THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Asian and African studies blog

12 posts categorized "Events"

10 June 2019

Zee JLF at the British Library, 14-16th June 2019

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ZEE JLF at The British Library returns to London for its sixth consecutive year from 14th-16th June, 2019, to celebrate books, creativity and dialogue, creative diversity and varied intellectual discourse.

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The five-day ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival, held annually in the Pink City of Jaipur, is a riot of colour, energy, ideas, and music against a backdrop of readings, dynamic discussions and debates.

This June, the spirit of the festival with its pervasive sense of inclusiveness and infectious camaraderie, will once again be at the heart of London as a caravan of writers and thinkers, poets, balladeers and raconteurs bring alive South Asia’s unique multilingual literary heritage at the British Library. You can book tickets through the British Library's box office.

Asian and African Studies Curators Malini Roy and Michael Erdman will be speaking in two of the panels:

Saturday, 15 June 2019: 13.45 – 14.45

Forgotten Masterpieces of Indian Art for East India Company

Malini Roy, Yuthika Sharma, Katherine Butler Schofield and Rosie Llewellyn-Jones in conversation with William Dalrymple

Reflecting both the beauty of the natural world and the social reality of the time, the Indian artworks commissioned by the East India Company’s officials in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries offer a rare glimpse of the cultural fusion between British and Indian artistic styles. South Asian art expert and British Library curator Malini Roy, historian of South Asian art Yuthika Sharma, music historian and author Katherine Butler Schofield, historian on South Asian Art and British scholar and author Rosie Llewellyn Jones discuss this forgotten moment in Anglo-Indian history, with author and historian William Dalrymple.

 

Sunday, 16 June 2019: 16.15 - 17.15

From Hieroglyphs to Emojis

Irving Finkel, David Levy and Michael Erdman in conversation with Pragya Tiwari, introduced by Namita Gokhale

From carved stone inscriptions, medieval manuscripts and early printed works to beautiful calligraphy, iconic fonts and emojis, the written word has evolved in innumerable ways over the centuries. British Museum curator Irving Finkel, alongside technologist and calligrapher David Levy and scholar of Turkish historiography and one of the curators of the British Library’s exhibition Writing: Making Your Mark Michael Erdman deconstruct the act of writing and consider its future in the digital age, in conversation with journalist and editor Pragya Tiwari. Introduced by Namita Gokhale.

Presented by Bagri Foundation.

 

The full schedule is now available online: http://jlflitfest.org/zee-jlf-at-british-library/schedule.

 

22 May 2019

'South Asia Series' talks from June to October 2019

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‘South Asia Seriesʼ in Summer and Autumn 2019 is packed with exciting and diverse set of speakers and talks based on the British Library ‘Two Centuries of Indian Print’ Project and South Asia Collection. Subjects range from credit relationships in the South Asian countryside, archives and the circulation of circus histories and colonial animals, war-time experiences of workers at the Calcutta Port, Partition refugees and national development in India, women writers of the Progressive Movement in north India, Jagadish Bose and the politics of science in colonial India, letters and photographs from World War II, to screen-writing practices in the first Indian talkies and early modern masculine sexual health! The speakers include scholars and academics in the UK and elsewhere, who will share their original and cutting-edge research, followed by discussions facilitated by BL curators and other specialists in the field. The presentations will take place at the Knowledge Centre at the British Library, between 6.15-7.30pm and will be free for all to attend.

Agricultural Banks for India by W Wedderburn (Bombay, 1880?)
Agricultural Banks for India by W Wedderburn (Bombay, 1880?) (BL Asia, Pacific & Africa Tr. 621(i))

On 10th June 2019 Meghna Chaudhuri from New York University (NYU) will talk about credit relationships between 1870 and 1905. The talk entitled Cultivating Value in the South Asian Countryside will discuss how the colonial construction of the irrational peasant extends to the image of the “traditional” peasant which continues in contemporary development discourse. It reveals the significance of experimental financial interventionism in India from the 1870s to the global emergence of a discourse on incomplete integration of agrarian hinterlands to the global economy.


Fortified Land from 1793-1916 Report on the Hooghly River and its Head-waters: Vol 2 Maps and Plates. Calcutta, 1919, Map 17
Fortified Land from 1793-1916 Report on the Hooghly River and its Head-waters: Vol 2 Maps and Plates. Calcutta, 1919, Map 17 (BL IOR/V/27/732/15)

On 17th June 2019, Debjani Bhattacharyya who teaches at Drexel University, Philadelphia will speak on the history of the growth and development of the city of Calcutta in the nineteenth century through the aspects of land-making and land-reclamation as urbanization. Taking the example of the growth and settlement of Calcutta in the swamps of Bengal, this talk will explore how we came to inhabit land-making and land-reclamation as urbanization through the nineteenth-century. In her talk  A History of Swamps, or How We Built Sinking Cities?, she will use a couple of case studies beginning from 1770s to argue that property and its many instantiations in law and economy became a tool for transforming the landscape and ecology of the delta in creating Calcutta.

Coolies loading coal at the Calcutta Port (BL Asia Pacific & Africa V 7883)
Coolies loading coal at the Calcutta Port (BL Asia Pacific & Africa V 7883)

On 15th July 2019 we have Prerna Agarwal, a postdoctoral fellow at the London School of Economics (LSE) speaking on The Political Potency of Wartime Experiences of Workers at the Calcutta Port. With the opening of China-Burma-India theatre of the World War II in the summer of 1942, Calcutta Port became one of the key ports for the Allies. This talk in focussing on the Port labour during the war will reflect on the everyday and momentous experiences of the labouring section of the population as they shaped labour politics in the crucial years before Indian independence.

Refugee Camp, New Delhi, 1947 (BL Document Supply m08/.29565)
Refugee Camp, New Delhi, 1947 (BL Document Supply m08/.29565)

Our first book salon within the South Asia series will bring together historian Uditi Sen (Nottingham University), Tanika Sarkar (JNU), Joya Chatterji (University of Cambridge) and others in a roundtable discussion entitled Partition Refugees and National Development in India on 29th July 2019. Uditi Sen’s recent book, Citizen Refugee, weaves together archival research and oral history to explore how the rehabilitation of Bengali refugees became the site of the evolution of a pan-Indian governmentality of rehabilitation. This roundtable discussion will explore the key insights and contributions of this study, ranging from the role played by caste and gender in moulding the experiences of refugees, to hitherto unexplored legacies of partition in patterns of governance, discourses of citizenship and in popular politics in India.

Shaukat Kaifi (1928-) (BL Asia, Pacific & Africa YP.2006.a.7145)
Shaukat Kaifi (1928-)
(BL Asia, Pacific & Africa YP.2006.a.7145)

On 5th August 2019 we have Farha Noor from University of Freiburg/University of Heidelberg speaking on women writers of the Progressive Movement in north India. The talk entitled Witnessing History, Writing Nostalgia: the Progressive Women will investigate the entanglements of genre and gender while rethinking Nostalgia and its relationship with forms of life-writing. Furthermore, editorial intervention like processes of selection, collection and translation will be considered to probe into the concept of Witness and tease out the politics of text as performance. Yaad ki Rehguzar by Shaukat Kaifi, Hum Sath The by Hamida Salim and Humsafar by Hameeda Akhtar are some of the works that will be discussed in this talk.

Jagadish Chandra Bose (1858-1937) (BL Asia, Pacific & Africa V 21994)
Jagadish Chandra Bose (1858-1937) (BL Asia, Pacific & Africa V 21994)

Later in the month Christin Hoene, a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at the University of Kent, will be speaking on the philosophy of science in colonized India. The talk entitled, Jagadish Chandra Bose and the Politics of Science in India on 12th August 2019 will focus on Jagadish Chandra Bose (1858–1937), the Indian scientist and polymath, who first gained international reputation for his work as a physicist in the 1890s. Bose recalled in a speech at the University of Punjab in 1924, the prevailing prejudice in the west was that “no great contribution to exact knowledge could be made in India, since the Indian temperament was merely speculative and dominated by exuberant imagination”. He argued that imagination and science are not mutually exclusive, and criticised the strict disciplinary boundaries of western science and instead promoted a holistic philosophy of science, thus creating a philosophy of Indian science that was resolutely independent.

Sikh soldiers at practice on a defence range at Singapore (BL Asia, Pacific & Africa P/V 1099)
Sikh soldiers at practice on a defence range at Singapore (BL Asia, Pacific & Africa P/V 1099)

On 23rd September 2019 we have Diya Gupta from King’s College London speaking on World War II Letters and Photographs: Recovering Indian Experiences. Soldiers’ letters were written in Hindi, Gurmukhi, Urdu, Bengali, Malayalam and Tamil, and often dictated to scribes by Indian non-literate sepoys. They were then translated for the censor, who compiled quotations from the letters into a report testifying to the Indian soldiers’ ‘morale’. This talk will examine the relationship between censorship and the text, particularly as the latter shifts from the verbal to the transcribed, Indian vernaculars to the English language. It will explore how we receive insights into the emotional lives of colonial soldiers through the censored word.

Silver Jubilee souvenir. (Indian talkie, 1931-56.) (BL General Reference Collection X.902/3119)
Silver Jubilee souvenir. (Indian talkie, 1931-56.) (BL General Reference Collection X.902/3119)

Rakesh Sengupta, a doctoral candidate at SOAS will be speaking on Screenwriting Practices during the First Indian Talkies on 21st October 2019. The widespread circulation of screenwriting manuals for amateurs constituted a pedagogical infrastructure separate from, but parallel to, the other infrastructural flow of ideas and professionals from the Parsi theatre into the Indian film industry. The autobiographical accounts of some of the first playwright-turned-screenwriters bear testimony to the spaces they negotiated for themselves in the talkies after a successful stint with the Parsi stage. The talk shall explore the practice and discourse of screenwriting during the first Indian talkies through a study of the margins of print, theatre and film history.

‘Yogini in the Court’s Majalis’, from Laẕẕat al-nisā’ (BL Add.MS.17489)
‘Yogini in the Court’s Majalis’, from Laẕẕat al-nisā’ (BL Add.MS.17489)

We will end our talks for this year on 28th October 2019 with Sonia Wigh from the University of Exeter speaking on Hungry Stomach, Heated Body: Exploring Early Modern Masculine Sexual Health. This talk will discuss Persian textual sources produced between c.1650-1750, to argue that impotence or lack of/waning desire, was one of the major anxieties embedded in early modern constructions of South Asian masculinities. It will demonstrate how individual sexual medical health was intrinsically linked not only with Indo-Persian humoral theories but with the desire to increase sexual power and vigour (quwwat-i bāh). The talk will also comment on the gradience in the production and consumption of sexual medical knowledge in the eighteenth century.

No advance booking is required, and the sessions are free to attend. For further information, please contact Dr. Priyanka Basu, Project Curator of ‘Two Centuries of Indian Print’. Please do come along, listen and participate!

Priyanka Basu, Asian and African Collections ‘Two Centuries of Indian Print’

07 January 2019

History from Between: Global Circulations of the Past in East Asia and Europe

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The East Asian Uses of the European Past  project, funded by the Humanities in the European Research Area, in collaboration with the British Library, is proud to announce a one-day conference on 1 April 2019 to discuss the creation of historical knowledge between East Asia and Europe from 1600-1950.

In two thematic panels and two keynote talks, we will explore how ideas about the past circulated and were repurposed within East Asian networks of exchange. Some of the questions we will consider include: how did East Asian actors use their understanding of European expansion to burnish their own colonial aspirations? What does it mean to say the Chinese had a ‘Middle Ages’—originally a way of talking about the history of and for Europeans? How might the maritime narratives of East Asians challenge how the past of cultural others is viewed?

The event will run from 10am-5pm in the British Library Knowledge Centre, with a smaller reception from 5pm-7.30pm. You can register for the day event (10am -5pm) at our  Eventbrite page. There are also a smaller number of tickets available to our evening keynote and drinks reception from 5pm-7.30pm. You can register for this through our separate Eventbrite page.

An illustrated map of Nagasaki’
Nagasaki ezu ‘An illustrated map of Nagasaki’. Printed c.1680 (British Library Or.75.g.25)   noc

The first panel, Oceans, Islands, and Imperial Expansion in East Asia, will explore how maritime expansion of the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries was understood by Chinese and Japanese actors.

Professor Leigh Jenco of the LSE will examine the earliest first-hand account of Taiwan’s indigenous peoples, written by the seventeenth-century military advisor Chen Di. In contrast to both European and Chinese contemporaries, Chen showed how the lives of these people might be understood on their own terms rather than in contrast to an established yardstick of civilization.

Professor Martin Dusinberre of the University of Zurich considers the late-nineteenth century intellectual dialogue between the Cambridge professor J.R. Seeley and his young Japanese student Inagaki Manjirō (1861-1908). The result of this encounter was Inagaki’s articulation of a future ‘Pacific Age’ of Japanese expansion, modelled on the past expansion of the British Empire. Finally, Dr Birgit Tremml-Werner, also of the University of Zurich, examines how the late-nineteenth century Japanese translator and historian Murakami Naojirō used European sources to reconsider Japan’s history of maritime engagement in Southeast Asia as a model for its future expansion.

Jesuit-designed Chinese terrestrial globe, early 17th century (British Library Maps G.35)
Jesuit-designed Chinese terrestrial globe, early 17th century (British Library Maps G.35)
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Our first keynote speaker, Timothy Brook, of the University of British Columbia, will discuss Picturing the World: Chinese Uses of European Cartography. Sailing the oceans in the sixteenth century obliged Europeans to come up with new models to visualize the world. As these models reached China toward the end of the century, Chinese cartographers reacted not by abandoning their model of the world, but by importing features of European maps and adjusting their image of the world accordingly. The impact is not always obvious, and the results can be surprising, as we watch both cultures make their way along separate paths toward seeing the world in common.

Our second panel on Entangled Histories will explore how European ideas about the past were repurposed by East Asian actors to understand or reinterpret their own histories. Dr David Mervart of the University of Madrid will discuss how Japanese translations from the Dutch work History of Japan by Engelbert Kaempfer shaped understandings of Japan’s time as a ‘closed country,’ as well as of the merits and demerits of opening the country to outside trade.

Professor Joachim Kurtz of the University of Heidelberg reviews attempts by twentieth-century Chinese historians to use the concept of the “middle ages,” derived from European history, as a meaningful way of partitioning Chinese history.

Finally, Dr Lorenzo Andolfatto of the University of Heidelberg will examine historical conditions which give rise to utopian thinking, through a comparison of the sixteenth-century England of Thomas More and the late nineteenth-century China of the novelist Wu Jianren. He suggests that a fundamental rethinking of the world and England and China’s place in it helped to stimulate both authors’ works.

The day will close with a smaller keynote from Professor Megan Thomas of the University of California, Santa Cruz. Professor Thomas will explore European Pasts in the Margins of Filipino History Making. In the late nineteenth century, when the Philippines was subject to Spanish sovereignty, young Filipino intellectuals imagining their country’s future turned to history. In writings now part of the British Library’s collections, these young men treated what they called the “pre-history” of the Philippine islands as well as the history of Spanish occupation, seeking to glean from the past what could illuminate the present and future.

Their subject was the Philippines, yet in the margins of their accounts were sometimes references to European history—not only the history of Spanish presence in the Philippine islands, but also references to the folklore, customary law, and political history of Europe. They did not look to Europe’s past for models, however; instead they thought that comparing elements of Europe’s past with the Philippines showed dynamic possibilities in the Philippine past, present, and future.

The one-day conference History from Between: Global Circulations of the Past in East Asia and Europe will run from 10am-5pm on 1 April 2019 at the British Library Knowledge Centre. For more information about the research underpinning this conference you can listen to our East Asian Uses of the European Past podcast series here.

Jon Chappell, London School of Economics

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19 September 2018

‘South Asia Series’, Autumn/Winter 2018

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Asia and African Collections at the British Library (BL) are pleased to announce an exciting line-up of talks in their new 'South Asia Series', October-December 2018, featuring a diverse array of subjects from 'Theosophy and Bengali spirituality' to 'Miyan Himmat Khan and the last Mughal emperors'! This is a series of talks based around the British Library’s project ‘Two Centuries of Indian Print’ and its South Asian collections. The speakers include scholars and academics from the UK and elsewhere who will share their original research followed by an open discussion. The presentations will take place on Mondays at the Foyle Learning Centre at the British Library, between 5.30-7.00pm.

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The Bhagavad Gita translated by Mohini Mohun Chatterji (1887) (BL 14065.e.25)
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On 1st October 2018, Mriganka Mukhpadhyay from the University of Amsterdam will talk on theosophy and Bengali spirituality, focusing on the works of Mohini Mohun Chatterji (1858-1936), a member of the Bengal Theosophical Society (from 1882) and a significant member of the Theosophical Movement. His talk 'Theosophy and Bengali Spirituality: Mohini Mohun Chatterji’s Works' will discuss how Chatterji’s translations of Sanskrit philosophical texts, original essays and his public lectures shaped the Western world’s understanding of oriental spirituality. More importantly, as a Bengali theosophist and philosopher, he became a major figure in the history of transcultural spirituality in the modern world. This talk will discuss how Chatterji’s publications created a distinctive identity for modern Hindu spirituality in the Western intellectual world of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

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Indian Music and Rabindranath Tagore by Arnold Bake (1932?) (BL P/V 2339)
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Moushumi Bhowmik, a singer, writer and music researcher based in Kolkata who works in India, Bangladesh and the UK, will talk about the Bake-in-Bengal archives. In her talk 'The Bake-in-Bengal Archives, and Beyond' on 8th October 2018 she will focus on the works of Arnold Bake both in the British Library Sound archives as well as from her fieldwork experiences in Bengal in collaboration with audiographer Sukanta Majumdar. In this presentation Moushumi will talk about the fascinating sonic maps of Bengal, their process of map-making, tracing contour lines from listening and recording, to listening to recordings, and to recording the act of listening. The talk addresses several questions including what was at the source of the motion: the Bake-in Bengal archives scattered in many places, or what lies beyond?

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A European, probably Sir David Ochterlony, British Resident to the Mughal court 1803–06 and 1818–25, watching a nautch in his house in Delhi (c. 1820) (BL Add. Or. 2)
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On 22nd October 2018, Katherine Butler Schofield, a historian of music and listening in Mughal India and the colonial Indian Ocean based in King’s College London will take us through the financial accounts of the East India Company that are alive with details of music and dance in Jaipur state in nineteenth century India.  Her talk 'Mayalee Dancing Girl versus the East India Company' will focus on a particular musician who stands out in these accounts as an exceptional, Mayalee “dancing girl”, an important courtesan. Little exculpatory notes in the margins of successive accounts reveal that Mayalee successfully resisted the Company’s attempt to force her to give up her salt stipend in exchange for cash. This talk looks at what official British records yield about Indian musicians and especially courtesans.

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I Spy with My Little Eye by Humphry House, Calcutta 1937 (BL P/T 2530)

On 5th November 2018 we have Supriya Chaudhuri, Professor Emerita, Department of English, Jadavpur University, Calcutta, who will talk about a modernist community in 1930s Calcutta formed around the literary journal Parichay. The Parichay group included not only writers and artists, but also scientists, historians, politicians, philosophers, and spies. Its contacts extended to a number of disaffected colonialists in Calcutta: the geologist John Bicknell Auden, brother of the poet Wystan, the Dickens and Hopkins scholar Humphry House, the colonial official Michael Carritt, ICS, and Michael Scott, Chaplain to the Bishop of Calcutta, the last two being spies for the Communist Party of Great Britain. In this talk entitled 'Modernist Communities in 1930s Calcutta: Print, Politics and Surveillance', she will trace the network of connections through the Parichay archives, through other digitized records held at Jadavpur University, and through British Library holdings (for example Michael Carritt’s papers).

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(Secret) Government of Bengal: Home Department Political: District Officer’s Chronicle of Events of Disturbances, August 1942-March 1943 (BL IOR/R/3/1/358: 1943)
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Anwesha Roy, Marie Curie Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Department of History, King’s College London will focus on the years 1940-1942 before the Quit India Movement in Bengal in her talk 'Prelude to Quit India in Bengal: War Rumours and Revolutionary Parties, 1940-42' on 12th November 2018. She will discuss how war-time colonial state policies created annoying disruptions and intrusions in various ways in the day-to-day lives of the people of Bengal, building up mass discontent up to the edge, which, coupled with war rumours, reconfigured the image of the colonial state in Bengal. This talk taps into the psyche of the colonised mind, which was increasingly and collectively coming to see the hoax of British invincibility in the face of serious reverses in the Eastern Front and Japanese victories.

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Bodhan by Kazi Nazrul Islam in the periodical Moslem Bharat (1920) (BL 14133.k.2)
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On 20th November 2018, Ahona Panda, doctoral candidate, University of Chicago, will focus on the National Poet of Bangladesh, Kazi Nazrul Islam in her talk 'Kazi Nazrul Islam and the Partition of Bengal: A Language of Unity, a Language of Loss'. This talk will explore how Nazrul tried to create a new Bengali language single-handedly. Using a large number of periodicals from the British Library’s collection, and drawing from extensive research in Bangladesh, this talk reconstructs Nazrul’s early years in journalism in which as writer and editor, he forged a new literary register for the Bengali Muslim community and crafted a political language that was anti-separatist, socialist whilw referring to a philological landscape including centuries of Islamic and Hindu literary traditions. The talk will conclude with how Nazrul found new life in the language movement in East Pakistan in the 1950s, in the years leading up to the Liberation War of 1971.

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Miyan Himmat Khan kalāwant, chief hereditary musician to the last of the Mughal emperors Akbar Shah and Bahadur Shah Zafar. From James Skinner’s Tashrīh al-Aqwām, Hansi (near Delhi) (1825) (BL Add. 27,255, f. 134v)
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We end our autumn/winter talks for 2018 with Katherine Butler Schofield from King’s College London talking about musicians in the Mughal court in her talk 'Miyan Himmat Khan and the Last Mughal Emperors' on 3rd December 2018. This talk focusses on contemporary Indian writings on and a portrait of Miyan Himmat Khan kalāwant (d.c.1845), chief hereditary musician to the last Mughal emperors Akbar Shah (r. 1806–37) and Bahadur Shah Zafar (r. 1837–58). In this talk she will also make sense of the divergence of these competing lineages of musical knowledge in Persian, Urdu and English c. 1780–1850, by considering them side by side. It will show how viewing proto-ethnographic paintings and writings against a remarkable new wave of music treatises c. 1793–1853 reveal an incipient indigenous modernity running in parallel with colonial knowledge in the most authoritative centres of Hindustani music production, Delhi and Lucknow.

No advance booking is required, and the sessions are free to attend. Please do come along, listen and participate!

Priyanka Basu, Project Cataloguer of ‘Two Centuries of Indian Print’
http://blogs.bl.uk/.a/6a00d8341c464853ef022ad35bc1f1200c-pi

 

31 May 2018

'South Asia Series' talks, Summer 2018

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Asia and African Studies at the British Library is pleased to announce an exciting line-up of talks from June to September 2018. The 'South Asia Series'  is based around the British Library’s Two Centuries of Indian Print  and our South Asian collections. These presentations will take place on Mondays unless otherwise stated in the Foyle Learning Centre at the British Library, between 5.30-7.00pm.

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Uday and Amala: a scene from Kalpana (1948) (BL YD.2010.a.14968)  noc

On 4th June, Prof. Urmimala Sarkar from the School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University (New Delhi) begins the series with a talk entitled Amala Shankar: Documenting a Dance Legacy which discusses the place of Amala Shankar within dance history as a dancer, choreographer and teacher, particularly in the context of her illustrious husband the dance maestro Uday Shankar and the Sitarist Pandit Ravi Shankar. Focussing on the Uday Shankar India Culture Centre this talk will bring out Amala Shankar’s contribution to dance pedagogy as part of Uday Shankar’s dance making process.

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Glimpse of a Sermon Gathering in Bangladesh, 2014 (Photo: Max Stille)

On 18th June 2018, Max Stille, a researcher at the Center for the History of Emotions at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, will present some aspects of his research on contemporary sermon gatherings in Bangladesh. In his talk Poetics of Popular Preaching: Islamic Sermons in Contemporary Bangladesh, he will focus on the issues of language employed in the sermons and how listeners identify themselves with inner-narrative heroes. This talk will also explore the musical competencies of the preachers in dramatic narrations to find out how they serve to change emotional and political meanings subtly yet effectively.

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Harischandra A. Talcherkar, Lord Curzon in Indian Caricature (Bombay 1903) (BL 10815.dd.19)  noc

On 9th July, Aniket De, a doctoral candidate in history at Harvard University, will discuss how political economic shifts, nationalist ideologies and itineraries such as pilgrimages shaped popular notions of boundaries in South Asia in an age of empire and nationalism (c. 1880-1950). Boundaries of Belonging: Territorial Demands in Colonial India will analyse the vast corpus of petitions sent by people from all corners of India to the colonial state during Lord Curzon's Partition of Bengal (1905), voicing opinions on how provincial borders in India should be delineated.

On Tuesday 17th July,  Anish Vanaik, Associate Professor of History at the Jindal Global Law School will speak on the history of Delhi’s housing question in his talk Lineages of the Housing Question in Colonial Delhi, 1920-1940s. The shift of the Imperial capital to Delhi in 1911 led to a rapid rise in the value of house property and rent. These escalations led in turn to calls for the provision of housing through mechanisms that curbed the excesses of the market. This talk tracks the more variegated 'lineages’ of the housing question in caste struggles, Gandhian ideals, rent control, state employment and sanitation discourse.

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Korāa Śaripha (1907) by Bhāi Girīśacandra Sena (BL 14123.h.39)  noc

On July 30th July, Epsita Halder, Assistant Professor in the Department of Comparative Literature, Jadavpur University will speak on  translations of the Qur’an from Arabic to Bangla in her talk Allah/Ishwar: Translating the Qur’an in Bangla. She begins by looking at the first Bengali prose translation of the Qur’an by Bhai Girishchandra Sen between 1881 and 1886 which had repercussions within the Muslim community with various versions being produced by the Muslim ulama. It shows how anxiety over semantic transfer of the Islamic sacred text into Sankritized Bangla, structured by the Hindu intelligentsia, played out in the diverse and conflicting arena of Christian, Brahmo and Islamic ideologies.

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Menu for and list of events at a dinner in honour of Hermon Ould, 6 Mar 1946 (designed by Mervyn Peake) (BL Add MS 88962/2/8)  noc

We begin our talks in August on Wednesday 1st with A History of the P.E.N. in Pre-Independence India by Tariq Sheikh, Assistant Professor of Japanese Studies at the English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad. P.E.N. International, the international organisation of writers established in London in 1921, established its branch in India in 1932. Unlike organisations such as the Progressive Writers’ Association, P.E.N. in India was aligned to the mainstream nationalist movement, with top office bearers of the Indian National Congress like Nehru and Sarojini Naidu playing important roles. This talk will present a short history of the early days of this important yet forgotten organisation.

On 20th August, Debanjali Biswas, doctoral candidate at King’s College London will talk on Dance History and Dancing Through History: Manipuri in Colonial India. In the 1920s dances of Manipur—a form that was deemed worthy of being part of state pageantry—had steadily garnered social and cultural currency in Bengal. By 1947, Manipuri had the rare distinction of being the subject of India’s first trilingual film produced from Bombay. Drawing on photographs available within personal collections of Gourlay, Haig and Knapik in conjunction with films of Woods-Taylor and ethnographic research in Manipur, this talk explores possibilities of constructing a history of Manipuri dance through material archives.

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Ram Gopal on tour, commissioned by NAAFI and ENSA India’ (BL YK.2017.a.3804)

We have another interesting talk on dance on 3rd September by Prof. Ann R. David, Roehampton University: Ram Gopal, Indian Dancer: Histories of Cultural Interweaving. The Indian dancer, Ram Gopal (1912-2003) played a crucial role in bringing Indian dance to international audiences from the 1930s to the late 1960s. Using interviews with Gopal’s remaining family, his costume-makers, close friends, and dance partners, coupled with archival evidence from the British Library collections, this talk discusses the lineage from which he came and the legacy he left, and addresses how the dancing body may be laden with colonialist, nationalist and orientalist discourses. 

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Shah Jahan and his four sons, Deccan, c.1680-1700 (after a Mughal original) (BL Johnson 25, 2)  noc

On 17th September, Anaïs Da Fonseca, Adjunct Researcher at the Tate Research Centre: Asia will speak on Deccani scroll paintings in her talk Beyond Temple Paintings: Towards an Alternative History of the Deccani Scroll Paintings. In the southern Indian state of Telangana, itinerant storytellers narrate genealogies of local castes using scroll paintings on cloth as a visual aid to their performance. This talk proposes an alternative methodology to understand the history of these paintings by looking at much less documented folk art forms that developed at the same time in the region. It also introduces folk art forms that might have equally informed the development of the Deccani scroll painting tradition such as Kalamkari hangings from Andhra Pradesh, leather puppets from Maharashtra, and so on.

We end our summer talks on 24 September 2018 with Debojyoti Das from the University of Bristol speaking on Visual Representation and Reportage of 19th Century: South Asian Earthquakes from Colonial Archive. In nineteenth century India, British colonial officials and geologists created a legacy of private and official archives of major earthquake disasters, including newspaper clippings, geometrical measurements and photographs. This talk examines the metaphors, symbolisms and representations that photographs carried in the aftermath of a disaster by examining colonial photo collections kept in British and Indian archives, while considering the ways that photographs were produced, organised and catalogued. It shows that photographs were crucial to substantiate colonial state and Indian nationalist (Indian National Congress) political appeal for relief and reconstruction in the colony.

No advance booking is required, and the sessions are free to attend. For further information , please contact Dr. Priyanka Basu, Project Cataloguer of ‘Two Centuries of Indian Print’ at Priyanka.Basu@bl.uk. Please do come along, listen and participate!

 

02 May 2018

‘Soo Dhawoow’: Somali community welcomed to the British Library

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On Wednesday 7 March, the British Library welcomed members of the local Somali community to the Learning Centre for the first ever ‘show and tell’ of the Library’s Somali collections. Further to the success of the opening event of the Somali Week Festival, which the Library hosted last October, ‘Soo Dhawoow’ , meaning ‘welcome’ , invited artists, students, poets and historians from the Somali Community to participate in a proactive archiving engagement.

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Photo credit: Venetia Menzies
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The Somali collections at the British Library, which range from archives and sound recordings to photographs and printed books, contain vital cultural and historical information on Somalia and Somalis, both at home and as part of the diaspora. The collections in the Somali language include books, periodicals, sound recordings, microfilms, maps and newspapers. There are also bibliographies of writings in Somali. In addition to this, the British Library holds a wide variety of relevant published materials in other languages such as English, Arabic, Italian, French, German, Russian, Dutch and Swedish.

Attendees were shown the highlights of the Library’s Somali collections, including two 20th century wooden Qur’an boards, ritually used for rote learning of the Holy Scripture, as well as printed books in languages such as Somali, English and German.

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Qurʼan board BL Or.16442. Photo credit: Venetia Menzies
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The British Library also holds historic manuscripts and archives relating to Somalia and Somalis including correspondence about Somalia and Somaliland in the India Office Records and the India Office Private Papers. During the colonial period, the British Raj, the UK’s authority in India, managed the Empire’s holdings in the Horn of Africa and East Africa. To find archives and manuscripts, go to our catalogue Explore Archives and Manuscripts. These collections are currently being digitised and are available in the Qatar Digital Library. Photographic collections include studio portraits of members of the Somali diaspora in Aden which were published in an 1877 publication An Account of the British Settlement at Aden in Arabia compiled by Captain Frederick Mercer Hunter.

Representation of the Somali community was a key theme explored in the discussion at the engagement event, specifically the legacies of colonial photography.

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Male Somali’ from An Account of the British Settlement of Aden in Arabia, London, 1877, compiled by Captain F.M. Hunter (Printed collections T.11308)
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Given the need to expand existing heritage collections and open discussion, the Library’s Somali Collections Project Officer Mahamed Ali worked with visual artist Venetia Menzies to develop a unique programme for this community event. ‘Soo Dhawoow’ not only provided an insight into the Library’s Somali collections but asked the participants to produce heritage archives of their own.

In response to the artefacts, written books and poetry in the Somali collections, participants later contributed artistic responses that expressed their own snapshot of Somali culture as members of the diaspora. The results were wide-ranging, including an array of mediums such as photography, poetry, paintings and graphic designs. These were exhibited at London Gallery West from March 27th to April 3rd.

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One of the participants, Huda Hassan, a graphic designer, depicted Somali idioms such as ‘cagta wax ka dey’, which literally means ‘search feet’ and is a metaphor for ‘run’. Huda said that the engagement event was ‘informative’, and ‘very promising’, but noted that the scope of the collections could be developed. The British Library welcomes suggestions for this collection, specifically from those publishing books in Somali from around the world.

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Artist Credit: Huda Hassan
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Anab Aided, a painter, produced colourful paintings of Somali staple goods, as well as common onomatopoeia in the Somali language. Anab, an art teacher working with Somali children with the Galbur Foundation, also encouraged her students to contribute. They produced a colourful selection of pictures and drawings depicting aspects of Somali culture.

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Photo Credit: Anab Aided and Venetia Menzies
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The youngest attendee, Khadar Mahi, contributed a poem depicting the Somali landscape that was eloquent in both English and Somali. Khadar’s main interests are physics and poetry, which he claims are one and the same.

All the livestock
within your sight
whichever way you look,
grazing near the homestead.

The herding youth
in their white sheets
resting in the shade,
passing time with games,
chatting without a care.
(Poetry: Khadar Mahi)

Photographer Abdul Aziz Ismail contributed photographs depicting his journey by sea from Yemen to Somalia, as well as from Bosaso in Puntland.

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Photo Credit: Abdul Aziz Ismail
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Mohamed Mohamud, founder of the project Somali Sideways, contributed portraits from his ongoing body of work. Somali Sideways collates portraits of Somalis from around the world standing sideways, aiming to highlight that there are always two sides to an individual. It provides a platform for representations of the success, determination and entrepreneurship that characterise the Somali diaspora. These works were exhibited alongside portraits of the participants.

The British Library’s Somali collections exist for the public to view. A reader pass for the Library is free, and offers everyone the opportunity to experience these collections for themselves. The British Library is always seeking to expand its outreach with regard to its collections, so individuals within the Somali community in the UK are encouraged to engage with the collection. The British Library also has a growing number of printed books in the Somali language, which offer an indispensable source of information for older members as well as young people in the Somali community to use for their own comprehension.

To find out more about our collections, you can search our main catalogue Explore. For more information on the British Library’s holdings see our subject guide to African collections.


Mahamed Ali, Somali Collections Project Officer
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28 March 2017

'South Asia Series' talks from April to June 2017

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The British Library is pleased to announce the next set of talks in the ‘South Asia Series’, from April till the end of June 2017. This is a series of talks based around the British Library's South Asia collection and the ‘Two Centuries of Indian Print’ digitisation project. Speakers from the UK and the US will share the results of their research, followed by discussions facilitated by BL curators and other specialists in the field. The presentations will take place at the Foyle Learning Centre at the British Library, between 5.30-7.00pm.

The first talk, on Monday 24th April, will be by Francis Robinson, Professor of the History of South Asia at Royal Holloway, University of London. The talk entitled ‘Hasrat Mohani’s Diary’ examines the life of the poet, newspaper editor and politician Hasrat Mohani (1878-1951) in the tumultuous period of January 1947 to December 1949. Professor Robinson will use Hasrat Mohani’s diary to look at how the world changes for Muslims in the United Provinces after Independence and Partition, the discrimination they experienced and the attacks on their culture and position by a Hindu-dominated Congress.

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Image of Hasrat Mohani published by the Anjuman Aʿānat Naz̤ar Bandān-i Islām. British Library, SAC. 1986.a. 1967 Noc

The second talk will be on Monday 8th May, and will be given by Christopher Bahl, a PhD student at SOAS, University of London. His talk entitled ‘Cultural Entrepôts and Histories of Circulation: The Arabic Manuscripts of the Royal Library of Bijapur’ examines the historical circulation of Arabic manuscripts, which linked South Asia with other regions of the Western Indian Ocean world, including Egypt, the Hijaz, Yemen and Iran, during the early modern period. In particular, he will look at the historical development of the Royal Library of Bijapur in the Deccan, today among the India Office Library collections in the British Library, and how its collection of Arabic manuscripts provides crucial insights into the courtly circulation, social use and cultural significance of these texts in a local Indo-Persian environment.

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Arabic manuscript from Bijapur Library, 1617. British Library, Mss Bijapur 7 Noc

On Monday 22nd May 2017, Kamran Asdar Ali, Professor of Anthropology and Director of the South Asia Institute at the University of Texas, Austin, will talk about the 1951 Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case, in which the Pakistan Government brought charges of sedition and of plotting a military coup against certain leaders of its own military and against members of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Pakistan (CPP). The talk titled ‘Of Communists and Conspiracy: The Rawalpindi Case in Pakistan’ will discuss the conspiracy in detail to show the relationship between the Pakistani state and how it perceived the communist threat in the early years of Pakistan’s existence. In particular, Prof. Kamran Asdar Ali will demonstrate how external influences on the  leadership of the Communist Party of Pakistan may have left it in an ideological conundrum, and thus perhaps susceptible to engagement in a dialogue with the military on a potential coup-d’état.

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Front page of a pamphlet on the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case, 1951. British Library, ORW.1986.a.3327 Noc

The fourth talk, which will be on Monday 5th June 2017, will be by Radha Kapuria, PhD student at King’s College London. Her talk ‘Musicians and Dancers in 19th Century Punjab: A Brief Social History’ excavates the material conditions of the lives of musicians and dancers, and analyses social perceptions around them, in the region of Punjab, during the long nineteenth century. She begins with the Lahore darbar of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and then moves on to the discourses by colonial scholar-administrators like Richard Carnac Temple, Anne Wilson, and others, in the mid-19th century. Furthermore, Radha Kapuria will offer a unique perspective by discussing relatively obscure authors writing about musicians and courtesans in the qissa genre, especially popular during this century.

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An illustrated miniature of a courtly mehfil of musicians, from the ‘Guru Nānak Parkāsh’, 1891. British Library, Or. 13079 Noc

On Monday 12th June 2017, Simon Leese, PhD student at SOAS, London will discuss the Arabic poems of Shah Waliullah (d. 1176/1762), the Delhi intellectual best known for his formative contribution to Muslim revivalist thought in the 18th and 19th centuries. Simon in his talk titled ‘Visions of the Arabic Hejaz: Memory and the Poetics of Devotion in 18th and 19th century North India’ will demonstrate how Arabic was not only the language of scripture, but a site of memory and nostalgia. Alongside major works of exegesis, theology, and Sufism, Waliullah had composed a small body of sometimes highly innovative Arabic poems in which he drew on the language of Arabic poetic love to articulate his own devotion to the Prophet. The talk will examine some of Waliullah’s poems, their fascinating afterlife in manuscript and print, and what they reveal about the culture of the Arabic spoken and written word in South Asia.

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Shah Abdul 'Aziz, Takhmīs amplifications on the Bāʾīyah and Hamzīyah by Shah Waliullah. British Library, Delhi Arabic 895 Noc

Please do come along, listen and participate. No advance booking is required, and the sessions are free for all to attend. For further information, please contact:

Dr. Layli Uddin, Project Curator of ‘Two Centuries of Indian Print’
layli.uddin@bl.uk

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15 October 2015

West Africa: Word, Symbol, Song

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The British Library’s major autumn exhibition, ‘West Africa: Word, Symbol, Song’, opens to the public on Friday 16 October. The exhibition showcases writing, literature and music from this hugely creative and dynamic region, grounding the story in a millennium of history and bringing it right up to the present.

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Illuminated loose leaf Qur’an, carried in its leather bag. The Qur’an is typical of those of an area including northern Nigeria and southern Niger
British Library Or.16751
Late 18th/early 19th century
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Africa is often thought of as the continent of the voice, with a literature, or rather orature, dominated by oral history and traditions. One of our concerns in curating this exhibition is to show a different picture, bringing to light histories of writing and scholarship that go back at least 1,500 years in West Africa. The manuscript cultures rooted in Islam, for example, date back at least to the 11th century, and flourished right across the region, from Mauritania in the north-west to Nigeria and Cameroon in the south-east. West Africa also has a very rich tradition of graphic and other symbolic systems such as adinkra (Ghana) and nsibidi (Nigeria).

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Postcard showing a griot (musician and story-teller) with his kora (calabash harp). It was taken by Edmond Fortier, a French photographer active in Senegal in the early part of the 20th century
c. 1904
Courtesy of Daniela Moreau/Acervo África/São Paulo-Brazil. Digitisation by Jorge Bastos

At the same time, it’s important that orature is not seen as somehow secondary to written literature, to be replaced in the inevitable march of progress. The exhibition, in which visitors can hear and see numerous sound and film recordings, demonstrates some of the complexity and sophistication of an oral literature composed across many genres, which has ancient roots and still flourishes today.

The exhibition is packed with over two hundred beautiful, remarkable and sometimes surprising objects. They include books, manuscripts and sound and film recordings as well as artworks, masks and colourful textiles. We start with a glimpse of the history of the last millennium, and go on to show something of the different religious traditions of the region and the literatures they have produced. Sections on more recent history – the transatlantic slave trade and the colonial and post-colonial periods – look at how West Africans have used literature, and culture more broadly, to both resist and reflect upon historical circumstance. The exhibition finishes with post-independence literature and story-telling, concluding with a poem released on Twitter by Ben Okri.

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Printed cloth with portrait of Léopold Sédar Senghor (1906–2001), president of Senegal, poet and intellectual
Collet collection, 1975
We have been unable to locate the copyright holder for the original print designer of the Senghor cloth. Please contact copyright@bl.uk with any information you have regarding this item

‘West Africa: Word, Symbol, Song’ has been in the making for four years, and has been curated by Dr Marion Wallace (Lead Curator, African Collections) and Dr Janet Topp Fargion (Lead Curator, World and Traditional Music), advised by Dr Gus Casely-Hayford (SOAS and King’s College London). We have consulted very widely with people with expertise in and links to West Africa and the Caribbean, and for the last year we have been working with an Advisory Panel.

As the exhibition launches, it’s accompanied by a programme of fascinating and fun events including musical performances, films, talks and debates. On Friday 16 October, a Felabration marks the birthday of the late Nigerian singer and activist Fela Kuti. The Felabration is fully booked but is being streamed live.

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Gold-weight from Ghana in the form of a Sankofa bird – a bird looking backwards. This is a popular symbol in Ghana, indicating the importance of history and of learning from the past. Gold-weights, made of brass, were used for weighing gold dust
18th-20th century
Copyright and item held by British Museum

The exhibition is ideal for families as well as adults – children under 18 go free and you can pick up a family trail leaflet on arrival – and there is an extensive Learning programme for schools. Concessions include a generous group rate – £5 per person for groups of six or more. For more details please go to our booking page.

‘West Africa: Word, Symbol, Song’ offers a visual and aural feast at the same time as revealing many little-known stories of the people of West Africa. It runs from 16 October 2015 to 16 February 2016.

For more on ‘West Africa: Word, Symbol, Song’ go to our exhibition web pages.  An accompanying book West Africa: Word, Symbol, Song by Gus Casely-Hayford, Janet Topp Fargion and Marion Wallace is available in our bookshop.

Marion Wallace, African Collections, Asian and African Studies
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