Lottery boost for Library of Birmingham

Joint project with the British Library wins funding for South Asian project.

The Library of Birmingham and the British Library have received £91,700 of National Lottery funding to present Documenting Histories, a partnership project celebrating the important role South Asian culture has played in forming Birmingham’s history and identity.

At the heart of the project is a major exhibition which will open in July, drawing on both libraries’ rich collections, supported by a programme of complementary events and workshops during 2017. This will explore Britain’s South Asian heritage, examining the contribution made by South Asian people to Birmingham and the UK, and featuring contributions from local communities as they are invited to share their stories in their own words.

This year marks an important milestone in South Asian history and activities will be taking place in Birmingham and across the country to mark the UK’s longstanding cultural ties with the Indian subcontinent.

In 2017, Birmingham will be celebrating Utsav, Year of South Asian Culture and the contribution those communities have made to the city. Utsav, meaning festival/celebration, was officially launched on 18 January and will feature a wide variety of professional and community events and activities throughout the year.

The exhibition will reflect on the political context of Britain’s long relationship with South Asia, recognising turbulent times in our shared history, as well as celebrating the contribution of South Asian culture to the UK’s heritage, with a particular focus on Birmingham.

Britain’s South Asian heritage will be explored through an eclectic range of exhibits – many displayed in public for the first time. People have travelled to Britain from South Asia for more than 400 years; the new exhibition will describe their journeys and experiences, and show how our shared histories have shaped modern Birmingham and the nation more widely.

Highlights of the exhibition, drawn from the collections at the Library of Birmingham and the British Library, will include archive papers of figures such as Gandhi and Hanif Kureishi, official records from the East India Company and India Office, classified surveillance files, campaigning materials, recorded oral histories, and photographic portraits stretching back over 70 years.

This National Lottery grant helps forge the next step in an ongoing partnership between the Library of Birmingham and the British Library, following the success last year of Our Shakespeare, a major Library of Birmingham exhibition, curated by the British Library, celebrating Shakespeare’s connection with the Midlands.

Cllr Ian Ward, Deputy Leader of Birmingham City Council, said: “Our city’s greatest strength is the energy, creativity and diversity of its people and this year, in particular, presents a great opportunity to celebrate the contribution of South Asian culture to Birmingham’s past, present and future.

“Thanks to the substantial investment made by the Heritage Lottery Fund, we are looking forward to continuing the Library of Birmingham’s partnership with the British Library.

“Combining regional and national archive collections for the first time, the exhibition – which will open later this year – promises to bring local people’s stories to life and reveal the fascinating history of Birmingham’s South Asian heritage. With its focus on involving citizens and communities throughout the city, it’s especially significant that this new partnership will invite people from all over Birmingham to tell and share their own stories.”

Chief Executive of the British Library Roly Keating added: “We are delighted to be working with the Library of Birmingham once again on this timely and important project and we are grateful to the Heritage Lottery Fund for their generosity.

“This partnership can be seen as a celebration of collaboration – between libraries, communities and cultures – exploring the wonderful potential that’s unlocked when we come together to share our ideas and our stories.”

Vanessa Harbar, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund West Midlands, commented: “We are delighted that we can support the Library of Birmingham to explore over 400 years of South Asian heritage in the UK. Thanks to National Lottery players, this fascinating and timely project will help people gain a better understanding of Birmingham’s diverse cultural heritage and how it has helped to form the city we know today.”