Columbia University Libraries Awarded Grant from the Arcadia Fund to Support Anticaste Archives Project

Arcadia has awarded a five-year grant of U.S. $1.7 million to Columbia University Libraries (CUL) in collaboration with Barnard College and the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences Calcutta (CSSSC) to support a project entitled, Anticaste Archives: Preserving Historical and Cultural Memory. This ambitious new international project seeks to follow ethical and non-extractive practices to develop a digital archive of materials created by communities in India related to anticaste advocacy.

The Anticaste Archives initiative is grounded in the recognition of the importance of preserving and increasing access to primary sources that reflect marginalized communities’ histories, cultures and experiences and their struggles for social justice. All digitization of collections will take place in India, carried out by the CSSSC. The digital collections will be preserved and made openly available online to a global community of users through Columbia University Libraries’ digital library platform.

The project builds on the University’s long standing commitment to and groundbreaking work on South Asian, subaltern and postcolonial studies. In particular, the Ambedkar Initiative, led by Professor Anupama Rao, and housed at the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society, links Columbia University with the anticaste legacy of B. R. Ambedkar, a Columbia alumnus, M.A. 1915, Ph.D. 1927, L.L.D. 1952 (honorary), and recognizes the ongoing import of his ideas to discussions about social justice, affirmative action, and democratic thinking in a global frame.

“We believe our institution has a responsibility to honor the labor and dedication of those archivists and collectors who devoted their lives to preserving the legacy of anticaste thinkers and activists who struggled to create a more equitable world,” said Professor Rao. “The Anticaste Archives will provide a keen sense of the regional histories of those struggles and the many languages and genres through which they took shape.”

The project advances Columbia University Libraries’ established and enduring commitment to developing collections from and about many regions of the world, including South Asia, in a wide range of languages. In addition to working closely with partners in India to digitally preserve and provide access to these important archives, the project will document the histories of collecting and follow inclusive practices for describing and discovering collections. The Libraries will not transfer or acquire original physical materials into their collection, but will be responsible for preserving the digital surrogates and making them discoverable and accessible to global, multilingual audiences. Central to the success of the project will be the expertise of the CSSSC in digitizing collections in India and the guidance and knowledge of an international advisory board of scholars, library professionals, and activists.

“Columbia’s collections, global in scope and curated over many decades from a diverse set of perspectives, have furthered the development of fields of study and reflect the evolving histories of those areas,” said Ann Thornton, Vice Provost and University Librarian. “In the last few decades and more recently, we have increased our commitment to acquiring and preserving digital collections that are open and accessible to the world.  The Anticaste Archives help us further our goal to apply ethical and non-extractive practices by collaborating with local communities to retain ownership of cultural resources while contributing to global knowledge.”

“Arcadia’s cultural grants help digitize endangered cultural heritage around the world, ensuring it is more accessible today and freely available for generations to come,” said Dr. Arthur Dudney, Director of Cultural Programmes at Arcadia. “The Anticaste Archives will build strong international and local partnerships and support communities to describe and safeguard their own heritage. We are delighted that Columbia University Libraries will lead this work, not only because of Columbia’s diverse and growing digital collections and tradition of South Asian Studies, but because of Dr. Ambedkar’s legacy at the university.”

About Arcadia: Arcadia is a charitable foundation that works to protect nature, preserve cultural heritage and promote open access to knowledge. Since 2002, Arcadia has awarded more than $1 billion to organizations around the world.

About Columbia University Libraries: Columbia University Libraries is a globally-recognized academic library system, serving one of the world’s most important centers of research and learning in an exciting and dynamic world city. Our collections, programs, and services are informed by new curricula developed to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse student body, new and emerging areas of inquiry from a broad spectrum of researchers,  as well as by perspectives from the diminished or entirely lost voices of historically oppressed, marginalized, or under-served populations and communities.



About Barnard College: Barnard College provides a singular educational experience as a world-renowned institution focused on excellence across the arts and sciences, with all the academic resources of Columbia University and the City of New York as an extended classroom. Founded in 1889, Barnard was one of the few colleges in the nation where women could receive the same rigorous and challenging education available to men. Today, Barnard is one of the most selective academic institutions in the country and remains devoted to empowering extraordinary women to become even more exceptional.



About the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences Calcutta: The Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta, established in February 1973, is a premier social science research institute in India under the Indian Council for Social Science Research (ICSSR). The CSSSC engages in a range of activities and programmes to promote research in social sciences in India. The Archives of the CSSSC is the focus of major academic activities at the Centre including research, publications and exhibitions. Since 1993, the Archives has engaged in many initiatives and international collaborative projects to preserve primary source materials documenting social and cultural history and has been a pioneer in the region for promoting open-access archiving.


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