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British Library

Preserving Endangered Culture
Colonial archives in St Helena suffering from insect damage. Courtesy of the British Library

Endangered Archives Programme

$28,400,000; 2004–2025

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Much of mankind’s documentary heritage rests in fragile archives, at risk because of environmental factors, neglect, political unrest or war. To protect these archives, in 2004 we established the Endangered Archives Programme at the British Library. The project awards grants annually to support digitization of at-risk collections around the globe and to make their content freely available online, through the British Library website. To date the Programme has awarded grants to more than 350 projects in 90 countries.

In 2014, to celebrate EAP’s 10th anniversary, we published the volume ‘From Dust to Digital’, showcasing the historical importance and research potential of EAP digitized collections. The book is available open access here.

In 2018, the programme published an open access book ‘Remote Capture: Digitising Documentary Heritage in Challenging Locations‘ – a how-to guide for anyone embarking on a scholarly digitization project. The book is available here.

Examples

In Andhra Pradesh, India, the Programme supported digitization of collections of Hakku Patras, documents which grant artisans and performers the right to ply their trade in a specific area. The digitized documents date from the 17th to the 20th century and belong to nomadic and settled performing communities. Inscribed on copper plates or written paper, they contain the name of the village, the name of the performing community as well as the date of the sanctioning of the grant and the form of the permitted performance.

In Yekaterinburg, Russia, the Programme helped to digitize the book heritage of Old Believers, the group born from opposition to the 17th century reforms of the Russian Orthodox Church. Persecuted by the state and official Orthodox church, and then by the Stalinist regime, they preserved many old Russian traditions and rich textual collections. The project digitized 6,000 books dating from the 15th to the 20th centuries. The material includes didactic collections and prayer books, original polemics and eschatological compositions of Old Believers, samples of late Russian annals, monuments of historical-demographic and natural-scientific character, and manuscript scores which reflect the original old Russian ways of recording musical texts.

Learn more about our cultural grants.

  • Negative from the Nalla Pillai Studio archive in Kumbakonam, Tamil Nadu. Courtesy of the Endangered Archives Programme
  • A frozen river on the way to document rare Mongolian and Tibetan manuscripts in the Oka district, the Republic of Buryatia. Courtesy of the Endangered Archives Programme
  • Idrissou Njoya and Nij Mapon examining an endangered manuscript at the Bamum Palace. Courtesy of the Endangered Archive Programme, British Library
  • Notary records book in a collection of 17th-19th century documents, Arquivo Público do Estado da Bahia, Brazil. Photo by Dr João Reis. Courtesy of the British Library
  • Monks at the Gangtey Buddhist Monastery in Bhutan digitizing a selection of 17th century manuscripts. Courtesy of the Endangered Archive Programme, SOAS