Asian and African studies blog

News from our curators and colleagues

Introduction

Our Asian and African Studies blog promotes the work of our curators, recent acquisitions, digitisation projects, and collaborative projects outside the Library. Our starting point was the British Library’s exhibition ‘Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire’, which ran 9 Nov 2012 to 2 Apr 2013. Read more

08 April 2024

After three decades of pioneering research, the IDP launches a new and improved website

The International Dunhuang Programme (IDP) has launched a new website, where you can view over 150,000 Central and Eastern Asian collection items and explore the history and cultures of the Silk Roads through new and expanded learning resources. The launch also coincides with the 30th anniversary of the IDP.

IDPMosaic

What is the IDP?

The IDP partnership was established in 1994 as the International Dunhuang Project, with the aim of improving access to materials from the Central and Eastern Silk Roads and promoting a better understanding of one of the world’s most important trade networks of the ancient world. With the Secretariat based here at the Library, the IDP was the first of its kind in this area of research.

What you can access

Over its 30 years, this pioneering international collaboration has made the metadata and images of over 35 collaborating institutions around the world accessible on a digital platform and database.

The Programme also promotes a more in-depth understanding of the Silk Roads through learning resources that explore relevant themes such as Buddhism along the Silk Roads, Chinese astronomy, and ancient bookbinding techniques. Watch a lecture on Mapping the Sky in Ancient China, discover the process of conserving and digitising fragile items or read about collection highlights on the blog.

IDP partner institutions also organise projects to preserve and increase access to these materials, such as the Lotus Sutra Manuscripts Digitisation Project and the ‘New Shelfmark’ Digitisation Project.

Cave 17 Mogao caves photographed by Stein in 1907
A composite photograph of Cave 16, with the entrance to Cave 17 in the right corner (image from Sir Aurel Stein’s Serindia). Photo 392/56(82). Public domain

ImageViewer
The website’s newly improved image viewer, depicting the Diamond Sutra. Or.8210/P.2. Public domain

What’s new on the website 

Described as ‘big progress in the field of digital archiving’ (Digital Orientalist), the new IDP website has enhanced many features used by experienced researchers and the general public alike, making it a beacon for new standards in user access and interoperability.

We’re most excited about the new search engine which offers improved accuracy and relevance of keyword search results, as well as the choice between two image viewers, both with the ability to deep zoom into high quality images of collection items.

Read the IDPs latest blog post for a thorough overview of the key features that have been introduced.

But you don’t have to be an expert to learn about the Silk Roads. As well as the collection images themselves, anyone can explore and enjoy our new content, including recorded lectures, learning resources and articles on various topics, with more to be released in the months ahead.

What’s next?

Over the past two years, the IDP website team has worked closely with developers Surface Impression and Knowledge Integration, through the generous support of The Polonsky Foundation. We will continue to roll out new features and tools that support further research with these materials.

Please note that not all content is currently available online, and the IDP will continue to upload metadata, images, and learning modules in the coming months. You can follow the IDP’s account on X for updates as new resources become available.

Elspeth Williams and Anastasia Pineschi, International Dunhuang Programme
CC-BY

26 February 2024

Restoring access to the British Library’s Asian and African Collections

Following the recent cyber-attack on the British Library, the Library has now implemented an interim service which will enable existing Registered Readers to access some of our printed books and serials and a significant portion of our manuscripts. This service will be expanded further in the coming weeks. 

We understand how frustrating this recent period has been for everyone wishing to access our Asian and African Collections and we would like to thank you for your patience. We are continuing to work to restore our services, and you can read more about these activities in our Chief Executive's post to the Knowledge Matters blog. 

The Using the Library page on our temporary website provides general information on current Library services, and advice for those without an existing Reader Pass. Please read on for information about the availability of specific Asian and African collections. 

 

Printed books and serials 

You can now search for printed items using a searchable online version of our main catalogue of books and other printed material. Online and advance ordering is unavailable, so Registered Readers will need to collect a paper order form from staff in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room and fill in the required details. Please write the shelfmark exactly as it appears in the online catalogue. 

Only a small portion of the printed books and serials in the Asian and African Collection will be available for consultation in the Reading Room. Unfortunately, we cannot guarantee availability of any printed items. Materials stored in Boston Spa are current unavailable, and items stored in our St. Pancras location might be in use by another Reader or restricted for other reasons. If you wish to gain greater assurance on the availability of a particular item before you visit us, please contact our Reference Services Team by emailing [email protected].

 

Manuscripts and archival documents 

Although the Library’s online catalogue of archives and manuscripts is not currently available, the Reference Services Team can assist with queries about these collections, checking paper catalogues and other sources. Please speak to the team in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room or email [email protected] Some of our older printed catalogues have been digitised and made available online without charge. For quick access to the digitised catalogues of manuscript and archival material, or to online repositories of images, please make use of the links below:

Africa 

Catalogues 

 

East Asia 

Catalogues 

Digitised Content

Middle East and Central Asia 

Catalogues 

Digitised Content

South Asia        

Catalogues    

Digitised Content

South-East Asia

Catalogues

Digitised Content

Visual Arts (Print Room)

Catalogues

Digitised Content

Microfilms

 

 

 

Africa 

 

East Asia 

Chinese 

Japanese 

  • CiNii Books - National Institute of Informatics (NII), a bibliographic database service for material in Japanese academic libraries including 43,000+ British Library books and periodicals. Please use FA012954 in the Library ID field 

Korean 

 

Middle East and Central Asia 

  • FIHRIST (Largely Persian, but also includes some Kurdish, Pashto, and Turkic materials) 

 Arabic 

Armenian 

Coptic 

Hebrew  

Persian 

Syriac  

Turkish and Turkic  

 

South Asia 

Early printed books:

South Asian language manuscript catalogues:

Bengali and Assamese 

Hindi, Panjabi and Hindustani

Marathi, Gujrati, Bengali, Assamese, Oriya, Pushtu and Sindhi 

Oriya 

Pali 

Sanskrit and Prakrit 

Sinhalese 

 Tibetan 

 

South-East Asia 

Burmese 

Indonesian

Thai 

  

Access to some archival and manuscript material is still restricted, but the majority of special collections held at St Pancras are now once again available. Our specialist archive and manuscripts catalogue is not online at the moment so you will need to come on-site to our Reading Rooms, where Reading Room staff will be able to help you search for what you need, and advise on its availability.

To place a request to see a manuscript or archival document, Registered Readers need to collect a paper order form from staff in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room and fill in the required details, including the shelfmark (manuscript number). The Library has created an instructional video on finding shelfmarks.  

 

Visual Arts 

The Print Room, located in the Asian and African Reading Room, is open by appointment only on Monday and Friday between 10.00 am-12.30 pm. Prints, drawings, photographs and related visual material in the Visual Arts collection can be consulted by appointment. Please contact the Visual Arts team via email (apac[email protected]) to check the availability of required items and to book an appointment. Please note that advanced booking is required. Restricted items including the Kodak Historical Collection, Fay Godwin Collection, William Henry Fox Talbot Collection are not currently available to Readers. 

 

Microfilms 

The Reference Services Team in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room has a list of microfilms of printed and manuscript materials. 

 

Digital resources 

A number of our early printed books are available on Google Books. 

We regret that our digitised manuscripts and electronic research resources are currently unavailable. Nevertheless, some of our digitised manuscripts are available on external platforms: 

East Asia 

Middle East 

  • Digital Edition of the Coptic Old Testament, including leaves of British Library Coptic papyri interwoven with images from other institutions  
  • Ktiv (Manuscript Database of the National Library of Israel), including all digitised Hebrew manuscripts from the British Library
  • Qatar Digital Library, including digitised Arabic manuscripts from the British Library

South Asia 

  • Jainpedia, including digitised Jain manuscripts from the British Library

South-East Asia 

  • South East Asia Digital Library, including a collection of digitised rare books from South East Asia held at the British Library 
  • National Library Board, Singapore, digitised Malay manuscripts and Qur'ans, papers of Sir Stamford Raffles, and the accounts by Colin Mackenzie on Java held at the British Library
  • Or 14844, Truyện Kiều (The tale of Kiều) by Nguyễn Du (1765-1820), the most significant poem in Vietnamese literature 
  • Or 15227, an illuminated Qurʼan,19th century, from the east coast of the Malay Peninsula
  • Or 16126, Letter from Engku Temenggung Seri Maharaja (Daing Ibrahim), Ruler of Johor, to Napoleon III, Emperor of France, dated 1857
  • Mss Jav 89, Serat Damar Wulan with illustrations depicting Javanese society in the late 18th century
  • Or 14734, Sejarah Melayu (Malay annals), dated 1873
  • Or 13681, Burmese manuscript showing seven scenes of King Mindon's donations at various places during the first four years of his reign (1853-57) 
  • Or 14178, Burmese parabaik (folding book) from around 1870 with 16 painted scenes of the Ramayana story with captions in Burmese 
  • Or 13922, Thai massage treatise with illustrations, 19th century 
  • Or 16101, Buddhist Texts, including the Legend of Phra Malai, with Illustrations of The Ten Birth Tales, dated 1894 
  • Or 16797, Cat treatise from Thailand, with illustrations, 19th century 
  • Or 4736, Khmer alphabet, handwritten by Henri Mouhot, c.1860-1 

Visual Arts 

 

We thank you, once again, for your patience as we continue to work to restore our services. Please do check this blog and the temporary British Library website for further updates. 

 

 

30 October 2023

Joseph Gaye (1852-1926) photographic views of the Kathmandu Valley and India donated to the British Library

This blog post is written by Susan Harris, our Cataloguer of Photographs, working on the British Library’s Unlocking Hidden Collections project. This initiative aims to process, research and catalogue the Library’s hidden collections, making them more accessible to researchers and the public.

In May 2023, the descendants of amateur photographer Joseph Gaye (1852-1926) donated a collection of photographic material of his views of the Kathmandu Valley and India taken between 1888 and 1899 to the British Library. Joseph's descendant Mary-Margaret Gaye and her husband Doug Halverson spent many years researching Joseph's career in South Asia and identification of his views. We are most grateful to Mary-Margaret and Doug for making this collection available for researchers documenting the transformation of Kathmandu before the earthquake of 1934. Their publication is listed in the bibliography below.

Joseph Gaye was born in Northfleet, Kent, in 1852. At 18, he enlisted with the 4th Battalion of the Rifle Brigade and went to India as a rifleman in 1873. Gaye left the army after completing his 12-year enlistment term in 1882 to lead several Indian military bands. In 1888, he, with his wife, Mary Elizabeth Short, moved to Kathmandu, Nepal, where he served as bandmaster to the Royal Nepalese Army under Maharaja Bir Shumsher Jung Bahadur Rana. In 1892, he became a bandmaster in turn to three viceroys of India (Marquess of Lansdowne, Earl of Elgin, and Lord Curzon of Kedleston) before returning to England in 1899. In 1905, Gaye and his four sons moved to Canada, where he died in 1926 in Lemberg, Canada. From 1888 to 1899, he produced photographs of Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley, Burma and India; these were among his possessions, along with a large studio camera, at the time of his death.

The Joseph Gaye collection is an exciting addition to the British Library, containing 91 glass negatives, five cellulose negatives and 32 albumen prints, primarily of the Kathmandu Valley, with a few from India. The subjects vary from architecture and landscapes to street scenes and people, including portraits of his family. Gaye’s photographs provided a unique insight at a time when few foreigners were allowed into Nepal.

Here are a few highlights from the collection of Nepal’s architectural monuments, some that remain today and others that have disappeared due to natural disasters or urban development:

A crowd of curious onlookers gathered before a building on the southwest corner of the Hanuman Dhoka Darbar complex in Kathmandu Durbar Square (fig.1). The building, from 1847, was the original Gaddhi Baithak, a palace used for coronations and for meeting foreign heads of state. It was in the Newar style with influences from the Mughal architecture of northern India. A western façade, as seen in the photograph, was probably added later. Prime Minister Chandra Shumsher Jung Bahadur Rana (1863-1929) of Nepal,  replaced it in 1908 with the neo-classical building that exists today.

A crowd in front of the western facade of the original Gaddhi Baithak
Fig.1. A crowd in front of the western facade of the original Gaddhi Baithak, Basantapur Durbar Square, Kathmandu. Taken by Joseph Gaye, 1888-1892. Albumen Print, 155 x 105 mm. British Library, Photo 1424/3(17).

Patan Durbar Square, in the city of Lalitpur, is one of the three Durbar Squares in the Kathmandu Valley; it has been through two significant earthquakes in 1934 and 2015. Gaye capture the square before these earthquakes, looking south, towards a crowd of observers and a line of temples and statues (fig.2). John Alexander Dunn, an Officer of the Geological Survey of India (GSI), also took a photograph (fig.3) of the square, looking north, after the 1934 earthquake. The only recognizable landmarks still standing are the statue of Garuda, the Krishna Mandir and the Vishwanath Temple with the elephants in front.

View of the Patan Durbar Square, Lalitpur, looking south
Fig.2. View of the Patan Durbar Square, Lalitpur, looking south. From the left: Krisnhna Mandir Temple (Chayasim Deval), the Taleju Bell, the Harishankar Temple, King Yoga Narendra Malla’s Column, Narasimha Temple, Vishnu Temple, Char Narayan Temple, Garuda statue, the Krishna Mandir and the Vishvanath Temple. Taken by Joseph Gaye, 1888-1892. Albumen Print, 155 x 105 mm. British Library, Photo 1424/3(8).

Darbar Square, Patan, Nepal [after the 1934 earthquake].
Fig.3. Darbar Square, Patan, Nepal [after the 1934 earthquake]. Taken by J.A. Dunn, January 1934. Albumen Print, 83 x 111 mm. British Library, Photo 899/2(4).

Gaye captured a winding pathway on the eastern flank, leading up to Swayambhu, an ancient religious site of temples and shrines at the top of a hill in the Kathmandu Valley (fig.4). The photograph shows a pair of Buddha statues marking the beginning of the path, with small chaityas, or shrines, dotted along the route. A photograph (EAP838/1/1/5/154) taken approximately 30 years later from the Chitrakar collection by Dirgha Man and Ganesh Man Chitraker shows a stairway with refurbished Buddhas and chaityas at the entrance that has replaced the pathway. 

Steps up to Temples [Swayambhu Stupa, Kathmandu Valley]
Fig.4. Steps up to Temples [Swayambhu Stupa, Kathmandu Valley]. Taken by Joseph Gaye, 1888-1892. Dry Plate Negative. British Library, Photo 1424/1(67).

 

Further reading:

British Library’s The Endangered Archives Programme

Gaye, Mary Margaret and Halverson, Doug, The Photography of Joseph Gaye: Nepal, India and Burma 1888-1899, (privately printed) Canada: Mary Margaret Gaye and Doug Halverson, 2023

Onta, Pratyoush. ‘A Suggestive History of the First Century of Photographic Consumption in Kathmandu’, Studies in Nepali History and Society, Vol. 3, No. 1 (June 1998), pp.181-212

Slusser, Mary Shepherd, Nepal Mandala: A Cultural Study of the Kathmandu Valley, Volume 1 Text, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1982

Weise, Kai, ‘An outlook of Gaddhi Baithak’, The Himalayan Times, 2 April 2016 

 

By Susan M. Harris CCBY Image