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 1,000 unique early printed Bengali books, has been extended to include an additional 3,000 from the collection, meaning that 4,000 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 6,000 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.
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 to attend a fund-raising event for the project with the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, Jo Johnson.
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.
More about the project is here.
The announcement in full is here.