PROJECT | Digitisation of the Sikkim Palace Archives

On 1st September 2016 we officially kicked off our inaugural project, Digitisation of the Sikkim Palace Archives!  This is a project administered by the British Library’s Endangered Archive Programme (and generously funded by Arcadia), and actually our official project title is Fragments of Sikkim: Preserving and presenting the palace archives of a Himalayan Kingdom, 1875-1975.

Our goal for this project is to make the information in these archives accessible and engaging to audiences both international and domestic, academic and curious. But at the heart of this project is our aspiration that the information unearthed in this collection will be of benefit to our Sikkimese youth who will bear the responsibility for the direction of our collective relationships with our communities and our cultures, and who have precious few historical references on which to fall back.

At our core are a team of six, young Sikkimese who have a genuine interest in the material, and a strong commitment to the values of the project. In the five weeks since the start of our twelve-month project, we’ve created a database with rough details of the 800+ folders in our collection and have labeled—for ease of our own sorting and finding—the filing cabinets in which the collection has been held, untouched, for the much of the past 40 years.

Last month started with some monsoon-delayed renovations to our coal shed – turned monks’ quarters – turned cow shed – office space, and though we hurriedly moved in on the weekend of 17th September we were really in makeshift mode for a couple weeks as core equipment was held up in Siliguri for more weeks than I care to remember, temporary doors were still being affixed, and our office bathroom was, well… still non-existent!

Nonetheless, we’ve enjoyed a 3-week visit by Dr. Alex McKay—who’s kindly agreed to take on the responsibility of Academic Advisor on this project—who in addition to creating an exhaustive list of categories and sub-categories for the collection, gave a series of talks sharing some of his expertise with our young team to help us put the collection into historical context and understand its full value.

We’ve also hosted Sundar Ganesan (Director) and Prakash Ram (Assistant Director) from The Roja Muthiah Research Library (Chennai) to train our team in archival methodology, documentation of collections, and digitisation techniques. It was an enlightening week for us all; an experience for which we are all very grateful, and a relationship we feel very fortunate to have forged and hope to continue throughout our own development process.

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