Unlocking India’s printed heritage: 200,000 pages of historic books to be made available online

A Grammar of the Bengal Language by Nathaniel Halhead, 1778

An international team is to digitise and give free online access to one of the world’s most important collections of South-Asian language printed books. A pilot project for a major digitisation initiative – Two Centuries of Indian Print – was announced today by the British Library, with the support of funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council through the Newton Fund.

The project marks the start of a major programme to share the wealth of Indian printed books held by the British Library dating from 1714 to 1914. The collection, which spans at least 22 South Asian languages and millions of pages, is the most significant held anywhere outside the Subcontinent. Many of the books are unique and many are also in delicate condition due to their age, so the mass digitisation of these items will not only make them widely available to people around the world, but will also help preserve the fragile originals for future generations.

The pilot project will digitise 1,000 books in Bengali, amounting to 200,000 pages, as well as enhancing the catalogue records of more than 2,000 titles to automate searching and aid discovery by researchers. Also planned are major engagement initiatives to stimulate digital scholarship and collaboration, as well as building skills and digital research capacity with partner institutions in India.

Demand for early Bengali printed works in the Library’s collection is particularly high, and the project will make them available to researchers beyond the Library’s Reading Rooms, giving global access to the British Library’s South Asian printed collections, many of which are now rare or unique.

“It is the mission of the British Library to make the vast intellectual and cultural resources we hold accessible to anyone, anywhere,” said Roly Keating, the Library’s Chief executive. “By digitising some of the riches held in our South Asian printed collections, we want to enable people all over the world to appreciate India’s great cultural heritage in new and innovative ways. In India itself, the National Virtual library of India is ushering in a new era for digital research – this exciting project will make more than a million pages of historic content available to researchers in the subcontinent.”

The pilot project will be in partnership with 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 National Mission on Libraries, and other institutions in India.  

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Notes to Editors

The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funds world-class, independent researchers in a wide range of subjects: ancient history, modern dance, archaeology, digital content, philosophy, English literature, design, the creative and performing arts, and much more. This financial year the AHRC will spend approximately £98m 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 but also contributes to the economic success of the UK

The Newton Fund is part of the UK’s official development assistance. Its aim is to develop science and innovation partnerships that promote the economic development and welfare of developing countries. The fund is £75 million each year from 2014 for 5 years.   http://www.newtonfund.ac.uk/

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The British Library
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The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and one of the world's greatest research libraries. It provides world class information services to the academic, business, research and scientific communities and offers unparalleled access to the world's largest and most comprehensive research collection. The Library's collection has developed over 250 years and exceeds 150 million separate items representing every age of written civilisation and includes books, journals, manuscripts, maps, stamps, music, patents, photographs, newspapers and sound recordings in all written and spoken languages. Up to 10 million people visit the British Library website - www.bl.uk - every year where they can view up to 4 million digitised collection items and over 40 million pages.