The Ephemeriad Project is an online archive of ephemera with a threefold approach – archiving of valuable and interesting ephemera, making them accessible, and including academic resources to encourage research on them.
When I launched the online archive in October 2020, the initial set of ephemera included items from my private collection – a Certificate of Posting of India Postage from 1951, a vintage writing pad of the brand Queen’s Velvet by John Dickinson from the 1950s, a vintage tobacco label of Prince Henry, and a Chinese umbrella label from Hangzhou Paradise Umbrella Factory from 1990.
The collection added two more items from contributions in December – a theatre pamphlet of the Purbasha Theatre Club from 1952 contributed by Shrubaboti Bose and a vintage lipstick container of Pond’s contributed by Laboni Mukherjee. A few more items are already in the queue for archiving on the website.
Currently, the accessibility aspect of the ephemera is fulfilled through textual descriptions of the visual data of the ephemera so that visually disabled people can listen to the descriptions using screen-reading software. I plan to include audio clips of the descriptions for better access in the future. Along with the uploaded ephemera, I always try to include links to academic resources so that interested readers can look them up for further information and research.
The initial idea, in 2018, was to launch an online archive of antique objects where people would contribute images of antique and vintage objects lying about their own houses. The project was delayed because of other engagements. I revisited it in 2019 while working on my MA dissertation on Swedish matchbox ephemera. I decided to narrow down the focus to antique ephemera and include the academic as well as accessibility aspects.
I finally launched the project on October 30, 2020, after designing the logo and adding my additional code to the website. I announced the launch of the project on the same day at the ‘digital + humanities e-Symposium’ of the University of Kent, UK while presenting a talk on digital humanities and accessibility.
The very transitory nature of ephemera as objects meant to be used temporarily and not stored forever makes them valuable as objects of antiquarian interest. The praxis of the project lies in doing the very opposite of what ephemera entails and hopes to provide a peek into the cultural heritage and history of the past to which these objects were related.
The term ‘ephemera’ can include a broad range of objects from old pamphlets and newspapers to postage stamps and related materials to tobacco labels and more. The project attempts to archive images of this broad range of objects which can serve as reminders of the culture and industries of the past.
By including textual descriptions of the ephemera, the project also hopes to encourage the visually disabled researchers to use them as elements in their research if needed.
Commenting on the project, Ishan Chakraborty, Assistant Professor, Department of English, Jadavpur University, says: “Whenever we talk about accessibility vis-à-vis disability, it’s often limited to ramps and removal of physical barriers. But to think of accessibility in the broadest sense of the term, a lot more has to be included. It’s usually understood that visual arts can’t be accessed by the visually disabled and therefore not considered important enough to be made accessible. Very few projects consider the importance of accessibility.This project aims to make visual content accessible to the visually disabled and is definitely a good initiative to take accessibility beyond the limits of mere tokenism.”
The archive has tried to broaden the scope of ephemera by including non-conventional items and hopes to add more with time. The archive is open to image contributions related to queer histories as well as those related to critical junctures, events and histories of marginalities, including, but not limited to, caste, class, gender and dis/ability.
The project is parallelly archived on the WaybackMachine to ensure that the collection remains even if the project or I cease to be. The contribution policies have also been designed to be transparent to ensure proper credit to the image contributors.
The project is self-funded but is conditionally open to institutional collaborations. The archive website is hosted at www.ephemeriad.com and maintains its social handles on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Tumblr.
Through this project I hope to rekindle interest in old ephemeral objects not just for research but also for enthusiasts and history buffs so that they can visit (and revisit) slices of the past which is otherwise lost but for these transitory textual and visual materials.
The project is an attempt at contributing to the field of digital humanities and bringing archival material within the reach of all.I hope to expand its scope in the coming days, and would love to connect with contributors at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the main photo: A screenshot from the Ephemeriad Project website. All photo credits: Subhradeep Chatterjee