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SAADA Creates Digital Archive of South Asian American History

2011 December 15
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by Samip

 

Princess Sophia Newspaper Article

In 1901, Princess Sophia Bamba Dhuleep Singh, daughter of the late Maharajah Dhuleep Singh of India, entered the Woman’s Medical College of Northwestern University in Chicago to pursue her long cherished dream of becoming a physician.  An article in the Chicago Daily Tribune of the time featured the Princess and her quaint habits and dress:

“In her own apartments the Princess wears rich and beautiful gowns and little jewelry.  She will not burn the gas, but has provided herself with a number of kerosene lamps, and last evening, as she sat down with a big medical book to study her first lessons at the college, the gown she wore was of the thinnest muslin made in her own India.”

Stories like that of Princess Bamba stretch and challenge our understanding of the history of South Asians in the United States. And it is to document relatively unknown stories just like these that led us to establish the South Asian American Digital Archive (SAADA) in 2008.

Princess Sophia Bamba and her sisters

Princess Sophia (right) and her sisters

We started SAADA because we realized that the history of the South Asian American community had been overlooked by traditional archives and felt that unless an intervention was made to preserve our community’s history, it was in danger of being lost.  SAADA’s mission is to document, preserve, and provide access to the history of the South Asian American community through a digital archive. Our organization’s innovative digital-only approach to archives presents a major reconceptualization of traditional archival functions, wherein original archival documents remain with the communities, institutions, or individuals from which they originate, while digital access copies are available for use online.

The digital archive now includes over 250 unique items related to both the early and more recent history of the South Asian American community, ranging from our earliest item from 1892 to materials created just this year.  Each of these archival items, we believe, contributes toward telling the diverse story of what it has meant to be South Asian in the United States.

As someone born and raised in Michigan, I’ve been particularly excited by the materials we’ve documented uncovering the early history of South Asians in the Midwest.  The story of Princess Bamba Sophia is one such story, but there are many others. Our hope is that you will explore the archive online and find a new story that you may not have known before.  Let us know what you find! We welcome all comments and questions at info@saadigitalarchive.org.

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The South Asian American Digital Archive (SAADA) is a volunteer-run not-for-profit organization based in Chicago.  SAADA’s mission is to document, preserve, and provide access to the history of the South Asian American community through a digital archive, available online at http://www.saadigitalarchive.org. For SAADA news and updates, “like” them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter.

 

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