South Asia Microform Project

The South Asia Microform Project (SAMP), one of six area studies preservation programs based at the Center for Research Libraries, is an indispensable tool for South Asian scholarship. As a framework for cooperative collecting and preservation and scholarly resource of unique higher education materials, SAMP exemplifies the benefits of cooperative activity.

The collection, spanning four centuries and covering the entire subcontinent (India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Nepal and Bangladesh), is a treasure for scholars in all disciplines of the social sciences and humanities. Much as a ghazal, a traditional poetic form popular across the region, is a collection of loosely associated two-line poems, so SAMP’s collection is a loosely grouped set of research material, each resource capable of being appreciated in its own right, but assembled as a whole forming a rich tapestry of themes and subjects important for the understanding of South Asian civilization.

A useful sketch of SAMP’s early history was undertaken in 1988 by Jack C. Wells, then South Asian bibliographer at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. In it, he relates the founding of the project in 1967 by 22 participating libraries. At the core of the project was the mission to cooperatively acquire and maintain a readily accessible collection of unique materials in microform related to the study of South Asia. Materials are collected both through the filming efforts of the project and through the purchase of positive copies of materials filmed by other groups, institutions and companies.

Since 1988, SAMP has scaled up its collecting efforts through the preservation of major archives from the 19th and early 20th centuries. Major funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Department of Education, the U.S.-India Fund for Cultural, Educational, and Scientific Cooperation, and the Government of India have assisted SAMP in its efforts to provide access to a vast array of social, cultural, scientific, and political materials. SAMP’s catalog currently lists over 27,600 records (though this number would likely double should one take into account the as yet unanalyzed sets of fiche and microfilm available).
Some of the major collections assembled in the 1990s include over 4,000 Hindustani titles from the British Library’s Oriental and India Office Collection (OIOC) from the 19th century, covering a range of subjects including arts and sciences, history, literature and religion. This collection complements a previous effort to preserve over 2,000 unique Hindi texts from the OIOC for the same period and subject themes.

Atop these valuable collections, and one of the most valued assets in SAMP’s collection, are the nearly 24,000 titles filmed so far under the “Microfilming of Indian Publications Project (MIPP).” This effort seeks to preserve and make accessible all books listed in The National Bibliography of Indian Literature: 1901–1953, a compilation of 56,000 books in the sixteen languages of India. The collection documents the development of the cultural milieu of the struggle for independence from colonial rule and exemplifies the flourishing of scholarly publishing in the subcontinent.

Historians of the colonial era will find a wealth of resources relating to the India Office and East India Company, chief among them the “India Office Records, Home Miscellaneous Series, 1631–1859.” This set comprises most of the important surviving documents relating to the London administration of India and Burma before independence. The entire contents of the Home Miscellaneous Series (IOR/H) can be searched in the Access 2 Archives database.

Additional sources from this period include records from the East India Company, India Office Lists, 1876–1947 (a registry of service records for higher ranking civil servants), and the large collection of official publications (acts and regulations, legislative debates and official gazettes of the central and provincial governments of British India) contained in the IDC fiche sets, “Selections from the records of the Government of India.” SAMP also possesses a number of missionary society archives from this period.

As India and other provinces moved towards independence, nationalist sentiment and the emergence of provincial governments and a federal legislature are documented in such collections as the legislative assembly debates and proceedings for central and provincial councils in India, East Bengal (Pakistan), Ceylon and other regions. Additional confrontation may be evidenced in such collections as SAMP’s Indian Proscribed Tracts (material censored by the British either for its criticism of the regime and calls for self-government or for its expressions of communal conflict) and the “Meerut Conspiracy Case, 1929–32,” in which 31 leaders of organized labor and Communist party members were arrested for sedition —regarded as the largest political trial ever held in India.

Complementing all of these resources is SAMP’s collection of 100-plus newspapers from the region, focusing mainly on the late 19th-early 20th century. Significant titles include Amrita Bazar Patrika (1905–1951, supplementing CRL holdings of 1962–current); Behar Herald (1913–1961); Bombay Chronicle (1913–1950); Madras Mail (1868–1889); The Tribune (Lahore, Pakistan, 1881–1961); and many others. SAMP continues to engage in the acquisition of newspapers and is actively pursuing vernacular language titles.

SAMP’s collection has been characterized generally as covering “pre-independence India with less attention being paid to Nepal and Sri Lanka, and to the subcontinent after 1947.” This description remains generally true: approximately 85% of imprints are from or related to India. However, in recent years SAMP has increased its emphasis on the other regions and languages of the subcontinent.

As an example, SAMP is collaborating with the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta to create use copies of microfilm for Bengali literary and historical journals. The Hitesranjan Sanyal Memorial Collection contains some of the most important holdings of 19th century Bengali periodicals, monographs, and reports, filmed from the Bangiya Sahitya Parishat and other collections. By creating surrogates of the 576 reels produced by the CSSSC, SAMP is ensuring that the originals and the master negatives will be secured for future scholarship.

In another project, SAMP recently supported the efforts of the Madan Puraskar Pustakalaya, the principal archive of books and periodicals in the Nepali language, to preserve its extensive collection of newspapers. The titles preserved in Kathmandu (and duplicated through our partners in Chennai) span the entire 20th century and represent a wide spectrum of opinions.

In one of the most compelling examples, SAMP provided physical and financial support to aid the work of scholars identifying collections abroad. While in the field searching for obscure texts relevant to her research, Professor Rebecca Manring (Indiana University) stumbled upon a neglected private manuscript collection in West Bengal. The collection belonged to the late Sukumar Sen, one of the leading scholars of Bengali vernacular literature as well as a gifted linguist and prolific writer. Dr. Manring began cataloging the material and sought SAMP funding to preserve the collection. Dr. Manring spent several months in India, cataloging and preparing the materials, dusting the manuscripts, assisting the filmers who used SAMP’s portable microfilm camera, and repackaging the materials for safe storage. Her close connection with the Sen family, established credentials in India, and respect for the wishes of the family all contributed to the realization of the project. A printed index to the collection is forthcoming.

The extensive set of microfiche acquired in cooperation with the Library of Congress Field Office in New Delhi comprises a significant part of SAMP’s contemporary collection. SAMP and the Center for Research Libraries have been collaborating since 1985 in the acquisition of this material, numbering hundreds of thousands of fiche. As this material was selected for microfiche because of its fragile, voluminous, or dispersed nature, it covers every country in the region with a wide variety of topics (sciences, social sciences, and the humanities) and date ranges. Increasingly, material such as pamphlet collections is being arranged topically (“Islam in Pakistan,” “Ecology and environment in India”). The Center is engaged in retrospective cataloging of this material to improve access.

While the resources described above primarily support historical or socio-political research, there is a wide variety of other material, including agricultural and scientific documents, philosophical and legal journals, and a broad selection of literature and literary studies (see related article on Premchand and Kabir). Of note is the extensive collection of “Popular literature in Hindi and Urdu” from the collection of Dr. Frances Pritchett (Columbia University). This fiche set is comprised of qissah (narrative “chapbook” literature), nautanki (folk-opera) texts, and other popular genres.

In any properly formed ghazal, the last couplet is devoted to the maqta (a stanza in which the poet’s pen name is employed as a “signature”). In the SAMP collection, a fitting reminder for the important role played by the project, the first and last frame of each reel reads “Microfilmed by the South Asia Microform Project of the Center for Research Libraries.”