This project is focused on surveying, digitising and archiving photographs from the end of the 19th and 20th centuries, providing information on pre-industrial elements in Bulgarian minorities’ culture. The research is targeted at different ethnic and religious communities including Turks, Tatars, Pomaks, Jews, Armenians, Old Believers, Aromuns, Karakachans and Vlachs. This kind of information is scantily represented and even missing from various Bulgarian archives. The reason for this is based mostly in state policy which focused for a long time solely on the Bulgarian ethnic tradition and culture, as well as in the policy of the Bulgarian state before 1989 which targeted forced assimilation of minorities. This is the reason for the gradual disappearance or even purposeful destruction of pictures and photographic collections of the different minorities in the country (particularly of the Muslim minority during the so-called “Revival process” in Bulgaria within the 1960s-1990s, when the policy of the Bulgarian state for a forced assimilation of Muslims was accompanied with the destruction of all documents – official, personal and family – testifying to their minority identity). Despite the repressive policy and purposeful destruction of archival documents related with the history and culture of the ethnic minorities in Bulgaria, such documents have been secretly kept by many, although in inappropriate circumstances and often in bad condition.
The project will undertake survey trips to different parts of the country inhabited with minority population with the aim to collect and digitise approximately 1,500 pictures. A special effort will be made to collect pictures from all ethnic and religious communities. These documents will provide information on the communities’ culture and traditions that are otherwise hardly known outside the boundaries of the region in which they live. Preliminary research has revealed that similar pictures are kept only in family and municipal collections. They are thus exposed to poor preservation conditions and are in danger of rapid destruction due to the fact that their owners are not aware of their value and importance outside their family and kinship group. In this way, these pictures are being gradually destroyed and with them important information for the communities themselves is disappearing. Thus, the project will create digital copies of thses photographs and will collect information about the possible existence of other important archival information, which can be probably discovered in regional archives, in villages, antique bookshops, archives of minorities’ organisations, community leaders, etc.
As well as collection and digitisation, the project will also survey insufficiently researched and barely known elements of the way of life, customs and rites of minorities in Bulgaria. Many of them are of research interest since they contain pre-industrial elements, kept and practiced even secretly during the Socialist governance in Bulgaria. Such groups are geographically and culturally isolated and are often excluded from mainstream Bulgarian society. These communities preserve many old elements of their own culture, which even nowadays continue to be transmitted from one generation to another. A particularly interesting example is the tradition of the Turkish community to record in photographs their funeral customs. That is why the people from this community own large photographic collections recording the funeral practices over a period of 80 years.
The project aims to create a new digital archive of the traditions and customs of the minorities’ groups in Bulgaria as well as promotion of the archive among a wider audience of researchers and other stakeholders.
During the initial period of the project, the project team undertook surveys in selected regions and several villages in Bulgaria – Svishtov and region, Varna and region, Karnobat and region, Gotse Gelchev and region. During the fieldwork researches the team met people from different minorities: Turks, Karakachan, Pomaks, Tatars, Jews and Old Believers. Their stories and more then 1,000 old photographs were collected.
One of the main problems was that a part of the photos were in very poor condition, especially those preserved in cellars, and impossible to be digitised. However, the project was successful in discovering and safeguarding important archival documents and, what may be more important, succeeded in creating an understanding among minorities in Bulgaria about the importance of endangered archival documents. The project was able to successfully convince representatives of minority communities about the importance of the project and the necessity of preservation. The project team continues to receive information about newly discovered materials and people open their family archives for study and digitisation.
The digitised copies of material have been deposited in the Studii Romani Archive at the Institute of Ethnology and Folkloristic Studies with Ethnographical Museum at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Sofia. The British Library also has a copy.
The records copied by this project have been catalogued as:
The catalogue is available here.