Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Resource on Qajar Iran

It is behind a paywall, but the November 2013 Perspectives, a publication of the American Historical Association, profiled the on-line archive Women's Worlds in Qajar Iran.  Here is a description:
Unlike most digitized archives, Women's Worlds in Qajar Iran (WWQI) did not begin with a discrete collection, or even collections. Instead, the writings, photographs, and other primary source materials that WWQI is digitizing are dispersed across myriad locations and among numerous different owners. It is extremely unlikely that these materials would or could ever be released to research institutions en masse, in part because of their dispersed ownership, but also because of the personal value that many of these items hold for their present owners. Captured in digital form, they have become an archive-­albeit one for which a unified physical counterpart in the traditional form of accession numbers and boxes would never exist.
Initially imagined as a modest project-­we had anticipated generating some 3,000 images over the first two years-­WWQI has grown beyond our wildest dreams thanks to the overwhelmingly positive response of families and institutions in Iran and elsewhere. As of April 2013, we have over 33,000 images recorded from 43 private family collections and 10 institutional collections. We are currently processing collections from 18 additional families and two additional institutions.
Selection of collections depended on availability and on the collaboration of families each of our team members happened to know. Once the project took shape and became known, we had the opportunity to discuss in our periodic workshops how we could more proactively overcome emerging limitations of social, geographical, and cultural diversity of the archive. For instance, we have addressed the issue of how not to be limited to the urban elite by reaching out to families with a line of local religious leadership, and digitizing the voluminous books of neighborhood registries they hold. We have recently been able to access a rich collection of documents from early 20th-­century Kurdistan, and we have begun to work with Zoroastrian families to address the absence of that community's records in the archive...
The archive includes poetry; essays and treatises; travelogues; letters; marriage contracts and other legal documents; photographs; works of art; images of everyday objects; and a small collection of oral histories. The website is fully bilingual (Persian and English), and its search function includes filters for major categories like genre, collection, people, subject, place and period, allowing users to drill down into the archive and narrow their search results. Digitized images provide detailed views of each object with additional descriptive content.
I've actually used this in my History of the Modern Middle East class, where I get students without the right language skills to do a small primary source project by having them work on historical photographs.  The Gertrude Bell Archive and Baghdad Museum Project are also good photo sources.

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