Shahid Amin’s note on the Survey and Procurement of Indian Language Materials

On Document and Vernacular Tracts Survey in India and Abroad and Procurement from Repositories Outside India

10th December 2004.


The following are excerpts from a note prepared by Professor Shahid Amin who retired from the Department of History, University of Delhi, and was on an Expert Committee, Ministry of Culture.

Pilot Project for Identifying Small Institutions/Individuals in India which/ who have material, especially in Indian languages

(1) The aim is

(a) to develop a National Register over the next three years, i.e., by the end of 2007, providing a comprehensive listing of all the material on social, cultural, literary, and political and economic conditions of our peoples in the various languages and dialects of India, with special reference to the colonial period.

(b) to make provisions for their digitizing for safe usage by future generations of scholars and experts, with a view to strengthening and democratizing the base of Indian scholarship on the development of our heritage in an historical perspective.

(c) Making rare but esssential products of Indian creativity, literary and social scientific and humanistic of the colonial period easily accessible in digitized form to scholars within India is an essential precondition for lessening the “source material divide” that hobbles scholarly and creative efforts by Indian scholars. It is also to enable the younger generation of our researchers who can ill afford to make expensive research trips to UK and USA, where a lot of this material is readily accessible for extended consultation by academics and experts.

(d) to  have alongside a complete listing of all such material, either in original or on microfilm, in repositories abroad eg, in the British Library ( OIOC), SOAS, Museum of Mankind, PRO, Asiatic Society, Imperial War Museum ( all in London), and in Cambridge, Oxford, Edinburgh, Manchester etc, and in libraries and institutions with specialized holdings on India in the USA and other countries, This would help us procure digitized copies of such material from these repositories, with a view to cllect the holdings of items either no longer extant in India, or in brittle and unusable condition.

(e) Further, to supplement the creation of a National and a World Register of such material in the various Indian languages and dialects, with the identification and microfilming (and digitization) of material collected by colonial officials and ethnographers in the 19th and 20th centuries in the culture, beliefs, practices, lore, narratives, histories of the various groups and communities in the several cultural and linguistic zones of India.

(f) As a first step in this direction, the Pilot Project shall concentrate on the microfilming and digitization, on a priority basis of the entire set of papers and documents which form a part of the following major collections in the UK: G.A. Grierson Papers, H.M. Elliot Papers, William Crooke Papers, Buchanan-Hamilton papers ( including drawings, maps and statistical appendices), Richard Temple Collection, H. H. Risley, C. Luard and the Mackenzie Collection. Together these contain a wealth of information, and rare primary source material, on the material life and culture of the peoples of present-day UP, Bihar, Punjab, Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, and erstwhile Madras Presidency comprising the present day states of Andhra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala. We would need to supplement these by the reproduction of similar material on the North East contained in the papers of other ethnographers: some of these are kept in the Library of the Centre for South Asia, University of Cambridge.

(g) It is important to stress that all the material procured under this pilot project, should be digitized and its access made open and free to bona fide scholars. Getting microfilm copies and storing these at one of the national repositories functioning under the Ministry of Culture is a necessary first step.

What is really required for democratizing access to scholars in different parts of India is to have all this material easily accessible on the web. This will take care of two problems (i) the difficulty that scholars have and the expenses incurred in coming to one central site ( in Delhi) for use of these material, and (ii) the wear and tear of the master copy on a microfilm or a disc or any other retreival system and the ease or difficulty of physical access to individual storage sites in Delhi and the issue of “jurisdiction” and “mandate”.

Under such an agreement,whether a “particular document” ( in its wide sense) is stored in microfilm or digitized form in NAI or IGNCA would cease to matter.


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