14th May 2021

Book in Focus

The Conservation of Endangered Archives and Management of Manuscripts in Indian Repositories

By Anindita Kundu Saha

Documents have existed in one form or another since man invented the art of writing. Every material object starts decaying from the moment of its creation. As such, its preservation is essential for passing it into the hands of future generations. In this regard, it is essential to know the factors or causes which are responsible for this ongoing deteriorating process. Consequently, this book primarily focuses on the following objectives:

  • Examination of the material objects to determine their material compositions;
  • Understanding the problems pertaining to the maintenance of collections;
  • Determining the extent of deterioration of manuscript collections;
  • Studying the conservation practices already adopted by manuscript repositories;
  • Giving recommendations on how to maximize the life of manuscript collections.

It has been found while surveying manuscript repositories situated in different geographical regions of India that environmental factors play a crucial role in the deterioration process. These environmental factors can be classified on the basis of their effect on various material objects and also on the basis of their deterioration processes. These factors can broadly be classified as:

  1. Physical factors;
  2. Chemical factors;
  3. Biological factors.

Other elements which often act as a catalyst in the deterioration process are human factors including mishandling, mismanagement, and vandalism, as well as both natural calamities and accidental calamities. If proper preventive and curative methods are not taken to resist or stop the deterioration process, all documentary heritage will be reduced to dust in the near future.

The book’s primary survey of different manuscript repositories situated in various climatic regions of India reveals that the conditions of most of country’s repositories are very poor, with a small number of notable exceptions. As such, this book highlights the present status of selected manuscript repositories containing thousands of valuable manuscripts, and suggests some remedial measures which should be adopted for the proper conservation, care, and management of manuscripts throughout the world.

Keeping in view the various issues and the urgent need for action on several fronts, this book examines the topic of the conservation, care, and management of manuscripts in the repositories of India.

The first chapter of this book discusses and analyses the materials used for the manufacturing of different types of manuscripts, paying particular attention to the nature of base materials, inks, pigments, binding media, and techniques of writing and illustration used in particular manuscripts to prevent or delay further damage and deterioration.

The second chapter focuses on the precise dating of manuscripts as many of them bear no date. To classify and date these manuscripts, the book suggests some practices like palaeography, style of writing, terminology, illustration, colophon, multiple dating, and use of the radioactive carbon method, among others.

During the manuscript’s study of some selected manuscript repositories, various factors were physically identified as the key causes of the deterioration of various types of manuscripts. As such, the third chapter focuses on these specific factors and how they physically and chemically react with material objects, as well as the visual signs of their effect on manuscripts.

Since manuscripts are the ‘cream’ of our cultural heritage, the proper upkeep of manuscripts is essential to prevent deterioration and restore their originality. Consequently, the fourth chapter deals with the preventive measures taken so far by some manuscript repositories, and suggests some further measures which could be taken for the preventive conservation of manuscripts, as preservation is better than the cure.

The book also notes that most manuscript repositories in India do not follow any standardised policy in order to conserve their collection. Some of them have followed tacit policy, while others have adopted highly unscientific techniques. It also highlights that, in some repositories, various organic and inorganic chemicals have been used for the fumigation and deacidification of manuscripts without considering the nature and character of materials used in such manuscripts. As a result, the deterioration of such manuscripts is accelerated instead of delayed. The fifth chapter, consequently, details specific methods and chemicals used in the curative conservation of different types of manuscripts.

Proper care and management are essential to prevent the deterioration of manuscripts. As the book shows, most of the staff in repositories do not know how manuscripts are handled, displayed, or stored. Some repositories have used inferior quality material to make display and storage cases, and also do not know the proper packaging methods required during the transport of manuscripts. In addition, some of them keep their organic and inorganic collections in the same display and storage cases. Most repositories do not have any written security policy or security personnel. Considering these factors and limitations, some methods that may be useful for proper care and management of manuscripts are suggested in chapter six.

While suggesting some preventive and curative conservation methods adopted for manuscripts, the book shows that some conservation, care, and management practices, including chemicals used to control biological infestation as well as uninterrupted power supply and the control and regulation of relative humidity and temperature, are hazardous to both the treated manuscript and the conservator or user. As such, identification of those chemicals responsible for hazards is essential before undertaking any steps in the conservation of manuscripts. Consequently, the book presents the hazards and demerits of such conservation methods in the last chapter to promote awareness in people who are directly involved in the day-to-day functioning of museums, archives, and manuscript libraries.

It is a matter of great concern that no positive steps to formulate a suitable action plan for proper conservation, care, and management policies have yet been taken to ensure the proper upkeep of manuscripts kept in different repositories in India. The Conservation of Endangered Archives and Management of Manuscripts in Indian Repositories shows that it is necessary to undertake all possible steps to formulate a suitable action plan in this regard.

Anindita Kundu Saha is a Research Associate of the University of Sussex, UK, and is a Museologist with specialization in Conservation of Archival Materials. She is a UGC-JRF/SRF awardee, and received her PhD in Museology and Conservation from the University of Calcutta, India. She has worked as the Coordinator of the Education and Environmental Awareness Programme conducted by the Industrial Section of the Indian Museum, Botanical Survey of India, Kolkata. She has also worked with the British Library on the Endangered Archives Programme Project, and has published several articles and books on her research.

The Conservation of Endangered Archives and Management of Manuscripts in Indian Repositories is available now in Hardback. Enter the code PROMO25 at the checkout for a 25% discount.