Digitisation: Asiatic Society Starts New Innings At 233

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Kolkata: About two lakh pages of journals from as far back as 1788 till date have been put online as a part of the digital archives of the Asiatic Society, a research organisation of national importance here.

The journey started way back in 1784 and on Monday, the oldest archive of the country, located inside Asiatic Society, started a new journey as it shifted to the digital mode.

The archive has 50,000 manuscripts in 26 languages, made in varied mediums like palm, palmyra leaves, barks of trees and paper (often handmade, not chemically treated). There are original paintings of Hodges, Daniells, Baille, D’Oyly, Solvins, Rubens and Reynolds, and are among the most valuable in the world of paintings.

“In the next phase, we will digitize the paintings. There are some extremely rare views. There are 90 paintings of European masters and 125 masters of the Bengal School in our archives,” said Satyabrata Chakraborty, general secretary of the Asiatic Society. This will be followed by digitization of manuscripts.

Former Prasar Bharati CEO Jawahar Sircar, present at the launch and architect of the 14-point museum reforms to link them, said, “The Asiatic Society is a repository of more heritage, more wisdom than perhaps any other body.

“The sheer volume of digitised catalogues and manuscripts, the inventories… will be put up on public domain, with a huge quantum of knowledge for researchers,” he said. The publications and memoirs will now be available on www.asiaticsocietykolkata.org, which was launched today, Asiatic Society Publication Secretary Ramkrishna Chatterjee said.

Asiatic Society President, Professor Isha Mahammed said very old manuscripts, old paintings by Europeans and works of famous sculptors were also being digitised and uploaded on the website. “It had started from library, then to manuscripts which had already been completed totalling 2 lakh pages. All are being put on public domain,” Mahammed said.

For long, the Centre had been prodding the Society to get its valuable archive digitized but the authorities were unable to comply because of the unionized staff that often put spanners into the process. In 2006, when Pranab Mukherjee was the Union finance minister and chairman of the planning board of the Society, he urged the authorities to fast-track digitization so that the wealth could be made available in the digital domain. At the moment, only members of the Society have access to the archive.

The process could start much later and even on Monday, when the public announcement was made, only the first phase of the digitization was over. The rest will follow in phases. The publications page of the Asiatic Society contains categories like books, bulletin, catalogues, journals and memoirs among others. The Asiatic Society was founded by civil servant Sir William Jones in January, 1784.