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Two Centuries of Indian Print: new funding

Date: 09/11/2016

Digitisation project receives a funding boost ahead of a visit to India by the British Library chairman, Baroness Tessa Blackstone and the first collaborative workshop in Kolkata this December.

In 2015, the British Library announced a major programme to digitise the vast wealth of Indian printed books held by the Library dating from 1713 to 1914, made possible with the support of funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council through the Newton Fund. This autumn, the first phase of the project, which originally focussed on 1000 unique early printed Bengali books, has been extended to include an additional 3000 from the collection, meaning that 4000 early Bengali books will be digitised and made accessible to researchers around the world as part of the project.

The international team working on the digitisation of these early Bengali books is unlocking 19th century material that includes one of the very first Bengali cookbooks, an early railway book containing rules and etiquette for travelling in steam-trains, an early copy of the New Testament translated into Bengali by a British missionary and one of the earliest translations of Shakespeare’s plays in Bengal.

Two Centuries of Indian Print has recently benefited from an additional generous donation of nearly £500,000 from the Newton Fund which will allow for the digitisation of the South Asian Vernacular Tracts series, of which the Library holds approximately 6000 volumes. These are rare, fragile publications, many of which do not survive in other library collections, meaning they are hugely in demand by researchers. This new funding will digitise over 1 million pages.

Collaboration and partnership between the UK and India

Also as part of the Two Centuries of Indian Print project, the British Library is collaborating with partner institutions in India to share knowledge and skills, helping to stimulate digital scholarship and build research capacity. The Baroness Tessa Blackstone, Chairman of the British Library, will arrive in India this week to meet with partners in India and to attend a fund-raising event for the project with the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, Jo Johnson. She will also join a panel discussion at the Prabodhan Conference in New Delhi and meet with Jo Johnson, Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation.

This December, the first of the skill-sharing workshops will also take place in Kolkata, where library and information professionals from cultural heritage institutions in Bengal will take part in a one-day event to learn about more about how information technology is transforming humanities research today, and in turn Library services.

Baroness Blackstone, Chairman of the British Library said:

“This exciting project will make South Asia’s rich and vibrant printed heritage accessible to everyone; millions of pages will be digitised for researchers around the world.

“I am very much looking forward to meeting our partner institutions in India this week to discuss the collaboration. I thank them and our funding supporters for making Two Centuries of Indian Print possible.”

Universities and Science Minister Jo Johnson said:

“The British Library hosts the world’s largest single collection of early printed South Asian books and the Two Centuries of Indian Print project is an inspiring initiative that will give both researchers and the public access to this rich heritage.”

Notes to Editors

  • The pilot phase of Two Centuries of Indian Print project is a partnership between the British Library, the School of Cultural Texts and Records (SCTR) of Jadavpur University, Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology, and the Library at SOAS University of London, working with the National Library of India, the Ministry of Culture and other institutions in India.
  • The Arts and Humanities Research Council funds world-class, independent researchers in a wide range of subjects: history, archaeology, digital content, philosophy, languages, design, heritage, area studies, the creative and performing arts, and much more. This financial year the AHRC will spend approximately £98 million to fund research and postgraduate training in collaboration with a number of partners. The quality and range of research supported by this investment of public funds not only provides social and cultural benefits and contributes to the economic success of the UK but also to the culture and welfare of societies around the globe.
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