JOINT CENTRE FOR HISTORY AND ECONOMICS

Short Guide to Online Archives for Students

 

Introduction

Archival records from South and Southeast Asia can be endangered, fragmentary, or simply non-existent. While this creates challenges for researchers, it also invites us to reimagine the archive and be more creative with the sources we do have. Major digitization initiatives over the last decade or so have introduced new possibilities.  

Nothing can be a perfect substitute for the process of traveling to new places and working in their physical archives. Still, working with online archives affords opportunities of its own. Sometimes, these archives are text-searchable. Other times, their materials can be downloaded. And, of course, being just a few clicks away, they are often extremely convenient to access!

This guide offers an overview of archival materials on South and Southeast Asia available freely online. It is by no means comprehensive. But it does point towards a wide range of research resources, many of which are either unused or under-used. We hope to help you get your bearings as you embark upon your research endeavors. If you have any comments on suggestions on how we can augment this resource, please feel free to email aditya.balasubramanian@anu.edu.au.


South Asia


Archive of Indian Music
This is a digital repository of gramophone recordings, many of which feature pieces of music from India’s best-known artists. The collection is particularly strong for Carnatic and Hindustani classical music.

Digital Himalaya
This archive was curated by social scientists from multiple universities and features ethnographic material from the Himalayan region. It includes collections on Nepali ethnic groups, rare books and manuscripts, and journals.

Digital Library of India
Under this project of the Ministry of Human Resources Development of the Government of India,  scans of out-of-copyright books from libraries across India are generated and converted into text-searchable PDF form. These can then be downloaded from the Digital Library of India. The best way to use this resource is to search by author or title. A free registration is required.

Gokhale Institute DSpace
This is a digital repository of material scanned from the Dhanjayarao Gadgil Library of the venerable Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics in Poona, India. It contains a treasure trove of books, seminar papers, and research reports on modern India, focusing on issues of political economy and sociology. No login is required and researchers can download as many items as they want.

Indiancine.ma
This initiative of the Indian Cinema foundation  functions both as a comprehensive index and archive for Indian cinema. It includes Hindi, regional language, and silent films. Now, 8,737 films can be viewed from links provided (roughly one third of the indexed material).

Indian Memory Project
An online visual and narrative archive dedicated to the memory of the past, The Indian Memory Project provides materials on individuals and families to offer a micro-perspective on macrohistorical change. Contributions typically combine a historical image which is accompanied by a contextualizing narrative by someone in their possession. Researchers should be mindful that these narratives are not necessarily fact-checked or historically accurate. Very often, they are based on reflections people have recorded of their relatives; they are most useful as devices for understanding how people remember the past.
CAUTION: In order to use material from this archive, you must secure permission from indianmemoryproject@gmail.com.

National Archives of India
Approximately 72,000 files from the National Archives of India are available online, Of these, the vast majority are from the records of various departments of the Government of India. About 7,000 are from private papers. Accessing these files requires a registration and login. They cannot be downloaded. This website also has a finding aid for collections unavailable online, and a digitize on demand feature requiring payment. 

Panjab Digital Library
This archive is dedicated to holdings about the Panjab region of Northern India and Pakistan. It is especially useful for information about the Sikh community. Material is in Panjabi and English. Access requires registration.

Periodicals and Pamphlets of Indian Anticommunists and Free Market Advocates
This collection covers magazines and pamphlets from Cold War-era India, including pamphlets of the Forum of Free Enterprise in Mumbai, The Indian Libertarian magazine, and the CIA-funded Freedom First. It is most useful for understanding the print culture of post-colonial India.

Public Access Digital Media Archive
This is an annotated archive of nearly 5000 pieces of video footage, rather than finished films. One example that might be of particular interest to economic historians is about the history of mining at the Kolar Gold Fields in Karnataka.

South Asian American Digital Archive
This archive principally offers material on South Asian migrants who have made their homes in the United States. A number of the holdings are oral histories and photographs, although these materials also include inmate records, immigration case files, and home videos. 

South Asia Open Access Archives
A major open-access archive made from the collections of 26 partner libraries in South Asia and around the world, SAOA contains over 15,000 discrete items (amounting to hundreds of thousands of pages) in thirteen languages ranging from stories to maps. They are broadly divided into four categories of materials: caste and social structure, literature, economic and social history, and women and gender.

For more, see this interview with Duke’s South Asian Studies Librarian, Ed Proctor.

Tasveer Ghar
This is an archive of popular visual culture consisting of over 4000 digitized images of everything from cinema hoardings to maps to advertisements and curated visual essays by scholars of South Asia. One of the main figures behind this initiative has been Sumathi Ramaswamy, whom we have interviewed about her work on Tamil philanthropy.


Southeast Asia


Daily Journals of Batavia Castle
The Daily Journals of Batavia (today’s Jakarta) Castle, 1624-1806, provide rich sources of information on trade within Southeast Asia and with Europe. These have been digitized from the National Archives at the Hague, Netherlands and pertain especially to the operations of the Dutch East India Company (VOC). They are a record of letters, ship movements, and major events.

Digital Batavia
Maintained by the National Archives of Indonesia, this website includes collections of advertisements, film footage, newspaper clippings, paintings, and maps about Batavia (Jakarta), the chief port of the Netherlands’ Asian trading empire.

National Archives of Singapore, Archives Online  
The extensive and organized online archives of the National Archives of Singapore is divided into eight categories of material: audiovisual and sound recordings, government records, maps and building plans, oral history interviews, photographs, posters, speeches and press releases, and the overseas and private records of the British colonial Straits Settlements in Southeast Asia (including Penang, Singapore, Malacca, and Dinding). These are exceptionally rich holdings and include hundreds of thousands of items. They will be useful to researchers of Southeast Asia as well as those interest in the history of city-states, inter-Asian trade, and migration.

Resolutions of Batavia Castle
 The General Resolutions of Batavia Castle, 1613-1810 are the decisions of the government of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) in Asia. The 211,000 pages in this collection concern issues of trade, war, administration, and law. Registration is required to view these documents, which are presented as images online.

Southeast Asia Visions, Cornell University
This archive provides European and American travel accounts of Southeast Asia from the 1550s to the 1920s. They contain firsthand observations of life in the region. Most are in English or French.

 

South and Southeast Asia


Cambridge Digital Library
The Digital Library of the University of Cambridge’s collections include salient material from the Royal Commonwealth Society (especially photographs of South and Southeast Asia) and hundreds of Sanskrit manuscripts

Centre of South Asian Studies, Cambridge
This “Archive of Nobody Famous” is particularly valuable for its private collections of British serving in South and Southeast Asia. Online, researchers can access a number of oral histories of Indians and British people who lived and worked in the subcontinent as well as fascinating film footage from the early 20th century.

Digital Bodleian
The digital collections of University of Oxford’s flagship research library include Mughal manuscripts and Kalighat paintings from 19th century Burma and Calcutta.

Endangered Archives Project of the British Library
This project of the British Library gives grants to organisations to catalogue, preserve, and digitize archives in danger from across the world. Thanks to this scheme, over seven million images and 25 thousand soundtracks have been digitized till date. Collections span South Asia, Southeast Asia, and beyond. Consider, for example, this set of palm leaf bundles of land deeds and taxation arrangements in colonial Tamil Nadu in India. Or this collection of Islamic texts dating back to the 13th century from Indonesia’s Minangkabau communities.

International Institute for Social History, Leiden
Founded by a Dutch economic historian in 1935, the International Institute for Social History holds over a million records pertaining to the economic and social history of the modern world. It is particularly rich in its collection of materials on Southeast Asia. The link above is to the search engine, which will give results for searches that are both digitized and unavailable online. This is not an easy online archive to navigate, but persistence is rewarded. Use the filters on the right hand-side of the search page to narrow your search. Collection Guides to “Asia” and “Migration History” may also help you. Examples of online material from Southeast Asia include the Oral History of the Trade Union Movement in Indonesia and the papers of the Malayan People’s Army 10th Regiment.

National Archives of the United Kingdom
During the COVID-19 Crisis, the National Archives of the United Kingdom has moved to partially digitize its archives. These documents will be particularly valuable for scholars of colonial India, Burma, and Malaya. To download online materials, create an account at the link provided above, run a search, and filter search results to include those which are “available for download only.” You can order up to 50 documents in a 30-day period. A guide to digitized collections is available here.

The Documentary Film in South and Southeast Asia
Hosted by Hong Kong Baptist University and financed both by that institution and the Hong Kong government, this archive of materials from the 1940s to the 1970s covers India, Malaya, Hong Kong, and Singapore. It is primarily concerned with state-produced film and the use of the medium for nation-building and propaganda.