THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Endangered archives blog

News about the projects saving vulnerable material from around the world

17 June 2019

Marking Refugee Week with the EAP collections

17 June is the start of Refugee Week, which takes place every year across the world. The U.K. has a programme of cultural and educational events to celebrate the contribution refugees have made.  This year’s theme  ‘You, me and those who came before' is ‘an invitation to explore the lives of refugees – and those who have welcomed them – throughout the generations’.

Looking through the Endangered Archives’ collection, I came across a file of photographs taken by Madanmani Dixit, the first photojournalist in Nepal.

The photographs were taken at a refugee camp in Bangai village in 1971, and depict refugees who have escaped the atrocities of  the Bangladesh Liberation War. It seemed appropriate at the start of this week to share some of these powerful images on the EAP blog.

Close up of a woman with the refugee camp in the background

 

Group of women and children sitting huddled together and looking at the camera

Photograph looking down at the camp, people standing in the shade of a wall with cows eating the straw on the ground

Extreme close up of a young woman with her head covered. She looks directly at the camera

To view more images from the file EAP166/1/1/30, please visit the EAP Website.

07 June 2019

United National Independence Party of Zambia Archive Online

International Archives Day is celebrated annually on the 9 June – and I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to give an update on the archives of the United National Independence Party of Zambia (EAP121), a project that was funded in 2007.

The front of the bungalow where the archives are housed

The original records are still housed at the archives of UNIP

I think it is safe to say, that not a single month goes by without a request for access to this collection. It is a vital political archive and a key to understanding the struggle for self-governance in Zambia and its ruling party after independence in 1964. However, it is more broadly a primary source for all historians working on modern Zambia and neighbouring countries.

Unfortunately, because we did not know whether the material contained information about living individuals, we had taken the precautionary step of saying the archive could only be made available on site within one of the British Library’s reading rooms.

Inside the bungalow with boxes of archives on metal shelving

Inside the archive, with a bust of Dr Kenneth Kaunda, the first President of Zambia (from 1964 to 1991) and the nationalist leader Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula

We consulted researchers who had viewed the material as well as the Library’s Compliance Manager to get current advice on the Data Protection Act 2018. It became obvious that there was no sensitive material held within the files and that none of the material would be ‘likely to cause substantial damage or substantial distress to a data subject’ (section 19 of the Data Protection Act 2018). We therefore made the decision to make the entire United National Independence Party of Zambia collection available online. This now means that you can browse the 3,000 plus files from the comfort of your home or office rather than having to travel to London or Lusaka to visit the archives in person.

A page from the archive

To browse the collection, please visit the EAP webite.

 

14 May 2019

From Colombo to London: Encounters with the Endangered Archives Programme

I first read about the Endangered Archives Programme (EAP) in 2015. I also discovered that EAP had funded several projects in Sri Lanka, ranging from community manuscripts to religious collections. In 2017, I was working for a human rights archive in Sri Lanka, and at a conference on archiving, EAP was discussed at length, particularly with regard to the CAVR archive. Two years later, I was sitting at the nerve centre of the Programme on the fifth floor of the British Library—the world’s largest national library (or as I call it, the brick-lined colossus of the library world).

The British Library

My arrival at EAP, however, was hardly a matter of chance. A prestigious Chevening scholarship brought me to UCL to read for an MA in Archives and Records Management. When asked by my Programme Director where I would like to head off to for my work placement, EAP was at the very top of my list. I was curious about the nuts and bolts of it all. In my mind, EAP’s mission addressed one aspect of my archival work—the digital preservation of endangered human rights records and heritage material. Any further insight into the Programme—the approaches to archival description, the development of metadata and the types of software utilised—would expand my own archival tool-shed.

There were a few other factors that influenced my decision. The British Library’s position as an authority in librarianship and archival management is widely recognised. Throughout the MA programme at UCL, I had numerous interactions with the Library. One thing that struck me at the time, perhaps unsurprisingly, was that the spirit of openness, intellectual exchange and collaboration appeared to be embedded in the Library’s internal culture. From the Sound Archive and the Oral History team to Digital Preservation and Collections Care, the Library’s practitioners, partners and thought leaders were always generous with their time, hospitable to archival neophytes such as myself and open to exchanges that challenged and shaped my understanding of archival praxis.

The King's Tower of books inside the British Library

It wasn’t much of a surprise when I walked into a similar environment at EAP. Over the course of two weeks, Jody Butterworth, Graham Jevon and Rob Miles made sure I was exposed to as much of EAP as possible. I was immersed in EAP’s archival workflow; running through metadata processing, sitting through meetings on technical developments and learning about EAP’s plans for the future. In the midst of this very serious work, there were plenty of vivifying interludes—for example, the Library’s 21st Century talks—where new research on OCR was presented and discussed—and a guided tour of the Imaging Studio—where I stood enthralled at the various uses of multispectral imaging. During the second week of my placement, I was able to work on a digitised collection from Sri Lanka, specifically the manuscripts and records of the Bishop’s House in Jaffna, some of which date back to the 16th century. All in all, it was a privilege to participate in efforts to make the collection accessible to researchers around the world.

Page from the archive

Examples from EAP981

A receipt

On my last day at EAP, as I was browsing through the images of the collection, I recognised a name. I had just stumbled upon a letter written by my great-aunt, Louise Nugawela, who was married to Major E. A. Nugawela, the Minister of Education in the first Cabinet of Independent Ceylon. I believe the letter (reproduced below) is addressed to the Bishop of Jaffna, inviting him to join them for dinner on the 26th of June, 1948.

A letter written by Louise Nugawela

The discovery was a fitting way to end my work placement. My sincere thanks for an immensely rewarding experience at EAP. I hope the Programme goes from strength to strength in the years to come.

Nigel Nugawela is a Chevening Scholar at UCL, where he is reading for an MA in Archives and Records Management. His full profile can be viewed here.

 

04 April 2019

The artwork of Lalit Mohan Sen

Anigif

Lalit Mohan Sen (1898-1954) was an Indian artist born in West Bengal. Despite having a successful career working within the world of art and being a prolific artist in his own lifetime, relatively little is known about him today.

Sen graduated from the government School of Art in Lucknow in 1917, and then went on to study at London’s Royal College of Art in 1925. In 1931, he was one of ten artists hired to decorate the newly built India House in London. His artistic career included periods as an art teacher, commercial artist, landscape artist and photographer.

A dancing figure, white lines on a black groundEAP781/1/7/1/10. A dancing figurine

Sen’s work has been displayed in Victoria and Albert Museum and the British Royal Collections, his work has also been in exhibitions at the Royal Academy and the Exhibition of Photographic Art. In 2018, his art was chronicled in the exhibition “Unravelling a Modern Master: The Art of Lalit Mohan Sen (1898-1954), which took place at Victoria Memorial Hall in Kolkata.

Drawing of the face of a young woman in profile, with her head covered
EAP781/1/7/1/30. Portrait of a woman, Bhird Kheri, U.P

Picture of a kneeling man under the branches of a tree
EAP781/1/7/1/18. A seated man in a headress

Sen’s art spans a range of media, which include painting, sculpture, sketches, photography, textiles, printmaking, pen and ink, and posters encouraging tourism in India. His work encapsulates a variety of subjects, such as animals, deities, abstract design, portraiture, landscapes, nature and nudes. Much of his work has not only artistic value, but cultural, as they capture early twentieth century Indian dress, people and performance. Although his art focuses primarily on India, his body of work also shows interest in European landscapes and figures.

The back view of a woman carrying a pot on her hip
EAP781/1/7/1/12. Pot O Ghot

Photograph of a dancer sitting with her skirt fanned out on the floor
EAP781/1/7/1/235. Dance performance

From our project EAP781, Santipur and its neighbourhood: text and image production history from early modern Bengal through public and private collections”, our archives now contain over 500 digitised images of Sen’s art. These images demonstrate the diverse range of Sen’s artistic abilities.

Browsing through Sen’s body of work reveals the proficiency he had in creating art in different forms. It is fascinating to scroll through the collection of digitised images, and see how his artistic style remained distinct within each medium yet seemed to change quite considerably when working with another medium. In all, this collection of Sen’s work is a great source for research, inspiration and enjoyment.

Geometric pattern made of circles
EAP781/1/7/1/139. Block design of Saree

A brass sculpture of a stylised animal head with large open mouth
EAP781/1/7/1/153. Brass work in the shape of a face - used as an ashtray

Take a look here for the full set of images

More information on Lalit Mohan Sen and his work can be found in the video below

 

Written by Alyssa Ali, Endangered Archives Apprentice

19 March 2019

“The Barbados Mercury”: Thoughts from the digitisation team

In December 2018, we completed the digitisation of The Barbados Mercury Gazette, funded through EAP1086. We have previously written about different stages of the project, such as the start and the digitisation training. In addition, on February 1, 2019, the Barbados Archives held an event to celebrate the launch of the digitised newspaper online. You can see information and images about this event here.

In this post, two members of the digitisation team, Brian Inniss and Lenora Williams, discuss their thoughts about and experience during the digitisation process.

Conserving the Mercury Newspaper at the Barbados Archives

My name is Brian Inniss and I am the Senior Archive Technical Assistant at the Barbados Department of Archives. I am attached to the Conservation Unit which is comprised of myself and two other individuals who handle the care, conservation and preservation of the collections at the archives and the buildings that house them.  Our part in the Mercury digitisation project was to prepare the volumes for digitisation. The following are some details on our process.

Brian Inniss, Senior Archives Technical Assistant, preparing the Mercury for digitisation

Brian Inniss, Senior Archives Technical Assistant, preparing the Mercury for digitisation.

An important part of any digitisation project is preparation. The preparation for digitisation meant dis-bounding the bound volumes and doing all that was necessary to stabilise them, making it easier for the digitisation team to handle them. Volumes were carefully collected from storage and transferred to the lab for assessment and disassembly. Disassembling the bound newspaper was a first for the team. Working with these volumes in this way gave us more experience with techniques from the 1800s. It was truly exciting to see original loop and stab stitch that were used for many of these volumes.

The Barbados Mercury Gazette being disbound at the Conservation Department

The Barbados Mercury Gazette being disbound at the Conservation Department

The project was not without some challenges. All the material in this collection was well over 150 years old, some exceeding 200 years old, and over time, even with the best care at the archives, had become very brittle. Some newspaper issues were made brittle by various derogating factors such as acid-catalysed hydrolysis, oxidation, and insects (bookworms) and humidity. It was this deterioration that first inspired the project. Safely removing the pages, while minimising the damage which could lead to loss of vital information, was labour-intensive and required further research and ingenuity, but we were successful in the end.

After preparation by the conservation unit, these unbound volumes were secured between sheets of blotting paper so they could be transported safely to the digitisation unit to be digitised. After digitisation, these volumes will be bound and safely housed back in the repository for preservation.

This was truly an experience to behold and assisted in the further enhancing of our skills in dealing with paper of different grades and texture. Hopefully the Archives will have more opportunities like this and we will enthusiastically participate as we look toward the future.

Digitising the Mercury newspaper

Lenora Williams, Mercury Digitisation Project Assistant

Working with The Barbados Mercury Gazette as the Project Assistant was a capacity building experience. Of the many experiences, working with photography equipment for digitisation was the most exciting. Having previous experience in photography and a love for landscape photography, it was a chance to focus on another subject – paper.

 Jennifer Breedy, Archives Assistant, and Lenora Williams, Mercury Digitisation Project Assistant, working to digitise a fragile page

 Jennifer Breedy, Archives Assistant, and Lenora Williams, Mercury Digitisation Project Assistant, working to digitise a fragile page

The day to day requirements of the project required concentration and timing. It also demanded a high level of attention to detail and forethought to see a product that researchers can utilise. The set up was partially comprised of a copy stand and a Nikon D810 DSRL Camera. These technical aspects included creating even lighting, understanding just how subtle changes can impact on the image quality and understanding how the positioning of the subject can be as important in the end of product. This was one of our most challenging parts of the process, but a vital part in meeting the guidelines set out in the grant. Most of what I know about lighting a subject now comes from the intricacies of the FADGI standards.

Lenora Williams, Project Assistant

Lenora Williams, Project Assistant

Timothy Sealy, Archives Technical Assistant, assisting the digitisation team

Timothy Sealy, Archives Technical Assistant, assisting the digitisation team

Over the first few months the daily process became familiar and even welcome. It was then that the team would meet one of our most memorable challenges yet. As an archives user, I know the disappointment of being told a book or pamphlet is closed, but never fully appreciated what that actually means until I handled issues from the 1812 and 1813 of this collection. Careful consideration was placed into transferring the material from the conservation department to the room where the digitisation process was being carried out and the special training and instruction given to the team on handling these delicate issues. Even with careful handling, these pages crumbled. They seemed to dissolve right by merely existing and it was then that the real importance of this project made its impact to all involved.

 The more you interact with the material the more one can gain an appreciation of 1700-1800 Barbados. The Mercury Newspaper opens up 18th and 19th century Barbados though the eyes of a select, literate few. The newspaper as a resource sheds light on the way they saw themselves and the ideals they held for country, their businesses and themselves. I began seeing their words and exploring the similarities and differences of Barbados then and now. One great example is the newspaper itself. At present, several media houses publish a daily newspaper that has some 10 pages or more with cleverly merged articles. The Mercury newspaper as evidenced by this collection, was published twice per week usually around 3 or 4 pm.

It was striking to find that Barbadians then were no less materialistic. For example, one feature of the Mercury is the considerable number of advertisements each issue contains; sometimes taking up a large percentage of any given page. Many subscribers through the years give detailed lists of items for sale.

The newspaper will surely be most noted for its information on enslaved persons. Subheadings of “Absconded” or “A reward” preceded such notices which often give an avid description including occupation, location and family connections of enslaved person. Related information includes regular updates of the list of enslaved persons in the cage and owners. Uploading this resource into an open platform with free access to the full content will encourage users to engage with the content at their convenience.

I am thankful for the opportunity to work in this Endangered Archives Programme grant, and I look forward to being involved in other such projects in the future.

To see more images from the conservation and digitisation of the Mercury, please see here.

Written by Lenora Williams, Brian Inniss and Amalia S. Levi

Photos credit: Lenora Williams and Brian Innis.

15 February 2019

Introducing Sam van Schaik, the new head of the Endangered Archives Programme

With EAP entering its second phase last year, a new role was created for a head of the Programme. I began in this exciting new role earlier this month, and I thought it was about time to introduce myself here on the EAP website!

Portrait of Sam van Schaik

I have moved to the Endangered Archives Programme from a different, but not entirely dissimilar project at the British Library: the International Dunhuang Project (IDP). I started here in 1999, when I was in the final year of my doctorate on Tibetan Buddhism, working on a cataloguing and digitising over two thousand Tibetan wooden slips from the Silk Road at the same time as finishing my dissertation. A couple of years later, with that done and the dissertation finally finished, I embarked on a series of research projects, on Tibetan tantric Buddhism, the palaeography of Tibetan manuscripts, and the lost tradition of Tibetan Zen. Most recently before I moved to EAP, I was a principal investigator on a major synergy project funded by the European Research Council, 'Beyond Boundaries: Religion, Region, Language and the State', tracing the impacts of Indic culture on Southeast Asia, Central Asia and China in the first millennium CE.

In IDP we worked towards digitally reuniting the Silk Road collections of the British Library with those in other museums and libraries across the world. The challenge was for institutions in Europe, Russia, China and Japan to work together, harmonising their digitisation and cataloguing work so that these dispersed collections could be accessed from a single website. And thanks to dedicated curators, researchers and technicians in all of these places, it worked. The website (idp.bl.uk) gives access to manuscripts, paintings and other artefacts from across the world. This global partnership, one of the most successful and long running international digital collaborations, continues today.

These projects have given me fantastic opportunities to work with the manuscript collections at the British Library as a curator and researcher, to travel to other museums and libraries in Europe, Asia and Russia, and to write and publish on Buddhism, the history of the Silk Road and the study of manuscripts. Being able to work with these incredible collections and their dedicated curators has always been a privilege. In recent years I've also written some books for a wider audience, including Tibet: A History (2012) and The Spirit of Tibetan Buddhism (2016).

Moving to the Endangered Archives Programme, some things are familiar, most of all the commitment to preserving and making available global sources of culture and learning. Both Arcadia and the British Library are committed to open access and the widest possible dissemination of the results of EAP projects. This means making everything not only available, but easily discoverable in a variety of ways, for different kinds of of people with different needs and interests. With over 350 projects in 90 countries, EAP is a vast network, which is complemented by the work of other Arcadia-funded programmes, including the Endangered Languages Documentation Programme (SOAS), the Endangered Material Knowledge Programme (British Museum), and Documenting Global Voices (UCLA).

Over the years I've heard from recipients of EAP grants about how valuable the support of EAP had been, and how pleasant they found working with the Programme. Now, as the detailed applications for round 15 of EAP are arriving, I am seeing the process from the other side, and I am even more impressed by the EAP team at the British Library and looking forward to working with them as the adventure continues.

Blog written by Sam van Schaik

08 February 2019

Let's rescue and disseminate the Chilean public education archives

The School Archives Programme at the Institute of History of the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile is convinced of the value of historical documents created by Chilean public educational institutions. 

Founded during the nineteenth century as key institutions throughout the country, these secondary schools contain valuable and unpublished information concerning the local communities of the former Chilean provinces. Enrolment Records, Director's Correspondence, Subjects Taught, Teacher Council Minutes, Exam Proceedings, Punishment Books, Inventories, and other records will be digitised during 2019. Eight lycées of national importance in five regions have agreed to take part in EAP1065. The educational institutions - known as 'liceos' that are taking part are: Gabriela Mistral (La Serena), Alejandro Álvarez (Ovalle), Technological Alfredo Nazar Feres (Valparaíso), Óscar Castro (Rancagua), Luis Urbina F. (Rengo), Neandro Schilling (SanFernando), Abate Molina (Talca) and Enrique Molina G. (Concepción).

Meanwhile, we hope to encourage other institutions to get on board. Archives are often forgotten and neglected, sometimes at risk because of fire, earthquakes or floods. When these documents are valued, they take on new life and meaning thanks to rescue initiatives, organisation and dissemination activities proposed by the school communities themselves. These communities have taken into account the potential that these documents are fundamental resources for education, memory, identity and citizenship.

Browsing through the shelves of a school library

In this way, and together with the School Archives Programme, numerous workshops, seminars, training courses and various projects that bring together university academics, school teachers and students with professionals from various disciplines working collaboratively have taken place between 2010 and 2018.

This material is not just for the study of the history of education, we also appreciate the importance they have for understanding of cultural and social history of the localities that keep them. Likewise, they are a source of great interest for diverse and innovative didactic applications that contribute to forming methodological competences among students.

Peering into a glass cabinet that contains archival material. School trophies line the top of the cabinet

The goal is to develop and constitute a national network to which institutions and initiatives can be added in the three lines of work proposed by the School Archives Programme:
1. Archives and Heritage; 2. Pedagogical mediation; 3. Impact assessment on literacy and historical awareness.

Setting up the digitisation studio

 

Blog written by Rodrigo Sandoval grant holder for EAP1065

14 January 2019

Early photographic work of the Hamilton Studios, Bombay.

Hamilton Photographic Studio is a significant cultural asset for Bombay. It sits in Fort, a beautiful business district in the bustling port area of the city. Amongst the steady thrum and beep of the traffic-choked roads, the studio hides on a tree-lined side street as an oasis of calm. It is not just that photographers and clients create a sense of stillness in the moment of creation; this studio feels more like an art gallery or place of worship. Photographs of significant people line the walls and so visitors immediately commune with a sacred past. The effect is tangible, and on a very hot and busy day in late September 2018, this haven is most welcome.

The street sign for Hamilton Studios

Hamilton Studios was opened by Sir Victor Sassoon in 1928 to provide studio photography to the illustrious people of the day, including the British rulers and the significant Indian families. These include industrialist JRD Tata, and families including the Baldotas, Dubashes, Podars, Khataus, Vinod Khanna, Madhubala, Nutan, Maharani Gayatri Devi, Nadia Hunterwaali, as well a British aristocracy including Lord Bradborne and Lord Willingdon, and many upper-class people serving colonial Britain. When Sassoon left India after partition, the studio’s archive of glass plate negatives sat remaindered in cabinets, seemingly unimportant and unwanted. It was in 1957 when a young Indian photographer called Ranjit Madhavji bought Hamilton Studios and with it, the archive. The family still run the studio today.

The grandeur of the earlier era has been preserved by the Madhavji family. The studio is arranged such that it places the client at the centre of all of what is to come. The parlour, for clients to sit and talk about their portrait, is very comfortable, painted in a serene chalky green paint. The parlour walls host portraits of famous clients, including impressive-looking Maharajas and a portrait of a young Dalai Lama. Sitting there and observing, you would note the exceptional quality of the fixtures, doors and panelling, and how the high ceilings and generous space suggests high class comfort. Usually, sitters have tea and a long conversation to allow the photographer to understand the person more and plan the portrait. Today, this approach is still used.

Inside the studio with photographs along the walls

The parlour, with portraits (Photograph © Michael Cutts)

The studio room itself is a windowless, internal room, which retains much of the original equipment. Huge bulbs sit in vast silver pendants, whilst a contraption that looks like a pencil torch for the BFG hangs languidly above the head of the client as a spotlight. Curtains frame the space, a choice of backdrops. A 1928 Kodak 10x8 plate camera as big as a man stares from opposite, ready to be used, whilst smaller digital equipment discreetly lie on a table. Teak and steel filing cabinets, filled with negatives, line up, backs against the walls, as if giving as much floor as possible to the new photograph soon to be shot. It is all quite beautiful. The studio space, sometimes used for fashion shoots as well as portraits, has been assiduously kept for the future by Ajita Madhavji so visitors may better understand and experience another era. The conclusion is that a portrait taken at Hamilton is a treasure.

The set up for portrait photograph with several lamps in front of a closed curtain

The portrait studio (Photograph © Michael Cutts)

We are here because the studio is threatened from a number of directions. Over the past 90 years, the humidity of Bombay has wreaked havoc on this significant and important archive. Some 600,000 items, including negatives, prints and ephemera are still stored in paper sleeves and wooden cabinets and boxes, the earliest since 1928. The early negatives are of glass and are deteriorating badly, in themselves a story of exposure to unforgiving conditions. Caught between moving the negatives and letting them rest gathering dust, the family have left them alone for fear of damage.

The studio is also threatened by the possible redevelopment of the Ballard Estate. Originally the offices of import and export companies located directly next to Bombay docks, this once imposing estate now sits on valuable land. Redevelopment has been signalled since the 1970s with the calls getting louder as Bombay gets bigger and higher. However, a collective response from many tenants on the estate, led by the Madhavji family over decades, has meant a reaffirmation of tenant rights by the courts. Specifically, the threat that hangs over the photographic studio is that it must continue to operate as a studio and gallery to remain a tenant of the estate. Perhaps understandably, the ubiquity of digital photography has led to a decline in customers, but nonetheless Hamilton has survived, largely due to its reputation and heritage, and the hard work of the family. Right now, the Madhavji family is rethinking the future of the studio in order to maintain its location, relevance and status, with its fantastic archive, charming photographic studio and gallery space all feeding into a new business strategy.

An application for an EAP grant was successful on the basis that an archive from between 1928 and 1947 of approximately 25,000 negatives, prints and ephemera, be digitised and that the early negatives and prints go into new acid-free boxes. The digital archive will be made available online through the British Library on a non-commercial basis and through Hamilton Studios on a commercial basis. Ajita hopes that this project will act as an accelerant for her strategy and breathe new life into the studios. The application was made through Dr. Ben Kyneswood at Coventry University. His work, alongside photographer Jason Scott Tilley of Photo Archive Miners CIC involves helping owners of forgotten and historic archives digitise them in order to tell their story to a new generation. Their work on the Masterji archive from Coventry, UK, was exhibited in Mumbai in 2017 as part of the Focus Mumbai photography exhibition, and through that they came to know Ajita Madhavji and Hamilton Studios.

The archive is known in Indian photographic circles enough for enquiries to purchase some of the collection to have already been made. Ajita has rebutted these, knowing as she puts it, that vultures always circle. What attracted her to the EAP fund was the status of the British Library, that commercial ownership remained with her, and that the project would give her a platform for her strategy whilst making the public, through the Library, aware of Hamilton Studios. The project is designed therefore as a capacity building project where Ben and Jason train not just Ajita and an archivist at the studios, but also interns from two Indian colleges. The interns, from the National Institute of Design (NID) in Ahmedabad and from the Indian School of Design and Innovation (ISDI) in Bombay, will not just get valuable, paid, experience, but they will also develop a relationship with Hamilton that may last beyond the EAP project and into the next phase of the strategy.

Jason and I arrived at the studios for the first time in late September 2018 for a nine day stay. Our plan was two-fold: firstly, to develop our relationship with Ajita and secure the interns, and second to assess the archive, build the digitisation studio and begin training. The equipment was sourced from Genus IT in the UK, and on their advice included a Canon EOS 5DS and Kaiser copy stand and Pro-lite lightbox for the negatives, and a copy stand, light rig and book holder using as Canon 80D for prints and documents. Canon software is used for tethered live capture, whilst Adobe Lightroom 6 is used to invert the negative and add metadata. PPI is determined by the object size, but a minimum of 300ppi is used a floor: for some glass negatives that measure in 10 inches in size, this still produces a file that is rich in detail (but huge in file size). For smaller negatives measuring 6 x 4, 600ppi produces a file around 60MB in size. Finally, the files are saved to a shared OneDrive as TIFFS, given an EAP1117_[Hamilton catalogue number] file name, with details added to the spreadsheet provided by the British Library. At this point the items are logged onto a spreadsheet issued by the British Library EAP team.

Our first few days were spent carefully understanding the condition of the studios and archive whilst we waited for our equipment to be delivered. The archive itself is spread throughout the studios rather than in a single place, a result of a single room often having its own climate and issues: warm one side, damp another, dry over there, and termites, or white ants, over there. A first impression suggests chaos but this knowing method has saved thousands of negatives. The room designated for the project sits just behind the office and seemed the ideal space: a natural airflow between doors at either end, with ceiling fans above, create a comfortable working space except in the most humid conditions. We surveyed the room already organised by Ajita. Two workstations would face a wall where new electrical points supply cameras and equipment, with a UPS to protect the sensitive equipment from common power surges on the direct current electrical system in India.

The office with an old paper press

The office used for digitising the archive

On day two we expected to receive our cargo from our supplier in the UK. These items include the archival boxes, copy stands, book holders and light rigs, including light boxes, which would form the backbone of our project. Unfortunately for us, the Indian Customs decided to investigate the cargo, and on deciding that several items needed prior declaration (they rated the copy stands as meteorological tools because of the metal used, despite our clarifications!) they held the items until an investigation was completed. They also questioned whether Hamilton Studios was the importer, not the University, through me, as a non-national, and therefore liable. This claim had implications for the Studios, who obviously were not in the import/export business, but would face large penalties if it was decided that they were.

The investigation lasted four months and involved conversations with different officials and the appointment of a Clearing Agent in India. Fortunately, Indian Customs eventually released and returned the items to the UK where we are now being permitted to apply to import the items. They still regard the copy stands as meteorological tools because of the metal used, and we are now sure they will not be pursuing Hamilton Studios for illegal importing. The lesson here is to never underestimate a bureaucracy’s ability to make work for itself and to always check and re-check, even when importing with a supplier who regularly supplies to India.

Despite this setback, Jason and I did not lose time whilst in Bombay. Ajita afforded us the great privilege of meeting her now elderly father over an evening meal at her home, a true delight. Ranjit Madhavji is a legend in Indian photographic circles as a recipient of many awards, and deserves international acknowledgment for his achievements. His stories of his upbringing, his life philosophy that led to setting up the studios will be recorded in another blog, but safe to say, it was the most wonderful use of our time. Ajita set about ensuring we were well looked after. Food from the nearby Café Britannia, whose ancient owner proudly met the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on a recent visit, kept us going as we examined the space, chased our equipment and taught Ajita and Gurujit, the lead archivist on this project, how to use the cameras with the software and the British Library’s archiving system. To ensure we could teach, we improvised a lightbox from an old light fitting. The electricians who supplied the new power points installed a square LED light into the light fitting and, after fashioning cardboard to fit the 5 x 7 negatives we were looking at, hey presto, we began to take photographs. This box was not the one we would be using in the future (we hope!) but for teaching Gurujit, who would them teach interns, it was very satisfactory.

In the act of taking a photograph of a photograph

Ajita is using the Canon MKIV 5DS with a macro lens looking at a negative sitting on the improvised lightbox. The tripod is an original of the studios and dates to the 1940s and is very beautiful.

The initial scoping and test scans and revealed fantastic stories, with data taken from envelopes, which gave us names, dates and addresses, and letters written to the studios requesting further copies. The studios kept correspondence, usefully writing date (including year) received on letters, as in this example below, from Shelia Jepsom, from June 1943.

Three portraits of Shelia Jepsom

Page one of a letter by Shelia Jepsom

Page 2 of a letter by Shelia Jepsom

Shelia K Jepsom, from 1943, requesting copies of her portraits, and especially for the copy in her nurse uniform to be darkened because of the effect of the light processing on the lips!

As we stand now, just into the New Year for 2019, we will be returning to Hamilton Studios in just a few weeks’ time, once the equipment has made it to the studios. We have appointed an importer in India to oversee this and to ensure we do not lose time to investigations again. From then we are ready to begin exploring the wonderful Hamilton Studio archive.

Please follow our work on @photominers on Twitter and check back here for more updates.

Blog written by Dr Ben Kyneswood grant holder for EAP1117