British Library awards UChicago £52,200 grant to preserve endangered Urdu periodicals

The University of Chicago has been awarded a GBP52,247 grant from the British Library’s Endangered Archives Programme, funded by Arcadia, for the digitization and preservation of 60 rare and endangered Urdu language periodicals. With the grant, digital images of magazines and journals will be produced at the Mushfiq Khwaja Library and Research Centre in Karachi, Pakistan, and made available through the University of Chicago Library and the British Library, giving scholars access to a significant archive of the most important Urdu periodicals from the 19th and 20th centuries.

“Without a doubt, Urdu periodicals published between the 1870s and 1940s are of critical importance for anyone doing research in the humanities or social sciences concerning the Urdu-phone populations of India and Pakistan,” says Professor Emeritus C.M. Naim, who taught Urdu in the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago.

Urdu was the lingua franca in much of the subcontinent during the 19th century and Urdu periodicals provide a broad spectrum of writings on a range of important issues in South Asia through  the 19th and 20th centuries,  making their preservation invaluable for scholars of the language and the region.

Illustration: Sala’e am, a highly influential periodical, was published from 1908 to 1929 from Delhi. It is held in The Mushfiq Khwaja Library and Research Centre. (Courtesy of the University of Chicago Library)

“Thanks to the easy technology and low cost of litho printing, the only accepted form for Urdu script texts across South Asia, Urdu weeklies and monthlies began to appear in the 1870s,” Naim explains. “It was in the periodicals that all major modern writers and political and social figures made their debuts and gained popularity. And it is only in the periodicals that we can discover the full extent of many literary and political controversies that are only now beginning to gain the attention of scholars.”

A panel of internationally recognized Urdu scholars, including Naim, will select the periodicals to be archived. The selected titles will be preserved by creating high-resolution digital page images.

The Mushfiq Khwaja Library and Research Centre, which is owned and managed by the University of Chicago Library on behalf of a consortium of U.S. research libraries, houses one of the finest collections of Urdu periodicals in the world, making it an ideal location for the project. James Nye, University of Chicago Library Bibliographer for Southern Asia and Principal Investigator for the project, acquired the collection for the consortium. He noted that “this project is a testament to what is possible through the University’s collaboration with our colleagues in Pakistan and India. The teamwork will benefit scholars around the world through free access to invaluable primary research resources.”

Nasir Javaid, the Mushfiq Khwaja Library and Research Centre Executive Director, will lead digitization activities in Pakistan. As a by-product of the project, best practices for conservation and digitization will be disseminated to collaborating institutions across Pakistan and India.

Digital images will be archived by the British Library and the University of Chicago Library, and disseminated via the Digital South Asia Library and the HathiTrust Digital Library. Digital and paper copies of the periodicals will be catalogued and made visible via OCLC’s WorldCat and the South Asia Union Catalogue. More details are here:

The Endangered Archives Programme

The Endangered Archives Programme’s aim is to contribute to the preservation of archival material that is in danger of destruction, neglect or physical deterioration world wide. This is achieved through the award of grants in an annual competition. The grants provide funding to enable successful applicants to locate relevant endangered archival collections, to arrange their transfer to a suitable local archival home where possible, to create digital copies of the material and to deposit the copies with local institutions and the British Library.

To be considered for funding under the Programme, the archival material should relate to a ‘pre-modern’ period of a society’s history. There is no prescriptive definition of this, but it may typically mean, for instance, any period before industrialisation. Equally, the endangered archival material is normally located in countries where resources and opportunities to preserve such material are lacking or limited.

All applications for grants under the Programme are considered by an International Advisory Panel. For more information about applications for research grants to be awarded under the Programme visit The Endangered Archives Programme is generously sponsored by Arcadia.

Browse the EAP digital collections

The Endangered Archive Programme is supporting several preservation projects of Asian materials. They include: EAP012 Salvage and preservation of dongjing archives in Yunnan, China: transcript, score, ritual and performance; EAP071 Archiving texts in the Sylhet Nagri script; EAP081 Preservation and digitisation of Yi archives in public and private collections in Yunnan, China; EAP104 A pilot project aimed at the preservation of Pa’O religious and literary manuscripts; EAP205 Endangered manuscripts of Western Sumatra. Collections of Sufi brotherhoods; EAP209 Survey on surviving dongjing archives in Jianshui, Tonghai and Mengzi; EAP229 Acehnese manuscripts in danger of extinction: identifying and preserving the private collections located in Pidie and Aceh Besar regencies.

For the latest project news visit here: Recent grants include: Preserving the endangered manuscripts of the Cham people in Vietnam; The narrative and ritual texts, narrative paintings and other performance related material belonging to the Buchen of Pin Valley, India; Exploring land and society in pre-partition Sindh (1843-1947): collecting and copying endangered records of Sehwan Sharif and beyond; Digitising 19th and early 20th century Buddhist manuscripts from Dambadarjaa Monastery (Mongolia); Preservation of Yao manuscripts from South Yunnan: text, image and religion; Digital documentation of Dongkala, Chizing, Pagar and Phajoding temple archives (Bhutan); Preserving memory II – documentation and digitisation of palm leaf manuscripts from Kerala, India; and Digitising Malay writing in Sri Lanka. Watch a video from the Buddhist archive of photography in Luang Prabang, Laos. For more information about the Endangered Archives Programme, visit