During the first part of the 20th century, the British Government’s War Office built a collection of materials for producing and revising maps. These items were retained in case they had potential future value for military intelligence. This unique material was held by the British government until it was deposited with the British Museum in 1965, with a further tranche delivered to the British Library in 1989.
The British Library holds a part of the War Office Archive maps and topographical material relating to the East Africa Protectorate, and from 1920, the Colony of Kenya. Dating from 1895–1939, this material provides a rich resource of primary documentation of the period relating to the present-day states of Kenya, and to a lesser extent Uganda. Highlights include maps and itineraries of British expeditions for the earlier period, and road and track reports covering all parts of the country, with a significant focus on the River Tana, and also Turkana district in the north-east. There is original survey material on the Mombasa-Uganda railway, and also boundary surveys (German East Africa 1892 and 1904-5; Uganda/Sudan c1927).
Given the volume of material held by the British Library (estimated at well in excess of 150 million items; with a further 3 million being added each year), cataloguing and conserving their holdings is a huge undertaking. At present, much of the above map collection is poorly documented and catalogued, with several pieces in need of restoration. They are also a unique and valuable record that is largely unknown and unavailable to all but a very small group of curators and researchers.
In order to bring these items to a much wider global audience, Indigo is delighted to announce a grant of £39,820 to enable the British Library to conserve, catalogue, digitally capture and publish these maps and pages of text online. They will be hosted on the British Library’s website and will be made available under an open licence, meaning that users across the globe will be free to reuse these materials. It is hoped that cataloguing and digitising this material will enrich Kenya’s documentary heritage and reveal more about the country’s past and present. The Library had the following to say about the project:
The maps, original surveys and related documents that make up this collection are a unique resource providing many insights into the development of present day Kenya, and we are delighted that this generous grant from Indigo Trust will make this fascinating material available to a wider audience for the first time. This project is a great example of how the British Library can work with partner organisations to increase access to our collections for all.