Tamilnadu and Pondicherry occupy a prominent place on the map of print history in South Asia. Printing during the modern period proliferated to the rest of India from Tranquebar, a small coastal town south of Pondicherry in Tamilnadu. There was a big boom in printing in the 19th and the 20th century in the Tamil region. Evidence to this is the number of books, periodicals and newspapers that were published. While importance was given to the creation of publications, preservation took a back seat. A number of periodicals and newspapers primarily in Tamil and English remain locked and in deteriorated condition in several collections in Tamilnadu and Pondicherry. This project aims to preserve these endangered materials through digitisation.
Thorough investigation and subsequent inventory of imprints from the Fort St. George Gazette and bibliographic sources reveals the enormous volume of Tamil literature produced principally in the Madras Presidency and in Ceylon during the late nineteenth and mid-twentieth centuries. The publications crossed borders for readers’ consumption and are still sitting in local and regional archives of people in remote areas. Over the last two years, the RMRL team has extended its search for early publications wider, returning results with rare items. This project will collaborate with big libraries and smaller ones in locations such Nagercoil, Madurai, etc. Collectors in these places have few resources and little expertise for preservation and conservation.
In the past ten years of interaction with eminent scholars, RMRL has developed an inventory of desired titles. The list of newspapers and periodicals culled from primary sources (gazettes and printed bibliographies) and the items sought by scholars will be collated and given to a committee of experts from various disciplines to prioritise titles that need to be preserved urgently. RMRL’s policy is not to duplicate items that have been microfilmed or digitised already. Titles are checked against world databases to ensure this.
Very few scholars have worked in the area of labour history especially in Tamilnadu even though labour leaders like Anthony Muthu have contributed immensely to the movement. Tamilnadu is one of the regions with the earliest formation of labour unions. Captain Lakshmy, a comrade of Subhash Chandra Bose in the Indian National Army and recently a Presidential candidate against Dr. Abdul Kalam, was an active participant in such unions in the Madras region. The severe lack of accessible resources is an important cause for the lacuna in research.
Caste-based literature is an important genre. Most castes have organised associations of which some are not functional anymore. First and second generation literates who received modern education were seen as enlightened intellectuals by their fellow community members waiting to be uplifted. These associations romanticised their castes, their origin and the issues they dealt with relation to society and the government, all of which is documented in their magazines. Scholars with access to caste literature will be able to understand the various factions and the growth of these communities as a whole.
Other periodicals in the regional languages relating to language, literature and arts also need preservation. RMRL has discovered holdings that are mostly incomplete in any single location.
The outcome of the project will be the preservation of rare and endangered material that will be made available in digital form and deposited with RMRL and the British Library. A copy of the digital images will also be provided to all institutions from which the originals are taken. It is estimated that 100,000 page images will be preserved under this project – approximately 28 titles of newspapers and periodicals.