The University of Chicago News Office
June 20, 1995 Press Contact: Josh Schonwald
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The University of Chicago, in collaboration with MOZHI, an Indian trust based in Madras, is opening a new library this spring in Madras

The University of Chicago, in collaboration with MOZHI, an Indian trust based in Madras, is opening a new library this spring in Madras which contains one of the world’s most important collections of books and other items related to Tamil culture.

The library has been named the Roja Muthiah Research Library in honor of Muthiah, who collected most of its documents. Muthiah lived in Kottaiyur, a community near Karaikudi in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

It addition to helping install the collection at the new library, where it will be used by scholars, the University of Chicago will make microfilm copies of many of the materials so that scholars visiting Chicago will also have access to them. The Muthiah collection includes nearly 100,000 rare books, 1,500 journals and newspapers and 500,000 clippings in Tamil.

The director of the library, S. Sankaralingam, is spending two weeks in May in the United States consulting with the University of Chicago and the Library of Congress on methods of preserving the collection.

The University has raised nearly $1 million to purchase the materials and to catalog and microfilm them. Fundraising is underway in India to secure funds to endow the library.

“This is a remarkable set of materials and we are proud to have a role in ensuring it will be available to scholars in India, “ said James Nye, bibliographer of the Southern Asian Collection of the University of Chicago Library.

By microfilming the material, the contents of the collection will be available to scholars who can use it at the University of Chicago, he added.

The library will also include collections in Tamil of two recently deceased University of Chicago Professors, A. K. Ramanujan, a poet who translated into English many Tamil works that introduced Westerners to the literature, and Milton Singer, an anthropologist who was a key figure in introducing Americans to the cultures of South Asia.

About 60 million people worldwide speak Tamil. Besides residents of India, people speak the Tamily languge in Sri Lanka and elsewhere in Asia as well as in the United States.

Roja Muthiah, a great lover of books, died at his residence on June 4, 1992. Working by himself for nearly 50 years, he built up the library and maintained it. Its publications date from 1804 and it contains strong holdings in literature, medicine, folklore, religious texts, women’s studies, music and cinema. The collection also includes other research materials–such as colored lithographs, manuscripts and correspondence–not available in other libraries.

The library will be computer-cataloged and will be equipped with a conservation facility.

The University of Chicago’s interest in the collection comes as a result of the University’s long involvement in South Asian studies. The University was founded in 1892 and since its beginning has offered courses on South Asia.

Currently, 37 faculty members teach subjects related to South Asia. Tamil language and literature have been a major focus of instruction since 1962. In addition to Tamil, research and instruction are conducted on seven classical and modern languages of the region. Graduate students in history, anthropology, political science, religion, psychology, linguistics, musicology and geology use Tamil as an integral part of their research.

The University’s library contains more than 405,000 volumes of books and journals about South Asia. Publications are available in all languages of the region, and the library is considered one of the world’s great resources for the study of South Asia.

The British Library is purchasing copies of the microfilm, except for the medical literature, in order to make it available to researchers in London. The medical texts will available at the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine in London.

MOZHI, a research and documentation center, is a public trust dedicated to developing resources in languages and culture. MOZHI’s facilities in Madras are the site for dictionary compilation, textual analyses, and studies in linguistics and grammar. MOZHI has received support from such international organizations as the Ford Foundation and UNESCO.

Funds for the project have come from the Ford Foundation; the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine, London; the National Endowment for the Humanities; and the U.S. Department of Education.
Last modified at 03:50 PM CST on Wednesday, June 14, 2000.

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