Retrieval, cataloguing and photographic imaging of rare manuscripts, Balochistan-Pakistan (EAP766)

Aims and objectives

Balochistan is the largest of the four provinces of Pakistan and possesses a rich variety of languages, resources, civilisation and culture. The province is located at the geographical intersection and cultural crossroads of South Asia, Central Asia, and the Middle East. As a result, it is one of the richest areas in the country in terms of antiquities, archaeological sites, and historical archives. The pilot project will consist of utilising scholarly networks to create a detailed catalogue of available but endangered manuscripts from the region, establishing professional digitising protocols (including training), and piloting digital capture and preservation. The project will use on-site digital photography for the purpose of securing preliminary images of the documents.

Contemporary historical research on Balochistan is heavily dependent on manuscripts and printed materials in English that were written by colonial officials and reflect the priorities and concerns of the Raj and colonial bureaucracy. These sources are largely silent on the pre-colonial history and cultural formations of Balochistan and its neighbouring regions. In particular, anti-colonial movements that made use of native languages such as Balochi, Pashto, and Persian—either in written or oral form—become invisible in the official archives. For instance, basic Islamic (or otherwise) texts in these languages from pre-colonial period are absent from most collections in Balochistan or abroad.

This pilot project seeks to address this imbalance in the available sources of Balochistan’s history and culture by identifying, documenting, and beginning to preserve historical source materials in native languages. The vast majority of these source materials are in the form of hand-written manuscripts held by individuals or families in Balochistan. These include histories (Tawarikh), exegetical texts (Sharah and Tafasir), proclamations (Sanads/ Farmans), and letters (Maktubat). These are extremely vulnerable and perishable documents that are likely to be lost forever if timely intervention is not made for identification, preservation and conservation. A collaboration between scholars, the staff of the Balochistan Archives and the University of Texas at Austin Libraries will create catalogues of, and strategies for, digitally preserving these materials for dissemination to a larger scholarly community.

Noted Balochistan scholars have been contacted to help identify collections of manuscripts in Persian and other languages. Since in most cases individuals and families are unwilling to permanently part with their family heirlooms, an alternative to acquisition of manuscripts is to borrow and digitise these documents for wider dissemination.

The first phase will consist of creating a detailed catalogue of holdings of rare manuscripts residing with different families and individuals in various parts of Balochistan. Through the assistance of the Balochistan Archives and its director, Hafeez Jamali, the project has already obtained hand-lists of manuscripts that are in the possession of some notable private collectors and bibliophiles. Using these hand-lists as well as field reports, holdings will be verified and formal metadata records for the manuscripts created, resulting in an online, publicly accessible catalogue which will be made available through the websites of the British Library, the Balochistan Archive and the University of Texas. Simultaneously with this descriptive work, archival staff in Balochistan will be trained on international standards for digital capture in the field. All images created through this process will then be transferred onto servers at the Baluchistan Archives in Quetta and shared with the British Library and the University of Texas.