THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Endangered archives blog

Jody Butterworth and Paul Young on histories in peril

11 August 2015

New online collections - August 2015

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This month two projects have gone online, EAP352 and EAP764.

The first of these projects is EAP352. The project digitised Arabic and Jawi (Arabic Malay) manuscripts that come from two regions in Indonesia - Western Sumatra (Minangkabau region) and Jambi. The 11 collections held in private hands contain manuscripts from two Sufi brotherhoods: Shattariyah and Naqshbandiyah.

The texts include treatises on the peculiarities of regional Islam such as the history of local religious traditions, hagiographical works and documents on the Naqshbandiyah and Shattariyah mystical conceptions written by local Shaikh’s. They also contain unique examples of calligraphy, illumination and bookbinding. The manuscripts describing Suluk mystical ritual are particularly noteworthy, as the ritual is practiced only in the remote corners of Sumatra and is considered to be unpopular among younger generations of Muslims. They contain interesting examples of al-Qur’an and works on traditional medicine in Jambi.

Study of such written heritage can contribute greatly to the history of Sumatra as well as the history of Islam and Sufism. 

EAP352_ EMWSPJCSB_SSSB _06_ EMWSPJCSB_039EAP352/1/6: Dalail al-Khairat [19th century copy of the famous work of Shadziliyah Sheikh of the 15th cent. Muhammad al-Jazuli from Northern Africa] – Image 39

The second project is EAP764, a pilot project which surveyed documentary material located in the archive of the Prefecture of Bandiagara (Mali). This was undertaken in order to preserve collections of historical and anthropological relevance from the early decades of French colonialism. The archival material falls within the wide area of the Cercle, an administrative unit introduced in 1903 by the French, which came to encompass a territory reaching up to Burkina Faso. Bandiagara is still the capital of the Dogon country, an area of extraordinary cultural interest and is included in the UNESCO World Heritage list. Since the region is rich with oral traditions and has few written records, such documents, written in French by the colonial administrators, represent valuable and unique evidence of a historical period which has been little investigated. The collections identified will be of great interest for researchers looking at the history, law, religion, anthropology, politics, demography and economy of the region.

The project was successful in identifying the most endangered and precious collections dating back to the early decades of the 20th century. A sample of these collections was digitised and is now available to view online.

EAP764_JR_1912_1914_006EAP764/1/1/1: Tribunal de Province du premier janvier 1912 au 28 avril 1914 Court of Province from Jan 1, 1912 to April 28, 1914 – Image 6

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.

31 July 2015

Spiked fiddles from Mongolia

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31st July is Uncommon Musical Instrument Awareness Day and so I thought it would give me an excuse to delve into the EAP collections to see what I could find and yet again the rare photographic negatives from Mongolia (EAP264) came up trumps with a whole series dedicated to folk instruments taken during the 1930s to 1950s (EAP264/1/1/8).

The instrument most commonly associated with Mongolia is the morin khuur, a spiked fiddle with trapezoid base but most importantly with a horse’s head carved at the top of the peg box – the translation of morin khuur meaning horse’s fiddle. The instrument was traditionally played only by men, the instrument being passed down the family line through the eldest son. Khalkha Mongolians have a proverb that a household with a horse-head fiddle is a full home whilst one without is a widow’s dwelling.

Typically, the instrument accompanies the ‘long song’. As the name implies, these songs last for a lengthy amount of time but the name also refers to the fact that each syllable has an extended duration. The illustration below shows a morin khuur player accompanying a singer.

EAP264AC_08_011EAP264/1/1/8/11

Traditionally, the sounding box was covered in hide made from suckling sheep, goat or camel  producing a soft tone appropriate for the intimate surroundings of a ger (yurt). However, during the Soviet years (when these photographs were taken) the instrument was also turned into one played in the theatre and, to make it louder, the sounding box was made from wood.

This close up of a morin khuur peg box shows the horse head with a carving of a dragon directly beneath which is quite common. However what is rather unusual is that in this example, a second and much smaller horse’s head can be seen towards the back.

EAP264AC_08_046EAP264/1/1/8/45

This photograph of a group of musicians shows two morin khuur players with two huuchir players seated either side. One huuchir has a plain peg box, whilst the other has a carving of a horse’s head.

EAP264_1_1_8-EAP264AC_08_003_L[1]EAP264/1/1/8/3

These instruments are quite common throughout the Gobi region and unlike the morin khuur which has just two strings, the huuchir has four. It has a smaller sound box, either cylindrical, octagonal or hexagonal, with a fretless neck and a metal ring that can be adjusted along the neck to adjust the pitch, which can just be made out in the photograph below.

  EAP264AC_08_013EAP264/1/1/8/13

The name huuchir is very similar to the Chinese word for the same family of instruments ‘huqin’ (胡琴). Hu (胡) is the generic term for people living to the north or west of China’s borders and implies that the instrument was introduced to China from the Steppes.

Do have a look at the rest of the photographs as there are many more musical instruments to be discovered.

EAP264_1_1_8-EAP264AC_08_006_L[1]EAP264/1/1/8/6

 

References:

Carole Pegg Mongolian Music, Dance and Oral Narrative  Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2001

Mitchell Clark Sounds Of The Silk Road: Musical Instruments Of Asia Boston: MFA Publications, 2005

15 July 2015

New images online - July 2015

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This month three projects have gone online, EAP080, EAP660 and EAP769.

The first of these projects, EAP080, microfilmed Serbian musical collections from the Craftsmen choral society in Zemun. Choral societies were a prominent part of Serbian musical culture in the 19th century. Between 1834 and 1914 over 150 Serbian choral societies were founded. Some of them had extremely rich musical libraries, with thousands of scores and choral parts. Unfortunately, only a few of them preserved their full musical collections, which often included original manuscripts. Numerous collections were lost, divided or even destroyed. 

The musical collection of the Craftsmen choral society from Zemun contains 27 large boxes of material: manuscripts, handwritten and printed scores, mostly choral music, stage music as well as some documents on the history of the society. The compositions are written by Serbian, Russian, Czech, German, Austrian and Italian composers.

This collection is an excellent example of the typical musical taste of a growing citizen class. Judging by stamps and signatures, it seems as if other choirs' libraries were added and came from the Serbian Orthodox Choral Society and the Academic Choir, both from Zemun, and the Cathedral Choir from Novi Sad.

Scan_0026EAP080/1/8/3/4: Image 12 - Unknown author, Ukoricene crvene, plave i zelene sveske [Music note books with red, blue and green covers]

The second project this month, EAP660, digitised copies of Nur-i-Afshan, a periodical published by the Presbyterian Mission in the Punjab. Sometimes published weekly, and other times bi-monthly. Nur-i-Afshan, was a multifaceted news magazine and carried local and international news summaries, government postings, commodity prices, and advertisements, but also opinion articles, essays, proverbs, and poems.

This periodical is one of the very few primary sources originating locally in pre-partition India, which shows Christian missionary work in the Punjab. In addition to being a religious publication, Nur-i-Afshan also forms part of a large and growing corpus of Urdu periodicals published in the nineteenth century and gives the researcher invaluable insight into the thinking, concerns, and ideas of nineteenth century Indians and enables a better understanding of the social, political and religious forces at play during this period. Furthermore, the study of such periodicals is of interest to scholars engaged in linguistics and language development. As the nineteenth century was a key age in the development of the Urdu language, the styles of prose, grammar, and diction used in this publication are important research materials. The role of a missionary society in taking up a local vernacular for discourse at that time makes the importance of Nur-i-Afshan even greater and its study more significant.

EAP660_Nur-i_Afshan_December_1900_v28_no52_001EAP660/1/26/60: Image 1 - Nur-i-Afshan December [1900 volume 28 no.52] [1900]

The final project this month is EAP769, a pilot project which looked at archives and records from the Caribbean island of Montserrat, a country that has suffered from harsh environmental conditions and natural disasters. Inappropriate storage and handling has resulted in material being lost or rapidly deteriorating, creating an urgent need for proper preventive conservation care. Recent volcanic activity destroyed many of the previous storage facilities.

This project identified archival material held throughout Montserrat, assessed its condition and prepared a long term plan for its safe storage, digitisation and increased public access and awareness of this endangered resource.

The pilot project worked on the collections of original material held by the Montserrat National Trust (MNT). This comprises of 18th and 19th century estate plans and deeds; 20th century letters, newspapers, land deeds, wills, receipts; and collections of slide photographs from the 1980s, including a 1986 historic buildings survey which show many buildings no longer standing after the 1995 and 1997 volcanic eruptions.

EAP769_MNT_HSS_Pg_00EAP769/3/3/1: Image 1 – Historic Building Survey 1986

In addition, the project worked on some of the 18th century records held at the Central Library, a collection in private ownership, and material held by the Government Registry Office.

Sample digitisation of selected material was undertaken and is now available to view online.

EAP769_MNT_EST12_069_1EAP769/3/1/12: Image 6 - Sale of Champion Jones Properties [1910]

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.