APROPOS the article ‘Punjab archives department digitising the biggest trove of history documents in subcontinent’ (Sept 23).
This is certainly a significant development and is poised to revolutionise the study of history and related disciplines in Pakistan. The impetus for the digitisation of the Punjab Archives began in 2016 when the then chairman of the Punjab Information Technology Board, Dr Umar Saif, and the then Additional Chief Secretary Omer Rasul, initiated the project for the massive upgradation of the archives department, involving the digitisation of its large holdings.
I was made the first project director and the project was inaugurated in February 2017 with a conference on archives and knowledge in collaboration with Columbia University, with scholars from Harvard, Oxford and other institutions participating.
Thereafter, several exhibitions were held in the Punjab Archives showcasing its great holdings, and making it accessible to the public for the first time.
Meanwhile, technical help from the British Library was sought to plan for the preservation and digitisation of the archives. Months of planning then led to the development of Pakistan’s first local cataloguing system, preservation manual, and digitisation processes booklet, enabling the initial digitsation of a large number of files to date.
By the time I finished my term in October 2018, we had test-scanned a large number of files and were set to make public these hitherto hidden treasures. We had also sifted through decades of files, preserved them and had made a preliminary modernised catalogue. It is indeed good to hear that despite delays the online portal is finally live and that the digitisation process is continuing. The real task, however, is to release these files in the public domain without any red tape or restrictions. Access has forever been the main hinderance in the Punjab Archives and so it must be ensured that these digitised files should be freely available to the public without restrictions and that it should begin immediately.
Dr Yaqoob Bangash
Oxford, United Kingdom
Published in Dawn, October 4th, 2019