Case Studies

Posted: 21 September 2020

Digitizing endangered archives

  • Programme:

    Preserving endangered culture

  • Focus area:

    Archives and manuscripts

  • Grantee:

    British Library

  • Project:

    Endangered Archives Programme

  • Grants awarded:

    $28,400,000

  • Years:

    2004-2025

The Endangered Archives Programme (EAP), based at the British Library, facilitates the digitisation of archives around the world that are in danger of destruction, neglect or physical deterioration. To date the Programme has awarded grants to more than 400 projects in 90 countries. The projects have focussed on rare printed sources, manuscripts, visual materials and audio recordings. All of the digitised materials, 8,000,000 images so far, are freely available is freely available through the programme’s website.

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 digitised collections.

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 digitisation project. The book is available here.

The call for preliminary applications opens each September with a deadline of mid-November.

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


Project examples

Preserving and digitising the historic newspaper, The Barbados Mercury Gazette (EAP1086)

The Barbados National Archives owns only extant complete set of the Barbados Mercury Gazette (1783-1848), and digitised all 2,331 issues under this project. Given the tropical climate, these materials are of both exceptional vulnerability and significance. The newspaper is crucial for understanding the history of Barbados in the 18th and 19th centuries. More particularly, the newspaper sheds light on the everyday life of a slaveholding society, including the sale of slaves and notices about runaway slaves, and also covers the period of Bussa’s 1816 rebellion and the events that led to the abolition of the slavery on the island in 1834. This project saw the digitisation of the complete run of this important newspaper.



Preserving records on the Kenya-Uganda railway line (EAP1143)

The records on the building of the Kenya-Uganda railway (1896 – 1901) provide a vital resource for the history of Kenya and East Africa in general. The material contained within the collection comprises photographic, audio-visual, cartographic and text-based records that document the social and environmental landscape of the region prior to European colonial settlement as well as capturing the construction of the railway during the turn of the 20th century. This pilot project focussed on cleaning and clearing the archive room, cataloguing individual albums and digitising a selection of photographs housed within the archive.



Digitising Rare Medieval Sanskrit Manuscripts scattered in Newār Settlements in Rural Kathmandu and Hill Areas in Nepal (EAP1023)

This project worked to preserve fragile manuscripts containing original Sanskrit Buddhist texts of Buddhist monks, priests and community leaders in Nepal. In this and previous EAP-funded projects, the Nepalese scholar Shankar Thapa has preserved and the written heritage of Nepal, and made these collections available resources for research. This project digitised 478 Hindu and Buddhist manuscripts, including texts on medicine, music, ritual, epic stories, iconography, and more.

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