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Endangered archives blog

Jody Butterworth and Paul Young on histories in peril

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.

26 February 2015

New online collections – February 2015 – Part 2

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This blog features the final three new projects available online this month. These are EAP164, EAP566 and EAP684.

EAP164 digitised collections which document pre-industrial society on the Ukrainian Steppe. During the last 10 years the Zaporizhzhia Learned Society of Ya. Novytskyi (attached to Zaporizhzhia National University) has been working on the discovery of documents representing the different ethnic and religious social groups that existed on the Steppe. These include former Zaporozhian Cossacks, Bulgarians, Albanians, Greeks, Armenians and Germans. EAP164 digitised the material which the society discovered on its various surveys.

The digitised images that are now online include personal memoirs, diaries and letters as well as official records and photographs.

EAP 164_0Did1EAP164/1/15/2: Archives of Ljax. Book 2 – Image 1

EAP566 digitised Urdu periodicals from India and Pakistan. These periodicals have enormous significance for the understanding of Urdu culture and history of colonial India. Urdu was the dominant language of interchange in India throughout most of the nineteenth century. Since printing in India was cheap, anyone with an opinion might and often did publish a statement of their views. Often such publications were of limited editions, frequently a few hundred copies, and were not collected by many libraries. Yet these publications provide us today with a broad spectrum of writings by colonial Indians on all major and many minor issues of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Such writings are invaluable to historians of social, cultural, literary, and intellectual change.

The project carefully selected some of the most important Urdu periodicals which were in danger of being lost forever. These periodicals were successfully digitised and are now available to view online.

EAP566_Maulvi_January_1940_v30_no6_002EAP566/1/1/10/6: Maulvi (Volume 30, Issue 6) [1940] – Image 2

The final project this month is EAP684; this surveyed the collections of the National Archives of Burundi to provide information on the documents which are in a fragile physical condition. A small sample of material was digitised and this is now available to view online.

EAP684_AJ22 (1)EAP684/1/4/1: Agriculture, Fishing, fish farming [1949-1950] – Image 1

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.

18 February 2015

Stories they tell: clues from endangered archives

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Documents, manuscripts, photographs and sound recordings that capture much of the world’s memory are preserved in vulnerable collections around the globe. If they perish, part of history is irrevocably lost. In the past, efforts to preserve these collections and make them available for scholarly interpretation often meant removing them to the safety of western libraries. Though well intentioned, these actions frequently had unintended consequences. Preserved and available to scholars, the materials became inaccessible to the communities whose history they captured. This had a twofold effect: it impaired the communities’ ability to write their own history and at the same time, by detaching documents from original context, led to the loss of an important layer of historical information.

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EAP039 Buddhist manuscripts from the library of the remote Gangtey monastery in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan © Dr Karma Phuntsho

The Endangered Archives Programme uses digitisation to preserve records and to make them freely accessible to all, without removing original materials from their custodians. Whenever possible the projects help the keepers to secure the survival of the original documents. Because the materials are often too fragile to be handled on a regular basis, the digital surrogates frequently provide the only point of access not only for scholars worldwide, but also for local readers. By making digital records available to all, the programme ensures that the history they capture is open to wide audiences, multiple perspectives and diverse interpretations.

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EAP334 Locating and digitising manuscripts in Wolof Ajami script, written by members of the Muridiyya Sufi order founded in Senegal in 1883 © Dr Fallou Ngom

The “From Dust to Digital” volume, which marks the 10th anniversary of the Endangered Archives Programme, showcases the historical importance and research potential of the digitised collections. The open access online version of the book is designed to ensure that not only the primary sources, but also the research they have inspired, are freely available to all. The book brings together 19 articles from the 244 projects that the programme has supported since its inception. We asked the authors to focus on the digitised collections, but gave them complete freedom in choosing specific questions they wanted to explore. The intention was to ensure that the volume illustrates a wide range of research that the EAP collections make possible.

Front-cover

The chapters discuss inscriptions in Libya; manuscripts in India, Ethiopia, Kenya and Mali; archival records in Bulgaria, Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Nigeria, Senegal, Palestine; photographic collections in Argentina, India, Russia and Cameroon; and sound recordings from Guinea, Iran and the Russian Federation. The articles tackle the fundamental problems of transcribing and translating – sometimes for the very first time – languages that have nearly fallen silent. They investigate historical transmission of texts and explore the processes underlying collection formation. They bring to light unknown events and cast new light on historical phenomena. They provide vivid insights into local and even personal histories. 

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EAP526 The priests of May Wäyni monastery with their manuscripts, Ethiopia © Professor Michael Gervers

Many of the contributions stress the importance of the original context for our understanding of the materials. The physical location of inscriptions within a landscape; the ceremonies preceding a reading of a manuscript; the place that a manuscript or a photograph holds within a larger collection, are all important for our interpretation of these documents. Without them we can only see a part of the story.

Most of the sources discussed here were not previously subjects of scholarly attention. We hope that this publication will open new debates and inspire scholars to explore the archives preserved by the Endangered Archives Programme. We also hope that open access to both the primary sources and to the articles in the “From Dust to Digital” volume will encourage future authors to make their research freely available to all.

  EAP_2015_066Roly Keating, Chief Executive of the British Library, with Ambassador of the Lao Embassy, H.E. Mr. Sayakane Sisouvong and the 3rd Secretary, Mr Moungkhoun Chansavath at the book launch held at the Library on the 17th February 2015.


EAP_2015_112
Gabriela Ramos and Evelyne Mesclier browsing through the publication.

Dr Maja Kominko

Cultural Grants Manager at Arcadia and the editor for the publication “From Dust to Digital”