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06 July 2014

Homage to a Monk-Archivist

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We have another wonderful guest blog this month, this time by Hans Berger who was involved with EAP177 and EAP326, two wonderful photographic projects from Laos. I will let him tell you all about the person who was the inspiration behind it all...

Pha Khamchan Virachitta Maha Thela (1920-2007)

Theravada monk and abbot, collector of Buddhist photographs of Laos

Portrait of Pha Khamchan by Hans Georg Berger_1996Portrait of Pha Khamchan by Hans Georg Berger 1996

From the 7th-9th July, Buddhist monks and laypeople of Luang Prabang in Northern Laos commemorate Pha Khamchan Virachitta Maha Thela, a highly venerated abbot who passed away seven years ago, and who has been the key figure in a research project of the British Library's Endangered Archives Programme in Luang Prabang, Laos.

Pha Khamchan collected Buddhist Photographs of Laos for over 70 years and saved them during difficult times. In 2006, he agreed to a project of digitisation that now makes a unique body of Lao Buddhist photographs available for research, both inside and outside  Laos. With photographer Hans Georg Berger, he created the Buddhist Archive of Photography in Luang Prabang that now holds more than 35.000 historic photographs and related documents.

Pha Khamchan and his monastic community in 1996

Pha Khamchan and his monastic community in 1996

The digitised photographs are available through the EAP website and at the National Library of Laos. The originals are kept in Luang Prabang.

Buddhist ceremonies take place at Vat Saen Sukharam, a historic monastery of the World Heritage Town of Luang Prabang. Led by Pha One Keo Kittibhaddo, these ceremonies are organised by Pha Khamchan's disciple, Pha Buavan Punnasaro.

Buddhist celebration_Luang PrabangCommemoration of Pha Khamchan at the Buddhist Archive of Photography in 2010.

The people of Luang Prabang honour a monk whose conduct and spiritual teaching has been exemplary, as was his profound knowledge of the ancient Lao culture and of its unique traditions and festivals which form the Lao identity.


Do have a look at the fascinating film A  Theravada Vision that shows Hans Berger and the monks preserving the photographic archive.


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20 June 2014

Book heritage of Ural Old Believers

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We are very lucky to have another guest blog, this time Dr Irina Pochinskaya who was the grant-holder for EAP556 will talk about the fascinating items that makes up part of the collection for this project.

Pic. 1
Staff of the Laboratory: Sitting left to right: P. Mangilev, I. Pochinskaya (head of the Laboratory), N. Anufrieva, N. Shcherbakova. Standing left to right: S. Beloborodov, Iu. Borovik, A. Palkin.

Pic. 2
Teaching exhibition at the Laboratory.

The Collection of manuscripts and old-printed books at the Laboratory of Studies in Archaeography of the Ural Federal University, Yekaterinburg, Russia, consists of almost 6000 biblio artifacts of the Ancient Russian tradition and has its roots in Byzantine culture.

Pic. 3
The books of the Laboratory collection.

In Russia this tradition is kept and developed by Old-Believers, representatives of a social-religious movement, which appeared as a result of the 17th century split of the Russian Church.

There are 3876 manuscript items in the Laboratory. 19 items are dated to the 15th – 16th centuries. A particularly interesting manuscript from this date is a Gospel (1530s), it contains a signature by the Archbishop of Novgord, Macariy (who later became the Archbishop of metropolitan Moscow and then of all of Russia) and is dated 8 November 1540. Another rare manuscript is a Service to the Icon of Vladimir Mother of God (early 16th century).

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Service to Vladimir Icon of Mother of God, early 16th century.

There are a large number of “sborniki” (collections) of different works and church services within the 17th century books. This includes an entire row of unique manuscripts such as the Chronograph (a 1617 edition and a manuscript dated to the 1620s) and “Ustav” (Order) of Cyrillo-Belozersky monastery, one of the largest in Russia.

Works of N.G. Spafariy, a well-known 17th century writer and diplomat, were widely known throughout the Urals and Siberia and the Laboratory has a collection of Spafariy’s works and translations. Of particular importance is “Titulyarnik” – a handbook for diplomats written in 1672. Our example was made in the 1680s.

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Titulyarnik. Manuscript, 1680s.

A significant proportion of the 17th century biblio artifacts are manuscripts containing spiritual chants. Melodies in these books were written with special signs known as “kryuki” (hooks) which came to Russia from Byzantium.

There are many books in the 18th century manuscript collection. They are thematic compilations of extracts from the Holy Scripture and are eschatological, educational and hagiographical in nature. There are also works of the Church Fathers and original Old-Believers. There are also unique manuscripts, such as the Cosmography (1750s-1760s), which is a historical-geographical essay containing descriptions of countries from all the continents and of course a very detailed description of places in Russia. The description is so comprehensive that we can almost guess the author and the sources he used.

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Cosmography. Manuscript 1750s-1760s.

An illuminated manuscript of the 1770s deserve special mention. It contains extracts from the book “Prolog”  which illustrates the suffering and torture of saints, making it an anthology of Medieval torture.

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The collection of extracts from Prolog Manuscript, 1770s.

There are many collections of 18th-20th century services, prayers and canons that were necessary for domestic rituals and services.

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Oktoikh. Manuscript, late 19th century.

During this time, the number of original Old-Believers’ works increased, including essays on the history of the movement. There is a row of 20th century personal archives from leaders of Old-Believers community. Therefore the collection of 19th-20th centuries material gives us a rich resource for studying the history of local Old-Believers and their contemporary condition.

There are 67 old-printed books from the 16th century. Among these are the first books printed in Moscow: The Lenten Triodion (c.1555-1556) and the Gospel (c.1558-59). They have no publisher’s imprint, so the creators remain anonymous.

Pic. 9
Gospel. Moscow, Anonymous typography, 1550s.

There is also the first accurately dated Russian old-printed book – The Apostle dated to 1564 (2 items). The collection also holds the first books published in Ukrainian and Belarussian typographies.

The 17th century books consist mainly of books published before the Church Reform of the 1650s-1660s which divided  the Russian Orthodox Church creating the oppositional Old-Believers’ movement. There are also Ukrainian and Belarussian publications, which were in demand amongst the Old-Believers.

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Gospel. Nizhniy Novgorod, 1613.

The book collection of  the 18th-20th centuries mainly consists of books published by Old-Believers. During the 18th to early 20th centuries Old-Believers printed books mainly in typographies of the Rzeczpospolita (Commonwealth) in Warsaw, Vilna, Grodno, Pochaev and Suprasl, the books were then illegally exported to Russia. The Old-Believers book publishing from the second half of 19th century to the early 20th century was organized in Russia, but was illegal. In 1905 the government legalized it.

The Laboratory staff actively studies biblio artifacts. You can see the list of their works on the website of the Laboratory.

Due to the Endangered Archives Programme of the British Library (project EAP556 “Book heritage of Ural Old-Believers”) digitisation of the most valuable biblio artifacts at the Laboratory started. The purchase of acid-free book boxes was also carried out under the grant.

09 June 2014

New online collections - June 2014

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Happy International Archives Day! Welcome to our monthly blog updating you about recent online collections. This month four collections have gone online EAP027, EAP061, EAP144 and EAP372. One of these collections hails from Liberia, two are from Indonesia and one is from India.

The first collection is EAP027 which preserved the papers of William V.S. Tubman, Liberia’s longest running president (1944-1971). These materials were being stored in a library in an unoccupied mansion in Liberia. Many had been damaged by mould and insects. Some had been left on the floor after the room had been searched by rebels, who thought the papers may contain hidden money and valuables, during Liberia’s civil war in 2003.

The collection contains papers which relate to Tubman’s personal and political life from his presidency in 1944 to his death in 1971. The majority of the collections focuses on the beginning (1944-1950) and the end (1961-1971) of his presidency. The papers are divided into three main groups, Liberian government papers, W.V.S Tubman papers and records relating to Tubmans work with non-governmental organisations. Given Tubman’s status as an African head of state during the de-colonization era, these papers will be of particular value for the study of the Organization of African Unity’s early years, as well as for the study of West African diplomacy.

A previous project, EAP139, which is already online, preserved the photographic collections of William V.S. Tubman.

EAP027/1/1/5/22 – Image 3

EAP061 is the first of the collections from Indonesia; it digitised Islamic manuscripts belonging to Pondok Pesantren. Pondok Pesantren are traditional Islamic schools which have become centres for Islamic learning and the dissemination of Islamic knowledge in Indonesia. The manuscripts reveal their role as centres for learning and sharing of Islamic teaching.

The project digitised three collections: Pondok Pesantren Langitan in Tuban, established 1852 by KH. Muhammad Nur; Pondok Pesantren Tarbiyyah al-Thalabah in Keranji, established in 1898 by KH Musthofa; and Pondok Pesantren Tegalsari, Jetis Ponorogo, established in the 18th century by Kyai Mohammed Besari.

These manuscripts include 'Yellow Books' (Kitab Kuning, a term referring to Islamic works printed on yellowish paper), such as Jawhar al-Tawhid, Hidayat al-Sibyan, Kitab Taqrib, Kitab Sittin Mas'ala etc. However their marginal notes make them unique from the original books. These notes are an important resource to study the efforts of Indonesia Ulama to translate Islam into the local context. The manuscripts provide evidence for how Islam interacted with local and Indonesian culture.

EAP061/1/17 Image 74

EAP144 is the second project from Indonesia. It digitised over 250 manuscripts from five Suruas (Prayer Houses) in West Sumatra. These manuscripts contain various texts such as Al-Qur'an, Al-Qur'an Translation (Tafsir), Tasawuf, Fiqh, Agiography (The Stories of the Saints), Arabic Grammar, Minangkabau Laws, Kaba, Hikayat, Nazam, Azimat, Letters and Medicine which hold important information for Minangkabau culture and Islamic history. They will contribute greatly to the study of Islam, Tasawuf, Traditional Laws, Language, Literature, Culture, and Medicine in Indonesia.

EAP144/1/13 – Image 2

EAP372 is the final project, this digitised early periodicals and newspapers of Tamilnadu and Pondichery in India.

Tamilnadu and Pondicherry occupy a prominent place on the map of print history in South Asia. Printing during the modern period proliferated to the rest of India from Tranquebar, a small coastal town south of Pondicherry in Tamilnadu. There was a big boom in printing in the 19th and the 20th century in the Tamil region. Evidence to this is the number of books, periodicals and newspapers that were published. While importance was given to the creation of publications, preservation took a back seat. A number of periodicals and newspapers primarily in Tamil and English remained locked and in deteriorated condition in several collections in Tamilnadu and Pondicherry.

The project was undertaken by a team from the Roja Muthiah Research Library. They identified materials in libraries and private archives which were then digitised. A total of 140,609 images were digitised. 10,770 issues from 56 titles of periodicals were identified, many of which were rare periodicals.

EAP372_SM_1922-09_009EAP372/1/1/1/1 – Image 9

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.