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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
- Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi
- Babasaheb Ambedkar’s Writings and Speeches
- Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru
- Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel’s Correspondences with Gandhi, Writings, Speeches
- Speeches and Writings of Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya
- Speeches and Writings of Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan
- Writings and Speeches of Sarojini Naidu
- Writings and Speeches of Lala Lajpat Rai
Other Digitised Archival Sources on India and South Asia:
- https://directoryofarchives.wordpress.com/ – This directory contains a great list of archival resources and websites
- https://www.youtube.com/c/DDARCHIVES/playlists – Prasar Bharati Archives
- https://archive.pib.gov.in/archive/phase2/archiveministry.aspx?phase=3 – PIB Archives, 1947-2021
- https://news.google.com/newspapers – Google Archive of Newspapers
- https://ruralindiaonline.org/en/pages/about/ – People’s Archive of Rural India
- https://eparlib.nic.in/ – Parliament Digital Library
- https://coherentdigital.net/southasiacommons – South Asian Archives (freely accessible for UGC-affiliated colleges in India)
- https://aaa.org.hk/en – Asia Art Archive
- https://www.indianmemoryproject.com/ – Indian Memory Project
- http://www.panjabdigilib.org/webuser/searches/mainpage.jsp – Panjab Digital Library
- https://accessingmuslimlives.org/archive/ – Archives of biographical and autobiographic travel writings of Muslims translated from Urdu
- https://archive.org/details/freeindological?tab=collection – The Free Indological Collection (TFIC) contains thousands of rare and valuable books on all areas of Indology.
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.
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