Kolkata and Dhaka

Archive Review: Kolkata and Dhaka

Published on October 15, 2012

DHARITRI BHATTACHARJEE, Department of History, The University of Texas at Austin

I spent 7 months in Kolkata (September 2009- March 2010) and 2 months in Dhaka (July-August 2011) funded by a UT History Department Fellowship. I am looking at provincial high politics in Bengal during the last colonial decade. My work in South Asian archives was geared towards finding legislative documents, official correspondences, letters, political pamphlets, gazettes, periodicals and newspapers.

1. West Bengal State Archives: Writer’s Building, Kolkata

This archive has 20th century official papers and documents. It is best to establish correspondence in advance.  (Information Below)

Laptops are not allowed and even if allowed I was not allowed to plug mine in. Unfortunately, the collection is staffed by a poorly informed librarian who would not allow me to plug in my laptop because some how she thought I would connect to the internet and collect important data. However, there was no Wi-fi and I was already taking notes!  This was very frustrating. The documents were not in order. They were not well- maintained. There was a catalog but it clearly needed work. Having said that I did find some very useful records, in places where I did not expect. The materials are all there, one has to find it.

The very first day I was issued a card. I am a citizen. I am not sure if non-citizens can get the card so easily/same day. If some one can speak to that please a note in the comments section.

West Bengal Secretariat Library Writers Building Kolkata 700 001 West Bengal.

Hours : 10 to 4. 5 days a week.

Food: Cheap and good food available immediately outside the building.

Location: Centrally located. If you live in Wellington, Esplanade, Chandni Chowk, Bowbazar or Park Street you are very close. If not, it cannot be too inconvenient to get here.

2. West Bengal State Archives: Bhawani Dutta Lane, Kolkata

I do not work on 19th century at all and so I did not work here. But I have heard that this a very well organized archive. Laptops are allowed.

6, Bhawani Dutta Lane, Calcutta-7

Hours: 9- 4. 5 days a week.

Food: Easy to find.

Location: Not central Kolkata but very accessible, by bus, metro and of course taxi. This is where the Calcutta University main building is. This is also close to College Street, a must visit street for anyone who loves books and bargaining (if you can bring yourself to it).

3. West Bengal State Archives: Opposite Kala Mandir, Kolkata

This archive contains Intelligence Bureau and Police papers from the colonial period. There are some folders on certain political leaders of Bengal as well. The librarian here is well- informed and very helpful. Laptops are allowed. There is a photocopy facility on site. The archive is located on Theatre Road/Shakespeare Sarani in South Kolkata, opposite the Kala Mandir.

The reading room is very good. I found it particularly helpful because I spent long hours researching.

Hours : 11 to 4. 5 days a week.

Food: Easy.

Location: This is pretty much South Calcutta. If you just have to work here, you should stay in South Calcutta.

4. National Library, Alipur, Kolkata

This collection contains old books, manuscripts, magazines, periodicals and even local newspapers. The library contains materials on medieval Bengal as well as the twentieth century. It is open 7 days a week. The staff is very, very friendly. However, the cataloging could be better. Talk to librarian and seek help for your research. It is possible to get a library card on the same day you apply. You will likely need a passport size photo. Manuscripts and archival sources are not lent out, but they do let you check out some books. At least there is a system in place to do so. The National Library is located very close to Calcutta Zoo.

1. National Archives, Dhaka

Mr. Ali Akbar (aliakbarlabib@yahoo.com) sits in the library. It will be great to establish contact with him before you arrive. You may ask him questions about the collections. You can also ask about accommodation. The online website gives you a pretty good overview and a sense of what is available. http://www.nanl.gov.bd/

For every collection make sure they have all the dates you need and then plan your work. In my case they did not have the very important years around 1946-47 and that really hurt my work. The staff is very friendly and nice. Laptops are allowed, but power supply can be spotty. You can photocopy. But they also let me take pictures. I told them I was aware of copyright rules and would not take entire copies – which I think is true for anybody. Be polite. It is not a good idea to go during Ramzan month as they have restricted hours – which is not too bad but it depends on how much work one has to get done.

Location: Very good location. The archive is close to Shyamoli, Agargoan, Sher-e-Bangla Nagar.  However traffic is very bad in Dhaka. Staying in Shyamoli or Dhanmondi will save you a lot of time and energy. Note: If you are living in Bharidhara (Near the US Embassy) you can take the Boishaki Bus from Pragati Sharani to Agargaon. It drops off only a few hundred yards from the National Archives.

Hours: Tuesday to Saturday. Sunday and Monday are WEEKENDS. 9 AM – 5PM

Food: There is no canteen/café. Best to carry your own food.  You can always explore outside and find lunch options but will mostly be roadside food stalls. If you are visiting during Ramzan it is best to eat in a place where no one can see you. It is considered rude to eat in the presence of people who are fasting.

2. Dhaka University Archives. Old Dhaka

Just for one week I also worked in the Dhaka University archives. It is almost in Old Dhaka on the campus of Dhaka University. I found some rare books, some newspapers and some very important journals. I met the librarian and he was extremely helpful. It is always a good idea to take their suggestions as they know the materials so well. I explained my topic as broadly as I could and that did the trick. The reading room was always crowded and noisy. It was difficult to find a spot with a plug point if I turned up late I was introduced by a professor to work there and then they knew me by face. I did not have to obtain a library card but one may need it. Many of the materials are in the process of getting digitized, so if you cannot find something then first ask if there is a digital copy or if it has been taken off from the shelf for a reason. Getting photocopies in the Dhaka University library is a difficult thing. There are long lines and big crowds. It is important that you make friends with one of the photocopywalas! Copies are dirt cheap.

Hours: Tuesday to Saturday. Sunday and Monday are WEEKENDS. 9 AM – 5PM

Location: Very good. The campus is an important landmark. This is however Old Dhaka. This is at least an hour (with moderate traffic) from the National Archives.

Food: Several cheap options.


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