The Kiplings and India: Announcing a Digital Archive Project

After attending DHSI this past June, I thought the time was right to move ahead more seriously with a digital archive project I have been contemplating for several years. Though the project is still in a very early phase, it seems right to announce what I am doing to friends, thinking that the feedback I might receive along the way will benefit the final outcome.

"The Kiplings and India" is a limited archive containing documents related to British India between 1870 and 1890. The Wordpress site I have put up is a temporary one; eventually, the plan is to build an archive that will be hosted by Lehigh University's Library and peer-reviewed by the NINES. It may be some months before we are ready to go 'live' with that site; in the meanwhile, at the Wordpress site linked to above I will begin posting documents as they become available and discoveries as they happen.  
The core of this archive will consist of materials by and about the Kipling family – especially John Lockwood Kipling, Rudyard Kipling, and Alice Kipling Fleming (who published novels as Beatrice Grange and Mrs. J.M. Fleming). Primary source texts related to the Kiplings will include clippings from John Lockwood Kipling and Rudyard Kipling’s journalistic writings (1870-1890), and primary source texts in the form of digital editions of texts by the three authors named. Many texts by Rudyard Kipling are already readily available online through sites like Project Gutenberg, but some of his early Indian writings have never been presented digitally. Texts by Rudyard's sister Alice Kipling Fleming and his father, John Lockwood Kipling, are much less widely available, and this archive will make several of their works available online for the first time.

I will also include in the archive materials published in newspapers for which the Kiplings wrote (especially the Allahabad-based Pioneer Mail and Weekly News and the Lahore-based Civil and Military Gazette), but which were not authored by the Kiplings themselves. These “non-Kipling” clippings pertain especially to the lives and experiences of Indian people under British rule. In some cases, the materials chosen for inclusion do in fact have a direct connection to the fiction and verse authored by the Kiplings and will be tagged as such. In other cases, the clippings selected for inclusion here may have no direct connection to the Kiplings at all – but which are now recognized as historically important events. These clippings refer to nascent political movements (the rise of the Indian National Congress); religious reform movements such as the Brahmo Samaj, the Arya Samaj, and the Singh Sabha movement; ongoing conversations about the status of Indian women, especially vis a vis widowhood and child marriage; historical events such as the Famines of the 1870s; the steady expansion of the railways all around India; and the growth and development of the British educational infrastructure in Punjab. The Kiplings produced an extraordinary range of texts of great value to our documentary understanding of British India, but their writings nevertheless reflect a limited understanding of the world they inhabited. Their archive can be supplemented with documents giving evidence about the lives of Indians whom the Kiplings did not know. By foregrounding those supplementary texts in this archive, this archive aims to demonstrate and perform its own limit – to recognize the Kiplings, but also go beyond them.   

Why the Kiplings? Why all three publishing Kiplings?

For some this might be a redundant or even obvious question, but it shouldn’t be. Indeed, in light of challenges to the Anglo-American Canon in recent years, the “obviousness” of certain topics needs to be revisited and, where appropriate challenged. Here, therefore, I will briefly describe the importance of the Kiplings – and Rudyard Kipling in particular – as contributing to the documentary history of representations of the British Empire. During his lifetime, Rudyard Kipling was virtually synonymous with an image of “benevolent” Imperialism. Kipling’s personal experience working as a journalist for six years (1881-1887) gave him direct exposure to both the world of white “Anglo-India” and at least a limited window on Indian society as it existed outside of that rarefied and idiosyncratic colonial culture. The books about India he began to publish starting in the mid-1880s within Anglo-India itself, and then, starting around 1890, with London and New York publishers, made Rudyard Kipling perhaps the best-known and most successful English-language writer of his time. Short story collections like Plain Tales From the Hills, The Jungle Book, Kipling’s novel Kim, and his many poems about Anglo-Indian life and the British Empire more broadly, were instrumental in shaping a certain vision of life in British India that would persist in the Ango-American imagination for decades.

Edward Said, who has in many ways been the driving intellectual force behind what is now called postcolonial literary studies, admired Kipling even as he criticized him, both in the short chapter in Culture and Imperalism (1993) and in the longer preface to Penguin’s edition of Kim he authored (year). As Said put it in that preface to Kim, “Only Joseph Conrad … can be considered along with Kipling … to have rendered the experience of empire with such force.” I agree with Said: insofar as we are interested in the evolution of British colonialism in the late Victorian period, we are interested in Kipling. To be clear, being interested in Kipling doesn't mean we agree with his perspective or admire the racism that is pretty evident in his work. One of the goals of this archive is to offer scholars of Rudyard Kipling tools by which to understand how his attitudes about race came about, and offer strategies for responding to those attitudes.

Even within the Kipling family this archive is interested not just in Rudyard Kipling, but in the two other members of his nuclear family with whom he collaborated, and who can be considered important authors in their own right. Several biographers have pointed out that Kipling’s knowledge and perception of India was deeply influenced by his father, John Lockwood Kipling, who lived in India for thirty years and whose passion for Indian folk art – coupled by his strong sense that a strict racial hierarchy within the British empire was correct and necessary – rubbed off on his soon-to-be famous son. (Rudyard Kipling’s ability to claim to be a kind of “old hand” of British India – after only living there as an adult for a few years – owed a great deal to the sense of long-term experience he could channel from his father.) Lockwood Kipling’s influence in published works is most directly felt in the illustrations he created for his son’s books, especially The Jungle Book and Kim. But Lockwood Kipling also authored several books of his own, including especially Beast and Man in India. (Another strong line of influence between Lockwood Kipling and his son relates to animal life in India. Lockwood Kipling had been a long-time observer of animal life in both Maharashtra and the Punjab, and his drawings and comments on animals native to India permeate every page of The Jungle Books.)

In his early years as a writer in India, Rudyard benefited considerably from his experiences collaborating with his sister, Alice Kipling Fleming, known to the family as Trix. Trix wrote stories and verse of her own, which the Kiplings published together in collaborative books like Echoes (1884) and Quartette (published by the Civil & Military Gazette Press in Lahore in 1885 under Rudyard’s supervision). Rudyard and Trix also collaborated in publishing a series of unsigned short stories called “Plain Tales from the Hills”; most of these would later be republished by Rudyard in a solo collection (1888), but scholars have noted several “Plain Tales” not included in Rudyard’s collection that were likely authored by Trix. Trix Kipling had a brief period of success as a novelist in her own right, publishing her first novel, The Heart of a Maid, in 1891, on the same Indian Railway Library series that published her brother’s Solders Three stories just a few years earlier. Trix’s second novel, A Pinchbeck Goddess, was published in 1897. In 1898, her husband Jack Fleming took her to England, and asked that the Kipling family help care for her as she began to suffer from serious mental illness (which Charles Allen describes as likely bipolar disorder). Trix Kipling began to write again, but did not publish further works of prose after around 1902; some of her unpublished works are included in Lorna Lee’s Trix: Kipling’s Forgotten Sister (2003).

Though Rudyard’s mother, Alice MacDonald Kipling, is not a major point of focus for this archive project, she was in fact a rather accomplished poet. Her contributions in Quartette are remarkable. She and Trix published a collaborative book of verse poems in 1902 called Hand in Hand: Verses by a Mother and Daughter. A digital version of this book is available from HathiTrust. As many scholars and biographers have mentioned, influence between father and son is notable and strong – and one goal of this archive is to show just how indebted Rudyard is to Lockwood Kipling’s ideas and influence. But Trix also shared Rudyard's sensibility and their history of collaboration clearly played a part in Rudyard’s later success. Her voice and presence also seems to figure strongly in many of her brother’s early works of fiction (one also thinks of the character Maisie in The Light that Failed). Drawing from feminist biographical work that has aimed to recover Trix Kipling’s literary contributions, this archive will aim to bring forward works of Trix Kipling that are available and cross-reference them against the works of Rudyard and Lockwood Kipling.

The Proposal: an Archive about the Kiplings, but not only the Kiplings

As suggested above, the larger aim of “The Kiplings and India” is to produce a different kind of digital archive -- one that doesn't put politics and ideology on the back-burner, but instead brings the issues of coverage and Canonicity to the forefront. Can an archive also be a resource that gives users the ability to critique its subject? Can an archive announce and embrace its own limits, not as a source of weakness, but as evidence of alternative (counter-canonical) narratives? These alternative narratives are inevitably less well-documented than are the lives and publications of established authors, but they are also important. As one looks at the archives of the Civil & Military Gazette, one finds extensive reference to important and powerful British figures, including the various Viceroys (Lords Ripon and Dufferin figure most strongly during Rudyard’s time in India) as well as important figures in the administration of the British Raj. A key figure in the 1880s, for example, was Charles Aitchison – a Civil Service member who rose to become Lieutenant Governor of the Punjab. In 1886, he founded Aitchison College in Lahore. He also presided over the Public Service Commission in 1887, which was responsible for reforming and modernizing the structure the entire Indian Civil Service. In 1886 and 1887 the newspaper devoted many, many inches of column space to the proceedings of Lord Aitchison’s Commission.

But alongside ‘famous’ English names like Aitchison and Blackwood, we see, often in the scraps in the back pages of the CMJ, the names of various Indians who were important either locally (i.e., in Lahore), or nationally. One such name is Nikka Singh, who worked as an accountant for the newspaper. Rudyard Kipling never directly mentions his name in his writings, but they knew each other – an article in the Kipling Journal from 1931 profiles the same Nikka Singh (by then quite elderly), mentioning his earlier connections to his famous colleague. It’s highly likely that this Nikka Singh is also the “Bhai Nikka Singh” who was the secretary of the Lahore branch of the Singh Sabha society; he also may have contributed unsigned reports to the paper giving accounts of meetings of both the Singh Sabha movement and the Arya Samaj – both of which were extremely active in Lahore in the 1880s. (See this link for more on Nikka Singh.) One of the goals of this archive is to attend to the names and stories of the Indians that appear in the pages of the CMJ – to try and connect the dots between the very limited accounts of their lives and perspectives given in a highly government-centered newspaper to transformations we now know were occurring in Indian society at the time.


Roopika Risam said...

I am really looking forward to seeing this project unfold! I especially like the questions you are foregrounding here. Thinking about platforms beyond WordPress, Omeka seems like an obvious one but Scalar might be more fitting given the questions you identify here - with the flat ontology, every item is on a single page, which coupled with the ability to create multiple paths through the collection, there are possibilities for non-hierarchical forms of presentation and representation that may fit the ethos of your project nicely. I know this is jumping ahead and that WordPress is a matter of convenience at this point, but I would encourage you not to put off the question of platform for too long - the platforms themselves introduce challenges and complications to the research questions we bring to them, so you don't want to get to a point of no return when you feel like your project is ready to be shifted to a platform, only to discover that the stakes of the project themselves are pushing up against the limits of the platform.

electrostani said...

Hi Roopika,

I like the idea of multiple paths and non-hierarchical structure that you describe with Scalar, though my concern about Scalar at present is that it doesn't really seem designed for large archives (The Kiplings and India will have potentially thousands of objects -- most of them from British Indian newspapers from the 1870s and 80s.)

At present it seems most likely the site will be built in either Drupal or Omeka. My university's librarians have indicated that they have the most expertise in Drupal, though I was also told that it might be possible to build the site in a hybrid way, with the different platforms talking to each other. (Perhaps one platform for the 'front' of the site, and another with all of the specific objects marked up with metadata.) Another platform that's been mentioned to me along these lines (but more for the back-end) is ContentDM.

One of the tensions I am feeling is that I am thinking of this at once as an archive "about" the Kiplings and as an archive aims to go beyond and them, and be "about" the history of India itself in the latter decades of the 19th century, with resources available for people who aren't necessarily looking at the Kiplings at all. (Lahore in the 1880s was a particularly interesting time and place actually for religious reform movements, including the Sikh Singh Sabha movement. Not to mention the famines of the 1870s... not to mention the fascinating debates over the status of women in both the British and the "native" press... not to mention the annexation of Burma during these years ... and the first meetings of the Indian National Congress... it goes on and on... )

A dream would be to be able to present two faces of the archive: one that starts with the Kiplings, and another that starts with India. Perhaps I should do two "fronts" attached to the same content archive... Hm...

Roopika Risam said...

That makes sense - with an archive of that size, you're definitely better off considering something like Omeka because it'll be easier to manage the metadata (I don't have experience with Drupal as I'm already comfortable in WordPress - but our new university website is going to be built using Drupal so I might have to figure it out at some point.)

I have been thinking of how to unify different parts of the same project since I had my grad students this summer working on a digital compendium for a novel and they all ended up wanting to work on completely different things. Right now, I'm still trying to figure it out - I'll either use WordPress or Scalar and do some embedding and linking. But that's a very small scale project. When I think of examples that do a good job navigating multiple dimensions of the same archive, the Transatlantic Slave Trade Database comes to mind - it's not the most elegant looking solution and could be easier to navigate but the landing page offers several directions to go.