The idea of an online South Asia archive of primary research material was born in 2005 in an Oxford University coffee shop. A group of Indian students enrolled in UK universities were sharing their problems in accessing archival documents on South Asia,both in foreign libraries and Indian ones,when they hit upon the idea of a digital archive providing access to previously unavailable resources on the region.
Dr Sharmishta Gooptu,Prof Boria Majumdar,Manoj Joshi and Srinjani Joshi returned to India,and in 2008,set up the South Asia Research Foundation in Kolkata,pouring in their own funds into sourcing rare historical documents from private collectors,libraries and archivists. Next month,their dream,the South Asia Archive,will finally be launched,making available over five million pages of history in partnership with global publisher Routledge.
Union HRD Minister Kapil Sibal will be inaugurating the archive,that will function as an online library resource,on November 7. Gooptu and Majumdar from the University of Lancashire are its editors in chief and Dr Kausik Bandhopadyaya of the West Bengal State University Barasat is its advisory editor.
The archive promises rare documents ranging across two centuries 1750 to 1950 and these will include over 200 journals,colonial and post-colonial census documents,a 1946 Calcutta riots report linked to Partition,gazetteers from across states,books like the Bibliotheca Indica,a collection of legislation,acts and reports on British India,and rare Indian film booklets.
Catalogued and indexed,the online collection will be fully searchable and will cover art & culture,politics,government policy,Indology,anthropology,science & technology,civilisational studies,and literature. The archive will be available to universities from March 2013. Indian libraries will be able to access the archive through the UGCs INFLIBNET at a nominal price.
In 2005,the Chinese government went ahead and put over four million documents online. In US,you have New York papers available online. However,in India such resources are either inaccessible or too difficult to come by. That is when we got back to Kolkata,pooled resources and began working on the archive. While the project did get delayed due to the recession,we managed to get it back on its feet. There is no government funding sought or proposed,but the HRD Ministry is very supportive. We have senior academics from across global universities helping develop the archive, Dr Gooptu said.