Endangered Archives

EAP673: Preservation and access for rare early Kannada books

Mr James Nye, The University of Chicago
2014 award - Major project
£44,950 for 24 months

Archival partner: Roja Muthiah Research Library

Project Overview

This project is based at the Roja Muthiah Research Library in Chennai, India and will be executed with at least two libraries in Mysore. A minimum of 1,650 carefully selected titles will be preserved and made accessible. At the end of the project, a significant archive of the most important early Kannada publications produced between the early nineteenth century and 1924 will be available to scholars.

Early Kannada books have enormous significance for the understanding of south Indian culture and the creation of new knowledge about colonial India. Kannada is an important Dravidian language and has been used in south India since the early modern period. Since printing in India was cheap, anyone with an opinion might and often did publish a statement of their views. Often such publications were of limited editions -- frequently, a few hundred copies -- and were not collected by many libraries. Yet these publications provide us today with a broad spectrum of writings by colonial Indians on all the major and many minor issues that stirred them in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Such writings are invaluable to historians of social, cultural, literary, and intellectual change; to those interested in the development of South Asian languages and the ways these languages were used expressively during the last century; for pedagogical purposes in advanced language courses; and to other scholars. Unfortunately, the high acid paper used to produce the books has made this literature highly vulnerable. It is often difficult to find even the most important early imprints in South Asian libraries. And, when one does locate them, the paper is often very brittle. Further, many of the Kannada books are not in the British colonial archives. The India Office Library and the British Museum both were selective in their contemporaneous acquisitions of Kannada imprints. It is no exaggeration to say that many of the Kannada books are as rare and endangered as manuscripts. Some books have already completely vanished.

The highly selective National Bibliography of Indian Literature, 1901-1953 (NBIL) will be used as the primary guide to selection. A panel of eminent Kannada scholars in the social sciences and humanities, and librarians will select an additional 1,000 Kannada books not listed in NBIL or available as preservation microfilm for further preservation, as funds permit. Selection panelists will use bibliographies, library catalogues, and the contents of the South Asia Union Catalogue as they expand their prioritised list of Kannada books. The range of publication dates included under this project will be determined based on legal opinion regarding preservation under the relevant copyright laws of India. Only books which are in the public domain will be digitised and made available online.

This project will preserve selected titles by creating high-resolution digital page images of the books available at libraries in Karnataka and elsewhere in south India. It is estimated that approximately 145,000 digital images will be created. Access to the preserved Kannada books will be provided through digital images deposited with the British Library. Further, digital images and catalogue data will be accessible on the Digital South Asia Library Web site and possibly the HathiTrust Digital Library, of which the University of Chicago is a founding member. The digital copies will also be deposited with the Roja Muthiah Research Library. Participating libraries in India will be able to elect to receive digital copies of books at no cost.

Project Outcome