Researching Indian/South Asian history comes with an inherent disadvantage. Compared to Americanists or the Chinese, access to primary or secondary source material is not always easy for South Asianists. In the absence of adequate archiving processes across the board, the pitfalls of tropical weather and the costs associated with preservation, a significant amount of Indian historical material is already lost. A fully searchable digital resource is a further rarity, making research on Indian/South Asian history challenging and time consuming.
The South Asia archive, recently launched in New Delhi, is a project which has been in the offing for several years now, has seen many ups and downs and is aimed at making a contribution to archival research in the field of South Asian studies. Comprising 5 million pages of heritage archival material, the South Asia Archive has been created by the South Asia Research Foundation (SARF) in partnership with Routledge. It includes journals, reports, rare books, catalogues, calendars, gazettes, gazetteers, conference proceedings, maps, film ephemera and other rare materials from 1790 to 1955 and approximating the greater period of colonial rule in South Asia and early post-colonial India. The materials are not restricted to India, but include areas like Sind and Baluchistan, now in Pakistan, East Bengal, now Bangladesh, and Ceylon and are in a mix of English and vernacular languages, such as Bengali.
The collection has substantial runs of more than 200 journals and includes some of the earliest journals published in India like the Asiatic Researches first published in the late 18th century. Other rare publications include the Calcutta Review, which was founded in 1844 by John William Kaye, the pioneering historian of the 1857 uprising, The Islamic Review, founded in 1913 by Al-Hajj Khwaja Kamaluddin as a monthly journal and published under the aegis of The Working Muslim Mission and Literary Trust and The Shah Jehan Mosque, in Surrey, England. Another unique feature of the collection is the publicity materials on Indian cinema from the 1930s and 1940s, primarily booklets that were sold outside movie theatres as promotional material during a film’s release. There are more than 500 of these in the collection, including classics such as the original Devdas, Chandidas and Mukti.
This digitised archive has been created to record the political ephemera produced by the Asian Youth Movements. The majority of the material does not belong to any archive but exists in precarious conditions in community centres and homes. In digitising this material we aim to preserve it for future generations to learn about the experiences and actions of young South Asians growing up in the towns and cities of Britain in the 1970s and 1980s.
SAADA (South Asian American Digital Archive) is an independent national non-profit organization working to create a more inclusive society by giving voice to South Asian Americans through documenting, preserving, and sharing stories that represent their unique and diverse experiences.