A Grammar of the Bengal Language by Nathaniel Halhead, 1778

Unlocking India’s printed heritage: 200,000 pages of historic books to be made available online

An international team is to digitise and give free online access to one of the world’s most important collections of South-Asian language printed books.

A pilot project for a major digitisation initiative – Two Centuries of Indian Print – was announced by the British Library, with the support of funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council through the Newton Fund.

The project marks the start of a major programme to share the wealth of Indian printed books held by the British Library dating from 1714 to 1914. The collection, which spans at least 22 South Asian languages and millions of pages, is the most significant held anywhere outside the Subcontinent.

Many of the books are unique and many are also in delicate condition due to their age, so the mass digitisation of these items will not only make them widely available to people around the world, but will also help preserve the fragile originals for future generations.

The pilot project will digitise 1,000 books in Bengali, amounting to 200,000 pages, as well as enhancing the catalogue records of more than 2,000 titles to automate searching and aid discovery by researchers.

Also planned are major engagement initiatives to stimulate digital scholarship and collaboration, as well as building skills and digital research capacity with partner institutions in India.

Demand for early Bengali printed works in the Library’s collection is particularly high, and the project will make them available to researchers beyond the Library’s Reading Rooms, giving global access to the British Library’s South Asian printed collections, many of which are now rare or unique.

“It is the mission of the British Library to make the vast intellectual and cultural resources we hold accessible to anyone, anywhere,” said Roly Keating, the library’s chief executive.

“By digitising some of the riches held in our South Asian printed collections, we want to enable people all over the world to appreciate India’s great cultural heritage in new and innovative ways.

“In India itself, the National Virtual library of India is ushering in a new era for digital research – this exciting project will make more than a million pages of historic content available to researchers in the subcontinent.”

The pilot project will be in partnership with School of Cultural Texts and Records (SCTR) of Jadavpur University, Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology, and the Library at SOAS University of London, working with the National Library of India, the National Mission on Libraries, and other institutions in India.


(image: A Grammar of the Bengal Language by Nathaniel Halhead, 1778_


(from a press release)