Endangered Archives

EAP291: From memory to history: preserving handwritten, typed and photographic sources of Old Believers in the Danube region (18th-20th centuries)

Dr Oleksander Prigarin, Izmail Archives
2009 award - Pilot project
£9,800 for 10 months

Archival partner: Izmail Archive

Project Overview

This project aims to collect and digitise rare documents, manuscripts and photographs relating to Old Believers' (or Lipovans) lives. These materials are kept in family and church collections and their owners are often unaware of their importance.

These unique sources constitute a series of snapshots of the history, culture and community features of this group in all its distinctiveness, which is very conservative in both religion and culture. Many aspects of the ritual and daily practice of Old Believers are considered anachronistic by wider society and are often seen as being of little importance and value.

Over the course of many expeditions to the Old Believers villages in the Danube region, consisting of about 50 thousand people, the project team has seen that this cultural community still lives in the old manner with an isolated traditional world view and preserving rare forms of religious orthodoxy, such as a special kind of singing, Byzantine canons of icon-painting, handwritten and oldtyped books etc.

The new stage of development began on both banks of the Danube, in Ukraine and in Romania, when, under the influence of external modernising factors and the general level of the development of a technical society, the traditional customs and way of life began to disappear. Modern developments have considerably changed these communities. Ten communities in the Ukrainian part of the Danube have unique documents, photographs and manuscripts from the 18th - 20th centuries.

Thus, if a project is not carried out in the near future to preserve this unique corpus of material on the communities of the Izmail and Kilija districts of the Odessa region, Ukraine, this original orthodox tradition will be lost for ever. This pilot project plans to carry out a preliminary cataloguing of these rarities. These archives have been gradually disappearing over the years - if this isn't done soon future generations will be deprived of these original sources.

This project was proposed by the priests of local communities in charge of these documents. They are willing to allow the originals to be copied and for the copies to be made available to the wider academic community. Thus, the integration of local intellectual forces (the Odessa University, Izmail archive, regional specialists) with the spiritual instructors of the Old Believers communities will help preserve the unique material of this research project, which includes old printed books, hand-written documents from the 17th - 20th centuries, memoirs, private documents and family picture albums.

During this pilot project it is proposed that an inventory will be made of the books and hand-written documents which are in the church collections (10 Old Believer temples in the Ukrainian part of region) and in the private collections, personal and community documents and photographs of Old Believers communities. Digital copies will be made of the majority of these unique materials.

Project Outcome