News from the Archival Collections of the IFP IFP

A training session on handling and conserving fragile palm leaf manuscripts conducted by Babu G. for the Archives Training Course

IFP’s collections of manuscripts, photographs, maps and ecological specimens (pollen and plants) are among its pillars of strength and a key component of its scientific practice and history. The current phase marks another fresh chapter in the institute’s evolution as a center for archival work, with new collaborations and new efforts in the areas of dissemination, enhancement, curation and training.

In order to consolidate its digital collections and improve their visibility and accessibility, IFP has partnered with INIST to develop a new digital collections portal with improved functionalities and metadata curation in line with current global archival standards. The ongoing curation and digitization of decades worth of herbarium data on the Western Ghats through the FANTASTIC Ghats project supported by the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) is another development in this direction.

A partnership with the BNF on the Patrimoines Partagés project will see selections from IFP’s manuscript, photographs and rare books collections being featured on a new digital library of the shared cultural and intellectual history of India and France. Recognising the many creative possibilities that inhere within any archival object, IFP plans to bring together artists, designers and curators to brainstorm new ways of engaging with and curating its existing collections.

Besides the enhancement of existing collections, the Institute continues to host new archives acquired through several ongoing projects to build new digital archives with the support of the Endangered Archives Programme of the British Library, ranging in subject matter from vernacular mathematical manuscripts and traditional medicine to studio photography and mercantile accounting practices. A new addition to the collection of historical maps comes in the form of a recent donation of nearly 300 maps by Major Swaraj Roy. Understanding that its own institutional archives are an equally invaluable resource on the history of science and scientific diplomacy between India and France, the Institute is working towards their preservation and digitization as a long-term objective.

In order to foster a wider archival sensibility and share its accumulated expertise, the Institute has started a 3-month archives training course designed to familiarize participants with the basic principles and methodologies of archival work and expose them to a diversity of archives through a hands-on practice-driven approach.

Sanskrit and Malayalam Manuscripts from the Thrissur monastic Complex EFEO

Manuscript leaf digitised as part of the Endangered Archives project

Since 2018, with the generous support of Arcadia (EAP Pilot project 1039:, a team of scholars led by H. David, S.A.S. Sarma (both EFEO) and C.M. Neelakandhan (formerly SSSU, Kalady) is engaged in the inventory, digitisation and study of the important collection of palm-leaf manuscripts kept in the Vadakke Madham Brahmaswam, a Hindu monastery belonging to the order of Śaṅkara, in the city of Thrissur (Central Kerala). After a break in 2020 due to the pandemic, the work could resume in January 2021 thanks to the joint support of the Centre for the Study of Manuscript Cultures (CSMC - University of Hamburg) and the Mellon Foundation (project “The Book and the Silk Road”, hosted by the University of Toronto:

In September, a new grant from Arcadia (EAP Major Project 1304: allowed the project to start again at full speed, for 24 months. 350 valuable palm-leaf manuscripts have already been fully catalogued and digitised by our team of three research scholars and two photographers, and images of 55 of them are now freely available online on the EAP website. Recently, the new collaboration between the Vadakke Madham, the CSMC and the EFEO allowed the laying of the first stone of a new Kerala Manuscript Centre in Thrissur, with the construction of a fully equipped manuscript archive on the premises of the Vadakke Madham. The newly founded Centre will provide a durable structure for the preservation (physical and digital) and study of the manuscript heritage of Kerala, and will ensure free access to digital images to scholars in India and abroad.

Revisiting Pakistan’s political history: focus on the Sindhi ethno-nationalist movement CSH Delhi

Organized every year since 2009, the Sindhi Culture Day celebrates the symbols that the work of nationalist entrepreneurs made prominent.

Julien Levesque, researcher at CSH until end of August 2021 and currently visiting assistant professor at Ashoka University, recently published a monograph in French based on his doctoral dissertation: Pour une autre idée du Pakistan: nationalisme et construction identitaire dans le Sindh (Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2022). The book contributes to ongoing scholarship that seeks to provide a fuller picture of Pakistan’s politics by focusing on progressive actors often left out of the dominant narrative. Almost from the moment of Independence, Pakistani authorities have persistently faced contestation from the provincial elites. Tensions in centre-province relations have caused significant disruption—most significantly, the independence of Bangladesh in 1971. They have only partially been eased by the federal structure put in place after 1973.

This book concentrates on such contestations put forth by ethnic Sindhis. It offers a social history of the Sindhi nationalist discourse in Pakistan. The Sindhi nationalist discourse is not only the outcome of autonomist and separatist demands, but has more broadly pervaded society by imposing its forms of self-identification. Sindhi nationalism is singular in at least two respects. First, the Sindhi nationalist discourse sees Sufi Islam as an ethnic marker that sets Sindhis apart from other Muslims in Pakistan. Second, its roots can in part be found in Left ideologies and organizations that started denouncing Pakistan’s unitary nationalism soon after Independence.

Apart from documenting the role of the political actors who constructed and spread the Sindhi nationalist discourse, this book also examines the construction of various identity-markers that are now associated with Sindhi identity in Pakistan – from the Indus Valley civilization, to the 18th century Sufi poet Shah Abdul Latif, to popular culture and visual symbols, like the Ajrak shawl. Thus, by highlighting the popular significance of ethnic markers whose origins are associated with the Sindhi nationalism, the book shows the deep social impact of a movement that commentators on Pakistan’s politics often deemed to have failed.