28 January 2021
Digitisation in Asian and African Collections 2019 to 2021: what’s new online and where to find it
In the past year and a half we’ve made over 650 items from the Library’s Asian and African collections newly available online. To make it easier for you to find and explore our wonderful collections, we’ve put together a list of recently digitised items with links to their online versions for you to download here: Download AAC Jan2021. They are arranged by collection area/project, so you can easily search and filter to your heart’s content!
One of the biggest additions to our digital collections are the 300 Ethiopian Manuscripts digitised as part of the British Library’s Heritage Made Digital programme and made available in 2019. These rare and beautifully illustrated manuscripts date mainly from the 16th and 17th centuries and are predominantly written in the classical Ethiopian language Ge'ez.
ገድለ ጊዮርጊስ, The Acts of St. George, 18th century. Or 715, folio 2v
ተአምረ ማርያም, Miracles of Mary, 1717. Or 643, folio 2r
2019 also saw the launch of the Discovering Sacred Texts online exhibition, which brings together expert articles and learning resources on the Library’s religious treasures. You can find many Asian and African collection items on the site, some of which have also been digitised in full. There are 21 now available, including Hindu, Islamic, Christian and Buddhist texts. The image below shows Add MS 11746, a Chinese manuscript containing the Buddhist Heart and Diamond Sutras with illustrations painted on fig leaves.
Heart Sūtra and the Diamond Sūtra, with illustrations on fig leaves, 18th century. Add MS 11746, folio 1r
We have now digitised the Library’s entire collection of Zoroastrian Manuscripts, with 34 made available in the last year and more to come over the coming months. Among these you can find Zoroastrian texts in Avestan, Middle Persian, New Persian, Sanskrit and Gujarati, decorated with floral and geometric designs. As well as this, we have published 32 Bugis Manuscripts from South Sulawesi in Indonesia. These manuscripts date from the 17th to early 19th century, and highlights include court diaries from Bone, where on particularly busy days the writing curves around the page to save space (see Add MS 12355). We have also made available 13 West African Manuscripts, including loose leaf manuscripts in leather carrying cases and five Qur’ans, mainly in Arabic.
Bugis diary from the court of Bone, 1774-1793. Add MS 12355, folio 86r
An 18th century copy of the Visperad, with floral decoration. MSS Avestan 27, folio 6v
Another exciting addition is our collection of Japanese Design Books, some of which featured in the Library’s ‘Exquisite Patterns: Japanese Textile Design’ exhibition in 2020. Around 80 have now been digitised, with 29 currently available and more to follow in the next year. These are visually stunning and well worth a look for textile, toy and even sweet designs.
呉竹 / 市田彌一郎, Kuretake / Ichida Yaichirō. Kimono design - ORB.40/1208, folio 53r
There are too many to mention here, but in the last year and a half we have also digitised and made available collections of Chinese Manuscripts, Japanese Manuscripts, Tibetan manuscripts, Korean Rare Books and a selection of photographs from the Visual Representations of the Third Plague Pandemic project. You can find all these and more by downloading this excel spreadsheet, which lists all recently available shelf marks and hyperlinks: Download AAC Jan2021
And take a look at the blogs listed below for more in-depth information about our digitised collections.
There’s still more to come ...
There’s still more to look forward to in 2021, including more Zoroastrian Manuscripts, Korean Rare Books and Japanese Design Books, and new content from the on-going Lotus Sutra and Javanese Manuscripts digitisation projects. And don’t forget to check out content already available through the major Hebrew Manuscripts Digitisation Project.
How to find digitised content
You can find digitised printed material via the main Explore catalogue. Search using the ‘Available online (beta)’ tab, select ‘I want this’ and ‘Go’ to view a collection item online.
For manuscripts, search the Explore Archives and Manuscripts catalogue. Again, select ‘I want this’ and ‘Go’ to view a digitised collection item. You can also search directly in Digitised Manuscripts by shelf mark or keyword (e.g. ‘Ethiopian’).
Digitisation Officer, Heritage Made Digital: Asian and African Collections
Follow us @BL_MadeDigital
Digital Zoroastrian at the British Library
The Everlasting Flame: Zoroastrianism in History and Imagination
Ovum Zoroastræum: ‘Zoroaster’s egg’
Zoroastrian visions of heaven and hell
Digital access to Bugis and Makassar manuscripts
The Royal Library of Bone: Bugis and Makassar manuscripts in the British Library
Bugis flower power: a compendium of floral designs
Bugis manuscript art
Animal days: three Bugis amulets in British collections
West African manuscripts
The British Library’s West African manuscripts collection
Visual representations of the third plague pandemic
Bombay Plague Visitation, 1896-97