A digital archive of Indian Christian manuscripts and other texts on colonial Goa

The Endangered Archives Project

by Leonard Fernandes

In addition to publishing texts, CinnamonTeal offers digitization and archival services to libraries such as the Central Library, Goa, and to publishers and authors, who did not have soft copies of their books or manuscripts, and used this route to develop them.

About the EAP 636 

Cinnamon Teal partnered with Dr. Ananya Chakravarti, who was awarded a grant by the Endangered Archives Programme that aims to preserve material  in danger of destruction, neglect or physical deterioration. Project 636 of the Endangered Archives Programme run by the British Library, London, is a digital archive of Indian Christian manuscripts, which had two goals: to identify and locate Konkani and Marathi Christian manuscripts in governmental, church, private, institutional, and family collections, and to start digitising texts pertinent to the history of Christianity in India. The project later included manuscripts and books in other languages, such as English and Portuguese.

Ananya Chakravarti, University of Georgetown

 

Apprehensions

A few organizations were apprehensive about where the digitized images would be stored and who might be able to access them. Libraries that are sensitive to the relative advantage they can command on account of possessions that are rare, sometimes see digitization as a threat to this advantage. They tend to reject such proposals outright or allow some less-sensitive material to be digitized. It took some convincing to assure these organizations that the images would be secure and would not be exploited commercially. On the other hand, others were only too happy to allow digitization as it ensured that they would obtain a copy of the digital images. Since the project was funded, the cost of digitization was not a factor in any of the decision-making.

Some of the online full-texts  at the EAP site

Boletim Eclesiástico da Arquidiocese de Goa (1944 – 1962): Ecclesiastical Bulletin of the Archdiocese of Goa, with information and articles related to the Archdiocese. It also had information about priests that were newly ordained. It was available on subscription.

Kristapurana: A 17th-century handwritten manuscript (written by more than one scribe), deemed to be a copy of Thomas Stephens’ Kristapurana

http://eap.bl.uk/database/large_image.a4d?digrec=5730480;catid=317823;r=6334

Possibly a 1571 record in Goykannada of the village community of Goalim-Moula.

The Gomes Catão papers: Papers written by Pe. Gomes Catão related to the genealogy of priests

Sancto Antonichi Acharya (1655): The book documents the miracles of St. Anthony of Padua. This was digitized from a microfilm.

Janua Indicasive pro Concanica et Decanica Linguis: A detailed comparison of the grammar of the Konkani language with that of Marathi.

A Campanha Luso-Marata de Baçaim: A series of books bound together, the first of which documents Luso-Maratha battles at Baçaim.

Adishankaracharya krut Aatmbodh Satik: Not much is known about this collection of sheets aside from the fact that Adishankaracharya authored the text, and its title, which is written on a paper wrapping these sheets.

As Gavetas da Torre do Tombo: The book describes the catalogue in the former Royal Archive. Each drawer was designated to documents relating to a particular subject of state: charters, wills, treaties and judgments, among others. This nomenclature is now not used and the lockers are referenced by numbers.

Collection II – Typewritten Manuscripts: A collection of typewritten manuscripts such as one on “The last Portuguese embassies at the Mughal Court”

Documentação Avulsa Moçambicana do Arquivo Histórico Ultramarino II: A documentation of the Mozambican archives

Garcia de Orta – Comemorativo do Quarto Centenário da Publicação: A commemorative magazine released to mark the fourth centenary of the publication of “Colóquios dos simples e drogas he cousas medicinais da Índia” by Garcia da Orta

The Poona Orientalist Supplements 1948-1963: A collection of bibliographies from various supplements of The Poona Orientalist, an annual journal devoted to Oriental Studies.

La Vieille-Goa: The book describes the city of Old Goa, with a historical overview of the city from accounts of travelers, with notes on St. Francis Xavier, and an archaeological sketch of the city.

Pelo clero de Goa: This book, about the Goan clergy, refers to the schisms in the clergy and the naiveté they displayed. The preface is written by Dom José da Costa Nunes, Bishop of Macau and Timor.

Those who participated

Thomas Stephens Konkani Kendra

a. Goenkaranchem Daiz, a small library in Margao, where only the accession registers were digitised.

b. Patriarchal Seminary of Rachol (here, the scope of the work was limited to the cataloguing of the library alone)
c. Percival Noronha’s private collectionparticularly the papers of Fr. Gomes Catao, prolific in the production of nineteenth century ecclesiastical and religious history
d. Goa University Library
e. Library of the Pilar Mission Seminary                                                                                                                                            f. Thomas Stephens Konkani Kendra                                                                                                                                                             g. Xavier Centre of Historical Research

In the case of the last four repositories, books, papers, unbound manuscripts, and microfilms were digitized.

Malayalam manuscript from the Pilar collection

Over a period of 18 months, we digitized more than 45 thousand pages, spread over 260 collections (books, manuscripts, microfilms, etc.). We were required to catalogue all files and information and ensure that the files were not damaged during the process of copying, using checksum manifests.

Museum at Pilar, from the Government of Goa site

The Process

For those interested in taking this up in their regions, this is what a project of this scale involves: We identified sources of such manuscripts, and requested permission to digitize, catalogue and store them.
a. The material was identified, handed to us for digitization and taken back before the next item was handed over.
b. The pages were cleaned with a brush to remove any dust.
c. These were then digitized, and where the sheets were too large, they were photographed one at a time.
d. Information related to the book and to the collection was recorded.
e. The digitized files were stored through a fixed naming convention. Files were stored in the RAW format at 300 dpi (at 48-bit colour depth). All files related to a single book or manuscript or collection of papers were stored in its own folder. The folder was then subjected to a checksum test.                                         f. A separate folder was created with the TIFF equivalents of each RAW file.

Equipment

In the mission field

We used a Nikon D5100 to capture the images. The software ViewNX 2.1W was used to convert RAW images to TIFF. We set up 1 or 2 stations depending upon the space available, and at all times, digitization was carried out at the premises of the organization concerned. To digitize microfilms, the Epson V500 scanner was used.

For each file, the following information was recorded

a. The title of the book or manuscript                                                                                                                                                 b. A description (a complete statement describing the form and subject matter of the material, including the following as appropriate: function of material, record type, context, geographical areas/places/locations/buildings, topics, events, people, organizations, languages, decoration etc.)
c. Custodial history (brief details of the provenance/history of ownership of the material being described)
d. Dates of original material
e. Physical characteristics
f. Languages of material
g. Creator(s) – (and whether the creator was an author, scribe or publisher)
h. Rights (If the material is still in copyright,  the name of the person who owns the copyright to the material is required.)
i. Sensitive personal data (Racial or ethnic origin, political opinions, religious beliefs, membership of a trade union, physical or mental health, sexual life, commission/alleged commission of an offense or proceedings for any offense/ alleged offense, or sentence of court).
j. Digital folder name (related to the book or manuscript name)
k. Digital file name
l.  Creation dates of digital copies
m. Extent and format of digital copies                                                                                                                                           The details of the contributing organization was also recorded.

 

Archives in South Africa: an overview

Isabel Hofmeyr is Professor of African Literature at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, and Global Distinguished Professor at the University of New York.

Among her publications are: Popularising History: The Case of Gustav Preller, African Studies Institute, 1987, The Portable Bunyan: A Transnational History of “The Pilgrim’s Progress”, Princeton University Press, 2004, Gandhi’s Printing Press: Experiments in Slow Reading, Harvard University Press, 2013, and Ten Books That Shaped the British Empire: Creating an Imperial Commons, Duke University Press, 2014. 

South Africa hosts a rich range of archival repositories. this article provides a rough guide to the major collections and outlines some of the debates emerging around the politics of archives in post-apartheid south Africa.

State repositories across 140 KILOMETRES

States repositories (comprising some 140km of shelf space filled with material in a variety of media) dominate the archive landscape. The organisation of these state archives follows colonial and apartheid provincial divisions. Currently, the major repositories are located in Pietermaritzburg (Kwa-Zulu Natal), Bloemfontein (Free State), Cape Town (Western Cape) and Pretoria (Gauteng).

The best place to start exploring each of these is the website of the National Archives and Record Services http://www.national.archives.gov.za/. The website provides an overview of the major holdings of each of these repositories. (Click on National Automated Archival Information Retrieval System and then on Source Codes which lists the various depots. Click on any one of these to get a list of the departments and institutions whose papers are held.) There is a facility to search file titles by keyword, which allows one to drill down and get a sense of what is available.

Some of the more famous holdings

Some of the more famous holdings across these repositories include the Dutch East India Company papers in the Western Cape Provincial Archives (for details see Dutch East India Company papers in the Western Cape Provincial Archives (for details see http://www.tanap.net/content/archives/archives.cfm?ArticleID=203). These have been used to produce major studies on slavery at the Cape.

The National Archives Repository in Pretoria contains the Secretary of Native Affairs papers, a major source for much South African social history from below, outlining forms of protest and resistance against colonial and apartheid rule, a major source for much South African social history from below, outlining forms of protest and resistance against colonial and apartheid rule.

The Censorship Board papers in Cape Town have been explored to good effect to understand the shaping of (or constraints on) South African literary production under apartheid. In the Pietermaritzburg Archives Repository, the Indian Immigration papers have formed the basis for several studies on the histories of Indian diasporic communities in Natal.

These various repositories also contain rich photographic holdings and there is the National Film, Video and Sound Archives in Pretoria.

 Access

Currently, access for everyone (South African and non-South African) is easy: one arrives with some form of ID, signs in, orders material and on a good day, within half-an-hour, the boxes will arrive and one can be working away. The rules as to the number of boxes you can order and whether you can take photographs vary from depot to depot, so best phone in advance (the website is not up to date on these details). Some repositories have lunch and coffee options nearby but some not, so BYO is the best rule to follow, at least on the first day.

 
State of the Archives

At present, these archives depots function reasonably well although there has been growing concern about the general health of the state archive system as a whole. The system has been increasingly poorly funded and has been drawn into the maw of political infighting and factionalism, which dominate the ruling African National Congress regime. A 2014 study State of the Archives (http://www.archivalplatform.org/images/resources/State_of_the_Archive_FOR_WEB.pdf) outlines severe structural problems with the archive system: underfunding, lack of a coherent policy framework, absence of digitisation strategies, little public outreach, destruction of documents without due process, and “cultures of secrecy [that] revivified that old apartheid oppressive tool – the classified document” (this latter strategy bolstered by 2011 legislation limiting access to state information).

The state archives have also failed to live up to the ambitious post-apartheid policies enacted in the National Archives of South Africa Act of 1996 which sought to increase access and public outreach; promote archives as a source of information in support of programmes of redress like land claims; and boost the presence of marginal voices in the archival holding. This failure is perhaps best captured in the controversy around ‘sensitive’ parts of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission records, some of which virtually disappeared were it not for the tenaciousness of an NGO, the South African Historical Archive which through litigation prised some (but not all) of these disputed records out of a reluctant Department of Justice, National Intelligence Agency and the National Archive Services itself (for an account see http://foip.saha.org.za/uploads/images/PW_Chap2.pdf).

At present, these problems do not directly affect users except for growing instances of lost and misfiled documents, a product of understaffing and underfunding. However, the wear and tear on the system is likely to make matters worse while the increasing paranoia of the current South African regime may, further down the line, lead to much more vetting and bureaucracy for non-South Africans wanting to use the archives depots. So, if you’re thinking of coming on an archival trip, come sooner rather than later.

Beyond the state archive

Beyond the state archive there are rich holdings in universities, museums, libraries, and private collections. There is an excellent list of these at http://www.archivalplatform.org/registry/ which reflect the diversity of material available including large holdings on Christian missions in southern Africa. This list has been compiled by an effective archival activist group called Archival Platform established under the auspices of the Archive and Public Culture Research Initiative at the University of Cape Town (http://www.apc.uct.ac.za/) and the Nelson Mandela Foundation. The Archives and Public Culture Research Initiative is a vibrant transdisciplinary centre for debate and research on the intersection of the archive and public life. The Initiative is under the leadership of Carolyn Hamilton, a leading scholar of archival theory and practice (see her co-edited collection Refiguring the Archive https://www.amazon.com/Refiguring-Archive-Carolyn-Hamilton/dp/1402007434).

With regard to the non-state archives, several of these carry major collections on anti-apartheid struggles. Highlights include the University of the Western Cape Robben Island Museum Mayibuye Archive (https://repository.uwc.ac.za/handle/10566/29); the Liberation Archives at the University of Fort Hare (http://www.ufh.ac.za/ufh101/liberation-archives/); and Historical Papers at the University of the Witwatersrand (http://www.historicalpapers.wits.ac.za/). There are also oral history archives taking shape inter alia at the District Six Museum which commemorates the cosmopolitan inner community area in Cape Town forcibly removed under apartheid (http://www.districtsix.co.za/index.php). Another innovative post-apartheid archive has been GALA, Gay and Lesbian Memory in Action (http://www.gala.co.za/).

Some keen digitizers

While state archives have undertaken little, if any digitisation, some non-state archives have begun making resources available online. Examples include the Bleek and Lloyd archive at the University of Cape Town, a collection of material generated by the linguist Wilhelm Bleek and his sister-in-law Lucy Lloyd who interviewed ‘Bushman’ informants between 1870 and 1884. Parts of this collection can be seen at http://lloydbleekcollection.cs.uct.ac.za/. The Historical Papers at the University of the Witwatersrand is another keen digitizer as is the Killie Campbell Africana Library in Durban (http://campbell.ukzn.ac.za/?q=node/42) which has a rich cache of photographs online. The Gandhi-Luthuli Archive in Durban (http://scnc.ukzn.ac.za/) contains rich holdings on South African Indian history, many of which are online. The South African History Online (http://www.sahistory.org.za/) is a vibrant site with a range of resources.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Baroda Record Room

Everything you needed to know about the Record Room in Baroda

by Nandini Bhattacharya

 

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Photo courtesy of the British Library, London

The old Kothi, which housed the record room, since replaced by a resplendent building in 1922

 

The city of Baroda like all of small-town India has changed so much in the past two decades, that it is unrecognizable from the charming, slow-paced erstwhile princely capital that it was, formerly. Before they were swamped by the expanding concrete high rise buildings and the ubiquitous glass- and -chrome shopping malls and multiplexes, the prominent and visible architecture of Baroda included palaces, college buildings, hospital and marketplace erected in the Indo-Saracenic style during the reign of Maharajah Sir Sayajirao III (r. 1873-1939).

 

The archives or the Record Room of the former Baroda State is in one such princely building, the Kothi-which was the Secretariat of the Baroda Durbar until 1948. The Kothi still functions as the collectorate office of the district of Baroda (renamed Vadodara) today. The Kothi was built in 1922, inspired, it is said, by the royal Balmoral castle in Scotland, and replaced an older building, serving as the Secretariat from the late nineteenth century  on, at the same site.

The archives and records of the erstwhile Baroda State represent the reinvented and modernized state itself during Sayajirao’s reign; like similar princely states (most prominently Travancore and Mysore), the content of this modernity was ambivalent and fragmentary. Nonetheless, Sayajirao’s reign oversaw the reformulation of the Baroda State’s infrastructure in certain fundamental ways. The most significant of these was the streamlining of revenues, which included tributes from scores of smaller princely states in Gujarat and Saurashtra, and the organization of alternative sources of revenue from the traditional agrarian surplus such as the imposition of control, licensing and taxation on opium, salt, and alcohol. The new institutions of the state included the establishment of the famed Baroda College referenced on the western university model followed by the Bombay Presidency; investment in an extensive railway line across and beyond the State, and the rudiments of public education and health systems. The capital city itself was rebuilt to display the amenities of a modern civic culture: these included public gardens and libraries and a museum and art gallery that teemed with paintings and artifacts imported from Europe.

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Marooned in a crowded bazaar

The Kothi is now marooned in the crowded bazaar, court house and offices of the old city that surround it. The Record Room itself, housed in a separate one-storey block, looks abandoned and quiet in contrast, much like many other provincial archives in India. The difference, however, is that here the records are generally maintained in excellent condition and are in order, a rare exception for a regional archive. There are bahis in both English and in Gujarati (the Bodiya script). The day-to-day administration of the Baroda Durbar was recorded in Gujarati, and therefore the bulk of the documents are in the Gujarati Bodhiya script. Both the records begin from around the 1770s and continue until the 1930-40s.

 

Huzur English and Huzur Political

The substantial numbers of archival documents in English are from two principal offices of the Baroda administration: the Huzur Political and the Huzur English. Both are comprehensively indexed. The indexes are available in the form of hand-written registers. I have had the occasion to use them the occasion to use them several times over the past ten years and although these are now in tatters, they are still serviceable. There was talk of extensive digitization in the archive around four to five years ago, but steps in that direction are now not visible.

The Huzur Political series is an eclectic one and contains correspondence related to almost every department; revenue including abkari, audit, general administration reports, education, health, government orders and notifications, roads, railways and municipal governance, to name the most substantial ones.

The Huzur English series contains correspondence between the Court, the Dewan’s office, and the Residency. Given that the Residency interested itself in every branch of administration from the royal palace intrigues to the revenues, the Huzur English series is fairly comprehensive as well. It is not a coincidence that the Baroda Durbar has engaged the attention of scholars exploring a range of historical problematics related to the princely states from high politics and diplomacy to courtly culture; agrarian land systems to the princely states’ indigenous modern cultural and material entanglements. The sheer ease and access to the documents of the Baroda State and by extension, its tributary states in the south, central, and north Gujarat and Kathiawad offer great opportunities to researchers of western India. Research students from the M. S. University of Baroda use the archive extensively for their postgraduate and doctoral theses.

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The room

There is a large shared desk in the sitting area for research scholars, and although there is no air conditioning, it is a pleasant working space. The deputy archivist has his desk in the same space and is present to help the scholars if necessary and to keep an eye on them. Until very recently this position was occupied by Mr. Solanki, who was very knowledgeable about the archive and represented, in fact, the sum of institutional memory in that place. He displayed several visiting cards of research scholars from India and abroad under the glass on top of his desk. I remember seeing Barbara Ramusack’s, for instance. It is clear that officials at this archive are proud of their collections and of their ability to assist research scholars. The archivist himself sits in a separate office and in my experience, found it best to direct all queries to his deputy.

 

Working hours and bring a letter with you 

The working hours are from 11 to 4, Mondays to Fridays. Requisitions for files and bahis are accepted all day until 3. One minor inconvenience of accessing the archive is that the Baroda Record Room insists on a letter of introduction from a member of the faculty, the department of history at the M.S.University of Baroda, regardless of any other credentials the outstation research scholar may produce. While this may provide opportunities for enjoyable socializing over tea at the history department to many, it is not always suitable for strangers who arrive there on short visits.

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Kopra kachoris

There are government offices across the road from the record room; along with the collectorate itself, these contribute bustle and urgency to what would otherwise be a very quiet corner in the Kothi complex. Researchers at the archive use the canteen at the office across the road which serves tea and snacks, including delicious kopra kachoris.

 

Dr. Nandini Bhattacharya is Director, Scottish Centre for Global History, School of Humanities (History), University of Dundee, UK, and author of Contagion and Enclaves: Tropical Medicine in Colonial India, Postcolonial Studies series, Liverpool University Press, 2012.  Contagion and Enclaves examines the social history of medicine in two intersecting enclaves ; the hill station of Darjeeling ; and the adjacent tea plantations of North Bengal. 

Tanuja Kothiyal on the Rajasthan State Archives, Bikaner

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Tanuja Kothiyal teaches history at Ambedkar University, Delhi. She is the author of  Nomadic Narratives – A History of Mobility and Identity in the Great Indian Desert, which examines the processes of settlement in Western Rajasthan.

On first entering the archive

I first visited the Rajasthan State Archives, Bikaner for the first time as an MPhil Research Scholar in 1995.  After I gingerly filled a requisition slip for the index register, the in-charge of the research room placed a thick bahi in front of me, to browse, while they found the index. I struggled with an unfamiliar script, which after a while seemed like a string of old nagari letters without a break. This was a sort of test, I realized much later. Once the in-charge realized I intended to stick it out, help came from several unexpected quarters, from, someone who would help me read the script, someone who would know the exact bahi which contained references to the routes I was looking for, someone who would let me in to the cavernous stacks to hunt for the exact basta that could not be found.

Research in an Indian archive is never a fully impersonal, professional exercise. A researcher’s journey through the archive is full of personal vignettes, reminders of each stage where the research appeared futile or took a definitive turn. The old research room at the Archives in Bikaner was like that. Attendants would point to the chairs where Satish Chandra and later Dilbagh Singh sat. The monotony of poring through records would be broken by the 4 o’ clock call to the pigeons which would signal the beginning of the end of the day for employees of the archive and yet another struggle for the researchers who wanted to stay on till 6:30.

Over the years…

Over the years the research section has shifted to a new state of the art air conditioned room, with computers to examine the digitized copies of old records. Few records are now ferried from the old stack rooms, which seem far better organized than before. Yet, it is a place where old and new, coalesce and clash, with each record containing within itself histories, sometimes contentious, of acquisition.

The idea of an archive of records and manuscripts was itself located in reimagining of princely states as both, subjects of historical research as well as modern bureaucratic enterprises. The early decades of the twentieth century witnessed a rise in interest in fashioning of a ‘self’ by the princely states, leading to collection and organization of manuscripts and records pertaining to royal families. However, most of these records and manuscripts continued to be lodged within different princely states, until a reorganization of the state of Rajasthan was achieved in 1952, and a modern archive for research into history of the new state conceptualized.

The building

The brown and red Rajasthan State archive building is itself a part of the modernizing project of Maharaja Ganga Singh, a vision so visible in the Junagarh fort museum, with the World War I DH-9DE Haviland war plane acquired as a war souvenir in 1920 as a pièce-de-résistance. When it was built in 1934, the building was expected to accommodate the Government Press. However, a part of it was converted in to the Rajasthan State Archives in 1955, to store and make available for research, records of older princely states and the former Chief Commissioner’s province of Ajmer-Merwara that were amalgamated into the state of Rajasthan.

And the records

These records, ranging from a period of mid seventeenth century to 1952, are in various Rajasthani dialects, Persian, Urdu, Hindi and English. These records pertain to state orders, accounts of taxes levied, of purchases and expenses, correspondence between officials, as well as appeals made by common people. While the earlier state records are in form of bahis written in various forms of mahajani and modhi scripts, the nineteenth century records are in form of files, and organized according to departments like Railways, Salt, PWD etc. It is difficult not to be impressed by the neat rows of red bundles in the stacks of the Rajasthan State Archives in Bikaner. These bundles humble a researcher by reminding her of the vast bureaucracy that stored away little facts from the seventeenth century onwards, to be ferreted and made sense of later. However, a number of old princely state manuscripts and records are still retained by the old princely families and are accessible only through contacts with the families.

A large number of manuscripts are also located in the libraries and institutions like the Rajasthan Oriental Research Institute and Rajasthani Shodh Sansthan in Jodhpur, Anup Sanskrit Library in Bikaner, Pratap Shodh Sansthan in Udaipur etc, as well as in some private collections.

The state archive however, does house a Tessitori gallery dedicated to the Italian Indologist and grammarian L P Tessitori, who was employed by Bikaner, and collected a vast range of manuscripts and wrote copiously about them. The archive has acquired some correspondence between Tessitori and the Bikaner state, though most of Tessitori’s research notes and correspondence was transferred to his heirs and is located in the municipal library at Udine.

The Rajasthan State Archives also has an Oral History Division which contains interviews of several freedom fighters. The library attached to the Archives houses a collection of reports from the mid nineteenth century onwards, like Annual Administration Reports, Survey Reports, Census Reports, Reports of Famine Commissions, as well as gazetteers and travelogues. It is also a rich repository of historical books and vernacular journals published in Rajasthan.

As I pointed out earlier, research in the Rajasthan State Archives is never a mere professional experience. The mere fact of visiting the research room itself creates a camaraderie, based on ability to access the archive. The town itself has little to offer beyond the tourist attractions, and the researchers tend to spend most of their time in the archive itself. A few years back it used to offer a dormitory for male researchers, but the facility has been withdrawn for sometime now. Female researchers are however expected to find private accommodation, though guest houses, hostels and hotels. Food remains a concern for people not used to spicy and oily cuisine.

With increasing digitization it is now possible to view indexes, as well as some records online, but without visiting the archive, and poring over records in the old fashioned way, it is difficult to imagine writing a history through those records. I say this not merely out of nostalgia for the archive and archival research, but from the experience that archive, its assembly, arrangements, rules of access, hierarchies, all have their own histories that have to be experienced and incorporated into the histories that we write.

 

 

 

India’s National Library Goes Digital – Sort of by C. M. Naim

This post is reproduced with permission from C. M. Naim. http://cmnaim.com/2016/08/indias-national-library-goes-digital-sort-of/

C.M.Naim, among other things, is an Urdu scholar and translator of the Urdu poet Mir Taqi Mir’s Zikr-i-Mir, Professor Emeritus of South Asian Languages and Civilizations, University of Chicago

In April 2014, The Guardian published a longish piece by Samuel Gibbs entitled, “The most powerful Indian technologists in Silicon Valley.” It opened: “Ever since waves of Indian graduates poured into Silicon Valley in Northern California in the 1970s and 1980s, talented Indians have made breakthroughs, pushed boundaries and held positions of power in the world of technology and media.” Gibbs then went on to give brief but substantial accounts of the achievements of eleven such Indians, nine men and two women. Included were such luminaries as Ajay Bhatt—“credited as being the father of the USB standard”—and Vinod Dham—“The father of the famous Intel Pentium processor.” What is also striking about these men and women is the fact that almost all of them received their foundational education in India, in some of its most prestigious institutions. One may then rightly assume that those institutions, and others like them, must have by now produced a very large number of well-trained and talented people. Too numerous, perhaps, even to imagine. So why is it that not one of them apparently found his or her way to be on the staff of the National Library at Kolkota? For as anyone who visited it knows that the National Library’s website is nothing short of a disgrace to such a prestigious institution.

In April 2014, The Guardian published a longish piece by Samuel Gibbs entitled, “The most powerful Indian technologists in Silicon Valley.” It opened: “Ever since waves of Indian graduates poured into Silicon Valley in Northern California in the 1970s and 1980s, talented Indians have made breakthroughs, pushed boundaries and held positions of power in the world of technology and media.” Gibbs then went on to give brief but substantial accounts of the achievements of eleven such Indians, nine men and two women. Included were such luminaries as Ajay Bhatt—“credited as being the father of the USB standard”—and Vinod Dham—“The father of the famous Intel Pentium processor.” What is also striking about these men and women is the fact that almost all of them received their foundational education in India, in some of its most prestigious institutions. One may then rightly assume that those institutions, and others like them, must have by now produced a very large number of well-trained and talented people. Too numerous, perhaps, even to imagine. So why is it that not one of them apparently found his or her way to be on the staff of the National Library at Kolkata? For as anyone who visited it knows that the National Library’s website is nothing short of a disgrace to such a prestigious institution.

Click on the above link and you will see the following:

Picture1

Note the invitation—“User can register from this website free of cost”— on the left, spilling out of its box. Ignore the amateurish effect, and instead try to register. You will be immediately forced to make an arbitrary choice. There is on the right of the screen a tempting box titled “New User?” with a winking sign saying “Register Now!” But there is also smack in the middle of the screen a box marked “User registration.” Most likely, you will do what I did and click on the “New User” box, to be greeted only with the following bracing message: “This facility will be made available soon.” Now try the box in the middle. It works. You can register – but only if you are an Indian citizen. It does not say that in so many words. However, I as an American citizen was in no position to answer all the “mandatory” questions, even if I chose to ignore their highly obtrusive nature. I gave up and consoled myself by concluding that “User Registration” was perhaps not meant for those who only wished to use the website and the NL’s online information resources.

I next tried the button saying “View Recently Digital Books” (sic), assuming that they actually meant “Recently Digitized.” What did I find? Just one title, as can be seen below.

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Ignore your disappointment, ignore the incongruity of “1 Records Found.” But do consider the details of the one “recently digital” book. The author is given as “Ober, Fredwick Alboin.” His parents, however, had named him: Fredrick Albion Ober. Now look at the title of the book as offered by the National Library of India: “Comps in Carbbees; the adventures of a naturalists in the Lesser Antilles.” The book when it came out in 1880 was actually titled: “Camps in the Caribbees: the adventures of a naturalist in the Lesser Antilles.” Four serious typos in a context where not one should have happened.

I next tried the box in the middle of the page titled, “Digitised Book (sic),” expecting to find some description of the nature and number of the books, with perhaps an alphabetical list of the most prominent authors so far included. Instead I found I had to blindly try, and if I were lucky I could find something. As fate would have it, almost all the times I was only told: “No records found.” It soon became obvious that no browsing was possible. One could only make a specific request and then pray for good luck.

Finally, I decided to search the library’s online catalog as offered on the home page. My recent research interest has been popular fiction in Urdu at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20 centuries, in particular what was translated from the English. Two authors, George W.M. Reynolds and Marie Corelli, had been particular favorites in Urdu, as in fact they had been in several other Indian languages. I thought the National Library should have a good record of the titles by these authors that had been available in India as well as the translations that appeared in Indian languages. I was not disappointed. A substantial number of the two authors’ early editions are preserved. I also found titles of some translations in Bengali and Malayalam. But very few. Far fewer than were actually done in those two languages. And no mention of any translation in Urdu, though at least 34 novels of Reynolds and 5 of Corelli were to my knowledge translated and avidly read in Urdu in the 1920s.

I also found that there was no easy way for me to check Urdu titles. As shown below, the page invites readers to use regional languages but where is the “Control Panel” that it asks them to use?

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I had to resort to Romanized forms of Urdu words. It worked – mostly. But it would have more helped if they had offered a guide to their Romanizations. It turns out that there is no fixed system. Different people on the staff have differently Romanized Urdu titles and authors’ names. I wonder if that has happened with other languages too or was that some special treatment meted out to Urdu? Surely, it is not fair to change Urdu ‘z’ to Hindi ‘j’ even in Romanization. Not in Kolkota, where people lustily pronounce ‘z’ and ‘f’ even where they are not required to.

Why should this be the case? A friend suggested the practice of “tendering out” such jobs could be to blame. The library wished to have a website; it asked for tenders from different IT firms; then chose the least costly, hence the least efficient. The usual bureaucratic fiasco. There is also that attitude so prevalent among Indian librarians. Very few of them think of themselves as providers of an essential service to the general public. Most of them view themselves simply as custodians of the contents of their institutions—contents that they preserve and protect but do not, in the same measure, also make available to rightful users. After visiting the National Library’s website it was obvious to me that no one had bothered to try it out and see if it actually worked. They can now claim, like everyone else, to have a website, that it worked or not was of little importance.

Ned Bertz on various archives in Gujarat

Ned Bertz teaches in the Department of History, University of Hawaii and his areas of interest are South Asia, Africa, Indian Ocean, World History. Bertz says that the uncategorised archives produce surprising finds: ‘An 1884 history of Gujarat will be next to the cinema rules of Bombay in 1953. Law court decisions will be next to a pamphlet on Kathiawad’s population problem.’

3 Aina Mahal

Ayana Mahal, which houses the district archives in Junagadh

PBR archives godown

Ayana Mahal, which houses the district archives in Junagadh

After Bombay State was bifurcated into Maharashtra and Gujarat, the latter found itself without a state archives, while the former inherited the Bombay State Archives (later the Maharashtra State Archives). Most of the records relating to Gujarat remained in Bombay, but Gandhinagar saw the need to create its own state archives to collect records scattered across the state as well as centralize other records held in the National Archives of India. The Department of Archives for Gujarat was formally founded in 1971. In the later 1970s and 1980s, the Gujarat State Archives (GSA) expanded to include several branches, varying dramatically in their size and organization. I have been working in several different branches of the GSA since 2009. My overall sense is that the archives are underused, although this is understandable given the uneven nature of its organization.

The headquarters of the GSA is in Gandhinagar, where a library exists but a full records office does not. At least for foreign scholars, permission must be taken here for access to any of the branch archives. The GSA is under the control of a state minister who is also in charge of a range of portfolios including Youth, Sports, Education, and Cultural Activities. All foreigner applications for research have to be cleared by the central state secretariat, as facilitated by the Director of the Archives, which can be an unpredictable process. Each permit is valid for one year. In-person visits and follow-up visits seem essential for clearance. Indian researchers I believe can gain access through a much simpler process.

The largest branches of the GSA are the Southern Circle Record Office in Baroda and the Western Circle Record Office in Rajkot. In working in Rajkot (I have not visited the Baroda office), I found a friendly staff and fair working conditions. There was an ongoing digitization process as of several years ago, and a fairly new building. There is no centralized index to the GSA, but Rajkot has an accession list of holdings in no apparent order. It was clear that not all items held at Rajkot were on that list. For example, a worker there located passport registers for me when I described what I might be interested in. The material held consists mostly of official records and reports dating from the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century, with a random assortment of books, some of them of historical value.

District Record Offices also exist in Bhavnagar, Jamnagar, Junagadh, and Porbandar, all of which I have visited except for Bhavnagar. Jamnagar and Junagadh, like Rajkot, have accession lists. The latter is housed in the gorgeous old Ayana Mahal, which unfortunately has leakage issues leading to ruined records each monsoon, despite the layers of plastic tarp the dutiful staff deploy every season. Porbandar does not have an accession list, but from a few days working there appears to have a tremendous store of unindexed files, bundled up in a godown away from the main office. Staff in each location are very friendly, although not always trained to assist researchers. Local researchers were present in Rajkot when I worked there, and I assume Baroda as well, but the other branches seem largely unvisited. The District Records Office in Kutch, I have been told, is under the charge of the district and not in the domain of the GSA.

The holdings in the GSA appear to be varied, and are largely in English and Gujarati. Official files from British India are present, as is ample material from the princely states. Jamnagar, Junagadh, Porbandar, and Rajkot have mostly holdings related to Kathiawad. These include administrative reports, law court decisions, legal notices, gazetteers, and statistical accounts. Some files from post-independence are also available. A range of printed books, pamphlets, documents, and other records are in the collection, although I have not seen any newspaper holdings.

No full survey of the GSA exists, to my knowledge. There is a publication called Gujarat State Archives at a Glance (1982), which I first found at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library in New Delhi. It is also in the archives’ library at Gandhinagar. In 1998, a short piece on the GSA was published in Indian Archives.

 

National Archives of India no less!

Thanks to the indomitable Maya Dodd, I found that the NAI actually has a searchable index of some files online – here’s a promising start:http://www.abhilekh-patal.in/users/collection/digitized-collections.aspx

A search actually threw up these entries:
Goa Military Means adopted for the protection of the British inhabitants of Goa during the insurrection. Foreign INTERNAL 1895 12 PART B Progs., Nos. 393-410, December 1895 Digitize on Demand (0)
Demand of the Goa authoities for the surrender of Igancio de Loyola and four others concerned in the Goa Riots. Foreign INTERNAL 1891 4 PART A Progs., Nos. 126-132, April 1891 Digitize on Demand (0)
remittances by Goanese nationals from India to Portuguese India, and number of persons entering India from Goa and leaving India for Goa each year. External Affairs EUROPE – I 1949 0 Progs., Nos. 19(132)-Eur-I, 1949(B) Digitize on Demand (0)
Assistance to Mr. Mascarenhas arrested in Goa, for publication of some articles on Goa. External Affairs EUROPE – I 1949 0 Progs., Nos. 19(122)-Eur-I, 1949 Digitize on Demand (0)
e CUSTOMS DUTIES 1932 0 Progs. No. 67 -CUS-I, 1932 Digitize on Demand (0)

And: Stared (sic) Question in the Indian Parliament to be asked by Lala Raj Kanwar regarding the transfer of records of Historical and political interest kept in the custody of the Punjab Govt. prior to Partition

http://www.abhilekh-patal.in/users/documents/viewfile.aspx?id=SSi1kzFqtyg=