Preserving threatened documentary heritage around the world: £9 million grant awarded to continue British Library’s Endangered Archives Programme

  • Endangered Archives Programme (EAP) has supported digitisation of endangered heritage collections in 90 countries  
  • Second major grant of £9 million to fund EAP for next seven years
  • Free exhibition to showcase digitisation work supported by the EAP
  • Beyond Timbuktu: Preserving the Manuscripts of Djenné, Mali (Second Floor Gallery, British Library, 28 September 2018 – 6 January 2019)

An international programme dedicated to preserving archival material in danger of destruction, neglect or physical deterioration, has been awarded a £9 million grant to fund its continuing work, across a diverse range of projects worldwide, for the next seven years.

The Endangered Archives Programme (EAP) is administered by the British Library and has been generously funded by Arcadia, a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin.

Since 2004, EAP has supported the digitisation of 7 million images and over 25,000 sound files, raising the profile of endangered collections and making them available online for researchers worldwide. This has been achieved through some 350 partnerships with academics, libraries and archives in 90 countries, from Argentina to Zimbabwe. Different types of material that have been preserved include printed sources such as books, serials, newspapers and ephemera; manuscripts; visual materials such as drawings, paintings, prints, posters, photographs and temple murals; audio-visual recordings; other objects and artefacts, including rock inscriptions.

The second major grant from Arcadia, amounting to £9 million, will fund the programme for a further seven years, across five annual rounds of funding competitions. The next funding round opens on 24 September. Potential applicants can find details on applying for funding at:

Lisbet Rausing, co-founder of the Arcadia Fund said “The Endangered Archives Programme has digitised and preserved valuable and fragile manuscripts, rare prints, photographs, letters, newspapers and sound recordings from around the globe. They are all now freely available, in open access, to all—lay people and scholars alike, and all over the world. These primary sources are essential for scholarly, evidence-based history. We are so pleased to continue funding the programme.”

Roly Keating, Chief Executive of the British Library, said: “We are delighted and very grateful to have received this second major grant from Arcadia to continue the vital work of the Endangered Archives Programme. It both adds to the archive collections available online – be they manuscripts, photographs, newspapers or sound recordings – and enables teams within the countries to build up their own expertise and capacity to digitise vulnerable archives. By sharing our knowledge of digitisation and collaborating with partners around the world we’re able to transform access to these amazing collections.”

One of the highlights of the programme, a project to digitise manuscripts in Mali, is showcased in a free photographic exhibition which opens at the Library’s St Pancras building on 28 September. Beyond Timbuktu: Preserving the Manuscripts of Djenné, Mali focuses on Djenné – an important centre of Islamic learning and a UNESCO world heritage site.

Over 8,000 texts from Djenné have been digitised since 2009 and they are available online for the first time this year. This small exhibition offers a unique insight into Mali’s history and culture through a selection of contemporary images of the town’s impressive mud-brick architecture and photographs of locally owned religious and secular manuscripts.

Like its well-known ‘twin city’ of Timbuktu, Djenné is guardian to fabulously rich, extensive and diverse manuscript collections. The display foregrounds photographs of rare manuscripts covering a range of subjects from the spiritual to the secular. They include a beautifully illuminated Qur’an, travel notes from one man’s pilgrimage to Mecca, and a story of a talking camel.

The manuscript images in the display were taken by a dedicated team in Djenné, funded by EAP. The photographs of the town itself are by project leader Sophie Sarin, as well as Professor Trevor Marchand (SOAS, University of London) and Dr Barbara Frank (Stony Brook University).

The photographs will also go on display at the National Archives of Mali, Bamako from 7 December. The Bamako exhibition will run for one week and coincides with the official handover by Sophie Sarin of the digitised material to the National Archives.

Find out more about the projects based at Djenné on the EAP website herehere and here.