Friday, December 7, 2012

Bird books for all

The Internet Archive is a gold mine and one that places few barriers to its access. One of the things that aids it is the orphan works clause in American Copyright law. Copyright is meant to protect the publisher and author by ensuring their right to earn by controlling the creation of copies. When the authors or publishers vanish and when earnings are no longer made, their works become unavailable except to those holding old copies. In a country like India where preservation of heritage takes a back-seat, it is unfortunate that the situation is aggravated by the lack of a citizen-oriented spirit in the Copyright Act. Based on the archaic Crown Copyright (although the UK government has since made massive strides in modernizing its law - see especially http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/information-management/uk-gov-licensing-framework.htm), it makes even government and tax-payer funded work inaccessible to citizens for the most part. Even the RTI Act (2005), which has a clause that in spirit suggests that copies of requested information be made at the lowest possible cost seems to contradict the Copyright Act. Indian archives are usually dependent on making access costly so as to survive and this makes them especially unusable by local and independent researchers. The idea of pro-actively making archival material digitally and universally accessible is either unknown or despised, and most archives are overseen by a bureaucratic system and manned by Internet illiterate staff who are often entirely oblivious of their holdings or their value. The Internet Archive however offers hope by empowering all to self-archive material, reducing the costs and thereby making it possible to provide free access.

Searchability currently limited

The Internet Archive makes material that is not born digital into searchable and accessible text through its OCR (although that is technologically restricted to English and languages that use a Latin script). It does not have an infrastructure for the public to transliterate or transcribe material into searchable text. Google search sadly does not do a great job of searching material here unless one explicitly uses the "site:archive.org" command into the search box. Google Images would be enormously richer if it could harvest the page images, and make them searchable via text near them (using OCR).

Breaking a tradition of access limitation, discrimination and denial

A princely pursuit
(Source: Wikimedia Commons)
The study of birds (and the environment in general) has largely been an elite pursuit. Victorian natural history was the pursuit of gentleman who had leisure, the space to hold books and specimens and the money to get them and pursue travel. The situation has not changed significantly. Denying access to information was of course the norm in the functioning of all Indian government bodies until very recent times and continues to leave much to desire in terms of dedication to serve citizens. Some ancient (and archaic) Indian organizations such as the Bombay Natural History Society which were founded by enlightened spirits for the very purpose of sharing information now have little to share with the general public, who in the meantime have self-organized into numerous email and Internet discussion groups that bubble with activity.  Ironically, the BNHS periodically highlights an anecdote on a little Indian boy who became an ornithologist simply because its doors were opened to him by an English curator! Their membership was formerly made up mainly of English gentleman and local feudal lords. The need to belong to an elite in-group of course stands contrary to the egalitarian basis of science. Although the MoEF funds some of the activities of this private club, there are arguably worse organizations such as the entirely tax-payer funded Zoological Survey of India and Botanical Survey of India. These organizations are not only closed to  public scrutiny but keep their outputs (books and journals) well out of the reach of citizens. That, however may be a good idea when it includes such gems as "...the movement of Hill Myna is purely gastronomical..." (Annual Report of the ZSI 2012). Ordinary citizens are increasingly more enlightened than the staff of these organizations, and have access to systems like the Internet Archive and Wikipedia. (See my earlier post on how anyone can contribute to public knowledge by archiving their holdings by scanning them and uploading to the Internet Archive)

This post is just a catalogue of freely available ornithological works of relevance on the Internet Archive and a few other digital libraries that I have been using for several years now. I however continue to be surprised by people who forward me links or are unaware of these works, some of which are actually the result of my own doing! While some of the better works are contributed by the BHL and accessible also from the Biodiversity Heritage Library website, the Internet Archive website tends to be faster and has the additional advantage of having a search option (limited by the OCR quality) within the online book reader. Hopefully this list will aid more researchers who may lack access although many of these works have been long possessed by book collectors and others who while often lacking research skills tend to value the physical form more than its content. The Internet Archive also supports the conversion of books into formats suitable for digital book-readers/tablets. To find other formats substitute the "stream" in the URL to "details" - for example if the URL shown is http://archive.org/stream/manualofgamebird01oaterich#page/n5/mode/2up use http://archive.org/details/manualofgamebird01oaterich to find other formats or to download. Some of these books have been uploaded by me or moved from unusable websites like the Digital Library of India. An ulterior motive here is to aid me (and anyone else interested) in editing Wikipedia with proper citations for which the referencing templates are appended.

Bird books specific to the Indian region

Ali, Salim & S. Dillon Ripley (1987) Compact Handbook of the Birds of India and Pakistan together with those of Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and Sri Lanka. 2nd ed. Oxford University Press. Delhi.

The Fauna of British India is a classic and the first edition is still a source for detailed feather descriptions which are often lacking in detail in later works. The subspecies concept did not exist then and all taxa were treated as species.
<ref>{{cite book|title=The Fauna of British India, including Ceylon and Burma. Birds. Volume 1|author=Oates, Eugene W.|year= 1889|publisher=Taylor and Francis|place=London|pages= |url= http://archive.org/stream/birdsindia01oaterich#page/n3/mode/2up}}</ref>
<ref>{{cite book|title=The Fauna of British India, including Ceylon and Burma. Birds. Volume 2|editor=Blanford, W.T.|year= 1890|publisher=Taylor and Francis|place=London|pages= |url=http://archive.org/stream/birdsindia02oaterich#page/n3/mode/2up}}</ref>
<ref>{{cite book|title=The Fauna of British India, including Ceylon and Burma. Birds. Volume 3|author=Blanford, W.T.|year= 1895|publisher=Taylor and Francis|place=London|pages= |url=http://archive.org/stream/birdsindia03oaterich#page/n3/mode/2up}}</ref>
<ref>{{cite book|title=The Fauna of British India, including Ceylon and Burma. Birds. Volume 4|author=Blanford, W.T.|year= 1898|publisher=Taylor and Francis|place=London|pages= |url=http://archive.org/stream/birdsindia04oaterich#page/n3/mode/2up}}</ref>

The second edition of the Fauna, or "New Fauna" introduced changes in taxonomy including the use of  trinomials. It however dropped out a great deal of plumage description.
Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3, Volume 4, Volume 5, Volume 6, Volume 7, Volume 8
<ref>{{cite book|title=The Fauna of British India, including Ceylon and Burma. Birds. Volume 1|edition=2|author=Baker, E.C. Stuart|year= 1922|publisher=Taylor and Francis|place=London|pages= |url=http://archive.org/stream/birds01bakeiala#page/n3/mode/2up}}</ref>
<ref>{{cite book|title=The Fauna of British India, including Ceylon and Burma. Birds. Volume 2|edition=2|author=Baker, E.C. Stuart|year= 1924|publisher=Taylor and Francis|place=London|pages= |url=http://archive.org/stream/BakerFbiBirds2/bakerFBI2#page/n1/mode/2up}}</ref>
<ref>{{cite book|title=The Fauna of British India, including Ceylon and Burma. Birds. Volume 3|edition=2|author=Baker, E.C. Stuart|year= 1926|publisher=Taylor and Francis|place=London|pages= |url=http://archive.org/stream/BakerFbiBirds3/BakerFBI3#page/n0/mode/2up}}</ref>
<ref>{{cite book|title=The Fauna of British India, including Ceylon and Burma. Birds. Volume 4|edition=2|author=Baker, E.C. Stuart|year= 1927|publisher=Taylor and Francis|place=London|pages= |url=http://archive.org/stream/BakerFbiBirds4/BakerFBI4#page/n0/mode/2up}}</ref>
<ref>{{cite book|title=The Fauna of British India, including Ceylon and Burma. Birds. Volume 5|edition=2|author=Baker, E.C. Stuart|year= 1928|publisher=Taylor and Francis|place=London|pages= |url=http://archive.org/stream/BakerFbiBirds5/BakerFBI5#page/n3/mode/2up}}</ref>
<ref>{{cite book|title=The Fauna of British India, including Ceylon and Burma. Birds. Volume 5|edition=2|author=Baker, E.C. Stuart|year= 1929|publisher=Taylor and Francis|place=London|pages= |url=http://archive.org/stream/BakerFbiBirds6/BakerFBI6#page/n1/mode/2up}}</ref>
<ref>{{cite book|title=The Fauna of British India, including Ceylon and Burma. Birds. Volume 7|edition=2|author=Baker, E.C. Stuart|year= 1930|publisher=Taylor and Francis|place=London|pages= |url=http://archive.org/stream/BakerFbiBirds7/BakerFBI7#page/n0/mode/2up}}</ref>

Birds of Asia (in seven volumes) by John Gould - mainly illustrative
A Century of birds from the Himalaya Mountains (B&W digital copy at the French digital library Gallica - Colour version of plates at UCL London)

Works of Hume are linked at the end of the Wikipedia article on him.
Marshall, GFL (1877) Birds' nesting in India. Calcutta Central Press.
<ref>{{cite book|author=Marshall, GFL |year=1877|title=Birds' nesting in India.|url=http://archive.org/details/cu31924000067763|publisher= Calcutta Central Press|place=Calcutta}}</ref>

Works of Jerdon are linked at the end of the Wikipedia article on him.

Bolster, R.C. (1923) Driven Duck. C.G. Harris. (An interesting work on duck hunting, mainly in north India)

Works of E. C. Stuart Baker
Indian pigeons and doves  (Harvested images)
<ref>{{cite book|title=Indian pigeons and doves|author=Baker, E.C. Stuart| year=1913| publisher=Witherby & Co.|place= London|url=http://archive.org/stream/indianpigeonsdov00bake#page/n9/mode/2up}}</ref>
The game-birds of India, Burma and Ceylon. Volume 1, Volume 2 (Harvested images)
<ref>{{cite book|title=The game-birds of India, Burma and Ceylon. Volume 1|author=Baker, E.C. Stuart| year=1921| publisher=Bombay Natural History Society|place= London|url=http://archive.org/stream/gamebirdsofindia01bake#page/n9/mode/2up}}</ref>
The Indian Ducks and their Allies
<ref>{{cite book|url=http://archive.org/stream/indianduckstheir00bake#page/n7/mode/2up|title=The Indian Ducks and their Allies|author=Baker, E. C. Stuart| year=1908|publisher=The Bombay Natural History Society|place= London}}</ref>
The Nidification of Birds of the Indian Empire. Volume 1 Volume 2 Volume 3 Volume 4
<ref>{{cite book|author=Baker, E. C. S. |year=1932| title= The Nidification of Birds of the Indian Empire. Vol. 1. |publisher=Taylor & Francis| place=London}}</ref>
<ref>{{cite book|author=Baker, E. C. S. |year=1933| title= The Nidification of Birds of the Indian Empire. Vol. 2.|publisher=Taylor & Francis| place= London}}</ref>
<ref>{{cite book|author=Baker, E. C. S. |year=1934| title= The Nidification of Birds of the Indian Empire. Vol. 3. |publisher=Taylor & Francis| place= London}}</ref>
<ref>{{cite book|author=Baker, E. C. S. |year=1935| title= The Nidification of Birds of the Indian Empire. Vol. 4. |publisher=Taylor & Francis| place= London}}</ref>


Fletcher, T. Bainbrigge & C.M. Inglis (1936) Birds of an Indian Garden. Thacker, Spink & Co., Calcutta.

Works by Frank Finn (full list on Wikipedia)
Garden and aviary birds of India Finn's work, although outdated, has useful bits on birds in captivity and local customs and ethno-ornithological titbits

<ref>{{cite book|author=Finn, Frank |year=1915| title=Garden and aviary birds of India|edition=2||publisher=Thacker, Spink and Co.|place=Calcutta|pages=| url=http://archive.org/stream/gardenaviarybird00finn#page/n5/mode/2up}}</ref>
Indian sporting birds
<ref>{{cite book|author=Finn, Frank |year=1915| title=Indian sporting birds|publisher=Francis Edwards|place=London|pages= | url=http://archive.org/stream/indiansportingbi00finn#page/n7/mode/2up}}</ref>
The game birds of India and Asia
<ref>{{cite book|title=The game birds of India and Asia|year=1911| author=Finn, Frank| publisher=Thacker, Spink & Co.| place= Calcutta|url=http://archive.org/stream/cu31924016412631#page/n5/mode/2up| pages=}}</ref>

Mason, Charles William (1911) The food of birds in India. Calcutta, Imperial Dept. of Agric. in India - An important work  based on skin dissections, something that may never be repeated.

Mackintosh, L. J. (1915) Birds of Darjeeling and India. Banerjee Press, Calcutta.

A manual of the game birds of India. Volume 1 & Volume 2 by Eugene W. Oates
<ref>{{cite book|title=A manual of the game birds of India. Part 1-Land Birds. |author=Oates, Eugene W.| year=1898| publisher=A. J. Combridge & Co.|place= Bombay| url=http://archive.org/stream/manualofgamebird01oaterich#page/n5/mode/2up| pages=}}</ref>
<ref>{{cite book|title=A manual of the game birds of India. Part 2-Water Birds. |author=Oates, Eugene W.| year=1899| publisher=A. J. Combridge & Co.|place= Bombay| url=http://archive.org/stream/manualofgamebird02oate#page/n5/mode/2up| pages=}}</ref>

The birds of southern India by HR Baker & CM Inglis- a rare work but with errors - a better scan
<ref>{{cite book|author=Baker, H.R. & C.M. Inglis |year=1930| title=The birds of southern India including Madras, Malabar, Travancore, Cochin, Coorg and Mysore|publisher=Government Press|place=Madras|pages= | url=http://archive.org/stream/TheBirdsOfSouthernIndia/BakerInglis#page/n9/mode/2up}}</ref>

The Edible and Game Birds of British India by James Alexander? Murray
<ref>{{cite book|author=Murray, James A. |year=1889| title=The Edible and Game Birds of British India |publisher=Trubner & Co.|place=London|pages= | url=http://archive.org/stream/ediblegamebirdso00murrrich#page/n3/mode/2up}}</ref>

Game, shore, and water birds of India, with additional references to their allied species in other parts of the world by Colonel A. Le Messurier
<ref>{{cite book|author=Le Messurier, A| title= Game, shore, and water birds of India, with additional references to their allied species in other parts of the world|edition=4| year=1904| publisher=W. Thacker and Co.| place= London| pages= }}</ref>

Books by Douglas Dewar are linked from the Wikipedia article. Mostly casual writing with insights into popular culture of the day and creationist thinking. His Common Birds of India (1923) in two volumes is a little known work which is a bit more interesting in that it captures a lot of folklore and knowledge of the period. Volume 1 Volume 2

The Common Birds of Bombay by Eha (1900). A classic light-hearted work on birds. A 1945 (3rd edition with notes by Salim Ali and preface by Loke Wan Tho can be found here.
<ref>{{cite book|author=Eha|year=1900|title=The Common Birds of Bombay|publisher=Thacker & Co.|place=Bombay|url=http://archive.org/stream/commonbirdsofbom00aitkrich#page/n3/mode/2up}}</ref>

Whistler, Hugh (1949) Popular Handbook Of Indian Birds. 4e. This is still a valuable work which inspired Salim Ali in the writing of his popular handbook. (also see 3rd edition 1941)
<ref>{{cite book|title=Popular Handbook Of Indian Birds|author=Whistler, Hugh|year=1949| publisher=Gurney and Jackson| place= London| url=http://archive.org/stream/popularhandbooko033226mbp#page/n7/mode/2up|pages=}}</ref>

Dalgliesh, Gordon (1907) Familiar Indian birds. West, Newman & Co. London.

Indian Scientific Nomenclature of Birds of India, Burma and Ceylon  by Raghu Vira is a rare work that attempts to identify birds in Sanskrit although it was not held in high regard by Salim Ali.
<ref>{{cite book|author=Vira, Raghu & K.N. Dave| year=1949| title= Indian Scientific Nomenclature of Birds of India, Burma and Ceylon.|publisher= International Academy of Indian Culture| place=Nagpur.|url=http://archive.org/stream/SanskritBirds#page/n1/mode/2up |pages=}}</ref> 

Popular and older works of Salim Ali 
With Laeeq Futehally - Common Birds published by the National Book Trust
The Book of Indian Birds (Edition 1), (Edition 2), (Edition 5), (Edition 7)
The Birds of Kutch

Continued
More Bird Books will covers works that are taxonomically organized, encompass larger regions (the Palearctic and oriental realms), cover adjoining countries or very small regions.



Saturday, October 20, 2012

The power of networks-a 19th century tale

A couple of weeks ago I received a rather surprising email request from the Natural History Museum in London. The request was for some data on the correspondence network of Allan Octavian Hume. Many years ago, I had put together all the names of correspondents cited in his (and Marshall's) three volume "Game birds of India, Burmah and Ceylon" along with their locations. Putting this on a map gave a view of how Hume managed to get information from across India without actually having to expend too much of his own personal energies to obtain the data (mainly in the form of specimens). In hindsight, that map was rather poorly prepared. 
Scatter plot and a density plot showing the distribution and numbers of Hume correspondents
The rather exceptional body of work that Hume produced included an enormous collection of (about 82,000) bird specimens and associated information. Around 1884 he donated this entire collection to the British Museum (today the Natural History Museum). This was prompted by the theft of his life-time of notes and manuscripts, an event that led him to give up ornithology. He then diverted his energies towards the Indian National Congress (which too he gave up due to the infighting and lack of enthusiasm among Indians). Anyway, I discovered the raw data used to create the map and found it worth re-examining. So this time round I was able to unify the plots and include labels, but it involved a lot of jugglery with tools that included Excel, R, GIMP and Inkscape. The data that is accessible for a researcher in India is actually extremely limited and someone with access to the actual specimens in the Natural History Museum should be able to do an enormously better job.

The dataset can be downloaded here
Many of Hume's contributors were in the Indian Civil Services or officers in the Army. These were evidently positions in which there was a lot of leisure and travel, allowing them to send specimens and notes to Hume, who then duly compiled them in his own amazing journal - Stray Feathers - 10 volumes of which were produced before he gave up ornithology. An index volume was added by Charles Chubb of the British Museum. All of these volumes are now available online. In an earlier publication I had mentioned that the map suggests why Hume did not bump into either the Eastern Ghats form of Abbott's Babbler or Jerdon's Courser. Even today, central and eastern India are dark regions, where few people observe birds.

These contributors sent information from locations where they were posted at different times in their career while some had their own network of contacts who sent in specimens from elsewhere. Although the vast majority were in the army or civil services, their background appear to have been quite varied and one can only imagine the the kind of correspondence they must have had. Some were sharpshooters or sportsmen, like Duncan Home (DC Home) who died in the 1857 uprising and Colonel McMaster (McMaster also wrote under the pen-name of "Vagrant" for hunting periodicals like The Field).  There were other influences which are not directly evident. Many of them were trained in medicine at Edinburgh University which had its  roots in ideas that emerged from the Scottish Enlightenment. They often shared common teachers, for instance T C Jerdon who followed the fanciful Quinarian system, and Charles Darwin, who was to drive the last nails into the coffin of that system, both studied under a Professor Robert Jameson in Edinburgh, but that is not to say that the Professor's classes were interesting. Darwin actually wrote that "[T]he sole effect they produced on me was the determination never as long as I lived to read a book on Geology, or in any way to study the science." Jameson had however been involved with groups such as the Plinian Society and Wernerian Natural History Society, and the interactions among the participants in the lectures of these groups had influences on geology as well zoology in India. Jerdon was senior to Hume in ornithology and they held each other in high esteem.

Apart from these old-boys networks, there were also family ties. Robert Wardlaw Ramsay (RGW Ramsay on the map) for instance was a good friend of Hume but his uncle Lord Hay, an ornithological collector of eminence was considered by Hume as a mere "cabinet ornithologist" and the two sparred in their correspondence in the Ibis. Hume's cousin, another Edinburgh physician, was Edward Balfour, the founder of several museums, compiler of the Cyclopedia of India and a pioneer of forest conservation. Balfour founded the Madras museum where he was succeeded by Dr. George Bidie (Dr. G Bidie on the map above was also an Edinburgh physician) as curator (Superintendent was the official term used). Balfour was based in Madras which was also home to other indologists and polymaths like Walter Elliot (after whom we have the Madras treeshrew Anathana ellioti). Elliot's interests in zoology were secondary to his interest in numismatics, epigraphy and language. Elliot was mostly based out of Madras and this was the centre of a scholarly group that published in the Madras Journal of Literature and Science. Elliot's sister-in-law was married to PL Sclater. Sclater was the founder of the ornithological journal The Ibis. Elliot's interest in Indian culture was possibly triggered by an immersive experience, early in his India career, as a prisoner of Kittur Rani Chennamma. Elliot wrote an obituary of Jerdon and his own was written by Hugh Cleghorn (also an Edinburgh physician). Cleghorn can pretty much be considered the founding spirit behind the idea of a forest department in India in which he was followed by Colonel R. H. Beddome (after whom we have Beddome's keelback ) who seems to have given most of his attention to the reptiles and amphibians.
Every journal of the period had to examine if  they could survive and whether
they might be stepping on the toes of the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal

Another older scholarly group, The Asiatic Society of Bengal, had its centre in Calcutta. Their early research also revolved around epigraphy and numismatics and their journal was founded by the polymath, James Prinsep. Shortlived though its editor was, it seems that the main interest of the journal depended on its key people and zoology was of low priority until Edward Blyth became one of its underpaid staff. Blyth wrote many bird related papers, so much so that he complained to others about how he was sidelined and "accused of being an ornithologist"! Both Blyth and Hume corresponded with another orientalist in the hills - B H Hodgson in Nepal. A family friend of Hodgson's was Thomas Malthus, the man who also influenced Darwin. Hodgson's life in India was however quite isolated but he seems to have kept up an enormous amount of correspondence and was extremely productive in his writing. He was also a friend of JD Hooker, the botanist, who was in turn a common friend of Darwin. Hodgson too seems to have at least in later life put his zoological pursuit behind his other interests, so much so that he became an expert on the Tibetan language and Buddhist philosophy. Hodgson however collected a large number of animal specimens. He also employed native artists to illustrate many of these specimens. About 1700 of these plates were lent to Hume and it would appear that little is known about their fate. Many naturalists in India appear to have employed native artists but most do not give them credit. Jerdon for instance trained artists from Trichy (such as C V Kistnarajoo) but they often remain anonymous in his plates. An interesting exception here is a botanist friend of Cleghorn and Jerdon - Robert Wight (Edinburgh physician again!). Wight found two exceptional artists by the name of Govindoo and Rungiah and they produced illustrations that Wight appreciated so much that he even named an orchid genus after Govindoo - Govindooia (now Tropidia). Wight's botany expanded on the earlier work of William Roxburgh (Edinburgh physician!), a botanist who followed Colonel Robert Kyd at the botanical garden in Calcutta. Roxburgh succeeded Patrick Russell (Edinburgh physician famous for Russell's viper) as "Naturalist" at Madras. There were also some other earlier positions as "Naturalist" such as in the court of the Nawab of Arcot where Roxburgh's friend was Johann Gerhard König, a student of Linnaeus. (Heard of curry leaf Murraya koenigii ?)

Botany seems to have found itself a professional role thanks to the economic value of plants. Colonel Kyd (after whose family the locality of Kidderpore in Calcutta derives) for instance was able to sell the idea of botanical gardens to the East India Company without much trouble. Another bunch of professionals who also took an interest in zoology (esp. molluscs) were the geologists. F.R. Mallet, W Theobald, T Oldham (Irish but studied under that same boring Professor Jameson in Edinburgh - the Oldham on the map however is a Captain Oldham who may have been a relative, Oldham's son was also a geologist) and V Ball (whose father was an astronomer) among others were members of the Geological Survey of India - an organization that seems to have been dominated by Irishmen (H B Medlicott of Gondwanaland fame and his brother, JG Medlicott) although it also took in non-Irish paleontologists like F. Stoliczka. Stoliczka is probably the most famous victim of altitude sickness and on that fatal expedition,  was accompanied by Dr John Scully who appears on the Hume correspondence map. The passing of both Stoliczka and Blyth are recorded in volume 2 of Hume's Stray Feathers. Zoology had a difficult start as a profession and many of the names we have come across so far joined hands to influence the creation of  The Fauna of British India. These included JD Hooker, Darwin, Huxley, J. Lubbock, WH Flower and PL Sclater. The editor they chose was the geologist WT Blanford. Blanford's brother HF Blanford was the founding spirit behind meteorology in India. The Indian Museum which came about from the museum of the Asiatic Society of Bengal where Blyth worked became the corpus on which the Zoological Survey of India worked. Staff at the Indian Museum included Dr J. Anderson (Again Edinburgh physician!). Later workers here included PL Sclater's son, WL Sclater. Another museum worker was JA Murray at Karachi, who wrote a book, rather rare in its genre, called the Edible and game birds of British India !

Army officers, botanists, geologist and men of medicine might appear to be the primary contributors but that is not the end. W. E. Brooks was a remarkable engineer in the railways and he seems to have had his own interesting circle of friends (including Mr. Hancock) but most importantly he seems to have quietly proceeded on the path of listening to bird song and examining differences between species. Through his method he made great progress in warbler identification as well as in separating members of the crow family. Unfortunately it seems that his pioneering approach was not accepted by Hume who saw skins as being the only reliable artefact. Brooks was so influenced by Hume that he named his youngest son after him. Allan Brooks became one of the great bird artists and an ornithologist in his own right as well and in a little note (Condor 44:157) he writes: "... I am reminded of a similar controversy far back in the last century between my father, the late W. E. Brooks and my paternal sponsor, the late Allan Hume in the pages of the latter’s “Stray Feathers.” The controversy concerned the separation of the Hill Crow, Corvus intermedius, from the Jungle Crow, C. culminatus; my father insisted that their voices were quite distinct but Hume would clinch his argument for their identity with the claim that as the skins could not talk the birds could not be separated. ..."

Other minority professions include the missionaries - one member of which was Rev. SB Fairbank (after whom we have Trochalopteron fairbanki) from the Palni hills. GP Sanderson, the son of a clergy man was later to write a lot on the big game of southern India, so much so that Rudyard Kipling may have used him as a model for his Petersen Sahib. The hills of Kodaikanal, Ootacamund and Simla were of course sanatoria frequented by wealthy colonial officers and they have more than a fair share of correspondents. One interesting member of this group is Miss Cockburn, among the few women who contributed notes to Hume. She was also a bit of an artist and her bird paintings from the Nilgiris were used in a calendar produced by the Natural History Museum. Her father, M D Cockburn, was the district collector of Salem and Catherine falls near Kotagiri is named after her mother. Their family was also involved in introducing coffee and a small number of coffee and tea planters also contributed to ornithology. One of these was Louis Mandelli from Darjeeling. He seems to have been a bit of a bird collector who exchanged specimens with Hume. He is perhaps among the few that held a very negative opinion of Hume who he claimed was stealing credit for discoveries and for being unfair in his specimen exchanges. Very little is known about Mandelli and he appears to have led a troubled life that ended in suicide. Another contributor GA Gammie was in charge of the government run Cinchona plantations at Mangphu. JD Inverarity (Surat), a magistrate and others including Charles Swinhoe were later to found the Bombay Natural History Society. Charles Swinhoe's brother was Robert Swinhoe in Hong Kong, a diplomat. In this diplomat class of contributors we may include R. Schomburgk and OB St. John, their contributions being valuable for their travel to obscure locations. A. H. Hildebrand (Hildebrande on the map) was the first Superintendent of the Shan States and was responsible for the discovery of Impatiens psittacina, which went viral on the Internet in recent times. Others who travelled on work included H H Godwin-Austen (Godwin-Austen on the map and of K2/Mt. Godwin-Austen fame), H J Elwes (who visited Hume in 1880 along with F D Godman of Godman-Salvin fame) and A W Chennell (Chennell on the map) who worked with the (Topographical) Survey of India. Oddly, the teaching establishment is also in a minority - Professor Harold Littledale at Baroda College stands out.

This map might give the wrong impression that India has been well examined for birds. No, this is only about how it was searched for "new" species - new in the sense that they were not known to the European experts - museum curators and collectors. That era is gone, now is the time where continuous monitoring and life-history studies have become the trend across the world, but that means local effort. Local effort needs support and training; which simply cannot happen if the best books are impossibly expensive and data, even that which is held by government bodies, is locked away in museums or secretly stowed away in private collections. The situation is not improved if self-styled experts sit smugly in their offices, jet across the country to make slick movies or write travelogues in glossy magazines either. Even in the 19th century it was recognized that knowledge was lacking in spite of this widespread collection of specimens. Brian Hodgson wrote in 1873:

"I may as well attempt to supply the deficiency for the benefit of local inquirers, who, I suspect, are hardly sufficiently alive to that legerdemain of the closet-naturalist, whereby they are cheated of the whole merit of their labours by him who does no more than annex a few words of doggrel Latin to the numerous facts painfully elaborated by costly and continuous attention. How long assiduous local research is to be deliberately deprived of those aids of library and museum which it ought to be the chief duty of learned Societies at home to furnish, I know not. But the candid will, in the meanwhile, make all allowances for the necessary errors cleaving to attempts at technical Zoology, in the want of such aids. Whilst the face of our land is darkened with skin-hunters, deputed by learned Societies to incumber science with ill-ascertained species, no English zoological association has a single travelling naturalist* in India; nor has one such body yet sought to invigorate local research, numerous as now are the gentlemen in India with opportunities and inclination for observation such us need but the appropriate aid of those bodies to render the investigations of these gentlemen truly efficient towards all the higher ends which the Societies in question are constituted to forward !"

*
The French, who are far quicker-witted than we Beotian islanders, have had two such agents in India ever since I came to it. But the travelling naturalist is in no condition to compete with the fixed local student, if the latter receive the obvious helps from home. For many years past we have had the great and wealthy Zoological Societies in London, which, however, have not yet found out that the phenomena of animate nature must be observed where they exist !

To this day, there exists no body that seeks to invigorate local research in India! Millions are of course spent on the the state forest departments, the ZSI, BSI and the GSI; government organizations that emerged from the interactions of these networks have all isolated themselves from mainstream research as well as from the public that supports them with taxes. And so ends this unfinished tale of connections in 19th century ornithology. This year happens to be the centenary of Hume's death and a commemorative event is scheduled in London next week. Perhaps some of my readers will be fortunate to be a part of it.

A growing series of postscripts

16-Aug-2013 Feilden in Burma seems to be Henry Wemyss Feilden (1838-1921) [Ibis obituary 1921]
06-June-2014 The talks from the Hume centenary can be heard at the SLBI website.
29-Jan-2015 R M Adam from Agra was Robert McNeiledge Adam.
31-Jan-2015 - a note on Professor Harold Littledale from the Cornishman 29 May 1930, p.6.:
Death of Dr. Harold Littledale
Dr. Harold Littledale, Emeritus Professor of English Language and Literature at University College, Cardiff died at his residence at Southbourne, Bournemouth on Sunday, May 11th, at the age of 77. He was the father of Mrs Clarence Paull of Roskear, Camborne. He edited various English texts, but his chief claim to remembrance is the influence he exerted on the problem of Indian primary education by the advice and guidance he gave the Gaekwar of Baroda in introducing to India soil the principle of compulsion.
Born to a Dublin solicitor on October 3, 1853, he was educated at Armagh Royal School and Trinity College, Dublin. Here he graduated in arts and was in 1876 senior moderator. in later years Dublin conferred upon him the degree of Litt.D. His best years were spent in Baroda State, where on the educational side he had a large share in bringing in the new progressive order following the deposition of Malaharao Gaekwar and the accession of the present Maharaj Sayaji Rao Gaekwar. He went out in 1879 as Vice-Principal and Professor of History and English Literature at Baroda College and his influence told in making the young ruler so keen in intellectual pursuits and conversation with the college professors. The two men formed a close friendship, and in later years Littledale was appointed Director of Vernacular Instruction in the State. It was while he held this post that the foundations were laid of the compulsory system introduced in Baroda many years before the principle found expression in the Statute book of any province of British India. The idea was derided as wholly inapplicable to Indian conditions; but it is now generally accepted in provincial legislation though its application is much restricted on financial and other grounds. 
Littledale spent much of his leisure in Himalayan travel and the study of the flora and fauna of India making many valuable contributions to the "Journal" of the Bombay Natural History Society. He was a Fellow of the University of Bombay. Retiring from India after 20 years in Baroda he was appointed Professor of English Language and Literature at the University College of South Wales and Monmouth, Cardiff. In addition to his editing of various texts, he wrote occasionally on English literature and natural history. He was also interested in folkore. He was made Emeritus Professor in 1921.

---
January 2017 - Littledale married Annapurna Turkhud, second daughter of Dr Atmaram Pandurang Turkhud on 11 November 1880 (poor Tagore was also apparently in love with Annapurna!). Dr Atmaram Pandurang was one of the Indian founding members of the BNHS! Ana however died young and Littledale married again in 1892 - "A marriage will shortly take place between Mr. Harold Littledale, of Baroda College, India, eldest son of the late Mr. William F. Littledale, of Whaley Abbey, Rathdrum, County Wicklow, and Sybil Frances Hanbury, fourth daughter of Mr. Edgar Hanbury, of Eastrop Grange, Highworth, Wilts" - The Colonies and India, 24 Dec 1892. p.34

In August 2014, I visited the library of the Natural History Museum at London and examined two of the books by M.B.L. Cockburn and it turns out that the images found online do not show the pencil writings on the margin. The critical notes on the accuracy of the illustrations and other statements suggest that the books had gone through the hands of A.O. Hume. It may even have come into the NHM collections via Hume.

October 2016: I visited the grave of Margaret Cockburn in Kotagiri along with Dr Henry Noltie. The graves of all the Cockburn family members are placed together.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Learning from lice

I was recently reading up the life of Reginald Ernest Moreau. A fascinating figure in the history of ornithology who started his life as an accountant who moved to Africa and began to study birds. His ability to pick up languages such as Arabic allowed him to go where other westerners did not dare to. He made many outdoor expeditions around where he worked in Egypt and in the process learnt about the bird life and more importantly bumped into interesting people. On one trip he found a lady picking flowers and found that she also knew quite a bit about the birds. She was soon to become his wife. On another trip in a far away wadi, he met C.B.Williams, "C.B." was a pioneering entomologist who worked in agriculture but took a great interest in quantitative approaches and was an associate of R A Fisher (sometimes known as the father of statistics). He was keenly interested in insect migration and was always looking at ways to collate and find patterns in numbers. He and Moreau made a few trips together around Egypt and Moreau learnt about CB's methods. More importantly when CB was posted in Tanganyika (now Tanzania), he worked out a way for getting himself an accountant that was interested in science - and he got Moreau out of the desert and into the rain-forest. Here Moreau, who notes in an autobiographical note that was published as his obituary, discovered someone who could make up for his poor eyesight and field ability. It was an African assistant named Salimu who further trained some more field assistant and together they began to collect field observations on bird life, particularly their time of breeding, their feeding and other behaviours. They collected quite a pile of data and putting it all together many years later, Moreau pioneered the field of life-history studies in ornithology. His work attracted the attention of David Lack and this led to debates on good-for-the-species ideas of adaptation versus good-for-the-individual concepts. Today that has further been distilled into what we have as the "selfish-gene" concept. It is interesting that one of the lesser-known Indian ornithologists, F. N. Betts was influenced by Moreau. The extent and nature of the influence is as yet unknown.
A meeting in Africa; Moreau (left) and C.B. (right).
Photos from obituaries a, b.

CB who influenced Moreau in the first place was interested in a range of topics, species area curves, diversity-population and other related issues. Like most others who look at such data he began to notice the ubiquity of logarithmic distributions in nature. "The Statistical Outlook in Relation to Ecology" (1954) - an extremely readable transcription of a talk that CB gave and something that every biologist will find of interest.

He makes numerous observations on distributions in nature and how they are often not normal (or Gaussian):
A particularly interesting form of distribution is when all the errors are in one direction. This is found, for example, in the study of phenology when a number of observers are recording the first appearance of a bird in a particular district. It is not possible to see the bird before it arrives, but it is possible to miss seeing it for several days after the arrival. Thus the actual day of arrival of the bird that we are trying to determine is not near the average of the observations but is at, or previous to, the earliest of the records. There is even another complexity in this problem, as a bird such as the cuckoo, which is easily recognized by sound, is less easily overlooked than a bird, such as the swallow, which has to be seen to be recorded.
As another example he takes the distribution of lice on the heads of 461 people. Finding a logarithmic relation he was able to make predictions about how many heads should have just one louse and found it was 107 although the actual value found was 106. He joked that Nature was only one wrong !


He ends the lecture : "Perhaps I may conclude by saying that the application of statistical methods to biological subjects is still in its infancy-and no doubt as many mistakes will be made by this as by any other approach. But let us go ahead, for: 'He who never makes a mistake never makes anything.'"

I was curious about the data set of the lice and examining the original found that this study was possible thanks to 1437 inmates of the Cannanore - Kannur jail. Apparently a method was found to easily separate lice from hair samples and the heads of the 1437 had been carefully tonsured under the supervision of Major P. V. Karamchandani. The hair masses of each prisoner was measured and a number of other data about persons from which it came such as religion and age were collected.
"Lice, damned lice and statistics": table from P. A. Buxton (1940). Studies on populations of headlice
(Pediculus humanus capitis: Anoplura). Parasitology, 32:296-302

"...Mr S. Smith who performed all the routine of weighing, dissolving hair and counting lice, and Miss V. E. Buxton and Miss F. R. Mold who have carried out the tabulating."  
There are perhaps more lessons to be learnt in these, one of these being the amazing amount of inter-disciplinary interaction and indeed a complete disregard for educational backgrounds and a from-scratch approach to research. Perhaps the isolation from mainstream academia in the wilds of Africa did help.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Feather patterns

A rather old publication caught my attention today. The patterns of feathers are something that can perhaps be better understood by simulating their formation. The feather is born from a circular set of germ cells and it grows out of the follicle just as hairs and nails do. The colours on feathers arise from pigment and micro-structure. This 1901 publication by J. L. Bonhote "On the Evolution of Pattern in Feathers" examines the change in feather pattern from the bold streaks on a young sparrowhawk to the bars found in adults.

Pattern variations in the feathers of a sparrowhawk

Bonhote goes on to speculate on what patterns are more primitive and what are more derived. He expresses surprise at how such a regular pattern appears on the bird with bits of the pattern being present on separate feathers. 

More complex patterns with colours

It is quite surprising that not much work has actually gone into this in the years since. A 2004 study examines the developmental biology of feather follicles and briefly mentions colour patterns and the signalling that might be involved. I have always thought that a good approach to study them would be to build a simulation. Perhaps a Java applet that allows different types of signals and their diffusion in different ways along the ring of cells. Parameters like direction and rate of movement or diffusion should be controllable. A little animation (Note: Animated PNG that may or may not work on your browser) is given below to give the idea for a high-school programming project.
A rough indication for a feather simulation applet. Here two signals diffuse inwars to create a U pattern on a feather.
It would be great if an applet that has different kinds of diffusion patterns along the germ cells in the feather follicle could simulate the whole gamut of patterns one sees in nature and perhaps find some that are as yet unknown.

Further reading

Thursday, September 13, 2012

A little-known bird artist


One of the hazards of contributing to Wikipedia is that one does not read enough of what is on it. Bumping into a series of interesting paintings of South African birds I looked up the artist marked as Sergeant C. G. Davies. Turns out that he was Claude Gibney Finch-Davies, a somewhat lesser known artist. Born in Delhi in 1875 he went to England and joined the army in South Africa. Somewhere along the line he picked up an interest in birds and art. A couple of biographies have been written about him by A C Kemp, but it would seem like he has largely been unknown, partly due to something he did that blemished his career and led perhaps to his death/suicide. His keen interest in illustration led him to remove plates from books in the museums and libraries that he referred to. Today there are probably art collectors who must be eager to steal this man's paintings.

The Natural History Museum at London holds some of his unpublished notebooks and paintings. Fortunately for us his paintings are out of copyright since 70 years have passed since his untimely death. Some of his paintings can be found here on Wikimedia Commons

His biography on Wikipedia is interesting but some of the details seem to be untraceable - it says:
He was born in Delhi, India, the third child and eldest son of Major-General Sir William and Lady Elizabeth B. Davies née Field. His father later became Governor of Delhi and was awarded the Order of the Star of India, while his mother was said to be an expert on Indian snakes.
The names of the mother and father are confirmed elsewhere as well. But it is odd that no further information is found on his father in the ODNB. Does anyone know further details and sources?

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Quirky Quinarians

My last post on the Digital Library of India was mainly incidental but an interesting find there was two volumes (missing one though) of William Swainson's book on the natural history and classification of the birds. It is a remarkable book, outdated for uses than historical, but still worth examining.

It is remarkable for giving a first hand account on how ornithologists saw patterns in the world around them in that period well before Darwin. One of these was the Quinarian classification. The quinarians believed that nature had been designed and that the Creator had chosen the magic number 5 in the grand plan. After all why else did most of us have five fingers on each hand or most flowers (at least the dicots) have 5 petals. By finding this order in nature, you were not just an ornithologist, but a devoted natural theologist who could see the signature of the Creator. Swainson's begins :
IF elegance of form, beauty of colouring, or sweetness of voice, were peculiarities which constituted the superiority of one class of beings over another, we should unquestionably assign to birds the highest station in the scale of the animal creation. No shadow of fear mixes with those pleasurable sensations with which they are viewed; and those feelings, moreover, are heightened by the ethereal nature of the creatures themselves. In a moment they may spread their wings, launch into boundless air, and be seen no more. We almost view them as beings of a happier world, alighting upon this "dim spot called earth," more as a place of temporary rest, in their voyage through the regions of space, than as their permanent abode. They remind us of those invisible spirits of the unseen world, which, we are taught to believe, traverse the air on the wings of the wind ; who alight, but for a moment, among the sons of men, and then depart to breath a purer atmosphere. Of all unintelligent beings, they alone are gifted with a musical voice, possessing both sweetness and varied expression. Their language, in some measure, is thus intelligible even to man, inspiring him with cheerfulness or melancholy. Hence it is, that from among birds the poets have selected their sweetest themes. They are, both poetically and literally, the butterflies of vertebrated animals;
We will come back to what he means in the last bit. The philosophical foundations of quinarianism were introduced by W S MacLeay. His book can be found on the Internet Archive and remarkably, the copy that has been scanned belonged to Thomas Horsfield and was bequeathed to Frederic Moore then presumably to the East India Museum and on to the British Museum. In one place Moore notes that the margin notes in the book are by Horsfield. 

Horae entomologicae : or, Essays on the annulose animals (1819)

MacLeay is very interesting in that he tries to support the entire structure by reconstructing them from more basic principles. Now this was a time when life forms were arranged in a linear scale with man at the "upper" end. MacLeay suggested that this line had to be turned to a circle. So all animals to him were made up by a circle composed of five groups - Acrita, Mollusca, Vertebrata, Annulosa, Radiata - in that order. MacLeay's saw the top level plan of life forms (which he saw merely as matter that had been organized by a vital princple) made up of two circles touching each other and indicating similarities. The stars are placeholders for groups that according to him had not yet been found !
Organized matter organized into circles (Acrita ~ lower animals, Annulosa ~ arthropods, Radiata ~ echinoderms)
Each group then was divided again into smaller circles each again with five groups. Working on in this way and dealing with exceptions and so on he finally reaches on page 318 with this.
 He then goes on to show how his view of the world can be shown to be geometrically isomorphic with Lamarck's branching diagram of groups - " Now this tabic of affinities which is given in page 457, vol. i. of the Histoire Nat. des Animaux sans Vertebres, however confused it may appear, or subramose, as it is termed by Lamarck, coincides with the tabular view which I have laid before the public in the preceding part of this chapter." and further goes on to say that "a progression of some sort does exist, neither believer nor atheist will deny ..."

MacLeay's "province" being in entomology, he then gives the plan of arthropods as :

And to further prove his point he comes up with the idea of analogies (similarities between groups at common positions on contiguous circles) - noting for instance that the Araneidea and the Lepidoptera were similar in the ability to spin silk ! 
Whatever it was, his work was to have a considerable influence on people in other "provinces" such as Swainson with his birds. He finds the analogy that was waiting to be found - "The feathers of birds, soft and imbricate, are perfectly analogous to the down upon the wings of butterflies, and both are disposed in the same manner." Swainson created five groups within the birds which he called the "Orders".
  • The Raptorial (The birds of prey - with retractile claws like that of the cats !)
  • The Incessorial (most passeriformes)
  • The Natatorial (swimmers)
  • The Grallatorial / Tenuirostral (Waders)
  • The Rasorial / Scansorial (fowl)
 Like a good quinarian he gets around breaking each of his orders into 5 sub groups. The raptors he breaks into vultures, falcons and owls. Of the two he is unable to find, one he assigns to - wait a minute - the dodo ! Anyway he is convinced for he can further find those perfect analogies that ought to exist.

The Avocet compared to a racoon Nasua !
The influence of quinarianism was great, with T.C.Jerdon following it in his Birds of India (1862) in spite of Darwin's publication. He was however following a list by George Gray. A reviewer (unidentifiable) in the 1864 Quarterly Journal of Science noted that: 
Dr. Jerdon, however, seems to take a very candid view of Mr. Darwin's theory on other points, though he is of opinion that that distinguished naturalist, "perhaps, lays too much stress on external and fortuitous circumstances as producing varieties, and not enough on the inherent power of change." 
and finally concludes that 
In thus following the phantasies of Kaup, and the mad vagaries of Bonaparte (in his latest writings), we cannot believe that Dr. Jerdon has acted well for his own reputation, nor wisely as regards the class of readers for whom his volumes are specially intended.

Old books, even those that are demonstrably inaccurate, are still worth examining. In going through Swainson's work I found a statement that the only bird with a true "horn" was Palamedea. A little searching identified the bird as the Horned Screamer. It turns out, interestingly, that this horn is not a feather quill but a peculiar cornified structure arising from the skull, which, unlike a feather grows continuously.

PS: For a more sympathetic reading and view of Quinarianism - see:
Novick, Aaron (2016) On the Origins of the Quinarian System of Classification. Journal of the History of Biology 49(1):95-133.

Further reading

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Digital Library of India

 IMPORTANT NOTE (3 May 2015) - The Digital Library of India has a new interface, one that works!
http://www.dli.ernet.in:8080/dlix/
THE FOLLOWING POST WAS WRITTEN IN 2012 AND IS RETAINED FOR HISTORY


This post is about the Digital Library of India, a rather poorly designed website born from excellent intention but languishing in an unusable state in spite of being associated with one of the most enlightened of Indian educational institutions. Attempts to contact them through email seem to produce no response so here goes one more attempt at communication.

The sad thing about this site is that there is actually good material underneath, some of which is not even available on the Internet Archive (although in some cases I have been copying content to that site, reasons for which will become apparent below).

Reactions to the home page, easily improved with a bit of thinking (aloud perhaps and the public can help)
The first page itself appears rather poorly designed, although this is in the same style as some of the NIC designed government sites from northern India. This is rather unfortunate given that this is hosted from perhaps one of India's best educational institutions (IISc). If the first page is a let down (several of the links from the first page including to partner sites in Hyderabad and Noida are dead), the results from a search can be even more annoying. I have no idea how it searches for Indic text but in the case of English it is marginally functional for words in the title but that cannot be said about searches by author. The metadata on the site is often incorrectly spelt making search quite useless. When you do find material, it is a good idea to check on the Internet Archive, the scans made there from American libraries are of a much better quality not to mention with better presentation.

The metadata can often be incorrect in spelling or missing
The results of a search lead to two links - BookReader-1 and BookReader-2 and taking one of these two routes will take you to the point where 99% of the audience will exit the website. Here is what clicking BookReader-1 on my Mozilla Firefox browser does. It tries to download a TIF file (the first page, which is often a blank white page) and it tells me that I need to install certain additional software.

BookReader-1 a deadend for most lay-users
Book reader 2 seems to show a rather promising layout in a new window but that says you need to install Apple Quicktime. I do not think most people will make any headway with this interface.

Exit point 2

Now all this is a terrible pity because it can be easily improved. There are books here that are really rare and worthy of readership. A bit of ingenuity is needed to extract the material. I sometimes take material out and reupload them to the Internet Archive where the website runs an OCR (at least for English or other Latin scripts) to make the text searchable. The Internet Archive does not require any plugins to be installed but it needs JavaScript for the online-reader.

Here are a few tips to getting material from the Digital Library of India.

You need to generate a list of links to the pages for a book. You can easily figure out the format, but for Windows users who do not have the time or ingenuity for it - here is a little utility to help you. In case it does not run, you might need to install the VB runtime which you can get on the Microsoft website. If you see errors about comdlg32.ocx missing, follow instructions here. Now run this application. Right click and copy the link indicate in front of BookReader-1 above (it says "click here" - but do not).

Copy the BookReader-1 link into this and create a list of links into a text file
Now click "Make Download list" to generate a list of links in a text file. You then give this list to a download manager - I use Free Download Manager

Provide the list of downloads to Free Download Manager

Ensure that you download all the files to a directory of your choice. Once you are done downloading the files, which might take time, you can see the TIF image files of each page. You could use any image viewer to go through them and IrfanView is a good option. If you are more savvy, you can convert all the page files into a single PDF or other favourite file format.

If you make a PDF out of it you can upload them to the Internet Archive as I sometimes do. Examples include a translation of the Gajasasthra or a work on the Sanksrit names of Indian birds by Raghuvira. These are little-known pamphlets published on a small scale in India and therefore not easily available. They are what scholars in the western world would call grey literature, but it does not have to be that. The quality of the scans on the site is poor. Indeed the Digital Library of India could well do a good job of scanning material in colour and use more modern loss-less formats like JPEG2000 which allow for streaming at variable levels of detail. According to a 2006 paper describing the project - getting books to scan is hard. Now it makes all the more sense to make a good copy. The project people only need to learn from the incredibly well-done and large scale Biodiversity Heritage Library. The cost of doing all this scanning is ultimately far less than actually trying to acquire printed material in the public libraries across India. If one argues that the site is indeed a library, one could even surmount certain problems with the copyright act. After all libraries are allowed to loan books to their customers without paying extra royalty to the authors. The principle of first sale could then perhaps be applied. Learning about the current amounts spent by government public libraries, the kind of books purchased and the quality of service provided will only serve to pain any citizen with a conscience.

The Digital Library of India is thus an amazing resource but it can easily be run in a way that could be of use. The site could use some expertise on copyrights - a lot of material may not technically be copyright free but it would seem like they are using the principle that orphaned works are ok to copy. Now that is indeed a very good idea but it would be even better if they legitimized it by working with the lawyers who amend the Copyright Laws. The Indian Copyright Law stands in contravention of the spirit of the RTI Act. The RTI Acts says that all information generated by public bodies be made available through the cheapest medium while the Copyright Act happily goes on to state that all Government works will remain copyrighted for 70 years. Personal attempts to point this out to a law-related organization in Bangalore that proposed amendments to the Copyright Act failed and comments on an NIC website seeking feedback on the proposed Copyright Act amendments also reached nowhere. If ever the government can clean up its act (or Acts), it should scan up all the material in its public libraries, state archives and government bodies and put them all in a digital library apart from being a storehouse of born-digital documents and other material produced as it functions. I am sure they can easily work at the same scale as the Internet Archive. Attempts to communicate with even enlightened organizations like the IISc that host the Digitial Library of India seem to be useless. So perhaps we just have to trudge along and make improvements the hard way by fixing things as mere individuals.

Some other digital libraries