THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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7 posts categorized "Photography"

24 June 2015

Captain Linnaeus Tripe: Photographer of India and Burma

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Unknown Photographer, Portrait of Major-General Linnaeus Tripe (1822-1902), Madras Army, (?)1880s, British Library, Photo 612(1).  noc

Once heard, the exotically-named Linnaeus Tripe is difficult to forget. Yet even in his own lifetime and certainly in the century and more since his death in 1902, appreciation of one of the most accomplished photographers in 19th-century India has been restricted to a limited circle of photographic and architectural historians. A comprehensive survey exhibition of his work, to which the British Library was a major lender, has been on show at the National Gallery of Art in Washington and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York over the past nine months. The third venue of this exhibition, opening at the Victoria and Albert Museum on 24 June, will give British audiences the opportunity to see some 70 examples of his work from Burma and South India.

Tripe entered the Madras Army in 1839, and probably learned photography during his first furlough to England in 1851–53. A small number of photographs taken in England during this period survive and in early 1853 he also became one of the founding members of the Photographic Society of London. But it was his return to India that saw the creation of his first extensive body of work. In late 1854 he travelled across country from Bangalore in the company of another early amateur photographer Dr Andrew Neill to make a detailed photographic survey of the extravagantly sculptured Hoysala temples at Halebid and Belur. These photographs received glowing reviews when they were exhibited in Madras in 1855 and paved the way for a major photographic commission from the authorities in Calcutta.

In the course of three wars of encroachment between 1824 and 1885, the expanding imperial domain of British India swallowed up the Burmese empire. After the conclusion of the second of these conflicts in 1853, it was decided that a mission should be sent to the Burmese capital, high up the Irrawaddy at Amarapura, to attempt to persuade the new Burmese king Mindon Min to ratify a treaty transferring the conquered territory of Pegu to British rule. While no great hopes were entertained for the success of this objective, it was seen as a rare opportunity to gather information about a country hitherto largely closed to western penetration. The Governor-General Lord Dalhousie considered that a visual record of the journey ‘would convey to the Government a better idea of the natural features of the neighbouring Kingdom of Burmah than any written report’ and that ‘sketches of the people and of cities and palaces … would give a life and interest to the future report of the Mission.’ To this end the artist Colesworthy Grant was chosen to accompany the mission (the resulting watercolours are held in the Library’s collections, shelfmark WD540). Photography had also recently begun to be encouraged and sponsored by the East India Company for the documentation of Indian architecture and Tripe, considered ‘very highly qualified in his field’, was also selected for the mission.

The party with its military escort steamed upriver on the Irrawaddy in August 1855, bearing as well as personnel and supplies, 59 crates of gifts designed to impress and gratify an eastern potentate. These included textiles, jewels, candelabra and swords, as well as more diverting amusements such as musical birds, a pianola and a polyrama (a popular optical toy presenting, in this case, dissolving views of Paris by day and night). Scientific instruments, including telescopes and sextants, were selected with the queen in mind, since she was known to be of a ‘scientific turn’ with a particular interest in astronomy. News of photography had by this time also reached the Burmese court and to satisfy the king’s interest in ‘sun pictures’ a complete set of daguerreotype equipment was also to be presented to him. Whether this last give was ever used seems doubtful, however, since Tripe’s attempts at teaching photography to one of the king’s servants were abandoned through lack of time and the man’s ‘desultory’ attendance at the lessons.

In the course of the mission’s journey, and over the six weeks it remained in residence at the capital, Tripe produced over 200 paper negatives of Burmese scenes, which represent photography’s first extensive encounter with Burma. While senior officials negotiated politely but ineffectively with their Burmese counterparts, Tripe produced around 50 photographs of the Burmese capital and the surrounding country. Within a few years Amarapura was to be abandoned in favour of a new capital a few miles upriver at Mandalay and Tripe’s prints constitute a unique documentation of the city and its environs before nature reclaimed its stupas, walls and palaces.

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Linnaeus Tripe, Colossal statue of Gautama close to the north end of the wooden bridge, Amarapura, 1855. British Library, Photo 61/1(46).  noc

Tripe also explored as far upriver as Mingun, photographing King Bodawpaya’s grandiose and crumbling stupa (never completed and severely damaged by the earthquake of 1839). On both the outward and return journey the mission also stopped to survey the great plain of temples at Bagan—monuments of a previous ruling dynasty—and here Tripe made the first photographs of the principal landmarks of the site. As the mission’s secretary Henry Yule later wrote: ‘Pagan surprised us all. None of the previous travellers to Ava had prepared us for remains of such importance and interest.’ Their hurried tour also found time to note the elaborately carved wooden architecture of the monasteries, ‘rich and effective beyond description; photography only could do it justice.’

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Linnaeus Tripe, Carved wooden doorway in the courtyard of the Zhwe Zigong Pagoda, Bagan, 1855. British Library, Photo 61/1(25).  noc

On the mission’s return to India, Tripe set about printing 50 sets of a portfolio of 120 selected Burmese views, a massive labour that was not to be completed until early 1857. Each paper negative had to be individually exposed in a frame in sunlight before developing, fixing and mounting the resulting print on card. To add to his labours, Tripe (or his Indian assistants) meticulously retouched many of the images, improving the appearance of foliage and the skies. The photographic chemistry of the period—predominantly sensitive to the blue end of the spectrum—tended to produce over-exposed and starkly blank skies. To remedy this, Tripe skilfully added skies and clouds by painting directly onto the surface of the negative, a remarkably effective technique that adds character and interest to these subtly toned studies of Burmese architecture. The demands of such work—involving the manual production of more than 6,500 mounted prints—are a striking demonstration of Tripe’s adherence to an aesthetic vision far beyond the requirements of pure documentation.

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Linnaeus Tripe, Jambukeshvara Temple, Srirangam, 1858. British Library, Photo 950(8).  noc

In March 1857 Tripe’s dedication was rewarded by his appointment as Government Photographer of Madras, his principal task being to service the growing demand for reliable visual evidence of India’s architectural heritage—in his own words, to ‘secure before they disappear the objects in the Presidency that are interesting to the Antiquary, Sculptor, Mythologist, and historian.’ In succeeding decades photography was to become a standard tool of record for the work of the Archaeological Survey of India, but Tripe was to be the most distinguished of a small band of photographers who spearheaded these first—often faltering—initiatives.

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Linnaeus Tripe, Entrance to the hill fort at Ryakotta, 1857-58. British Library, Photo 951(3).  noc

In mid-December 1857 Tripe left Bangalore with four bullock-loads of supplies and equipment on a demanding four-and-a-half month tour through rough country that would take him as far south as the great temple city of Madurai, before heading north-east to reach Madras at the end of April 1858. During this great loop through the modern state of Tamil Nadu, he visited and photographed major temple sites (among them Srirangam and Thanjavur), as well as hill forts, palaces and the occasional striking landscape. Among the most remarkable of the 290 negatives from this journey—not least in terms of technical ingenuity—is the 19-foot long panorama, composed from 21 joined prints, recording the inscription running around the base of the Brihadeshvara Temple at Thanjavur.

By August 1858 he was once more at Bangalore, setting up his establishment to print up the results of his travels. With the government’s agreement and subsidy, these were made available in a published series of nine slime folio volumes devoted to specific locations, the pasted-in prints accompanied by descriptive letterpress by several different authors.

Tripe had envisaged a wider and more ambitious photographic project, which as well as architecture would encompass ‘customs, dress, occupations … arms, implements, and musical instruments’ and, where appropriate, ‘picturesque’ subjects. But his employment as Presidency Photographer coincided with the economies imposed in the aftermath of the Uprising of 1857–58. In mid-1859 Sir Charles Trevelyan, recently appointed Governor of Madras, shocked by the expense of such large-scale photographic production, ordered an immediate end to Tripe’s activities, declaring them ‘an article of high luxury which is unsuited to the present state of our finances.’ By the spring of his 1860 his establishment had been wound up and his staff and equipment dispersed.

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Linnaeus Tripe, Trimul Naik’s Choultry, side verandah from the west, Madurai, 1858. British Library, Photo 953/2(2).  noc

The abrupt termination of his appointment, coming at a moment he considered merely the start of his photographic ambitions in India, must have been a bitter blow to Tripe. In response he appears to have abandoned photography entirely, apart from a minor series of views taken in Burma in the early 1870s. But in a photographic career effectively lasting little more than five years, Tripe had created a body of photographs that is now recognised as among the finest architectural work produced in the course of the 19th century. His interpretation of architectural form, revealed in a characteristic use of long receding perspectives and a sometimes near-abstract balancing of light and shade, was accompanied by a rare mastery of the paper negative process. His care in printing has meant that many of his images survive in near pristine condition and allow the modern viewer to appreciate the full beauty of 19th-century photography. Tripe’s original negatives also survive at the National Media Museum in Bradford (two examples are shown in the present exhibition) and detailed accounts of Tripe’s activities in India can be found in the Madras Proceedings of the India Office Records at the British Library. All these sources have been assiduously mined in the production of the exhibition and in Roger Taylor and Crispin Branfoot’s handsomely printed catalogue, which together give full if belated recognition to the sophisticated artistry of a major figure in photographic history.

 

Further Reading

Roger Taylor and Crispin Branfoot, Captain Linnaeus Tripe. Photographer of India and Burma, 1852–1860 (Washington: 2014)

Henry Yule, A narrative of the mission sent by the Governor-General of India to the Court of Ava in 1855; with notices of the country, government and people (London: 1858)

Janet Dewan, The photographs of Linnaeus Tripe : a catalogue raisonné (Toronto: 2003)

John Falconer, India: pioneering photographers 1850–1900 (London: 2001)

The majority of Colesworthy Grant’s watercolours of Burma and Tripe’s photographs of Burma and India can be seen online at http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/onlineex/apac/index.html.

John Falconer, Lead Curator, Visual Arts  ccownwork

 

15 May 2015

The Henry Ginsburg photo collection: an insight into a curator’s life and work

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Henry David Ginsburg (1940-2007), the former Curator of the Thai, Lao and Cambodian collections at the British Library, started work at the British Museum Library in 1967 as a Special Assistant. He spent his entire life conducting research on Southeast Asian arts and cultures, but passed away in 2007 without finishing his last two research projects, on Thai banner paintings and the Chakrabongse Archive of royal letters held at the British Library. Henry Ginsburg left behind a huge collection of books, photographs and art treasures, which he had collected over forty years through personal and professional contacts. He was friends with several members of the Thai royal family, as well as with scholars, private collectors, and colleagues from a variety of institutions all over the world. As a curator Henry was well-known for his specialism in Thai manuscripts and manuscript painting, but his interests and expertise were far broader than this.

Henry Ginsburg was born in 1940 in New York as a son of prominent traders of Jewish-Russian descent who dealt in antique furniture, decorative art and accessories, and textiles. Having grown up in a family that admired the arts and dedicated much of their time to collecting and researching antiquities, he studied Russian and French at Columbia University and began to travel during this time. His first Asian experience was a trip to India in 1963, where he acquired a taste for cultural research. One year later he joined the American Peace Corps in Thailand to teach English in Chachoengsao, an experience which thence set the course of his future life. From this time on Henry started to live on three different continents (Europe, North America and Asia) and his part-time contract with the British Library from 1973 onward allowed him to pursue his own research and travel interests all over the world. 

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Henry Ginsburg (fourth from left) with students in Chachoengsao in the mid 1960s. British Library, Photo 1213(17)

Perhaps influenced by the Ginsburg family’s photographer Aaron Siskind, Henry left a remarkable collection of photographs, which tell the story of his professional life as well as of his own distinctive artistic and travel interests. The earliest pictures are from his visit to India in 1963, where he explored ancient Indian architecture and engaged with local communities: an aspect of Henry Ginsburg’s interests that was not widely known until his photographs were made available for research. Many of the pictures that were taken over a period of more than forty years show that he continued to pursue these interests throughout his life.

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Kanheri archaelogical site, India, mid 1980s, British Library, Photo 1213(387)

The photo collection includes a huge amount of detailed documentation of South and Southeast Asian temples in the 1970s, and particularly of ancient Khmer architecture. One particular benefit of these photographs is that they record the process of reconstruction of these sites over the past decades (for example, Payathonzu temple, shown below, nowadays has a different appearance after reconstruction was carried out).   

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Payathonzu temple, archaeological site, Burma 1967, British Library Photo 1213(1014)

Many photographs did not contain any written information and were difficult to identify. In some cases, we made digital copies of such pictures and shared them with other scholars and researchers to find out more details. This kind of approach helped to establish the identity of a series of photographs depicting a piece of embroidery described later on in this post. However, there remain some photographs which have not been identified so far, for example the stone inscription shown below.  The inscription in this photograph has not yet been read, and the archaeological site where the photograph was taken is also not known; perhaps crowd-sourcing may provide a solution.

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Unidentified stone inscription. British Library, Photo 1213(460)

A smaller number of rare photographs give insights into traditional ways of life in Thailand and India in the 1960s and early 1970s, one of the reasons why travelling to these countries was so popular at the time, including for Henry himself. He was fascinated by the cultural differences and travelled a lot in order to conduct his research. It would be a valid assumption to state that Henry’s research was influenced through direct contact with living traditions and the translation of religion in everyday life. This makes his work very special in comparison with established methods based, for example, purely on textual research.
    
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Traditional Norah dance performer in Southern Thailand, late 1960s. British Library, Photo 1213(233)

One example of this interdisciplinary approach combining anthropology, philology and art history was his research about the Norah dance, which is based on the legend of Sudhana and Manohara. In 1971 Henry wrote his Ph.D. thesis about “The Sudhana-Manohara tale in Thai” at SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies) in London. For the analysis of texts contained in two different manuscripts, he travelled to Southern Thailand, where he also attended a Norah dance performance. The photo above was shot at this time.  

The majority of pictures relate to Henry’s work as a scholar and provide a very good overview of his work at the British Library. There are various photographs of mostly illustrated manuscripts containing texts like Jatakas, Phrommachat, Phra Malai and Traiphum in all kinds of painting styles like 18th and 19th century Thai, Burmese and Khmer styles. These photos could support the comparative study of different artistic interpretations of Southeast Asian literary traditions, without spending too much time travelling, or ordering copies of manuscripts from different institutions in different countries.   

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A 19th century map drawn on cotton showing the coast of Thailand. British Library, Photo 1213(1353)

The image above and the following picture remind us of the roots of Henry Ginsburg. He grew up in a family who were prominent for their knowledge of antique textiles and decorative arts, and he followed this family tradition throughout his entire life. Therefore, he researched and collected antique textiles and other works of art in his spare time.
 
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Tibetan relic cover made from needle-looped patchwork embroidery. British Library, Photo 1213(1485)

As mentioned earlier, the most spectacular piece depicted in a series of pictures from the estate of Henry Ginsburg is this piece of needle-looped patchwork embroidery shown in the picture above. It was a hard job to find out what kind of textile it was or where it originated from. After numerous emails had been exchanged with experts and former friends of Henry’s all over the world, a solution to the mystery was found. The textile artwork shown in the photograph was a Tibetan relic cover, originally perhaps from Suzhou, now held at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. The embroidery shows different influences from all over Asia like the needle-looping technique that can be traced back to 10th century Central Asia and the patches of fine silk from China.

The photo collection of Henry Ginsburg has been fully catalogued now and can be retrieved via the Search our Catalogue Archives and Manuscripts website. The original photographs can be viewed on appointment in the Library’s Asian & African Studies reading room. Thanks to Henry Ginsburg’s passion and work on Southeast Asian manuscripts, arts and cultures the Library holds one of the finest collections of Thai manuscripts. The British Library is grateful to have been given the responsibility to look after Henry Ginsburg’s photo collection as well.   

References:

A guardian of Thai treasures. Henry Ginsburg (1940-2007), A display to mark the 70th anniversary of his birth – 5th November 2010. London: British Library 2010.

Berger, Patricia: A stitch in time. Speculations on the origins of needle-looping. In:  Orientations, The magazine for collectors and connoisseurs of Asian art, vol. 20 no. 8 (August 1989).

Henry Ginsburg. The Telegraph, 11 April 2007.

Ginsburg, Henry: The Sudhana-Manohara Tale in Thai: a comparative study based on two texts from the National Library, Bangkok, Mat Wachimawat, Songkhla. Ph.D. Thesis, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.  

Ginsburg, Henry: Thai Art and Culture. Historic Manuscripts from Western Collections. London: British Library 2000.

Anne Gruneberg, M.A., Freiburg, Germany  ccownwork

Anne is a historian and anthropologist who recently graduated from the University of Freiburg. She volunteered for six weeks at the British Library in early 2015 to catalogue and research Henry Ginsburg’s photo collection. This blog article is a summary of her work.

Update:

Since the publication  of this blog post, Nicolas Revire, lecturer at Thammasat University in Bangkok, has kindly helped to identify the stone inscription depicted in Henry Ginsburg’s photograph mentioned above. It is a detail of an inscribed Dharmacakra originally from Si Thep, now held in the collection of the Newark Museum, which has been published by Robert L. Brown in his book The Dvaravati wheels of the law and the Indianization of Southeast Asia (Leiden/New York/Cologne: Brill, 1996; pp. 106-108) and, more recently, in John Guy's catalogue  Lost Kingdoms, Hindu-Buddhist sculpture of early Southeast Asia  (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2014; cat. 122). The inscription in Pali is a phrase from the Buddha’s first sermon about the Four Truths of Buddhism.

05 December 2014

George Percy Churchill’s Biographical Notices of Persian Statesmen and Notables

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In 1906, the Government of India Foreign Department published (and republished in 1910) an index of prominent Qajar statesmen, compiled by George Percy Churchill, Oriental Secretary at the British Legation in Tehran. According to Cyrus Ghani, this collection of notes and genealogical tables, entitled Biographical Notices of Persian Statesmen and Notables, is the only document of its kind and serves an ‘indispensible source to ascertain who the British held in high regard and who they considered to be pro-Russian or independent’ (Ghani, pp. 78-79). Indeed, the importance of the work is attested to by numerous references in monographs and in entries in, for example, the invaluable reference tool Encyclopædia Iranica.

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Left: 'Biographical Notes' (British Library, IOR/R/15/1/746)
Right: 'Biographical Notices of Persian Statesmen and Notables', 1910 (British Library, IOR/L/PS/20/227)
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Copies of the Biographical Notices are available in the records of the India Office and Foreign Office held at the British Library and National Archives respectively. Only three further copies appear to be held in libraries at Bamberg, Cambridge and Canberra, though a 1990 translation into Persian is more widely available (Mīrzā Ṣāliḥ, 1990).

Churchill’s Draft Text
However, a little-known manuscript draft of the Biographical Notices exists in the archive of the Bushire Residency, a part of the India Office Records (‘Biographical Notes’, IOR/R/15/1/746), and is now digitised and available online.

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Manuscript note in 'Biographical Notes' (British Library, IOR/R/15/1/746, f. 3v)
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In a signed note (f. 3v), Churchill remarks that he compiled his work from a variety of sources, in particular from Lieutenant-Colonel H. Picot’s, Biographical Notices of Members of the Royal Family, Notables, Merchants and Clergy (1897), which he endeavoured to update and amplify. The draft has the appearance and feel of a scrap-book, with cut-outs of entries from Picot’s work and other printed reports, juxtaposed with up-to-date information written in Churchill’s own hand, as well as seal impressions, signatures, photographs and other elements pasted in.

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'Tree of the Royal Kajar House' (British Library, IOR/R/15/1/746, ff. 28v-29r)
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In addition to the biographical entries, the draft includes an impressive hand-written genealogical ‘Tree of the Royal Kajar House’ (ff. 28v-29r); a list of words used in the composition of Persian titles (ff. 4r-5v); a list of Persian ministers, provincial governors and others receiving Nowruz greetings in 1904 (ff. 33v-34r); and a list of the principal of Persian diplomatic and consular representatives (ff. 30v-31r). Appearing on folios 32v-33r, quite incidentally with notes written on the back, is a seating plan for a dinner of the Omar Kháyyám Club on 23 November 1905.

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Seating plan for the Omar Khayyam Club Dinner, 23 November 1905 (British Library, IOR/R/15/1/746, ff 32v-33r)
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An Abundance of Seals
What stands out most in Churchill’s draft is the abundance of seal impressions – over 300 of them –  that appear to have been cut out from Persian correspondence and envelopes. These appear next to the biographical entry of the seal owner, and, in some cases, a single entry is accompanied by multiple seal impressions reflecting the use of different seal matrices at different dates and containing personal names or official and honorific titles. In addition, there are three clusters of seal impressions that are not associated with specific biographical entries, and these include seals of Qajar rulers, such as Fath ‘Ali Shah (r. 1797-1834) and Muhammad Shah (r. 1834-1848), as well as other Qajar statesmen.

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Draft entry and print entry for Arfa' ud-Daulah (British Library, IOR/R/15/1/746, f. 66v; IOR/L/PS/20/227, p. 10)
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Entry for  Mirza ʻAli Asghar Khan Amin us-Sultan in 'Biographical Notes' (British Library, IOR/R/15/1/746, f. 55r)
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Seals Set within Illuminated Frames
Two clusters of seal impressions on folios 2v and 29v contain three examples of seals set in ornately decorated illuminated frames that have been cut out from firmans of Farmanfarma Husayn ‘Ali Mirza, Governor-General of Fars, dated 1229 AH (1813/14 CE). This art form developed in Iran during the later Safavid and Qajar eras, spreading throughout the Islamic world. Annabel Gallop and Venetia Porter note such illuminated framed seals with ‘their own architectural constructs’ or else ‘nestling within a bed of petals, sitting at the heart of a golden flame or sending forth rainbow-hued rays’ (pp. 170-172).

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Seal impressions on folios 2v (left) and 29v (right) from 'Biographical Notes' (British Library, IOR/R/15/1/746)
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Embossed Seals and Printed Stationery
The other cluster of cut-outs found on folio 3r are in fact not ink seal impressions, but impressions of embossed (blind-stamped) seals and decorative printed letterheads of specially-printed stationery. These are variously dated and include those of Amin al-Dawlah and Mas‘ud Mirza Zill al-Sultan, and contain decorative symbols such as laurel reefs, crowns, and the lion and sun national emblem (shir u khurshid).

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A collection of embossed and printed seals in 'Biographical Notes' (British Library, IOR/R/15/1/746, f. 3r)
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Embossed seals made with metal presses came into use in Europe in the latter part of the eighteenth century mainly among companies and institutions, but also by individuals. In the nineteenth century, this practice had become widespread in Ottoman bureaucracy. This collection, taken together with seal presses in museum collections in Iran (Jiddī, p. 75), demonstrates that the practice had become well-established in Qajar administration. Moreover, the embossed seals juxtaposed with traditional ink seal impressions in this volume point towards the ‘changing relations of production and advancing commercialization’ as a result of colonialism and globalisation that affected Islamic diplomatics in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (Messick, pp. 234-235). Indeed, it has been noted that such embossed seals appeared at around the same time as other developments, such as the widening use of printed letterheads and rubber stamps (Gallop and Porter, p. 122).

Photographic Images
A number of the biographical entries are also accompanied by photographs of the subject in official dress. These are found on folio 48 for Mirza ‘Ali Asghar Khan Amin al-Sultan; two cut out photographs of Hakim al-Mulk Mirza Mahmud Khan and one of Hakim al-Mulk Ibrahim Khan on folio 114v; and one of Muzaffar al-Din Shah Qajar (r. 1896-1907) on folio 163v.

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Photographs found in 'Biographical Notes' (British Library, IOR/R/15/1/746)
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The Importance of Churchill’s Work
In one sense, Churchill’s work represents an important work in the context of British colonial knowledge of the political landscape of Qajar Iran at the beginning of the twentieth century. Yet, as has been noted by Gallop and Porter (p. 154), the presence of an abundance of seal impressions reflects the keen eye of an enthusiastic collector. However, we should not necessarily view collecting and colonial intelligence gathering as mutually exclusive fields. As Carol A. Breckenridge has noted: ‘The world of collecting was considerably expanded in the post-enlightenment era. With the emergence of the nineteenth-century nation-state and its imperializing and disciplinary bureaucracies, new levels of precision and organization were reached. The new order called for such agencies as archives, libraries, surveys, revenue bureaucracies, folklore and ethnographic agencies, censuses and museums. Thus, the collection of objects needs to be understood within the larger context of surveillance, recording, classifying and evaluating’ (p. 195-96).

Indeed, seal impressions were collectable not only as objects of Orientalist curiosity and research, but also as the preeminent symbol of personal and political authority, power and hierarchy, as well as ownership. Although Churchill’s collection of seal impressions was absent from the final printed version of the Biographical Notices, the draft text provides researchers with a valuable source for the study of Qajar seals and sealing practices at the turn of the twentieth century, at a time in which the Islamic seal was being replaced by other instruments of textual and visual authority, such as embossed seal and photographs.

 

Primary Sources
British Library: India Office Records and Private Papers, ‘Biographical Notes’, IOR/R/15/1/746
British Library: India Office Records and Private Papers, ‘Biographical notices of Persian statesmen and notables’, IOR/L/PS/20/227
British Library: India Office Records and Private Papers, ‘Persia: biographical notices of members of the royal family, notables, merchants and clergy’, Mss Eur F112/400
The National Archives (TNA), ‘PERSIA: Biographical Notices. Persian Statesmen and Notables’, FO 881/8777X and FO 881/9748X

Further Reading
Carol A. Breckenridge, ‘The Aesthetics and Politics of Colonial Collecting: India at the World Fairs’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol. 31, No. 2 (April, 1989), pp. 195-216
Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, New York, 1996-
Cyrus Ghani, Iran and the West: A Critical Bibliography (London: Kegan Paul International, 1987)
Annabel Teh Gallop and Venetia Porter, Lasting Impressions: Seals from the Islamic World (Kuala Lumpur, 2012)
Muḥammad Javād Jiddī (trans. M. T Faramarzi), Muhrhā-yi salṭanatī dar majmūʻah-i Mūzih-i Kākh-i Gulistān [Royal seals in Golestan Palace Museum collection] (Tihrān, 1390 [2011])
Brinkley Messick, Calligraphic State: Textual Domination and History in a Muslim Society (Berkley, 1993)
George Percy Churchill (trans. Ghulām Ḥusayn Mīrzā Ṣāliḥ), Farhang-i rijāl-i Qājār (Tihrān, 1369 [1990])

 

Daniel A. Lowe, Arabic Language and Gulf History Specialist (@dan_a_lowe)
 ccownwork

26 September 2014

Ernest Cromwell Peake in China

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Among the papers of the Mervyn Peake Archive, which is held by the British Library, is a memoir by Mervyn’s father, Dr Ernest Cromwell Peake. Dr Peake was the first medical missionary to arrive in the region of Hankow, in Hunan province deep in inland China, where he spent the early years of the twentieth century.

The memoir has never before been published, but is now being brought into print by the British Library, making available a new eyewitness account of this crucial, revolutionary period in Chinese history. Dr Peake records his clear-eyed impressions of Chinese culture and politics – including the Boxer rebellion and the overthrow of the Imperial dynasty – while recording his experience of establishing a hospital to serve a people deeply hostile to Western medicine.

The memoir is introduced by Hilary Spurling, the renowned biographer, who explores the connections between Mervyn Peake’s childhood in China and his great Gormenghast novels.

This extract from Dr Peake’s memoir documents his experience of the 1911 Revolution in Hankow.

Leaving Kuling I took passage up-river to join the few doctors in Hankow who were organising aid to the wounded under the Red Cross. On our way we saw grim evidences of the struggle even before we reached our destination. As the steamer approached the city we passed the scene of a recent battle, the dead still lying on the river bank just as they had fallen. Fighting was going on at the time, the rat-tat-tat of the machine guns being plainly audible. Perhaps the most ominous thing of all was the dense column of smoke which ascended from the doomed city, showing that the Imperial troops had already succeeded in setting fire to its out-lying parts.

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Hanow burning. Dr Peake’s photos of revolutionary violence, 1911. © 2014 the Estate of Ernest Cromwell Peake. Reproduced by permission.

The Concessions in Hankow were practically deserted by the foreigners; all the women and children, and many of the men, having escaped down river. But there were vast crowds of Chinese who had fled for refuge into the comparative safety of the foreign settlements. They looked dazed, and moved aimlessly along in an unending stream, carrying their babies and pathetic bundles, not knowing where to find shelter or safety.

In the narrow streets of the native city, which adjoined the British area, savage fighting was proceeding – shooting from the houses and around street corners. The situation in the Settlement was not a pleasant one; for although hostilities were not directed against us, bullets were flying freely all over, and anywhere in the open was dangerous.

I made my way through the stupefied crowds to the residence of a friend, and found that his place functioned as the hastily improvised Red Cross Headquarters. There were several doctors there, both British and American, and I received a warm welcome as an addition to the party. It’s wonderful what companionship will do in critical situations. I remember that we were a cheerful party, in spite of shells whistling over our heads and bursting in the streets. Many of the houses in the Concession were badly knocked about by shell-fire. Not that there was any intention to damage foreign property; but the opposing armies frequently fired at each other over our heads, and from bad marksmanship we were well peppered.

11
Hanow burning. Dr Peake’s photos of revolutionary violence, 1911. © 2014 the Estate of Ernest Cromwell Peake. Reproduced by permission.

That evening a large area of the native city was in flames. Viewed from the roof of the Post Office, one of the highest buildings in the Settlement, it was an appalling sight – one continuous line of fire, some three miles in length by about half a mile in width. On three successive nights we watched the conflagration spread, until it appeared that the whole city was aflame. The only hospitals in Hankow for Chinese patients were the Mission hospitals, and these being situated two on the outskirts of the native city and one in the Concession itself, were mercifully preserved. The furthest was three miles away. Anxiously each night we looked through our glasses, beyond the smoke and the flames, to see if the Red Cross flag was still flying from its roof. 

The hospital of the London Mission was only just beyond the Concession boundary. In an incredibly short time it was crowded with wounded. As the fire crept nearer, and the flames threatened the building, we became anxious about the patients lying helpless inside. It seemed only prudent to evacuate them while yet there was time.

There were 200 cases to be removed from the beds and floors of a building intended for 60. Having no place to which we could take them we were compelled to put them out in the road. So during the night, while doctors were still operating, stretcher-bearers carried them out and laid them on the pavement. Permission was then obtained from the American Episcopal Mission to use their large Church as a hospital ward. The wounded consequently were taken there. We made beds of the pews, turning them face to face and padding them with straw mattresses. They were safe from the fire there at any rate. But then our problems began. Feeding, nursing, sanitation, presented great difficulties. But the hospital staff, and voluntary helpers, rose to the occasion, and ways were found to carry on from day to day. Fortunately it was not for long. Soon after evacuation of the hospital a change in the wind had saved the building, the fire had stopped just short of it, and we were able to move our patients back.

 At this time, when the fighting was so fierce, the casualties were very heavy. They poured in faster than we could deal with them. Day and night the booming of the guns filled the air; and in the streets no man, woman, or child was safe from the rifle fire of the soldiers. Even going the short distance to the hospital was dangerous. I can recall now the ‘zip’ of a bullet as it whizzed past my ear and ricocheted off the brick wall at my side.

Peake in China is available now (hardback, £16.99, ISBN 978 0 7123 5741 8) through the British Library's online shop

Extract and photos copyright © 2014 the Estate of Ernest Cromwell Peake. Reproduced by permission.

12 May 2014

The New Age (Ruzgar-i naw): World War II cultural propaganda in Persian

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Though Iran was officially neutral when war broke out in 1939, many Iranians were sympathetic towards Germany which, they hoped, might liberate them from years of British and Russian oppression. An increasing German presence combined with British concern for continued supplies of Iranian oil led to Operation Countenance, an Allied invasion launched on 25 August 1941. As a result Reza Shah was deposed and replaced by his son Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Iran was forced to abandon its neutral position though it did not actually declare war against Germany until September 1943. From 1941 onwards, British propaganda, published by the Ministry of Information (MOI), played a crucial role. Favouring a cultural approach, the MOI produced items such as the Shāhnāmah cartoons by the artist Kem (see our post ‘The Shahnameh as propaganda for World War II’) and the magazine Rūzgār-i naw, or The New Age which was published quarterly in Persian between 1941 and 1946.

First and last issues
The first and last issues of Rūzgār-i naw dated summer 1941 and spring 1946
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Rūzgār-i naw was published by Hodder & Stoughton in London and Doubleday Doran in New York on behalf of the MOI. It was primarily a cultural and literary magazine. The editor was A.J. Arberry (1905-1969) who had been Assistant Librarian at the India Office from 1934 until war broke out when he was seconded to Postal Censorship for a short period before being transferred to the Ministry of Information. Arberry left the Ministry in 1944 to become Professor of Persian at the School of Oriental and African Studies, but the magazine continued to be published until 1946 when the MOI was dissolved.

Arberry worked closely with a team of specialists drawn from his colleagues at the India Office and the British Museum together with Iranians such as the distinguished scholar Mojtaba Minovi who was working for the BBC Persian Service. Articles covered general cultural topics with a focus on the British contribution to Persian studies and Persian and English literature. Articles on science and technology were also included but nothing on religion or any other subjects which might be regarded as potentially controversial.

Indi Office Reading Room
The Reading Room at the India Office Library. William Hodgesʼ painting ʻA Group of Temples at Deogarh, Santal Parganas, Biharʼ hangs above the fireplace with a poster on the mantelpiece urging readers to save for victory. Note that at 11.35 am. the reading room seems to be quite empty!
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BM reading room
The Reading Room at the British Museum.
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The contents of the first issue were fairly typical of subsequent numbers, containing the following articles: ʻIllustrations to the Khamsah of Nizami in the British Museumʼ, by Lawrence Binyon; ʻThe biggest cities in the worldʼ; ʻNizami: life, work and ethicsʼ; ʻIranian metal-workʼ, by Basil Gray; ʻBibliography of Nizamiʼ, by C.A. Storey; Persian translation by Mojtaba Minovi of the ‘Hound of Heaven’ by the English poet Francis Thompson (1859-1907); ʻThe English constitution part 1: historical introductionʼ; ʻThe India Office Libraryʼ, by A.J. Arberry; ʻThe world of printʼ; ʻBritish wartime exportsʼ; and ʻEnglish successes in industrial researchʼ. Subsequent issues contained a series of English translations of modern Persian poets, Persian translations of modern English poets, descriptions of libraries, articles on China by Lionel Giles as well as one-offs such as ʻPersian language roots in Malay literatureʼ, by Sir Richard Winstedt and ʻThe land of Khotanʼ, by H.W. Bailey.

The mint Khotan
From ‘The land of Khotan’ by H.W. Bailey. This photograph of the Mint in Khotan shows newly printed banknotes spread out on the ground to dry in the sun before being put into use.
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The covers always included coloured photographs, usually of miniatures in the British Museum, copies of which could be obtained free of charge. Apparently (Holman 2005, p. 218), the original photographic blocks were destroyed in the Blitz so copies had to be made from colour postcards. Nevertheless the quality of the paper and printing was good. One of the considerable merits was the large number (about 70 per issue) of black and white photographs (particularly portraits of British orientalists) and art work each issue contained – though attributions were unfortunately hardly ever included.  The first issue had in addition 4 colour plates.

RAS
Famous members of the Royal Asiatic Society: 1. Lord Reay, president 1893–1921; 2. Sir George Staunton; 3. Sir Charles James Lyall; 4. Henry Thomas Colebrooke, director and founder 1823–37 ; 5. Sir Monier Monier Williams; 6. Horace Hyman Wilson, president 1855–59; 7. Sir Henry Rawlinson.
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Illustrated books
An article on contemporary illustrated English books.
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The MOI was concerned that its magazines should appear as commercial publications, hence the price of 1 shilling or 20 cents and the inclusion of advertising. It particularly favoured advertisements which ‘will advance British industrial and commercial prestige’ (Holman 2005, p. 217).

Ruzgar-i naw ads_1000
Some advertisements were especially tailored to the Iranian market, e.g. Michelin tyres advertising new style magic carpets (left) and Columbia recordings of ethnic music (right).
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The magazine was judged sufficiently successful for the Ministry of Information to launch a companion magazine in Arabic in 1943. With the title al-Adab wa al-Fann, it was also published by Hodder & Stoughton who were proud to be associated with it (Holman 2005, p. 217). 15,000 copies of the Arabic magazine were distributed in the Middle East and North Africa and in India and Brazil. In Egypt, the Director-General of the Egyptian State Library in Cairo wrote in Sept 1944 that crowds of readers had been coming to read ‘this valuable magazine’ (Holman 2005, p. 218). It is possible that comparable data for Rūzgār-i naw may be available in the National Archives Kew. At any rate if the MOI was successful in winning over Iranian hearts, they must have been disillusioned a few years later when Britain’s involvement in the coup of 1953 toppled Iran’s democratically elected government and re-instated the Pahlavi regime. Nevertheless, Rūzgār-i naw testifies to a little known phase of Anglo-Iranian history besides being a wonderful resource for photographs of British orientalists.

 

Further reading

Valerie Holman, ‘Carefully Concealed Connections: The Ministry of Information and British Publishing, 1939- 1946ʼ, Book History, vol. 8 (2005), pp. 197-226.
Valerie Holman, ʻKem's Cartoons in the Second World Warʼ, History Today, vol. 52.3  (March 2002), pp. 21-7.
A. Wynn, ‘The Shāh-nāme and British propaganda in Irān in World War IIʼ, Manuscripta orientalia 16/1 (June 2010), pp. 3-5 + back cover.
A.J. Arberry. ʻThe disciple: A. J. Arberryʼ, in Oriental Essays: Portraits of Seven Scholars, London: George Allen & Unwin, 1960,  pp. 233-56.
Encyclopaedia Iranica ‘Anglo-Iranian relations iii: the Pahlavi period’, by R.W. Ferrier; ‘Russia ii: Iranian-Soviet relations (1917-1991)’ by N. M. Mamedova; Great Britain xiii. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), by F. Safiri and H. Shahidi.

On the Ministry of Information, see  ‘Make Do and Mend’: A Publishing and Communications History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-45 a research project at the Institute of English Studies, School of Advanced Studies, University of London.

On 2nd World War German propaganda, see ʻGerman propaganda in Sharjahʼ, by Louis Allday, Gulf History/Arabic Specialist, British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership.

For a pdf of the contents of each issue click here

 

Louis Allday, Gulf History/Arabic Specialist, British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership - See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/asian-and-african/2014/02/the-adviser-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%85%D8%B3%D8%AA%D8%B4%D8%A7%D8%B1-charles-belgrave-and-modern-bahrain.html#sthash.91HZ2Hlb.dpuf

Ursula Sims-Williams, Asian and African Studies
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24 April 2014

Romeo and Juliet in Thai

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If you were in Bangkok about a century ago and you were going to a theatre performance, the last thing you would expect is a play by Shakespeare. But you might be surprised to find out that this was very much a possibility, and it was equally possible to recognise the Thai king as one of the actors on stage.

King Vajiravudh (Rama VI, 1910-25) was a true fan of Shakespeare and translated several of his works into Thai. He also made great efforts to ensure that Shakespeare’s plays found their way into Thai theatres and by doing so he introduced Western/modern forms of theatre into Thailand. He often stood on the stage himself as he had a passion for acting that he had developed as a young student in England. Immediate family members were encouraged to join him on stage.

The Cheltenham Chronicle and Glo’shire Graphic reported on 30 August 1902 about the young Crown Prince Vajiravudh that “the Prince has recently appeared in another role – that of amateur actor and playwright - at an ‘At Home’ at Westbury Court… The stage name of the heir to the Siamese Crown is ‘Carlton H. Terris’, and he actually performed in three plays – ‘In Honour Bound’, ‘Old Cronies’, and ‘The King’s Command’, the latter being from his pen.”      

Vajiravudhcoronation
King Vajiravudh during his coronation ceremony in 1910. Source: Chotmaihet Phraratchaphithi borommaratchaphisek Somdet Phraramathibodi Srisinthon Maha Vachiravut Phramongkutklao Chaoyuhua. Bangkok, 1923, p. 1 (Siam.183)

 

King Vajiravudh was born on January 1, 1881 being the second son and successor of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V). At the early age of 12, he was sent to Sandhurst Royal Military College and then moved to Oxford University to study history, administration and law. Altogether, he spent nine years in England. Following the death of his elder half-brother, Crown Prince Maha Vajirunhis in 1895, Prince Vajiravudh succeeded as Crown Prince and eventually ascended the throne after his father King Rama V deceased on 23 October 1910. He was the first Thai king to be educated abroad. The long time as a student in England had a considerable and lasting influence on his love of literary and performing arts. In many of his works, he emphasised the value of the press, and of reading in general.

 

RomeoJulietThai
Romeo and Juliet in Thai, translated by King Vajiravudh. The book was printed in 1922 and bound in a lavender coloured silk cover embossed with gilt (Siam.279)

 

His most important translations into Thai are Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” (Siam.279), “As you like it” (Siam.330/421), and “The Merchant of Venice” (Siam.275/7). His excellence in this field earned him the name “Maha thiraraja”, meaning “philosopher king”. Due to the fact that many of his contemporaries did not see the purpose in his activities as an author, playwright and actor – the latter being indeed very unusual for a Thai king - he decided to write and perform under different pseudonyms, like for example Si Ayutthaya, Asvabhahu, Tom Toby, or Carlton H. Terris. Altogether, King Vajiravudh used more than 40 pseudonyms (known to date).

 

RomeoJulietThaitext
Beginning of the first act of Romeo and Juliet in Thai, translated by King Vajiravudh (Siam.279, pp. 4-5) 

The publication of Thai literary works and translations of Western literature and theatre plays into Thai reached a first climax with King Vajiravudh as author and translator himself.  He stood out for his considerable contribution to Thai literature and the performing arts, and was the first one to classify Thai theatre into two types, the Khon and Lakhon.

In "A Descriptive Catalogue of the Siamese Section at the International Exhibition of Industry and Labour" (Turin, 1911) he wrote: “The theatre where the Khon and Lakon are performed ... possesses the beautiful simplicity of an ancient Greek theatre ... neither stage nor scenery is required ... Costumes and properties however, are very elaborate, and are made as accurately as possible. The costumes are made to resemble those worn in Siam in olden times, and have not changed during successive generations, because they have been found most picturesque and suitable. Queens or royal personages wear crowns or coronets; others have various kinds of headdresses suitable to their rank and station. Character parts, such as demons, monkeys, or yogis wear distinctive masks of different colours and designs. Each mask is a good example of Siamese decorative art, and is distinctive and characteristic, so that each character may at once be recognized by the mask worn by the actor.” 

In addition to these traditional theatre forms, he helped to popularise modern dance-drama, spoken drama (lakhon phut) and sung drama (lakhon rong) in Siam as a way to prepare the people of his country for the modern world.

The British Library has a collection of over 120 first editions and reprints of King Vajiravudh’s works, including the above mentioned three translations of Shakespeare’s plays into Thai.

Jana Igunma, Curator for Thai, Lao and Cambodian ccownwork

 

Further reading

Paradee Tungtang: Shakespeare in Thailand. PhD dissertation, University of Warwick, 2011 (SFX 537761) 

Walter F. Vella and Dorothy Vella:  Chaiyo! King Vajiravudh and the development of Thai nationalism. Honolulu, 1978 (X.800/32387)

 

17 March 2014

The road to Mandalay

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The name of the British Library is in some ways a misnomer - we hold amazing collections from around the world, as the entries on this blog show. With a global collection that's important to so many people in so many places, comes a responsibility to work to enable people around the world to access the collections. Digitisation can be a wonderful way of enabling anyone, anywhere, to read manuscripts, books, or newspaper, and to see works of art, without having to come to London. Sometimes, library staff also travel, to tell people about our collections and encourage people to find out more about them.

Among the millions of items in the British Library are around 2,000 Burmese manuscripts – one of my favourites is Or.16761. There are also around 20,000 books from Myanmar, as well as photographs, newspapers, and the records of the Burma Office and India Office. We have long been in touch with colleagues in libraries in Myanmar, but last month we were able to do something that hasn't been possible for a number of years: to travel to Mandalay and Yangon, taking with us two displays about our collections.

Or16761_1r
The opening of a 19th century Burmese manuscript illustrating a variety of royal entertainments (Or.16761, ff 1-3r)
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The displays featured two sets of material - photographs taken in Myanmar in the 19th century, and early books printed in, and about the languages of, Myanmar. Because we knew that one of the displays would be outdoors, the displays used images rather than including the original books and photographs, but the high-resolution scans and photographs used meant that the facsimiles could be extremely high-quality, and enabled people to get up close and examine the images in detail. We’ve done similar ‘facsimile’ exhibitions recently – as you can see on previous blog posts – in Kabul and Delhi.
 
LitFest visitors
Visitors at the displays at the Irrawaddy Literary Festival, Mandalay. © British Library

The first venue for the displays was the Irrawaddy Literary Festival, which this year took place in Mandalay. Despite a last-minute change of venue from the Kuthodaw Pagoda to a nearby hotel, thousands of people came to the literary festival. It was probably the first time we've done a display in a car park, but the response from the estimated 3,500 visitors who came to see the Library's displays made all the hard work (and the heat and dust outside) worth it. Many of the photographs and books in the pictures had not been seen in Myanmar before, or not for some years, and people often stopped to ask us questions, or to take photographs of the displays for future reference. Some visitors returned the next day with their friends and families, and at one point a group of tour guides came to see the old photographs of the places to which they regularly took tourists.
 
Monks
Two monks getting up close to see the details of the old photographs. © British Library
 
After a busy three days, we packed up the displays and drove to Yangon, to set up in our second venue: the Universities' Central Library on the main campus of the University of Yangon. The campus has been closed for years, and only recently reopened to students, but there's already significant investment in improving the facilities, and rejuvenating the campus and faculties. The Universities' Central Library has its own hugely important collection of books and manuscripts, and cases in the marble-clad lobby showing some of these. After we had been treated to a tour of the library and its collections, we installed the displays in lobby and welcomed friends old and new to the opening ceremony.

UCL staff
Staff of the Universities’ Central Library previewing the exhibition before the opening ceremony. © Universities’ Central Library

UCL visitors
Students and other visitors enjoyed the displays at the Universities’ Central Library. © Universities’ Central Library
 
Thousands of visitors came to see the displays in Yangon, and we’ve left the panels there, so it’s possible that they will be shown again in the future, perhaps in other venues. Meanwhile, we're starting to think about what's next - and looking forward to future projects in partnership with our colleagues in Myanmar, whether they involve digitisation, displays, or something else entirely. Watch this space!


Catherine Eagleton, Asian and African Studies
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