Colonial period's archival info now online



New Delhi: Looking for an online archive of primary research material on South Asia? Now, here's a resource to uncover the history of the region with digital access to over five million pages of primary and secondary sources.

Named South Asia Archive, the resource spanning from 1750s to 1950s brings together documents from across India, Pakistan, Myanmar, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.

The archive includes a diverse collection of reports from colonial and post-colonial India, like volumes of the 1901, 1911, 1931, 1951 and 1961 Census documents, and the near complete set of the Calcutta Riots of 1946.

There is a collection of rare publicity booklets in a mix of English, Hindi, Urdu and Bengali, as sold outside cinema theatres, the films being "Mukti", "Street Singer", "My Sister", "Devdas" and "Sita". Each booklet includes lists of the film's cast and leading technical personnel, a plot summary, photographs of the lead actors or of key moments in the film, and song lyrics.

There is also an extensive range of books, consisting of series such as "The Bibliotheca Indica", a collection of oriental works published by the Asiatic Society of Bengal. It includes translations of the Upanishads, commentaries on Sanskrit grammatical, philosophical and legal treatises, and such works as the "Suddhikaumudi", a Sanskrit treatise on Hindu laws of defilement and purification.

The archive, developed jointly by publisher Routledge and the South Asia Research Foundation, contains both serial and non-serial materials, including significant journal runs, rare books, film ephemera and census reports from noteworthy, rare publications.

"These documents are truly interdisciplinary, reflecting the varied range of knowledge production in colonial and early post-colonial India in fields including culture and society, industry and economy, science, technology and medicine, urban planning and administration and politics and law," says the archive's editor Boria Majumdar.

"Libraries do not often have access to material as extensive and as varied as that in the South Asia Archive. The documents are in a mix of English and vernacular languages and though nearly 15 per cent of the archive's content comprises material written primarily in Bengali, it also has Hindi and Sanskrit matter," he says.

His wife and co-editor Sharmistha Gooptu says the archive will prove to be an extensive resource for students and scholars across the humanities and social sciences.

The story of the archive began in 2004 when the editors and some friends found themselves in an Oxford coffee shop lamenting the lack of primary materials available to them as Asian studies scholars.

This set in motion a mission to collect and curate a diverse archive of publications and to make them available electronically while at the same time preserving the original documents.

In 2008, Majumdar and Gooptu set up the South Asia Research Foundation and started work on collecting previously unavailable primary material began.

"The work was mammoth, as many of the documents were in poor condition and extra care was needed for the digitisation process," says Majumdar.

The documents included in the archive are of five categories: journals; reports; books; legislations, acts, regulations, law books/cases; and Indian film booklets. Gooptu says they have plans to include manuscripts and newspapers in the archive though these need special care and therefore will take time.

The archive was launched here yesterday by Communications and IT Minister Kapil Sibal who said archival information will now come alive because of this initiative. He promised the government’s help in archiving literary works and also encouraging digitisation. The archive can be accessed by students through the UGC's INFLIBNET.

A unique indexing system ensures a superior level of searchability and discoverability within the archive, including related searches and popular search terms. There are multiple navigation routes and browsing options to ensure that the appropriate material is located in the fewest number of clicks.

PTI