THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Endangered archives blog

Jody Butterworth and Paul Young on histories in peril

11 May 2015

New online collections - May 2015

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This month has seen two new collections go online, EAP563 and EAP619. They are from Argentina and Bangladesh.

The team working on EAP563 digitised documents of the Hume family collection in Argentina.

The Hume family arrived in Argentina in the late 19th century and founded the engineering firm ‘Hume Brothers’ in 1880 which existed until the 1970s. Its main work consisted in planning and building thousands of kilometers of roads as well as setting up the industrial infrastructure of the country. The firm managed similar enterprises in Uruguay, Chile and Brazil around the same period.

The material contains records which are very special and unique. The glass plate negatives and photographs illustrate the company’s operations in constructing quarries, bridges and other sites. The records that complement the images include drawings, handmade sketches as well as budget accounts for the railroads, train stations, warehouses and factories. The collection shows the country changing from a rural economy to an industrial one.

Eap563_udesa_huhe_alb1_004.aEAP563/1/5/1: Photographs album 1 [c 1907-c 1910] – Image 4

EAP 619 is a fascinating project which surveyed and digitised Thakbast maps from the former East Bengal (present day Bangladesh), these maps date from 1848-1850. Thakbast surveys were conducted to demarcate the mouza (‘village’) boundaries in preparation for a revenue survey undertaken by the East India Company. For this purpose a rough map was compiled called the thak muzmilli. The vast majority of thak (boundary pillar) maps drawn before 1852 were eye sketches not intended to provide more than rough guidance to revenue surveyors. These were drawn by pencil whereas later maps were topographical and coloured. The hand-drawn Thakbast sketch pencil maps drawn during the 1840s and 1850s have become rare. EAP619 gathered and listed information about the survival of these maps. A trial digitisation of items from the Rajshahi district was undertaken.

EAP619_PhotographAlbum30_29EAP619/1/1/30: Thak Maps Volume 30 [1848-1850] – Image 30

These maps provide a wealth of information such as the name of the mouza, area, type of soil, cropping pattern, population size, number of houses and cattle, location of roads, ponds, rivers, mosques, temples, bazaars, indigo factories, etc. Useful facts and comments were often written in the corner of each map. The maps help to reveal a picture of rural Bangladesh during this period of British colonisation in the inlands of East Bengal.

EAP619_PhotographAlbum39_31EAP619/1/1/39: Thak Maps Volume 39 [1848-1850] – Image 32

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.

 

09 April 2015

New online collections - April 2015

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This month three projects have gone up online. EAP031, EAP039 and EAP286. EAP031 and EAP039 both digitised Buddhist manuscripts, the first from Mongolia and the latter from Bhutan. EAP286 digitised a collection of manuscripts from Ethiopia.

EAP031 digitised the private collection of Danzan Ravjaa. Ravjaa was the 5th incarnation in the lineage of the Gobi Noyons, whose monastery was at the centre of a political and artistic renaissance located at the crossroads of Tibet, Mongolia and China during the 19th century. These Buddhist manuscripts have recently been unearthed from caves in the Outer Mongolian province of Dorngobi. During the communist regime Buddhism was suppressed and in 1938 the manuscripts were hidden for their protection. The location of these records, as well as other records from the local monastery, was passed down through the generations of monastery gatekeepers.

The project created over 40,000 images. This includes all of the manuscripts found in the collection that were authored by Ravjaa himself. These constituted the heart of the collection and consisted of manuscripts in both classic Mongolian and Tibetan. Subject matter ranged from poetry, astrology, medicine, plays (original manuscripts of the Moon Cuckoo operetta) and sadhanas (including some of Ravjaa’s ‘pure visions’ centring on the figure of Guru Rinpoche and his two consorts Yeshe Tsogyal and Lady Mandarava). This material will help scholars and researchers open up new areas in the field of Tibetan and Mongol studies.

EAP031-0558-0002EAP031/1/532: Tibetan title: slob dpon chen po pad+ma kA ra'i zhabs kyis … – Image 2

EAP039 successfully digitised the entire collection of manuscripts at Gangtey monastery in Bhutan. Gangtey Gonpa, founded by Gyalse Pema Thinley (the grandson of the famous Bhutanese saint Pema Lingpa), houses an enormous manuscript collection. This includes a set of the 100-volume bKa’ ’gyur, two sets of the 46-volume rNying ma rGyud ’bum, the world’s largest Astasahasrikaprajñaparamita, and about a hundred miscellaneous titles. The collection, mostly written in the 17th century as a funerary tribute to the founder of Gangtey, holds a unique textual, artistic and historical value of immense religious significance.

Gangteng_kanjur_'bum_014_pha (3)EAP039/1/1/1/14: Sher phyin ‘Bum: Volume 14 – Image 3

EAP286 digitised archives held at the Institute of Ethiopian Studies (IES). The IES is the major custodian of cultural and historical antiquities in Ethiopia. Manuscripts in the collection have come from government offices, monasteries, churches, mosques, public libraries, and private collections.

One of the largest parts of the collection is made up of Ge'ez manuscripts representing the history and literature of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Numbering more than 1,500 items, these manuscripts cover a wide range of genres: bibles, liturgies, histories, theologies, grammars, and magic scrolls produced by the Church.

Another substantial part of the collection is the Arabic manuscripts representing the history and literature of the Muslim community in Ethiopia and the set of Amharic manuscripts representing the last 150 years of Ethiopia's emergence into the international community.

EAP286IES00788_069EAP286/1/1/119: Commentary on 1-4 Kings, Commentary on Ecclesiasticus… -  Image 69

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.

16 March 2015

New online collections - March 2015

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This month we have had three collections go up online EAP153, EAP460, EAP714.

EAP153 surveyed and digitised private collections of documents in the Riau Archipelago.

The Riau Archipelago spreads over a vast geographic area in the triangle between Sumatra, Singapore and the Borneo. During the nineteenth century the area was part of the Dutch East Indies and was considered to be the core area of Malay language and culture. In their endeavour to standardise the Malay language, Dutch officials collected manuscripts from the archipelago; these manuscripts became the basis for a standard grammar and dictionary of the Malay language. This collection process not only resulted in several large repositories of Malay manuscripts, but also kindled a renaissance of Malay writing at the court of Riau and beyond. The remnants of this manuscript and book culture can still be found in the private collections that were surveyed.

Thirteen collections on four different islands in the region were digitised, amounting to approximately 8,000 photographs of 450 items. These comprised handwritten manuscripts, printed archival materials (forms, receipts, grants) and a few printed books.

EAP 153_DAIK_MUSEUM_42_001EAP153/10/42: Wafak Mandi Safar - Image 1

EAP460 digitised Shui manuscripts from private manuscripts in South Guizhou. Shui manuscripts (spelled as lesui in the Shui language) are ritual texts for the Shui people, a native ethnic group in Southern Guizhou. The earliest manuscripts can be safely dated to the 16th century. The contents of the Shui manuscripts cover knowledge on astronomy, geography, folklore, religion, ethics, philosophy, art and history. Therefore, the manuscripts are not only the key and irreplaceable materials to understand the unique culture of the Shui people, but also constructive for studying history, anthropology, folklore and even palaeography in general.

The project was successful in digitising 216 manuscripts. These are now available to view online.

EAP460 DDA_002_025EAP460/1/2: Shui Priest manuscripts, Duyun, Guizhou - Image 25

EAP714 assessed the state and extent of church records in Malawi dating between 1861 and 1964.

Malawi, formerly Nyasaland, had been a predominantly oral society. The arrival of British missionaries in the early 1860s led to the generating of written records. Between 1861 and 1891, before the establishment of the Colonial Administration, different Churches were established in Malawi and influenced people in many ways.

The Churches generated important records in the form of accounts, correspondence, day books, deacon’s diaries, manuscripts, maps, minutes, minute books, miscellaneous, nominal rolls (communicants, baptismal and catechumens rolls), photographs, registers (birth, death, expelled members and village schools), reports and statistics. These records are unique in that they are the earliest written documents in the country and they illuminate Malawi’s pre-colonial past more than any other records. 

The project successfully surveyed the records of seven different mission stations. The project digitised a sample of records from each church; this sample can now be viewed online.

EAP714 LM_Communion_Roll_011EAP714/2/1: Communion Roll [1892-1908] - Image 11

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.