Digital Archives

We list here digital archives projects focusing on firstly on South India and secondly more generally on South Asia. If you are aware of other digital archives on South Asia which could be included in this list, please send the relevant information to : project.EAP458@gmail.com

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A number of digital archives projects in South India are, or have, been supported by the Endangered Archives Programme (EAP). For more details on the project, click on the project title.


Preserving early print literature on the history of Tamil Nadu

Major project EAP 183, coordinated by Mr Sundar Ganesan – Roja Muthiah Research Library.

Roja Muthiah Research Library (RMRL) is a resource and research hub for south Indian studies covering diverse fields from humanities, social sciences to popular culture. Through this project, RMRL proposes to preserve early print literature on the history of Tamilnadu by microfilming the publications and later by digitizing the microfilm reels. A wealth of 19th & 20th century material lies scattered in different libraries and private collections in Tamilnadu. These libraries are under-funded and struggle to preserve their collections. RMRL has as its highest priority the preservation of important Tamil publications before they deteriorate beyond the point of use. Some of the items that have been located are related to Dravidian movement, political movements, history of Vaishnavism, Saivism, Jainism, Christianity, Islam and Buddhism. These histories if preserved through microfilming can be accessed more easily by current and future researchers.

Strategies for archiving the endangered publications of French India (1800-1923)

Major project EAP 191 coordinated by Professor Anne Gilliland – University of California

The aim of this project is to digitally preserve and archive the endangered periodical publications of French India that were published in Pondicherry between 1800 and 1923. These publications are currently held at the library of the French Institute in Pondicherry (FIP). The substantive French presence and imperial drive in the Indian sub-continent ended after 1763, and French possessions in India were subsequently limited to several smaller land pockets, namely Pondicherry (Pondichéry), Karikal, Mahé, Yanaon and Chandernagor. Pondicherry and the other French territories continued to exist surrounded by newly independent milieus and separated by large distances until the de facto transfer of the territory on November 1, 1954. However, the milieus that provided and to an extent nurtured the amalgamation of Indian and French identities were destined to disappear in the foreseeable future.

Creation of a digital archive of social reform movements among the Dalit and lower caste groups in Kerala, South West India

Pilot project EAP 292 coordinated by Dr Sanal Mohan – Mahatma Gandhi University

This project will carry out a survey of documents related to Dalit and lower caste social reform movements in the twentieth century Kerala, South West India for collecting and preserving them in a digital archive. These reform movements were decisive in negotiating modernity from the perspectives of the underprivileged in the Kerala society. Most of this documentary material is at risk of being neglected, damaged or thrown away due to a lack of awareness about the importance of the material and poor state of storage and handling. The collections are important as they constitute the primary source materials that would enable any social scientific study of various social movements. They include campaign materials, writings and transcriptions of speeches, memorandums, and photographs that are kept in the personal collections without due care and permanent loss of the materials is imminent. There are individuals who have collected such materials in Cochin, Kottayam and Trivandrum who cannot afford to preserve them as they do not have access to costly modern preservation technology.

Preserving memory: documentation and digitisation of palm leaf manuscripts from northern Kerala, India

Pilot project EAP 208 coordinated by Dr Sudha Gopalakrishnan – SAHA: Stirring Action on Heritage and Arts

This project seeks to locate, document and digitise approximately 500 palm leaf manuscripts, totalling around 50,000 pages. These documents, which are in a fragile and endangered condition, contain several insights into areas of knowledge like ecology, agriculture, science, arts and spirituality. Initial efforts at locating them have pointed to the existence of a much larger number of similar materials.The manuscripts are presently in the possession of individuals, traditional houses and with smaller libraries. The texts’ traditional knowledge on treatment of diseases is highly localised and exclusive. There are songs dedicated to different local deities, with references also to the history, customs, and rituals from each zone and area. The corpus of manuscripts in the category of Poorakkali, the temple-oriented ritual, was found to be extremely rare and informative, because they cannot be found in any other part of Kerala. A preliminary survey threw up information on such exclusive knowledge systems specific to the area. There are interesting manuscripts that deal with such unusual fields as seduction of the opposite sex and the science of disappearance. It is an unexplored treasure trove of knowledge that these manuscripts contain and challenge the 21st century scholar to investigate them in detail.

Study and collection of Hakku Patras and other documents among folk communities in Andhra Pradesh

Pilot project EAP 201 coordinated by Dr Thirmal Rao Repally – Potti Sreeramulu Telugu University

This project is concerned with the collection and preservation of Hakku Patras found in the possession of nomadic and non-nomadic performing communities. They are documents of Rights, granted to performers 200-500 years ago, by the village elders or other institutions, to perform certain duties in an assigned area. Hakku Patras are fragile social documents and their contents are important for the study of rural social dynamics. They should be located, copied and thus preserved against the onslaught of urbanisation. The documents are inscribed on copper plates and written on a piece of paper or paper scrolls. The content of Hakku Patras contains the name of the village, performing community, dates of sanctioning of the grants and form of the performance. But these documents are culturally more significant. They play an important role in the socio-cultural milieu of marginalised communities. These documents contain information which is mutually shared by all sub-castes and well understood and respected by all members of patron communities. In spite of many social upheavals the tradition is continued.

Survey, conservation and archiving of pre-1947 Telugu printed materials and paintings in India

Major project EAP 038 coordinated by Professor Murali Atlury – Sundarayya Vigna Kendram

The objective of this project is to microfilm/digitise 2,000 pre-1920s printed materials, in Telugu located in old libraries, which are fast disintegrating. The collections that will be selected are books and periodicals published during the 19th and first half of 20th centuries in Telugu language in South India. Some of them are typical local/small town publications that were preserved in village and town libraries. The Telugu language is considered the Italian of the East. The first stirrings of cultural and religious renaissance were felt in the Telugu speaking districts of Madras Presidency under the British rule. The most powerful expression of social and cultural interaction between the East and the West could be seen in Telugu print culture. From the revival of medical knowledge to various forms of literary genre – classical Prabandha, Ithihasa and Puranic tradition and Panchangas [from 1860s] and Satakas, western forms like novel, short story, poem, drama and literary criticism – could be seen in Telugu printed materials. The print materials are the only living source for the reconstruction of South Indian history. This region is attracting a lot of attention by global community of scholars working on South Asia. Making this valuable material available to the wider audience is therefore imperative.

The Endangered Archives Programme supports the creation of digital archives around the world, for an interactive map on their projects click here.


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A number of institutions, as well as individual research projects, have initiated the constitution of digital archives in South Asia. For more details on the project, click on the project title.


National Mission for Manuscripts (NMM)

The National Mission for Manuscripts was established in February 2003, by the Government of India. The NMN seeks to unearth and preserve the vast manuscript wealth of India. India possesses an estimate of five million manuscripts, probably the largest collection in the world. These cover a variety of themes, textures and aesthetics, scripts, languages, calligraphies, illuminations and illustrations. Together, they constitute the ‘memory’ of India’s history, heritage and thought. These manuscripts lie scattered across the country and beyond, in numerous institutions as well as private collections, often unattended and undocumented. The National Mission for Manuscripts aims to locate, document, preserve and render these accessible—to connect India’s past with its future, its memory with its aspirations.

Digital Himalaya

A project to develop digital collection, storage and distribution strategies for multimedia anthropological information from the Himalayan region

The Digital Himalaya project was designed by Alan Macfarlane and Mark Turin as a strategy for archiving and making available ethnographic materials from the Himalayan region. Based at the Department of Social Anthropology at the University of Cambridge, the project was established in December 2000. From 2002 to 2005, the project moved to the Department of Anthropology at Cornell University and began its collaboration with the University of Virginia. As of 2009, Digital Himalaya is back in Cambridge.

Archives of Indian Labour

The Archives of Indian Labour was set up in July, 1998 as a collaborative project of V.V. Giri National Labour Institute and the Association of Indian Labour Historians. The Archives of Indian Labour is dedicated to the cause of preserving and making accessible the fast depleting documents on the working class with the belief that, “Archive is to society what memory is to human beings” . The Archives was instituted in order to address the urgent need for preservation of rapidly decaying documents and material on labour and to provide for greater public access to the same. It has long been felt that documents and data on Indian Labour now and in the past, are being irretrievably lost.

Tasveer Ghar: Digital Archive of South Asian Popular Visual Culture

Tasveer Ghar is a trans-national virtual “home” for collecting, digitizing, and documenting various materials produced by South Asia’s exciting popular visual sphere including posters, calendar art, pilgrimage maps and paraphernalia, cinema hoardings, advertisements, and other forms of street and bazaar art. Some of the key fields of exploration within the network are: (a) the social and performative life of images; (b) the histories and everyday lives and voices of producers, disseminators and ‘consumers’; (c) various techniques of visuality/media of visualisation (for instance, ritual or theatrical per­formance, or political spectacle).

 

CIVIC: Center for Indian Visual Culture

CIVIC is dedicated to the documentation, archiving, and research on a wide-ranging production of popular visual culture in India. While traditional studies of Indian art have remained confined to “ancient”, “medieval” or “colonial” periods and lay stress on historical development of artistic styles or certain aesthetic ideals, popular culture demands a different set of interrogations. The potency of a print lies in its existing in multiples and popular visual culture addresses consequences born from values inherent to its mechanical production such as print capitalism, strategies of representation and identity formation. This strain of cultural studies also produces alternate and subaltern histories; bringing attention to visual histories as non-textual and agency-oriented aspects of knowledge.

Digital Collection of Sanskrit Manuscripts (PENN Library)

The University of Pennsylvania holds the largest number of South Asian manuscripts in North America. A number of manuscripts from the collection are now available in electronic format at this site. We are always adding new items from the collection to this site.

 

Temple Mural Paintings of Tamil Nadu

The phase 1 of Nayaka Painting Archival Project which focuses on temple mural paintings of Tamil Nadu, was carried out by the Centre for Plants, People and Ecosystems (CPPE), Chennai and supported by the Ford Foundation. During the first phase of this project, the team completed the digital capture of close to 25000 square feet of murals from 11 temples, from out of a total of 135 temples that were surveyed, over a period of 2 years. The ultimate aim of this project is to create from our digital asset an online repository of intelligible, annotated and stitched images, as well as to explore artistic idioms and forms of expression related in one way or other to mural paintings.

Project for Preserving the Manuscripts of the Syrian Christians in India

In Kerala, South India, one finds many thousands Syriac, Malayalam, Malayanma, Kolezhuttu, Vattezhuttu manuscripts of older and more recent date, all belonging to the autochthonous communities of the St Thomas Christians, a seven million-strong minority group that has lived organically incorporated into the local Hindu society for almost two thousand years. Because of the humid, tropical climate and other factors, these manuscripts are greatly endangered. The present complex international project, based on cooperation between Indian, German, Hungarian and American institutions, aims at saving these manuscripts both in their content and in their physical reality.

 


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