Thursday 8 October 2009

Brian Cox's Jute Journey

Some of the best used and most interesting records held by Archive Services are those that relate to India, in particular the area around Calcutta and in West Bengal. Dundee’s links with India are fairly well known – initially the city imported raw jute which was manufactured in factories in Dundee. Later production moved to India and managers from Dundee were employed to oversee the process. What is not so well known is that the records of these processes, of the trade between Dundee and India and of those employed in the factories in India are held by Archive Services. Details of living conditions, wages, and schemes to provide for the social and physical welfare of Indian and European workers are just some examples of the unique information we hold.

This week BBC Scotland broadcast a programme about the long connection between Dundee and West Bengal that developed as a result of the jute industry. Using the actor Brian Cox (who has featured in a number of Hollywood movies including the fist two Bourne films and X-Men 2) the programme provided insights into the historic reasons for the link between these two very different parts of the world.

During the programme Cox read from a facsimile of an item held here in the Archives - it was a page from the Colloquial Hindustani textbook used by the Scottish expatriates to learn Hindi and, as can be seen from this image, the phrases they were taught reveal much about attitudes towards the local Indian workforce.

The programme can still be seen on the BBC’s iPlayer until the 13th October 2009.

Our collections relating to Dundee's textile’s links with India are of particular historical importance and contain some of the best primary sources that have survived. They have attracted scholars from around the world, including the United States, India, Bangladesh, Switzerland and the Netherlands. Archive Services mounted an exhibition of this material to celebrate the visit of the Indian High Commissioner to the University which can be seen here.

Anyone is welcome to visit the archives to look these fascinating records. We are also interested in hearing from any Dundonians who spent time in India and who might have material relating to their time there. Please email


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