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Digital archive of Scottish cemetery unearths lost history

IANS  |  Kolkata 

Did you know Welsh missionary Thomas Jones introduced the Roman alphabet to the Khasi language in northeast India? Thanks to a digital archive, hitherto lost narratives of the people who are buried in the 190-year-old Scottish cemetery (including Jones) here are now available at the click of a button.

The 'Scottish Cemetery in Bengal-Digitising the Untold Empire' archive also comes with GIS-enabled map of the cemetery dating back to 1826 and housing over 1,600 graves. The tombs are a mix of nationalities -- mainly Scots, English, Irish, Bengalis and Portuguese.

A joint team of researchers from Presidency University and the University of St Andrews in Scotland are involved in the Scottish cemetery's digitisation project which aims to raise awareness globally about the rich socio-cultural and economic legacy of Scotland in Bengal and vice versa.

"From trade, law, education to politics, Scots have had a significant influence in shaping the city and West Bengal. We only know about a very few of them. So the idea is to construct the narrative of the people buried in the Scottish cemetery in or before 1858," Presidency University's lead researcher Souvik Mukherjee told IANS.

The cut-off date has been chosen as it marks the end of the East India Company's rule.

"This period can, arguably, be seen as the formative period of British policy and also best reflective of the advent of European influences in Bengali culture and society," Mukherjee said.

The Scottish cemetery is located on Karaya Road, around 20 minutes from the colonial-era Park Street in central Kolkata.

Apart from a timeline of the history and timeline of the Scots in India and a full list of tombs and map, the database incorporates Big Data analysis to trace the links between the Scottish diaspora and the cemetery, common causes of death, common professions etc.

It also has a featured stories section highlighting the contributions of eminent people like Lal Behari De, a Bengal Christian missionary of the Church of Scotland known as a pioneer of Indian writing in English.

Funded by the UK-India Education and Research Initiative, the project works closely with the Kolkata Scottish Heritage Trust.

Some of the celebrated Scottish names in Kolkata are those of Andrew Yule (the famous Scottish firm that is now a West Bengal government undertaking), Gillanders Arbuthnot Co. (which has now been incorporated into the Kothari Group of Companies) and Martin Burn (now another government firm), said Mukherjee.



First Published: Tue, July 19 2016. 15:44 IST