual heritage is a factor of primary importance for ensuring the perpetuation of this ancient laic tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. This project was exclusively concerned with the preservation of the most endangered manuscripts of one specific group of Ngakpa in the Amdo region, those belonging to the Nyingmapa tradition, the most ancient school of Tibetan Buddhism.

A pilot survey was carried out by the local archival partner and it emerged that between 70 and 100 pecha (the traditional format of Tibetan books, made of long paper pages compressed between two wooden boards and bounded together with a string) of different lengths, privately-owned by thirty Ngakpa, were in very poor physical condition and situated in precarious locations, exposed to the damages of humidity, rats, use and age.

The manuscripts date from between the early 19th and the end of the 20th centuries. Several of them are unique copies that were rescued during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), when they were hidden in various provisional locations, wedged in wall fissures and buried underground. The topics covered by the texts are heterogeneous: rituals, medicine, history, astrology, astronomy, divination, hagiography, mantras, manuals for the construction of traditional ritual objects, such as mandala, stupa and torma (decorated and painted offerings made of barley flour and butter).

The scattered location of the texts and the difficulty to reach them in remote mountain areas required extensive travel among different villages in Huangnan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Haixi Mongolian and Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Hainan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Golok Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (all in Qinghai Province) and Southern Gansu Province.

EAP727_1_100-EAP727_XiningArchive100_4_LEAP727/1/100 - རྒྱལ་བ་སྐུ་གསུམ་གྱི་རྣམ་ཐར་ཡོངས་འདུས་ལྗོན་པ་བཞུགས་སོ།། (rgyal ba sku gsum gyi rnam thar yongs 'dus ljon pa bzhugs) [Early 20th century]

EAP727_6_25-EAP727_ShampagyaHousehold25_3_LEAP727/6/25 - བླ་མའི་རྣལ་འབྱོར་བསམ་པ་ལྷུན་འགྲུབ་དང་མྱུར་འགྲུབ་མ་བཞུགས་སོ།། (bla ma'i rnal 'byor bsam pa lhun 'grub dang myur 'grub ma bzhugs so) [Mid 19th century]

 

05 May 2016

New collections online - April 2016

In April six collections were made available through the EAP website and BL Sounds. The variety of subjects, locations, and types of record really highlight the broad range of projects that the Endangered Archives Programme is involved in.

EAP190: Digitising archival material pertaining to 'Young India' label gramophone records

1427 recordings can be listened to on BL Sounds

Related record label ephemera, including catalogues and advertisements

Young india Young India record and sleeve

The project digitised gramophone records, disc labels, record catalogues and publicity material from ‘The National Gramophone Record Manufacturing Company Ltd. Bombay’, which issued records under the ‘Young India’ label between 1935-1955. The company produced over 10,000 titles on 78-rpm, 10 inch diameter shellac discs with two songs per disc. The recordings of film, popular, classical and folk music, as well as educational material were issued mainly from amateur or up-and-coming artists. They feature music from different regions of India, sung in many different languages. The recordings have never been reissued on audio tape or CD and are therefore now available for many people to listen to for the first time. We have already received some great feedback about this collection, including one person who recalled his music teacher many years ago telling the students about Young India and how he used to be a tabla player for the label and regular D V Paluskar accompanist. He was delighted to find that he could now hear the actual music that his teacher talked about all those years ago. Hopefully, with this collection now available for anyone to listen to worldwide, many more people will discover or rediscover the recordings from the Young India label.

EAP468: To preserve Indian recordings on 'Odeon' label shellac discs

1404 recordings can be listened to on BL Sounds

Related record label ephemera, including catalogues and advertisements

OdeonOdeon record label advert

This project digitised shellac discs, record labels and associated ephemera from the Odeon record label. Odeon label shellac discs were issued in India between 1912-1938. The company produced over 2,000 titles of north and south Indian music. About 600 titles [1,200 songs] have survived and are with private collectors

Odeon label shellac discs were issued in India in two phases: during 1912-16; and during 1932-38. During the first phase, Odeon's first Indian recordings were made in late 1906 on a grand tour that took the engineers from Calcutta to Benares, then on to Lucknow, Cawnpore, Delhi, Amritsar, Lahore, Bombay and finally back to Calcutta. In all, they recorded some 700 titles, which were duly shipped back to Berlin for processing and manufacture in what was then the established worldwide pattern. Disc records manufactured and pressed in Germany were shipped back to India by 1908. Gramophone records were the only mode of public and family entertainment in that period. Because of the diversity of language and cultural taste, Odeon's engineers recorded a great deal of regional music for local consumption. In a time before film music swept regional variations away, Odeon's activities allowed Indians to listen to the music that would otherwise have been irretrievable. Very few disc records from this period have survived.

In the second phase, the Odeon disc manufacturing company operated during 1932-38. Its operations were mainly from Mumbai and Madras and the company produced over 2,000 titles in north and south Indian music. At this time, radio and film songs had just entered the entertainment era. Disc manufacturing and distribution activity continued until the outbreak of World War II. Because of the embargo imposed on German goods, the company had to wind up their business in India, leaving behind hundreds of titles. The musical genre recorded on these discs include drama songs, speeches, folk music, classical music, drama sets, skits and plays, vocal and instrumental music.

EAP462: Preservation of Kaya district colonial archives and assessment of the potential and feasibility of recovering other former district capitals' collections, Burkina Faso

EAP462_1_1_6-EAP462_47_0004_LEAP462/1/1/6 - Telegrams

This project digitised a wide variety of documents related to the administration of the Cercle de Kaya colonial district. They are of interest to a wide range of historical study fields: population, politics, economy, development, customary law. These documents provide an insight into the local intricacies of the administration, politics, economy and social life of the district.

The material in Kaya though was at risk of neglect, physical deterioration and destruction. The documents were stacked on shelves and on the floor in a shed behind the administrative buildings, exposed to dust and moisture and at the mercy of rats, termites and mildew. More recent documents continued to be piled haphazardly on top of the old colonial ones. These colonial archives that for decades had been piled up in a shed in the former colonial district capital, Kaya, were packed up and transported to the Centre National des Archives (CNA) in Ouagadougou. At the CNA, the documents were thoroughly dusted and subsequently sorted, selected and subjected to an initial analysis. The documents were sorted into 4,200 files, with an average of 20 documents per file. Of these, about 40% were from the period 1919-1960 and eligible for digitisation.

Unfortunately, very little metadata was provided with this collection so file descriptions and titles are very limited. If you would like to volunteer your time to making this collection a more usable resource, please get in touch with us.

EAP650: Grima in Caloto Viejo: archiving Afro-Colombian history

EAP650_1_1_2-EAP650C29C09A1914_01_LEAP650/1/1/2 - Judicial documents

This project made an inventory of the historical, notarial and judicial collections held in Caloto’s alcaldía (town hall), Colombia, and digitised a sample of the most valuable and damaged documents.

First founded in 1543, Caloto Viejo (Old Caloto) was the administrative capital of a wide region northeast of Popayán that included Native American groups, European settlers, their enslaved Africans, and maroon communities formed by escaped slaves. By the 1940s this rural region had not yet experienced industrialisation, yet many of Caloto Viejo’s towns had become autonomous districts. Now only the head of a small municipality, Caloto still houses the pre-modern documents of Caloto Viejo.

Caloto Viejo’s documents are crucial for Afro-Colombian history. Caloto and adjacent regions of the Cauca constituted the nineteenth century heartland of slavery, with Julio Arboleda’s massive Japio estate in Caloto the towering symbol of landholding power. The archives of Caloto are important for tracing the wider history of elites, native Americans, and Africans, and essential for salvaging the local history of important Afro-Colombian towns such as Puerto Tejada or the scholarly unknown maroon community of Caricacé with unique linguistic traditions, whose documentary history exists only in the endangered collections of Caloto.

EAP688: Digitisation of the Deed books in Saint Vincent for the slavery era, 1763-1838

  EAP688_1_1_72-EAP688_Deeds_1822_1823a_401_LEAP688/1/1/72 - Deed book 1822-1823

This project digitised surviving Deed books for Saint Vincent from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

The Eastern Caribbean Court House, St Vincent, holds numerous historic manuscript documents connected with the colonial administration of the island. The earliest records date from 1763, when Saint Vincent was ceded to Britain at the end of the Seven Years’ War, until 1838, the date when Apprenticeship for slaves ended in the British Caribbean and slave emancipation was fully implemented in accordance with the Emancipation Act of 1834.

The Deed books include important material for researchers. After 1763, Saint Vincent was drawn into the orbit of slavery in the British Empire. Its sugar plantation sector expanded rapidly after that date and the island became (along with other Windward Islands such as Dominica, Grenada and Tobago) a new, expanding frontier for British slavery. The Deed books, compiled in the offices of the island’s Colonial Secretary and the Registrar, proved a comprehensive record of all land and property transactions carried out during the seventy-five years when slave plantations were the main type of investment and employment on the island. The Deed books are large bound volumes that are available for every year in the period from 1763 to 1838. The land and property details recorded in these records provide the names of investors, along with their occupation and residence, and precise financial details, either in sterling or in the island’s currency. The information on investors includes whites and free blacks, men and women, and absentee residents (in other West Indian Islands or in Britain) as well as those living in Saint Vincent. The financial information is wide-ranging. Credit transactions are included. Mortgages, annuities, loans and bonds are all specified, with the names of the parties involved. The Deed books contain much material on slave sales between individuals connected with Saint Vincent and they also have information on slave manumissions. Where sugar plantations are identified in these records, the numbers, and sometimes the valuations, of slaves are given. This is particularly useful for researchers for the period from 1763 to 1815 because it was not until after the end of the Napoleonic Wars that slave registration was commonly carried out throughout the British Caribbean.

EAP749: The narrative and ritual texts, narrative paintings and other performance related material belonging to the Buchen of Pin Valley, India

EAP749_2_3_9-EAP749_Sangnam_CD_Obj9-2_LEAP749/2/3/9 - Statue: Kunda (Wylie sku 'dra)

The Buchen are performers of specialist rituals, travelling actors, healers and exorcists, and disciples of the 14th/15th century Tibetan ‘crazy saint’ Tangtong Gyalpo. They reside in the culturally Tibetan Pin Valley in North India and are most famous for performing an elaborate exorcism ritual called the ‘Ceremony of Breaking the Stone’.

Buchen enact dramatisations of popular folk-tales, Buddhist morality plays which illustrate principles of karma and ideas of impermanence and are frequently enlivened with comedy. Buchen spread the teachings of Buddha through entertainment. These performances are related to the Tibetan Opera and to a tradition of lay religious performers called lama manipa, who retell the life stories of Tibetan saints whilst pointing out key scenes on narrative painted cloth scrolls (thangkas) with a metal pointer. Buchen theatrical performances contain a similar manipa-like introduction.

This project digitised or took images of a variety of texts, paintings and objects associated with these traditions, including images of masks, clothing, instruments and objects used in performances; thangkas; handwritten decorated and unbound Tibetan books (pecha).

EAP749_3_2_1-EAP749_Tilling_LT_Tnka1-19_LEAP749/3/2/1 - Drowa Zangmo Thankga

EAP749_3_4_1-EAP749_Tilling_LT_Portrait1-2_LEAP749/3/4/1 - Meme Buchen in full costume

 

21 April 2016

Disappearing book heritage of Siberian Buddhists

Dr Nikolay Tsyrempilov from Buryat State University is currently locating and digitising Buddhist texts as part of EAP813. This is his account of a trip he took to try and find some manuscripts.

1EAP813_12 Members of the expedition crew

Last month we got information from a reliable source that in the western mountainous part of Buryatia, in a hard-to-reach area, a collection of rare Mongolian and Tibetan manuscripts had been detected. We organised an expedition to that area. Oka district of the Republic of Buryatia in the East Sayan range is home to a small group of people called Soyots who are hunters as well as yak and reindeer breeders.

Our destination was a remote Soyot place named Khonishon which is accessible only in March. There is no road to Khonishon and we had to drive on the icy surface of rivers – Yakshob, Bolshaya Belaya and others. During wintertime the rivers are under thick cover of snow whereas in summertime one has to go for a few days on horseback to reach the place. We were told that the manuscripts were hidden inside a pyramid made of stones on top of Khonishon hill. To reach Oka district we had to cover 700km from Ulan-Ude.

1EAP813_02Entering the Oka district

Having reached Orlik settlement, an administrative centre of Oka district, we met Bair Sharastepanov, the principal of a local school, who rendered every kind of assistance to us and joined us in our trip to Khonishon. Our guide was a local Soyot Badma Kharluevich. Next day we took the school’s expedition vehicle and with blessings from the local lama set out to Khonishon.

1EAP813_06 The abbot of the local Buddhist monastery, a Mongol from Khubsugul aimak wishes the members of the expedition good luck and safe return. The road to Khonishon is considered dangerous not so much because of the landscape peculiarities as due to the might of local spirits.

It took a whole day of dangerous driving before we reached our destination.

1EAP813_09
During March the rivers in the mountains have no snow on the icy surface. The upper layers of ice are fragile which makes driving very unsafe.

On the way we visited a few Soyot shepherd camps, met a pack of wolves, saw a few yaks killed by them and enjoyed fascinating sceneries. On the top of the Khonishon hill we found the stone pyramid with a few Buddhist religious utensils inside.

1EAP813_15Such kind of stone pyramids are usually built by faithful on top of hills to honor local spirits

No Manuscripts! We surveyed the hill, searched every corner and small cave but with no result. As our guide confessed, local Soyots knew about the expedition as rumours somehow leaked out. They could have secretly removed the manuscripts and hidden them in other places. They were anxious and thought our plans had been to take the manuscripts away. This, they believed, would mean that their good fortune would leave them along with the books.

1EAP813_20Disappointed and sad

Alas! The expedition turned out to be a failure. But we don’t regret it. This beautiful and austere land is worth visiting. Just look at these pictures.

1EAP813_03Turquoise rivers of Easter Sayan

 

1EAP813_04Buddhist prayer flags are usually exposed on the mountain passes

1EAP813_05One of the many sacred sites of the local Soyots who have an eclectic belief system combining Shamanism with Tibetan Buddhism

1EAP813_10According to local customs it is mandatory to perform sacrifice rituals on the passes. Badma Kharluevich, our guide, is pouring milk on fire to propitiate spirits guarding this pass.

1EAP813_16Our guide saw the books inside this pyramid a few months ago. As he told us, they were kept here from 1930s

1EAP813_17We have found only a Bumpa, or a ritual copper vessel and a mandala, or a ceremonial model of the universe.

1EAP813_22The weather is getting worse

1EAP813_25Wintry landscape

1EAP813_27Next sunny morning

1EAP813_28Grazing yaks

1EAP813_29A child with a yak calf

1EAP813_30
A dangerous bridge

1EAP813_31The austere land of Oka