East India Company, India Office records to be available online for free

India News Bulletin Desk
Aristotle instructing Alexander the Great
Image: The British Library

Half a million pages from the archives of the East India Company and India Office will be made freely available online for the first time as British Library and Qatar Foundation sign an £8.7m deal to digitise the files.

The Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development (QF) will fund the project to bring online India Office files including secret documents, maps, photographs, manuscripts and letters as well as 25,000 pages of medieval Arabic manuscripts.

The digitisation will take place over the next three years at the British Library and much of the information will be available in both Arabic and English. The undertaking will also help create up to 43 new jobs within the UK’s national library, who will work alongside 30-plus staff from the library.

“The India Office Records held by the British Library are an extraordinarily rich source of historical material relating to the Gulf,” said Dame Lynne Brindley, chief executive, the British Library.

The project will allow people to access this unique treasure trove of material, illuminating subjects as diverse as tribal and global politics, international commerce and family history, she said.

The materials, when available online, will change people’s understanding of the history of the Middle East, and its relationship with Britain and the rest of the world.

“There is no question that the India Office Records at the British Library holds one of the world’s foremost archives of material related to the Gulf region,” said Dr Claudia Lux, director of the Qatar National Library, the organisation that is helping the British Library in the project.

The India Office Records include materials dating from the mid-18th century to c1947 on the politics, people, places, trade, culture and customs of the Gulf region. Until now, the material was available only to the British Library visitors but putting them online for free means anyone in the world with an interest in the subject can access it.

It also includes 19th and 20th Century reports and gazetteers – originally secret documents intended only for the eyes of senior officials – and will provide first-hand information, testifying to the critical strategic and commercial importance of the Gulf to European powers including Britain, France and Germany, which were actively involved in the region at that time.

Funding the digitisation project is the latest monetary venture from the Gulf state of Qatar. Earlier in July, the Qatari royal family investment group announced its intention to buy Italian fashion brand, Valentino Fashion House for €700m. The Qatari royal family also owns Harrods, the upmarket department store in Knightsbridge, London.

Qatar had also invested £1.5bn in Shard, the tallest building in the European Union which opened on July 5, 2012.

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