SAALG 90th Conference

South Asia Archive and Library Group, 90th Conference: Archives for South Asia

The University of Cambridge Library

On Friday 21st February, The University of Cambridge Library hosted the 90th Conference of the South Asia Archive and Library Group. Helen Porter (SAALG Chair, SOAS) opened the day and introduced the group’s work. Participants included Leena Mitford (Lead Curator South Asian Studies, British Library), Craig Jamieson (Keeper of Manuscripts, University of Cambridge) and Bhavit Mehta (Director, South Asian Literature Festival).

Frederick Tymms (2nd from left), 1934

Rachel Rowe (Librarian South Asian and Commonwealth Studies, University of Cambridge) began the conference speaking on ‘A moving history: home movies from the Royal Commonwealth Society collections’. She presented the archives of Sir Frederick Tymms, a civil engineer based in India from 1930 working as Director of Civil Aviation. Throughout his highly successful career in the country, Tymms built up a collection of cine film and photographs featuring in particular New Dehli and Simla. Rachel played extracts from the collection which is now digitalised and available online.

The archives of The Salvation Army in South Asia were presented by Hari Jonkers (Archives Assistant, Salvation Army Library and Archives). The session introduced the breadth of material held at the organisations headquarters in London. Amassed from the late nineteenth century onwards, the collection includes reports and territorial papers alongside photographs, personality files and publications including ‘Capturing Crims for Christ’ (1940s) and the SA’s periodical, ‘All the World’. Jonkers outlined the importance of the collection in providing valuable insight into the missionary organisation’s presence in South Asia.

Salvation Army recruits in India

The morning concluded with a viewing of cotton Burmese Maps in the Library Map Room followed by news from participant Institutions. The British Library South Asian Studies curators reported on their key collaborations including the two projects with Jadavpur University; ‘Digitalisation of South Asian archival resources’ and ‘Early Bengali Books project’. The Ancient India and Iran Trust, Cambridge, highlighted the recent donation of books and periodicals on religion, art and history of Tibet, India and South-East Asia adding to its Snellgrove collection. The launch of SOAS South Asia Institute in January 2014 marked an important development in the multi-disciplinary study of South Asian studies.

The afternoon commenced with a visit and tour of Cambridge’s new Centre for South Asian Studies. Dr Kevin Greenbank (Archivist, Centre for South Asian Studies) took the group to the basement archives and talked through the extensive photographic and film collections. Cine film footage was shown as were items from the archive including colonial scrapbooks and a rare map of Varanasi. Access to this catalogue is available online.

Rabindranath Tagore (1886)

Professor Sukanta Chaudhuri (Visiting Fellow, University of Oxford and Professor Emeritus Jadavpur University) ended the day presenting, ‘Many Tagores: Travels through a Variorum Website’. His talk introduced, ‘Bichitra’, the online Tagore Variorum, the world’s largest literary website supported by the India’s Ministry of Culture and the Houghton Library, Harvard University. Chaudhuri guided the group through the site comprising nearly 140,000 pages of primary material in manuscript and print. He commented on the challenges of working with Bengali, Hindi and English alphabets and developing specialised software. The three-tier collation programme demonstrated how the site could be used for detailed textual analysis of Tagore’s oeuvre. Helen Porter closed the 90th conference by thanking all those who had contributed and outlining plans for the next conference in July 2014.


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