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Monday, October 2, 2023

Academics & Research

UH library digitizes rare book from colonial India

The Digital Library at UH recently made a rare book available online to students, scholars and others interested in viewing photographs of India at the beginning of the 20th century.

"An Unconventional View of the Taj" shows the famed mausoleum and its reflection at the beginning of the 20th century. | Photo Courtesy of Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries

"A Native Street in the Fort: The style of Architecture employed in Bombay of years ago is here shown," is the actual title and caption under the photo in "India Illustrated." | Photo Courtesy of Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries

The book, known simply as “India Illustrated,” is one of only three copies known to exist.

“There are only two other copies of this book that we have been able to find,” Michelle Reilly, head of digital services at the M.D. Anderson Library, said. “Neither one is available for scholars, historians, students, or people interested in India to see unless they are in Singapore or London. We felt that it was important to make it available online to everyone that wanted to see it.”

Of the other two copies of “India Illustrated: Being a Collection of Pictures of Cities of Bombay, Calcutta and Madras, Together with a Selection of the Most Interesting Buildings and Scenes throughout India” — the book’s full title — one is located at the Singapore National Library Board, the other in the British Library.

“The Special Collections Department at the library became concerned that the book was becoming very fragile,” Reilly said. “They wanted to continue to provide access to this significant resource, but felt that continued handling may damage the book even more.”

The book is filled with photographs of daily life in India under British rule, and gives a visual sense of Indian history.

The exact date of publication is unknown, but is estimated to be between 1900 and 1910.

“We determined that the best treatment would be to scan every page, including the front and back covers, at a very high resolution,” Reilly said.

In order to properly conserve the book, digital services members used the department’s Bookeye scanner, an innovative technology that provides the best resolution.

“We then made two digital copies, one for preservation and one for the web,” Reilly said. “The web copy was processed as we would any other collection on the Digital Library.”

Information about each image was added and then uploaded to the Digital Library’s web interface.

“This whole process takes a number of days, special care in handling and describing, and several highly trained people to accomplish,” Reilly said. “It is very important to us, in Digital Services, to honor every item on our Digital Library, and ‘India Illustrated’ was no different.”

UH’s copy was donated to the UH library by the family of renowned architect Kenneth Franzheim.

According to a UH news release, “India Illustrated” is actually rarer than the Gutenberg Bible, which only has five known copies in existence.

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