The Genre
The history of Bengali children’s books dates back to the early nineteenth century. The immense impact of the newly-introduced printing technology was compounded with the earnest efforts of various missionary agencies and benevolent societies. It was the zealous missionaries who, with their didactic interests, initiated a culture of educational and diverting books for children in Bengal. The new priorities of an expanding empire under a foreign dominion forced radical shifts in the socio-economic dynamics of the traditional indigenous society. Education was one of the earliest sectors to get pushed into a momentum and rapidly headed towards an irreversible and unprecedented change. The nineteenth century, therefore, becomes a crucially important time as the gradual but steady swing from the indigenous village schools to a completely foreign Departmental system, not only changed the institutes, pedagogies and curriculum but also revolutionised the traditional feudal society, creating possibilities of upward mobility through the avenues of a new education. In a changing colonial climate, social, cultural, religious and literary reformations swept through Bengal. Along with and as part of these changes in wider spheres, the concepts of ‘childhood’ and ‘children’s literature’ too came to be reinterpreted and redefined in the course of the nineteenth century.

As a result the boundaries of childhood in nineteenth century Bengal became largely fluid with the markers of the ideal child varying widely from the demure and pious models in Sherwood’s or Edgeworth’s tales to the more light-spirited and playful children in the turn-of-the-century rhyme books. In fact, as the century progressed through the diverse and complex manifestations of the Bengal renaissance, the duration of childhood was stretched and expanded to include the early and the late adolescent years. Therefore the maturity levels of the implied reader in a text designed for children in the 1820s would be vastly different from that of a juvenile publication in the early twentieth century. The books read by Ramtanu Lahiri aged thirteen in 1826 would be a far cry from those read by Punyalata Chakraborty or Nirad C Chaudhuri about seventy to eighty years later. (It would however, be wise to note here that this ‘modern’ juvenile book culture radically affected and redefined the concepts of childhood and pedagogy largely among the urban middle-class and did not have such a sweeping influence in the rural interiors.)
For this project concerning early Bengali children’s books, titles have been selected for documentation following one or more markers of identification that help to label a text as part of children’s or young adult literature. In the more definitive cases, there are intrinsic textual evidences such as an indicative title, a subtitle, a preface or an ‘Announcement’ that help to identify a text as a publication specifically designed for children. Sometimes, a book, a series or a periodical meant for a wider circle of readership includes children as part of its intended audience. In absence of these, for some texts, there are testimonials in publishers’ records, descriptive catalogues and book advertisements. Another major source for identifying books read by children in the past are provided by the ‘evidences’ of reading gleaned from contemporary memoirs and biographical works.

Identification becomes problematic when there are no such textual or extra-textual proofs of a book being specifically directed at and read by children. (Of course as in the histories of children’s literature in other cultures, there are plenty of evidences to indicate that children did read a lot of books that were not meant for them.) In a case like this, the design (typographical features, illustrations etc.), the contents and the language – aspects that reflect the ideas of pedagogy, censorship and childhood implicit in the book, become important pointers that help to locate it as a publication in the juvenile domain.

The images reproduced in this website are mostly digital photographs that had been taken following the guidelines and restrictions of the source libraries and institutions (without damaging the spinal bindings or without using flash). Where such an option for digital imaging was not available, the means of reprographic documentation had been photocopies and print-outs. These were then scanned to be used as images. Such methods obviously could not and did not yield ready to use images. The raw images therefore had to be edited before they could be used for the web pages, but the noise cleaning and the photo re-touches have been limited to a minimum level since it is important that they should reflect and indeed document the vintage quality and the antiquity of the originals.

The website displays representations from a century of Bengali children's books. Apart from the linear navigations in the 'Catalogue' and in the 'In Addition' sections, the titles listed under the former are further searchable by 'Author' (the category includes Editor/Translator/Contributor) and 'Genre'. The thumbnails can be viewed as larger images by clicking on them. Roman transliterations of Bengali words are often problematic and confusing and are hardly made less cumbersome by the use of diacritical markers. For reasons of practical convenience, the website adheres to phonetics and pronunciations rather than following any particular normative chart.

Though undertaken as an individual project, this has been, in actuality, a team venture. The credits for image editing and web designing go to Upal Sengupta while Anumeeta Majumdar and Paramita Ghatak of A.P. Websolutions have taken care of all technicalities related to website development and maintenance.
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