Bringing South Asian cultures to the world

Grants support UChicago Library’s digitization projects

Major grants from the U.S. Department of Education, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the British Library are enabling the University of Chicago Library to expand and enrich digital resources for South Asian studies. UChicago faculty and students benefit from these projects, as do researchers around the world, through our freely available online presentation of books and images. In two instances the projects are partnerships to digitize materials located elsewhere, to make these unique resources available to UChicago researchers and others.

Historic postcards of colonial India

Cotton Cleaning Postcard

Image of cotton cleaning in Bombay from the private postcard collection of Graham Shaw.

The University of Chicago Library has digitized nearly 12,000 historical postcards of colonial India from one of the largest collections in existence. A grant from the U.S. Department of Education in 2009 and 2010 helped to support our project to present the private collection of Mr. Graham Shaw in London. These postcards cover undivided India as well as Nepal and Sri Lanka. Most date from the 1880s to the 1930s. They depict topographical features as well as the people and their culture—from occupations and faiths to modes of transport and humor. The collection’s significance derives from its extensive visual documentation, the varied perspectives it provides for sites over time, the postage stamps, and the correspondence on the back of many cards. A search engine being launched this fall at will allow users to search by location and keyword or to browse through the cards by category.

Monolingual and etymological dictionaries

With the support of a two-year, $300,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities that began in July, the University of Chicago Library will be converting and disseminating 12 monolingual and etymological dictionaries from our own collections as electronic resources, extending the coverage of our Digital Dictionaries of South Asia (DDSA, at and significantly supporting humanities research and advanced language learning. Additionally, the 54 dictionaries currently available from DDSA will be enhanced through improved facilities for searching and displaying data on desktop and mobile devices.

The DDSA is already heavily accessed by scholars and lay users, who currently execute 4 million searches per year. This project enhances the value of the website by extending monolingual lexical coverage in eight critical languages: Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Panjabi, Prakrit, Sindhi, Sinhala, and Telugu.

Early Kannada books

“Preservation and Access for Rare Early Kannada Books” is the most recent digitization project. The British Library’s Endangered Archives Programme has granted £44,950 (approximately $75,700) to save more than 1,650 of the most important early printed publications in the Kannada language, which are held by several public and private collections in south India. This grant also covers a two year period that began in July.

Kannada is an important Dravidian language spoken in south India since the early modern period. The broad spectrum of writings in these publications are invaluable for historians of social, cultural, literary, and intellectual change in this region in the 19th and 20th centuries. Digital page images will be presented via our Digital South Asia Library ( and the British Library.


elephant battery

Image of an elephant battery from the private postcard collection of Graham Shaw.

The University of Chicago Library’s South Asia collection is widely regarded as the strongest North American university collection about the Indian subcontinent. These digital initiatives expand the resources we are able to offer through international collaborations that open access to rare and unique scholarly resources.

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