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digitised archival sources

11 Digitised Archival Sources on India and South Asia

Gone are the days when knowledge-producing sites (mainly archives) were only accessible to higher classes of the Indian urban landscape. Thanks to the internet and smartphones, anyone can access digitised archival sources today. The growth of digital technology has also enabled a new arena of history-keeping.

Publicly owned digitised archival sources have gained popularity in recent years as ordinary citizens have begun to reclaim the space while governments have resorted to compartmentalising history. This does not imply that government archives (like the National Archives of India) are no longer relevant. However, it only makes Indian archiving more democratic.

Even though several digitised archival sources exist on the internet, barely anyone knows outside of some academic circles. In this blog, I list all the critical digitised archival sources to help researchers access essential documents, newspapers, private papers, etc.

This blog is part of a series of articles on researching and writing in politics and international relations.

1. Abhilekh Patal

In recent years, the National Archives of India has digitised parts of its archival sources on the Abhilekh Patal portal to help researchers access essential documents at the click of a button. The website claims that it holds over 2.7 million files held by the National Archives of India. It contains a treasure trove of several private papers, public records, oriental records, cartographic records, etc.

Accessing these resources is a cumbersome process because of how these documents are archived digitally. It is also challenging to do a keyword search for these documents on the portal as it pulls out trivial and often unnecessary files that do not contain the keywords. Besides that, the portal holds a significant collection of papers on precolonial, colonial and postcolonial India.

2. Ideas of India

The Ideas of India project has been spearheaded by Rahul Sagar, along with a set of research assistants, who have meticulously (and even perhaps painstakingly!) documented and uploaded the archival materials in India.

Specifically, this website contains a rare set of periodicals of the colonial period, such as The India Magazine, The Madras Review, The Dawn, The Modern Review, The India Review, Aligarh Monthly, and Annual Registers of India. It also contains many writings about Arya Samaj and other religious movements.

3. Granth Sanjeevani, The Asiatic Society of Mumbai

Grant Sanjeevani contains over 20,000 books, newspapers, journals, rare manuscripts, government records, maps, etc. Among the collection are several rare English, Sanskrit, Latin, German, Arabic and other language texts.

It also holds a large set of digitised newspaper collections (which includes Bombay Chronicle, Pioneer, Hindu Patriot, and The Times of India, among others). Apart from these documents, Grant Sanjeevani also holds many rare manuscripts and colonial government reports.

4. Internet Archive

The Internet Archive is resourceful for researchers, as it holds documents and records (even including private papers). The Internet Archive (or archive.org) documents can be useful for all researchers.

All you have to do is type your interest in the search tab of the website, and you will be shown zillions of primary documents and materials (otherwise only available in archives). For instance, I have accessed most of the documents I may require through the Internet Archive for my research on Pakistan.

See, for instance, https://archive.org/details/JaiGyan for several archival documents.

Check it out and let me know if you find this resource useful.

5. 1947 Partition Archive

The 1947 Partition Archive is a crowd-funded, community-based archival source containing oral history documentation. The website maintains that they have recorded over 10,200 oral histories from over 14 countries in 36 languages and dialects.

The website remarks on access to the complete collection at Berkeley, California; Ashoka University, India (for academic research); Guru Nanak Dev University; and Delhi University, etc.

Furthermore, a subset of oral history interviews is accessible through Stanford University Digital Library. Although I have not accessed their oral history documents yet, I believe the 1947 partition archive is an essential resource for those researching India, Pakistan and the Partition of the Subcontinent.

6. Famine and Dearth in India and Britain 1550-1800

Upon researching for this blog, I came across this website, which contains over 700 multilingual primary sources related to famine and dearth in India and Britain. These resources are in Persian, Bengali, Hindi and English.

The database consists of biographies, chronicle histories, gazetteers, historical narratives, non-fiction prose, official (state documents), oral narratives, etc. If you are researching famines, this website caters to your needs.

8. Iqbal Cyber Library

Studying Iqbal’s philosophy and poetry is paramount for someone researching Pakistan. In him, you will see the early notions of Quam, which were tweaked and retweaked throughout the Muslim League’s struggle for Pakistan.

On this website, one can access writings on Sir Muhammad Iqbal (both in Urdu and English). This website also contains writings of Iqbal.

9. LUMS Digital Archive

The LUMS Digital Archive, maintained by the Lahore University of Management Sciences, holds several documents, private papers, visual representations, and oral records. This archival source is essential for researching Pakistan, Partition, and the birth of Bangladesh.

It contains a list of events, newspaper clippings, and videos of the 1971 Bangladesh war. It also holds oral records in Ishtiaq Ahmad’s collection (testimonies of partition) and oral records of anti-Ahmadiyya violence in Pakistan.

10. South Asia Open Archives (SAOA)

The South Asia Open Archives, stored on JSTOR, consists of over 30,000 digitized print materials. These documents include newspapers, journals, colonial reports, caste censuses, and government records.

11. BJP Library

For someone researching right-wing populism in India, there is no better source than the ruling-Bhartiya Janata Party library website. It contains a list of books on right-wing leaders, RSS activities, parliamentary debates, party manifestoes, writings of the Indian freedom movement, reports of the Shah Commission, etc.

A caution: while navigating through the list of documents listed in ideology-driven sources, as a researcher, one needs to be mindful of the kinds of propaganda narratives that each of the sources listed would push—and avoid their influence on them.

Apart from these sources, several websites document individual leaders’ writings and speeches.

Indian National Leaders and Their Writings
Other Digitised Archival Sources on India and South Asia:

This list is non-comprehensive and non-exhaustive. I will update it when I hear about/or come across other digitised archives. I hope this list helps researchers access various archival materials in South Asia.

Kindly comment below on such archival sources to add to the list.


Cover Photo by Iñaki del Olmo on Unsplash


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