THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Asian and African studies blog

17 September 2018

15,000 images of Javanese Manuscripts from Yogyakarta now online

The Javanese Manuscripts from Yogyakarta Digitisation Project, generously supported by Mr S P Lohia, aims to digitise 75 manuscripts from Yogyakarta now held in the British Library, and provide free online access through the British Library’s Digitised Manuscripts website. Full sets of the digital images will also be presented to the Archives and Libraries Board of Yogyakarta (Badan Arsip dan Perpustakaan DIY) and to the National Library of Indonesia (Perpusnas) in Jakarta. Six months after the official launch of the project at the British Library on 20 March 2018 by Sri Sultan Hamengku Buwono X, over 15,000 images from 35 manuscripts are now accessible digitally, with all 75 manuscripts scheduled for full online publication by March 2019.

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Opening pages of Bratayuda kawi miring, copied by Wongsadirana of Tanggung, probably before 1797. British Library, MSS Jav 4, ff. 2v-3r Noc

Shown above is one of the newly-digitised manuscripts, a copy of Bratayuda kawi miring (MSS Jav 4), the 18th-century retelling in modern Javanese of the Bratayuda, the Old Javanese version of the Mahabharata composed in the 11th century. Other manuscripts now accessible online, pictured below, are historical works such as Serat Sakondar (Add 12289) recounting the coming of the Dutch to Java; Serat Jaya Lengakara Wulang (Add 12310), containing ethical and mystical instruction interwoven with the story of the wanderings of Prince Jayalengkara; and a primbon, a personal compilation of texts on religious matters, often of an esoteric nature (Add 12311). The 75 manuscripts to be digitised were identified by Prof. Merle Ricklefs as originating from Yogyakarta, and include 61 manuscripts believed to have been taken from the library of the Kraton of Yogyakarta by the British in 1812. For a full list of the manuscripts to be digitised, click here.

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Serat Sakondar. British Library, Add 12289, ff. 2v-3r Noc

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Serat Jaya Lengakara Wulang. British Library, Add 12310, ff. 5v-6r Noc

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Punika sĕrat Primbon Palintangan Palindon Pakĕdutan. British Library, Add 12311, ff. 139v-140r Noc

Over the past few months, conservators, photographers, curators and digital technicians have been hard at work on the Javanese Manuscripts from Yogyakarta Digitisation Project. Conservator Jessica Pollard has checked every single manuscript, ensuring the volumes can be opened for photography without causing any damage. Creased pages have been flattened, tears repaired and bindings secured, to enable the manuscript to be digitised safely. 

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Left: Jessica Pollard at work in the British Library Conservation Centre; Right: repairing a tear across a drawing of a wayang figure.

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Top image: severe insect damage in a manuscript of Javanese wayang texts; bottom image: the same manuscript, after repair by Jessica. British Library, MSS Jav 20

From the Conservation Centre the manuscripts go on to Carl Norman in the Imaging Studios for photography. Each page is arranged to lie as flat as possible, with the rest of the book secured by velcro-bands, and with the spine supported adequately. Due to the complications of mounting the manuscript, Carl first photographs all the left-hand pages, and then turns the volume round and photographs all the right-hand pages. When the whole volume has been photographed, the images are interfiled, so the pages can be read in sequence.

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Carl checking the focus on the camera, with a Javanese manuscript set up for photography.

Many Javanese manuscripts have scribal or editorial corrections or amendments, which are sometimes written on separate pieces of paper which are then sewn onto the page at the intended point of insertion. Such pages present a real challenge for Carl: in order to photograph the manuscript so that all the text is legible, the page has to be photographed several times, with the sewn-on inserts folded in different directions to reveal the lines underneath.

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Bratayuda kawi miring, 1797: f. 266v has an insert sewn onto the left hand page, and Carl has had to photograph this page three times in total, in order to show all the text. British Library, MSS Jav 4, f. 266v Noc

The images are then passed on to Project Assistant Kate Thomas for quality assurance. Kate checks each digital image, looking at consistency of colour and ensuring that the sequence of images displays correctly. Occasionally she may find that one page has been missed out, or a stray hair might have fallen across the page during photography, and so the manuscript will need to be retrieved and sent back to Carl for the required pages to be re-photographed. Finally, the images are linked up with the catalogue entry, and the manuscript is ‘published’ to the British Library's Digitised Manuscripts website, where it can be read in full, online, all over the world.

Kate
Kate Thomas checking the quality of all the images of each Javanese manuscript, before publishing the manuscript online.

Once the manuscript is live, the project page is updated, and the news disseminated through social media, including the British Library Asian and African Studies Blog, Facebook (Annabel Gallop) and Twitter @BLMalay. So do subscribe to our blog, and follow us for the latest updates!

Annabel Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia

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