THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Asian and African studies blog

14 posts categorized "Maps"

03 May 2021

Bollinger Singapore digitisation project completed

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In 2013, through the generous support of William and Judith Bollinger, the British Library embarked upon a five-year project, in collaboration with the National Library Board of Singapore, to digitise materials in the British Library of interest to Singapore. The project initially focussed on Malay manuscripts, early maps of Singapore, and archival papers of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, who had founded a British trading settlement in Singapore in 1819. The project later also encompassed Bugis manuscripts, reflecting the cultural heritage of a distinctive community within the broader Malay population in Singapore, and the small collection of Qur’an manuscripts from Southeast Asia in the British Library. The digitised materials are being made accessible through the websites of both the British Library's Digitised Manuscripts and the National Library of Singapore's BookSG.

Malay manuscripts
The complete collection of Malay manuscripts in the British Library, comprising about 120 volumes and about 150 letters and documents in Malay, has now been fully digitised. The manuscripts date from the 17th to the late 19th centuries, and originate from all over Southeast Asia where Malay was the common language of trade, diplomacy and religious education. Highlights include the oldest known copy of the earliest Malay historical chronicle, Hikayat Raja Pasai (Or 14350), copied in Semarang in north Java in 1797, and two copies of the history of the great sultanate of Melaka, Sulalat al-Salatin or Sejarah Melayu, one copied in Singapore around the 1830s (Or 16214) and one in Melaka in 1873 (Or 14734). The collection is rich in literary works, both in prose and in poetic (syair) form, and also has a few finely illuminated manuscripts, including an exquisite copy of a ‘mirror for princes’ containing advice on good governance, the Taj al-Salatin or ‘Crown of Kings’ (Or 13295), commissioned in Penang in 1824 by Ralph Rice for his 'bibliomanist' brother, Rev. Rice of Brighton. While technically admirable, of greater cultural significance is a nicely decorated copy of the story of the Prophet Joseph, Hikayat Nabi Yusuf (MSS Malay D.4), copied in Perlis in 1802, as this is the only illuminated Malay manuscript known to identify the artist by name: Cik Mat Tok Muda, or, in more formal terms, Datuk Muda Encik Muhammad.  The Malay manuscripts can be accessed here and through BookSG.

Hikayat Nabi Yusuf, the Malay story of the Prophet Joseph, copied in Perlis, 1802.
Hikayat Nabi Yusuf, the Malay story of the Prophet Joseph, copied in Perlis, 1802. British Library, MSS Malay D.4, ff. 3v-4r. Noc

Many of the Malay letters in the British Library were written to Thomas Stamford Raffles, who spent nearly two decades in Southeast Asia in the service of the East India Company, initially in Penang and then as Lieutenant-Governor of Java (1811-1816) and of Bengkulu in Sumatra (1818-1824). The majority of the letters date from around 1811 when Raffles was based in Melaka making preparations for a British invasion of Java, as the Napoleonic wars in Europe spilled over into the Indian Ocean arena and Southeast Asia. Other letters were sent to Raffles at later dates, including a collection of formal farewell letters on his departure from Java in 1816.

Illuminated farewell letter in Malay from Sultan Cakra Adiningrat of Madura to T.S. Raffles on his departure from Java in 1816.
Illuminated farewell letter in Malay from Sultan Cakra Adiningrat of Madura to T.S. Raffles on his departure from Java in 1816. British Library, MSS Eur E378/7. Noc

Early maps of Singapore
Tom Harper, Lead Curator, Antiquarian Maps, describes this part of the project:
"Approximately 250 early maps and charts featuring Singapore have been digitised. Ranging in date from the late 15th to early 20th centuries, these were sourced from across the British Library’s collections including the India Office Map Collection and the Topographical Collection of George III. Of particular significance are the maps of Singapore Island and town drawn by the governor of Singapore William Farquhar a mere five years after the foundation of the British settlement in 1819. Other included maps illustrate the strong continuity and tradition of maritime charting of the Singapore strait from the chart drawn by the Frenchman Jean Rotz and presented to Henry VIII in 1542 (Royal MS 20 E IX), to British Admiralty charts of the straits surveyed and published three centuries later.  Finally, the hand-drawn atlas of 1700 by William Hack, formally owned by George III (Maps 7.TAB.125), containing 85 charts of the coasts between South Africa and Japan and prominently featuring the Singapore Strait and surrounding area, was digitised in its entirety for the first time." The map collection can be accessed here.

A chart of the coast of Asia, from Cochin China on the east, to Ormus on the west, with Sumatra, Java, and part of Borneo; drawn in 1578, by Joan Martines of Messina.
A chart of the coast of Asia, from Cochin China on the east, to Ormus on the west, with Sumatra, Java, and part of Borneo; drawn in 1578, by Joan Martines of Messina.  British Library, Harley MS 3450, f. 7r Noc

Papers of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles
Antonia Moon, Lead Curator, India Office Records (Post-1858), writes:
"27 volumes were digitised from the India Office Private Papers. These included 14 volumes of Raffles’s own correspondence, journals, notes and observations, which most interestingly reflect his administration of Java, his interest in the history and culture of the people, and his early explorations of Singapore. Also digitised was correspondence with Lord Minto, Governor General of Bengal, which contains Raffles’s narratives of the natural history and antiquities of South East Asia. Five items were digitised from the Raffles Family Papers, including the list of Raffles’s personal possessions lost on board the ship ‘Fame’. Copyright clearance was achieved on most of the material including, importantly, that created by Raffles."  The Raffles Papers can be accessed by searching for 'Mss Eur' on BookSG.

Statement of personal property of Sir Stamford Raffles lost on board the Fame, 1824.
Statement of personal property of Sir Stamford Raffles lost on board the Fame, 1824. British Library, Mss Eur D742/4, f. 6. Noc

Bugis manuscripts
Singapore is home to a substantial Malay community of Bugis/Makassar descent, who maintain a strong interest in the language, culture and traditions of their ancestral homeland in Sulawesi, Indonesia. The 32 Bugis and 2 Makasar manuscripts which have been digitised, listed here, were taken in 1814 during the British attack on the kingdom of Bone in south Sulawesi, and entered the possession of John Crawfurd, a senior East India Company official. The collection includes an important series of royal diaries kept by senior court officials, including some belonging to the former king of Bone himself, Sultan Ahmad al-Salih Syamsuddin (1775-1812).

Bugis diary of the Maqdanreng (most senior court official) of Bone, showing the entry for March 1729, with a detailed account of activities on 15th March written in a square spiral.
Bugis diary of the Maqdanreng (most senior court official) of Bone, showing the entry for March 1729, with a detailed account of activities on 15th March written in a square spiral. British Library, Or 8154, f. 77r. Noc

Southeast Asian Qur’an manuscripts
The Bollinger-Singapore project enabled the completion of the digitisation of the British Library’s small collection of eight Qur’an manuscripts from Southeast Asia, making publicly accessible a selection of Qur’ans representing three distinct regional traditions of the Malay world, from Aceh, Java and Patani on the East Coast of the Malay pensinsula.

Qur’an from Java, 18th-early 19th century, collected by John Crawfurd
Qur’an from Java, 18th-early 19th century, collected by John Crawfurd. British Library, Add 12312, ff. 1v-2r.  noc

The Bollinger-Singapore Digitisation Project was initiated when William and Judith Bollinger moved from London to Singapore in 2012, and extended their already generous patronage of the British Library to a project which they envisaged would enhance collaboration between the British Library and the national library of their new home.

Liz Jolly, Chief Librarian of the British Library, describes the impact of the project: “We are so grateful for this visionary support from William and Judith Bollinger, which has allowed the British Library to make freely and fully accessible a highly significant part of its collections relating to Singapore and the Malay world, benefitting not only the scholarly community but also reaching new audiences, especially in Southeast Asia."

Tan Huism, Director of the National Library of Singapore, expresses appreciation of the project and outlines some of the beneficial outcomes: “It takes a special person, in this a case a special couple, to support digitisation work. While digitisation is largely unseen work done by libraries, it is crucial work in enabling access and the sharing of collections with people all over the world when put online. The National Library of Singapore is grateful to Bill and Judy for their generous support in this project which has not only enabled the Singapore public to engage with these wonderful treasures held by The British Library digitally but the digitisation had also facilitated the loans of some of these materials for exhibitions in Singapore.”

This digitisation project was one of the first to make widely accessible such a range of primary source material for the study not only of the history of the Malay world, but also for its literature, art, calligraphy, book culture and writing traditions.

Further interest:

A video of Judy Bollinger speaking in 2018 at the National Library of Singapore.

Tales of the Malay world, an exhibition of Malay manuscripts at the National Library of Singapore in 2018.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia

07 April 2019

A Jesuit Atlas of Asia in Eighteenth-Century China

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Today's post is by guest blogger Xue Zhang, PhD candidate, Department of East Asian Studies, Princeton University. Xue Zhang is working on Qing China’s geographical knowledge of Xinjiang in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries with a special interest in cartography. Here she writes about an important discovery in the British Library India Office Records Map collection

In 1735, Jean-Baptiste Du Halde (1674–1743) thrilled European readers with the news that the Jesuits had made impressive progress in China. His colleagues used a map of Peking to impress the Kangxi emperor (r. 1661-1772) with the accuracy of the European methods and successfully persuaded him to commission the Jesuits to complete a national map of which was to be of vast importance to the empire. In the eighteenth century, a considerable number of Jesuit cartographers worked for the Qing court, and their most important works included the three atlases they presented to the Kangxi, Yongzheng (r. 1722-1735), and Qianlong (r. 1735-1796) emperors.

Noosy Hada off the Coast of the Arctic Ocean (BL IOR/X/3265)
Noosy Hada off the Coast of the Arctic Ocean (BL IOR/X/3265)
https://blogs.bl.uk/.a/6a00d8341c464853ef0240a4428c8a200c-pi

The Jesuit atlas (IOR/X/3265) initially catalogued by the British Library as “Chinese roll maps” is a revision of the Yongzheng Atlas (henceforth the BL edition). A Catalogue of Manuscript and Printed Reports, Field Books, Memoirs, Maps, etc. of the Indian Surveys Deposited in the Map Room of the India Office refers to it as “A Chinese map of the greater part of Asia and part of European Russia,” and includes a detailed entry. As with the Kangxi and Qianlong Atlases, the scope of the Yongzheng Atlas reaches beyond the territories under Qing rule. The northernmost toponym of the BL edition is Noosy Hada off the Russian coast of the Arctic Ocean, and the southmost toponym is the Great Tortoise Shell Shoal ( Da daimao zhou) at the tip of today’s Hainan Island. The atlas extends west to the Red Sea, and east to Gioi Ri li Omo in Russia. Therefore, it is more accurate to regard it as a map of Asia than of the Qing empire.

The Great Tortoise Shell Shoal in the Pacific Ocean (BL IOR/X/3265)
The Great Tortoise Shell Shoal in the Pacific Ocean (BL IOR/X/3265)
https://blogs.bl.uk/.a/6a00d8341c464853ef0240a4428c8a200c-pi

In 1708-1718, under the patronage of the Kangxi emperor, the Jesuits conducted comprehensive surveys of Qing territories, measuring the longitudes and latitudes of 641 sites. Synthesizing their own data and other sources, the Jesuits produced the Kangxi Atlas. In 1756, 1759, and 1772, the Qianlong emperor, Kangxi’s grandson, had the Jesuits map Xinjiang, the former territory of the Zunghars that the Qing had newly acquired. The earliest edition of the Yongzheng Atlas was completed no later than 1726, while the BL edition reflects the territorial changes up through 1760. For most Qing territories, the BL edition consults the results of the land surveys conducted in 1708-1718, 1756, and 1759. For a few borderlands, such as Tibet, and the areas beyond Qing control, the Jesuit cartographers referred to Qing envoys’ records and other materials.

The BL edition of the Yongzheng Atlas is prefaced by two Qianlong’s poems in Chinese and Manchu, which are dated 1756 and 1760. The same poems preface the Qianlong Atlas (BL IOR/X/3265)
The BL edition of the Yongzheng Atlas is prefaced by two Qianlong’s poems in Chinese and Manchu, which are dated 1756 and 1760. The same poems preface the Qianlong Atlas (BL IOR/X/3265)
https://blogs.bl.uk/.a/6a00d8341c464853ef0240a4428c8a200c-pi

The Yongzheng Atlas is characterized by its hybrid style, which distinguishes it from the Kangxi and Qianlong Atlases, which use latitude-longitude coordinates. The BL edition is composed of ten rows of various lengths, and each row is divided into squares of 2.5 inches, by equidistant horizontal and vertical lines. The vertical lines represent meridians with indicators, such as “east one” and “west one,” on the bottom. The prime meridian is based at the Shuntian prefecture, the capital area of the empire. The horizontal lines resemble latitudes but do not note any degree. The coordinates of the Yongzheng Atlas are a hybrid of the latitude-longitude system and the conventional Chinese method of indicating the distance by a network of square grids. The Kangxi and Qianlong Atlases adopt curves, and thus are known as “curved-grid maps” (xiege ditu) in the Qing documents, while the Yongzheng Atlas, featuring straight lines, is referred to as a “rectangular-grid map” (fangge ditu).

The meridian crosses the Shuntian prefecture (In red)
The meridian crosses the Shuntian prefecture (In red)

Imperial cartographers updated the Yongzheng Atlas throughout the eighteenth century to make sure that it reflected the latest territorial changes and cartographical practices, and thus left multiple versions. The currently known nine editions of the Yongzheng Atlas are preserved in five institutions. The xylographic edition in the Chinese Academy of Sciences was printed no later than 1728. The xylographic print and manuscript in the First Historical Archives can be dated to 1729. The two colored xylographic editions in the Palace Museum in Beijing were printed respectively around 1725 and 1729. One manuscript edition in the museum was drawn before 1727, while the other was after 1730. The editions in the National Library of China and the British Library were produced between 1759 and 1761.

In 1825, John Reeves (1774-1865), a British tea merchant in Canton, presented the BL edition of the Yongzheng Atlas to the library of the East India Company in London. During his stay in Canton from 1812 to 1831, Reeves acquired an extensive collection of the specimens and drawings of exotic flora and fauna and his collection ended up in the British Museum’s natural history department. William Huttmann’s report to the Council of the Royal Geographical Society in 1844 briefly described the BL edition. Nevertheless, he mistook the revision of the Yongzheng Atlas for the Qianlong Atlas, which also included depictions of Inner Asian territories gained by the Qing in the 1750. Huttmann claimed that he had translated all the Manchu toponyms and a considerable portion of the Chinese ones in this atlas on behalf of the East India Company.

The marginalia in the lower left corner of the third row.
The marginalia in the lower left corner of the third row.

In his magnum opus Science and Civilisation in China, Joseph Needham argued that the Chinese grid tradition was another form of quantitative cartography, which continued to prosper when the European tradition of quantitative mapmaking suffered a great degeneration in the medieval millennium. The Yongzheng Atlas integrates two traditions, pioneering a series of nineteenth-century maps, in which the Chinese rectangular grid system and the latitude-longitude coordinates coexisted.

Further Reading:

A Catalogue of Manuscript and Printed Reports, Field Books, Memoirs, Maps, etc. of the Indian Surveys Deposited in the Map Room of the India Office. London: W. H. Allen & Co, 1878.

Cams, Mario. Companions in Geography: East-West Collaboration in the Mapping of Qing China (c.1685-1735). Leiden: Brill, 2017.

Hostetler, Laura. Qing Colonial Enterprise: Ethnography and Cartography in Early Modern China. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011.

Millward, James. “Coming onto the Map: ‘Western Regions’ Geography and Cartographic Nomenclature in the Making of Chinese Empire in Xinjiang.” Late Imperial China 20 (1999): 61-98.

Needham, Joseph. Mathematics and the Sciences of the Heavens and Earth, vol. 3 of Science and Civilisation in China. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1959.

Perdue, Peter, “Boundaries, Maps, and Movement: Chinese, Russian, and Mongolian Empires in Early Modern Central Eurasia.” The International History Review 20 (1998): 263-86.

 

Xue Zhang, PhD candidate, Department of East Asian Studies, Princeton University
 ccownwork

22 August 2017

Colin Mackenzie: Collector Extraordinaire

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Through the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Purvai Project at An Lanntair cultural centre in Stornoway has curated an exhibition celebrating the life of Colin Mackenzie (1754-1821), one of the Isle of Lewis’ most famous 19th century explorers who travelled to India and Indonesia. Mackenzie was born on the Isle of Lewis but spent most of his life in India working for the East India Company as a military engineer and surveyor. He saw action across South India, including at the Battle of Seringapattam (1799) against Tipu Sultan, and also spent two years in Java (1811-1812/13) as part of the British occupation force during the Napoleonic Wars. After his return from Java (Indonesia), Mackenzie was appointed the first Surveyor General of India in 1815. He held this post until his death in 1821. He is buried in Park Street Cemetary in Kolkata. The exhibition Collector Extraordinaire brings together a selection of drawings, coins and sculpture collected by Mackenzie from the collections of the British Library, the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum. For the first time ever, these collections have travelled so far north to Stornoway.

View of Colin Mackenzie's memorial plaque and family mausoleum near Stornoway. Photograph by John Falconer, 2017. View of Colin Mackenzie's memorial plaque and family mausoleum near Stornoway. Photograph by John Falconer, 2017.
View of Colin Mackenzie's memorial plaque and family mausoleum near Stornoway. Photographs by John Falconer, 2017.  noc

Mackenzie was interested in the rich history and culture of the lands in which he travelled and worked. He surveyed numerous sites of historical interest, including, famously, the stupa at Amaravati. During his long residence in India, Mackenzie, helped by his local assistants, amassed one of the largest and most diverse collections made here. The tens of thousands of objects in his collection ranged from coins to small bronzes and large stone sculptures, as well as natural history specimens, drawings, and both paper and palm-leaf manuscripts. After his death in 1821, his widow, Petronella, sold his collection to the East India Company for Rs100,000 (£10,000). Most of this material is now held at institutions in the UK and India, including: the British Museum, British Library, V&A, Chennai Government Museum, and the Indian Museum in Kolkata.

The British Library's collection includes more than 1,700 drawings collected by Mackenzie during his career in India. A selection of thirty-two drawings on a range of topics, from sculpture and architecture in India to antiquities in Java either drawn by Mackenzie or under his supervision, are currently on display in the exhibition. Additionally, the well known portrait of Colin Mackenzie painted by the British portraitist Thomas Hickey in 1816 is featured. The drawings are complemented by a number of sculptures and coins from the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum. Highlights include:

Portrait of Colin Mackenzie painted by Thomas Hickey in 1816. Mackenzie, wearing scarlet uniform, is accompanied by three of his Indian assistants. In the distance is the colossal Jain statue of Gomatesvara at Karkala. British Library, Foster 13
Portrait of Colin Mackenzie painted by Thomas Hickey in 1816. Mackenzie, wearing scarlet uniform, is accompanied by three of his Indian assistants. In the distance is the colossal Jain statue of Gomatesvara at Karkala. British Library, Foster 13  noc

Selection of drawings and plans relating to the Buddhist stupa at Amaravati as well as a limestone panel with a high necked vase called a Pūrṇaghaṭa (dating to circa 8th-9th centuries) from the British Museum (1880,0709.68) are on display. Photograph by John Falconer, 2017
Selection of drawings and plans relating to the Buddhist stupa at Amaravati as well as a limestone panel with a high necked vase called a Pūrṇaghaṭa (dating to circa 8th-9th centuries) from the British Museum (1880,0709.68) are on display. Photograph by John Falconer, 2017  noc

Exhibition also features the Jain sculpture of Parvanatha from the Victoria and Albert Museum (931 IS) which dates to the late 12th century - early 14th century and found by Mackenzie in a ruined Jain temple in Karnataka. Photograph by John Falconer, 2017
Exhibition also features the Jain sculpture of Parvanatha from the Victoria and Albert Museum (931 IS) which dates to the late 12th century - early 14th century and found by Mackenzie in a ruined Jain temple in Karnataka. Photograph by John Falconer, 2017  noc

The exhibition 'Collector Extraordinaire' is on view at the An Lanntair and Museum nan Eilean from 12 August to 18 November 2017. The exhibition is curated by Catherine Maclean and is part of Storoway's Puravi festival. 

 

Further reading:

David M. Blake, ‘Colin Mackenzie: Collector Extraordinary’, The British Library Journalpp.128-150.

Jennifer Howes (2002) ‘Colin Mackenzie and the stupa at Amaravati’, South Asian Studies, vol. 18, pp.53-65.

Jennifer Howes (2010) Illustrating India: The early colonial investigations of Colin Mackenzie (1784-1821), New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Sushma Jansari (2012) ‘Roman Coins from the Mackenzie Collection at the British Museum’, Numismatic Chronicle vol.172 (2012), pp.93-104.

Robert Knox (1992) Amaravati: Buddhist sculpture from the Great Stupa, London: British Museum Press.

Akira Shimada & Michael Willis (eds.) (2017) Amaravati: The Art of an Early Buddhist Monument in Context, London: British Museum Press.

 

Sushma Jansari (British Museum) and Malini Roy (British Library)

18 July 2016

The Wise Collection: Acquiring Knowledge on Tibet in the late 1850s

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The drawings in the British Library’s Wise Collection probably form the most comprehensive set of large-scale visual representations of mid-nineteenth century Tibet and the Western Himalayan kingdoms of Ladakh and Zangskar. These drawings were made in the late 1850s – at a time when the mapping of British India was largely complete, but before or around the time when Tibet began to be mapped for the first time by Indian Pundits.

This map shows the border area between Tibet and today’s Arunachal Pradesh in Northeastern India and Bhutan. The right part of the map is oriented to the south (BL Add.Or.3017, f. 6)
This map shows the border area between Tibet and today’s Arunachal Pradesh in Northeastern India and Bhutan. The right part of the map is oriented to the south (BL Add.Or.3017, f. 6)
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The acquisition of systematic knowledge of Tibetan landscapes and societies became an ambitious goal for the British Empire in the 19th century. Such knowledge was often dependent on the aid of local informants. As a result the region was occasionally culturally represented and visualized by local people – such as in case of the Wise Collection.

This map shows the area around Mt. Kailash in Western Tibet. Several lakes are depicted as well as market places and trading centres. The mountains with the white peaks on the upper part of the map represent the Himalaya - the map is oriented to the south (BL Add.Or.3015, f. 4)
This map shows the area around Mt. Kailash in Western Tibet. Several lakes are depicted as well as market places and trading centres. The mountains with the white peaks on the upper part of the map represent the Himalaya - the map is oriented to the south (BL Add.Or.3015, f. 4)
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Detail from the map above, showing Mt. Kailash and surroundings in great detail with the circumambulation path, monasteries, a lake, streams and a tall prayer flag pole
Detail from the map above, showing Mt. Kailash and surroundings in great detail with the circumambulation path, monasteries, a lake, streams and a tall prayer flag pole

The story of the collection’s origin is a puzzle that has only become accessible piece by piece. The collection was named after Thomas Alexander Wise (1802-1889), a Scottish polymath and collector who served in the Indian Medical Service in Bengal in the first half of the 19th century. According to a typewritten note dating from the 1960s, the ‘drawings appear to be by a Tibetan artist, probably a lama, who had contact with Europeans and had developed a semi-European style of drawing.’I have recently uncovered one of the most important parts of the whole ‘Wise puzzle’ – the name of the Scotsman who commissioned the drawings. It was William Edmund Hay (1805-1879), former assistant commissioner of Kulu in today’s Northwest India. Charles Horne writes (Horne 1873: 28)

In the year 1857 one of the travelling Llamas [lamas] from Llassa [Lhasa] came to Lahoul, in the Kûlû country on the Himalêh [Himalaya], and hearing of the mutiny [this refers to the Indian rebellion in 1857] was afraid to proceed. Major Hay, who was at that place in political employ, engaged this man to draw and describe for him many very interesting ceremonies in use in Llassa, […].

William Howard Russell – former special correspondent of The Times – visited Simla in July 1858 and mentions in his diary that ‘Major Hay, formerly resident at Kulu, is here on his way home, with a very curious and valuable collection of Thibetan drawings’ (Russell 1860: 136). These statements most probably refer to the drawings that now form the British Library’s Wise Collection. At the current state of research no definitive statement can be made about the circumstances in which Wise acquired the drawings; most probably Hay sold them to him. The name of the lama who made the drawings also remains unknown, but I have started following the traces he left and hope to identify him one day.

Map showing a part of the Indus Valley in Ladakh (BL Add.Or.3014, f. 4)
Map showing a part of the Indus Valley in Ladakh (BL Add.Or.3014, f. 4)
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Detail from the map above with explanatory notes:  36: Remains of a very old fort. There were said to have been 3 sisters; one built a fort, a second erected 108 chortens [stupas], and the third planted the place with trees: there is this place. 37: A hot spring only visible in winter, as in summer when the river has swollen it over flows it.

Detail from the map above with explanatory notes:

36: Remains of a very old fort. There were said to have been 3 sisters; one built a fort, a second erected 108 chortens [stupas], and the third planted the place with trees: there is this place. 37: A hot spring only visible in winter, as in summer when the river has swollen it over flows it.

The collection comprises six large picture maps – drawn on 27 sheets in total – which add up to a panorama of the 1,800 km between Ladakh and Central Tibet. They are accompanied by 28 related drawings illustrating monastic rituals, ceremonies, etc. referring to places shown on the maps. Placed side by side, the maps present a continuous panorama measuring more than fifteen metres long. Places on the maps are consecutively numbered from Lhasa westwards. Taken together there are more than 900 numbered annotations on the drawings. Explanatory notes referring to the numbers on the drawings were written on separate sheets of paper. Full keys exist only for some maps and for most of the accompanying drawings; other drawings are mainly labelled by captions in Tibetan, while on others English captions dominate. Some drawings lack both captions and explanatory texts. Watermarks on the paper together with internal evidence from the explanatory notes and from the drawings themselves support the fact that the drawings were created in the late 1850s.

The left side of this map shows an illustration of Gyantse in Southern Tibet. On the right side the Yamdroktso Lake and the confluence of Yarlung Tsangpo River and Kyichu River as well as the Chaksam ferry station are depicted. This map is oriented to the north. (BL Add.Or.3016, f. 3)
The left side of this map shows an illustration of Gyantse in Southern Tibet. On the right side the Yamdroktso Lake and the confluence of Yarlung Tsangpo River and Kyichu River as well as the Chaksam ferry station are depicted. This map is oriented to the north. (BL Add.Or.3016, f. 3)
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Detail from the map above, showing amongst others the Yamdroktso Lake, the Yarlung Tsangpo River, several monasteries and mountain passes. The Chaksam ferry is depicted in great detail – showing the iron chain bridge, a horse head ferry and a hide boat
Detail from the map above, showing amongst others the Yamdroktso Lake, the Yarlung Tsangpo River, several monasteries and mountain passes. The Chaksam ferry is depicted in great detail – showing the iron chain bridge, a horse head ferry and a hide boat

Compared to maps created by Westerners the picture maps in the Wise Collection are not primarily concerned with topographical accuracy, but provide a much wider range of visual information. They transmit valuable ideas about the artist’s perception and representation of the territory they illustrate. The panorama shown on the maps represents the area along the travel routes that were used by several groups of people in mid-19th century Tibet – such as traders, pilgrims and officials. The maps present information about topographical characteristics such as mountains, rivers, lakes, flora, fauna and settlements. Furthermore a large amount of detailed information on infrastructure such as bridges, ferries, travel routes, roads and mountain passes is depicted. Illustrations of monasteries, forts and military garrisons – the three main seats of power in mid-19th century Tibet – are highlighted. Thus the drawings supply information not only about strategic details but also about spheres of influence. The question of what purpose the maps served remains a matter for speculation at present. William Edmund Hay was experienced in surveying and mapmaking – he travelled not only in the areas around Kulu, but also in Ladakh and in the Tibetan borderlands. He was also a collector with varied cultural interests. He never had the chance to travel to Central Tibet himself, but his interest in acquiring knowledge about Tibet were characterised by an encyclopaedic approach: he wanted to gather as wide a range of information on the area as possible.

This drawing shows different people and a selection of different types of tents – supplemented by English and Tibetan captions (BL Add.Or.3033)

This drawing shows different people and a selection of different types of tents – supplemented by English and Tibetan captions (BL Add.Or.3033)
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Illustration of a part of a wedding ceremony: the bride is picked up at her house. The whole ceremony is shown on several plates (BL Add.Or.3037)
Illustration of a part of a wedding ceremony: the bride is picked up at her house. The whole ceremony is shown on several plates (BL Add.Or.3037)
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What makes the Wise Collection so fascinating is the fact that it can be studied from different disciplines. On the one hand the picture maps can be assigned to Tibetan cartography and topography; on the other they represent an illustrated ‘ethnographic atlas’. Supplemented by the accompanying drawings and explanatory notes, the Wise Collection represents a ‘compendium of knowledge’ on Tibet.

When I started doing research on the Wise Collection I thought I knew where I was going. But the longer I studied the material and the deeper understanding I gained of the collection as a whole, the more new questions emerged. I realized that the drawings require a wider frame of analysis in their understanding. Thus I focused not just on the stories in the drawings but also on the story of the drawings. The expected results of my research will expand our knowledge about the connection between the production of knowledge and cultural interactions. As the result of a collaborative project of at least two people with different cultural backgrounds, the Wise Collection reflects a complex interpretation of Tibet commissioned by a Scotsman and created by a Buddhist monk. The result of their collaboration represents a ‘visible history’ of the exploration of Tibet. The entire Wise Collection and my research results will be published in my forthcoming large-format monograph.

The whole collection was restored and digitised in 2009 and is available on British Library Images Online (search by shelfmark). The drawings are catalogued as the ‘Wise Albums’ under the shelfmark Add.Or.3013-43. Originally all the drawings were bound in three large red half-leather albums. The related drawings and the relevant explanatory notes are still bound in these albums. The large picture maps have been removed and window-mounted for conservation reasons. The Lhasa map was on display in the exhibition Tibet's Secret Temple held at the Wellcome earlier this year and several of the drawings will also be exhibited in  Monumental Lhasa: Fortress, Palace, Temple, opening in September 2016 at the Rubin Museum of Art, New York

The Tashilhunpo Monastery in Shigatse in Southern Tibet (Detail from BL Add.Or.3016,  f. 2)

The Tashilhunpo Monastery in Shigatse in Southern Tibet (Detail from BL Add.Or.3016,  f. 2)
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Illustration of a ceremony taken place in the courtyard of the Nechung Monastery in Lhasa, seat of the former Tibetan State Oracle (BL Add.Or.3043)
Illustration of a ceremony taken place in the courtyard of the Nechung Monastery in Lhasa, seat of the former Tibetan State Oracle (BL Add.Or.3043)
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Further reading:

Diana Lange, Journey of Discovery: An Atlas of the Himalayas by a Nineteenth-Century Tibetan Monk. The British Librarys Wise Collection (working title of forthcoming publication).
––– “A Dundee’s Doctor’s Collection(s) on Tibet: Thomas Alexander Wise (1802–1889).” In: Charles Ramble and Ulrike Rösler (eds) Tibetan and Himalayan Healing. An Anthology for Anthony Aris. Kathmandu, 2015: 433–52.
–––“Visual representation of Ladakh and Zangskar in the British Library’s Wise Collection.” In: Robert Linrothe and Heinrich Pöll (eds) Visible Heritage: Essays on the Art and Architecture of Greater Ladakh. New Delhi, 2016: 131-68.
William Edmund Hay, “Report on the Valley of Spiti; and facts collected with a view to a Future Revenue Settlement,” Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal 19 (1850): 429–51.
Charles Horne, “Art. III.—On the Methods of Disposing of the Dead at Llassa, Thibet, etc.,” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain & Ireland 6 (1873): 28–35.
William Howard Russell, My Diary in India, in the Year 1858-59, vol. 2. London, 1860.

 

Diana Lange, Humboldt University Berlin
 ccownwork

06 July 2016

Intelligence mapping of British East Africa: a new online resource from the British Library

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With generous funding from the Indigo Trust the British Library has published online over 550 colonial-era military intelligence maps relating to the former British East Africa: modern-day Kenya and Uganda, and adjacent parts of Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, DR Congo, South Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia.

The sheets were created between 1890 and 1940, and comprise sketches, surveys and hand-drawn finished maps held at the British Library in the so-called War Office Archive. A dedicated webpage provides easy access to the archive with links to catalogue records and high-res images, which can be viewed on the British Library website or downloaded free of charge from Wikimedia Commons. A Google Maps page provides a geographical index to the sheets. 

A geographical index to sheets in the archive, plotted in Google Maps
A geographical index to sheets in the archive, plotted in Google Maps

The archive is a rich resource not only for researchers of African, colonial and personal history, but also for environmentalists and climate scientists. Many of the sheets represent the earliest systematic surveys of East Africa, and provide historical ethnographic information relating to populations, settlements and regions along with details of historical land use, limits of vegetation, hydrology and much else.

Umkamba Province, Central Part of, 1901. WOMAT/AFR/BEA/54
Umkamba Province, Central Part of, 1901. WOMAT/AFR/BEA/54

This sheet (WOMAT/AFR/BEA/54) was created in 1901 and shows a region to the north and east of Nairobi, which had been founded just two years before – the western limit of detail on the map is approximately seven miles from the centre of the city today. The sheet gives the names and locations of ethnic groups and settlements, and describes areas of habitation, cultivation and vegetation immediately prior to European settlement.

Detail of (WOMAT/AFR/BEA/54) showing the region around Fort Hall.
Detail of (WOMAT/AFR/BEA/54) showing the region around Fort Hall.

At this time the British Government strongly promoted settlement along the length of the newly-constructed Mombasa to Lake Victoria railway line which ran through Nairobi to the south, and the map’s creator, Captain Bertram Dickson, was sent to assess the region’s suitability for settlement and agriculture. The dry tone of his report  is at odds with the delicate inks and watercolours of the map, but the purpose of his expedition is clear:
‘Wherever the surface is flat swamps are found, probably owing to the enormous rainfall, but they could be easily drained… The hills are rough and rocky...and as there is no water on them it is unlikely they could be of much use in agriculture… The soil only needs cultivating to grow almost anything...’
Dickson reveals other, more immediate obstacles to settlement, but these are quickly passed over:
‘Owing to the hostility of the natives at Meruka, it was impossible to traverse this district thoroughly, but it appears that the passage from the cultivated hills to the plains is here more gradual, there being no dividing line of forest…’

Detail of 'Colony & Protectorate of Kenya. Plans Showing Administrative Boundaries' (WOMAT/AFR/BEA/275/10) also showing the region around Fort Hall.
Detail of 'Colony & Protectorate of Kenya. Plans Showing Administrative Boundaries' (WOMAT/AFR/BEA/275/10) also showing the region around Fort Hall.

This later sheet shows how quickly the region was transformed in the years following. It forms part of a set of maps produced in 1924 by the Land Survey Department, Nairobi, and depicts the numerous parcels of land that had been created for sale or lease to European settlers.

The images in this post are made freely available under an Open Government Licence v1.0 (OGL). 

Further reading:

B. Dickson, ‘The Eastern Borderlands of Kikuyu’, The Geographical Journal, 21 no. 1 (Jan., 1930),  36-39

Nicholas Dykes Ccownwork
formerly Cataloguer, War Office Archive, British Library

19 February 2016

Kaempfer’s cat

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And Did Those Feet In Ancient Times…?

Recent ultraviolet photography of a 17th century map of the Japanese port city of Nagasaki has revealed the unsuspected paw prints of a cat.

Ultraviolet photography revealing cat paw prints on Nagasaki ezu. (Photo: Christina Duffy, British Library)

Ultraviolet photography revealing cat paw prints on Nagasaki ezu. (Photo: Christina Duffy, British Library)

The untitled map – traditionally referred to as Nagasaki ezu 長崎絵図 (‘Illustrated Map of Nagasaki’, BL shelfmark Or.75.g.25) – is part of the collection acquired by Sir Hans Sloane, ‘father’ of the British Museum, from the family of the German physician and naturalist Engelbert Kaempfer (1651-1716). Kaempfer was the author of The History of Japan, published posthumously in 1727, one of the most influential early works introducing Japan to a Western audience. Employed by the Dutch East India Company, Kaempfer stayed in Japan from 1690-1692. He served as medical officer in the Dutch trading factory on Deshima, the artificial island in Nagasaki Bay constructed by the Japanese authorities to house the small number of Western merchants permitted to trade. During his time in Japan Kaempfer amassed a large number of books, manuscripts, paintings, botanical drawings and artefacts which he used as sources for his writings on his return to Europe, However his work on Japan remained unpublished at his death in 1716 and between 1723 and 1725 the draft manuscript along with his collections were acquired by Sloane. It was Sloane who arranged for its translation into English and publication. Of the sixty items listed as being bought by Sloane forty-five have so far been identified. They are chiefly maps, dictionaries, travel guides, chronologies, directories and popular literature – all typical of the printed material that would have been readily available at the time. Although the individual items were not remarkable when first published, this small collection is now one of the earliest, if not the earliest to survive in Europe.

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

The Nagasaki ezu was printed using woodblocks and then hand-coloured. It is undated but shows bridges over the River Nakashima which were constructed before 1681. It was clearly already out of date by the time Kaempfer acquired it because he made amendments -such as adding the Chinese merchants’ settlement (Tōjin yashiki 唐人屋敷) built in 1689 - when he copied the map in his manuscript. A version of this appears in The History of Japan as ‘Urbs Nangasaki’. The Nagasaki ezu shows in detail the city and harbour with the fan-shaped Deshima island near the centre and is decorated with depictions of Dutch and Chinese ships and of “exotic” foreigners including a Dutch man and woman.

Urbs Nangasaki’ in The History of Japan was based on Kaempfer’s Nagasaki ezu – without the paw prints! (British Library 150.k.9-10)
‘Urbs Nangasaki’ in The History of Japan was based on Kaempfer’s Nagasaki ezu – without the paw prints! (British Library 150.k.9-10)   noc

Colour composite UV photography revealed a pair of feline paw prints just below Deshima island, near where the river enters the harbour. Sadly, the identity of the mystery moggy will never be known nor when or under what circumstances it sauntered across the map. No doubt there were cats on Deshima - as well as dogs, cattle, pigs, goats, chickens, parrots, monkeys and even a porcupine and a cassowary which all appear in paintings of the Dutch factory. Kaempfer certainly wrote about Japanese cats in The History of Japan, “They have a particular beautiful kind of cats [sic] which is a domestick animal with them, as with us. They are of a whitish colour, with large yellow and black spots, and a very short tail, as if it has been purposely cut off. They don’t care for mousing, but love mightily to be carried out, and carress’d, chiefly by women” (The History of Japan. Book I Chapter X)

Left: Self-portrait of Engelbert Kaempfer from a drawing of the Dutch merchants’ official journey to Edo. (British Library Sloane Ms 3060 fol. 501)  Right: Japanese tricolour mikeneko. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Left: Self-portrait of Engelbert Kaempfer from a drawing of the Dutch merchants’ official journey to Edo. (British Library Sloane Ms 3060 fol. 501)   noc
Right: Japanese tricolour mikeneko. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

So it is appealing to imagine it was Kaempfer’s cat that stepped on the map, trying to distract its master from his studies – in a way familiar to any cat owner.

Or perhaps Sir Hans Sloane had a cat which ventured into his cabinet of curiosities when the map was lying open.

A third possibility, albeit more worrying from a ‘collection security’ point of view, is that the paw prints were left by one of succession of cats which patrolled the British Museum keeping the mice in check (more on this at ʻBlack Jack, Mike and the British Museumʼ). The most famous of these was Mike who lived at the Museum for twenty years and whose death in 1929 was marked by a memorial poem and an obituary in the Evening Standard!
 

Further reading

Kenneth B Gardner, Descriptive Catalogue of Japanese Books in the British Library Printed before 1700. London: The British Library, 1993.  Contains detailed descriptions of all Japanese books in the Kaempfer collection

Yu-Ying Brown, “Japanese Books and Manuscripts: Sloane’s Japanese Library and the Making of the History of Japan”, in Arthur MacGragor (ed.), Sir Hans Sloane: Collector, Scientist , Antiquary, Founding Father of the British Museum. London: British Museum, 1994, pp. 278-290.  On Sloane’s acquisition of the collection


Hamish Todd, Head of East Asian Collections, with thanks to Christina Duffy, Conservation
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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. 

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

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

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

Unidentified stone inscription. British Library, Photo 1213(460)
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.
    
Traditional Norah dance performer in Southern Thailand, late 1960s. British Library, Photo 1213(233)
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.   

A 19th century map drawn on cotton showing the coast of Thailand. British Library, Photo 1213(1353)
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.
 
GinsburgPhoto1213-1485
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. Download Henry Ginsburg Guardian of Thai Treasures

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.

13 February 2015

Southeast Asian manuscripts digitised through the Ginsburg Legacy

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The world of scholarship has been revolutionised by numerous digitisation programmes undertaken in libraries throughout the world. Now, instead of having to travel thousands of miles for expensive and extensive visits to cities where unique historical sources are housed, it is ever more possible to make a detailed study of a manuscript from one’s own home, in any country, via the internet. Digitisation programmes are usually shaped both by the interests of patrons and the strengths of an institution’s collections, and among the exciting projects to digitise material from the Asian and African collections of the British Library are those of Malay manuscripts in collaboration with the National Library of Singapore supported by William and Judith Bollinger, Thai manuscripts funded by the Royal Thai government, Persian manuscripts in partnership with the Iran Heritage Foundation, and Hebrew manuscripts with the Polonsky Foundation. However, with the emphasis on large projects, it is not always easy to prioritise the digitisation of other important manuscripts from smaller language groups, or from regions for which funding proves difficult to source.

Note in the Bugis language and script, from the diary of the king of Bone, south Sulawesi, 1775. British Library, Add. 12354, f. 2r (detail).
Note in the Bugis language and script, from the diary of the king of Bone, south Sulawesi, 1775. British Library, Add. 12354, f. 2r (detail).

The Southeast Asia section of the British Library is fortunate in that a legacy from the estate of the late Henry D. Ginsburg (1940-2007), who was for over thirty years the Library’s curator for Thai, Lao and Cambodian collections, has enabled the digitisation of a small number of significant manuscripts, some representing writing traditions rarely accessible on the internet. In 2013, seven of the most important illuminated and illustrated manuscripts in Vietnamese, Burmese and Javanese were digitised. In 2014 we completed the digitisation of a further 15 manuscripts from Southeast Asia, in Vietnamese, Burmese, Shan, Khamti, Lao, Thai, Bugis, Javanese and Arabic, which this month have been made accessible through the Digitised Manuscripts website.

Artistically, the highlights are probably six Burmese folding book (parabaik) manuscripts, all lavishly and exquisitely illustrated. Three of the manuscripts depict scenes from the Life of the Buddha (Or. 4762, Or. 5757 and Or. 14197) while the other three contain Jataka stories (Or. 13538, Or. 4542A and Or. 4542B, and MSS Burmese 202).

The Jātaka stories about the previous lives of the Gautama Buddha are preserved in all branches of Buddhism. These stories show how he gradually acquired greater strength and moral stature as his soul passed from one incarnation to the other. Shown above is a scene from the Latukika Jataka. The Bodhisatta, the leader of the elephants (gilded) protects the offspring of a quail who had laid her eggs in the feeding ground of the elephants. British Library, Or. 13538, ff. 20-22
The Jātaka stories about the previous lives of the Gautama Buddha are preserved in all branches of Buddhism. These stories show how he gradually acquired greater strength and moral stature as his soul passed from one incarnation to the other. Shown above is a scene from the Latukika Jataka. The Bodhisatta, the leader of the elephants (gilded) protects the offspring of a quail who had laid her eggs in the feeding ground of the elephants. British Library, Or. 13538, ff. 20-22.

Also in folding book format is a lavishly decorated Buddhist manuscript, Buddhānussati, in Shan language (Or. 12040), a copy of Tamrā phichai songkhrām in Thai language (Or. 15760), and a rare Lao dictionary in three volumes from the 19th century (Add. 11624).

This Shan folding book (pap tup), dated 1885, with the title Buddhānussati contains a text on recollections of the Buddha, explaining mindfulness with the Buddha’s virtues as objects. The embossed gilded covers are studded with multi-coloured mirror glass for ornate floral decoration. British Library, Or.12040, front cover.
This Shan folding book (pap tup), dated 1885, with the title Buddhānussati contains a text on recollections of the Buddha, explaining mindfulness with the Buddha’s virtues as objects. The embossed gilded covers are studded with multi-coloured mirror glass for ornate floral decoration. British Library, Or.12040, front cover.

Folio 16 of the Tamrā phichai songkhrām, explaining various appearances of sun and how to interpret them. This Thai divination manual for the prediction of wars, conflicts and natural disasters also contains explanations of the shapes of clouds, the moon and planets. British Library, Or.15760, folio 16.
Folio 16 of the Tamrā phichai songkhrām, explaining various appearances of sun and how to interpret them. This Thai divination manual for the prediction of wars, conflicts and natural disasters also contains explanations of the shapes of clouds, the moon and planets. British Library, Or.15760, folio 16.

Another rarity that has been digitised in this project is a bound and scrolled paper book (pap kin) in Khamti Shan script, Kuasala Ainmakan (Or. 3494). The book, dated 1860, is sewn in a blue cotton wrapper with a white and pink braided cotton string. It contains the Mahāsupina Jātaka about the dreams of King Pasenadi, the King of Kosala.  

From the Vietnamese collection was selected ‘The Northwards Embassy by land and water’, a rare pictorial manuscript map, Bắc Sứ Thủy Lục Địa Đô (Or. 14907), illustrating the journey from Hanoi to Beijing in 1880. This manuscript is currently on display in the exhibition ‘Geo/Graphic: celebrating maps and their stories’, at the National Library of Singapore (16 January – 19 July 2015).

Tai Ping City , located by Gu Fang Mountain. The city was well fortified with a fortress and could be dated back to the Ming dynasty.British Library, Or. 14907, f. 11r.
Tai Ping City , located by Gu Fang Mountain. The city was well fortified with a fortress and could be dated back to the Ming dynasty.British Library, Or. 14907, f. 11r.

Two very different Javanese manuscripts were digitised. The first, Serat Jaya Lengkara Wulang (MSS Jav 24), contains ethical teachings of the royal house of Yogyakarta, with many fine examples of illumination. The other manuscript (Sloane 2645) is a work on Islamic law, Mukhtasar Ba Fadl or Muqaddimat al-Hadrami, here going under the title Masa'il al-ta'lim, written in Arabic with interlinear translation and marginal commentary in Javanese in Arabic (Pegon) script. The manuscript, which is dated 1623, is from the founding collections of Sir Hans Sloane, and may be one of the earliest dated examples of a Javanese manuscript in Pegon script, and written on Javanese paper dluwang) made from the bark of the mulberry tree.

Illuminated architectural section heading from a Javanese manuscript, Serat Jaya Lengkara Wulang, Yoygyakarta, 1803. British Library, MSS Jav. 24, f. 22v.
Illuminated architectural section heading from a Javanese manuscript, Serat Jaya Lengkara Wulang, Yoygyakarta, 1803. British Library, MSS Jav. 24, f. 22v.

Start of a new chapter (bab) in Masa'il al-ta'lim, in Arabic with interlinear translation in Javanese, 1623. British Library, Sloane 2645, f. 34r (detail).
Start of a new chapter (bab) in Masa'il al-ta'lim, in Arabic with interlinear translation in Javanese, 1623. British Library, Sloane 2645, f. 34r (detail).

The final manuscript, also from Indonesia, is in the Bugis language and script (Add. 12354). This is the personal diary of Sultan Ahmad al-Salih Syamsuddin of Bone, in south Sulawesi, covering the years 1775-1795, and written in his own hand. The diary contains a wealth of detail on the social, political, economic and cultural life of Sulawesi in the late 18th century.

Entries for the first few days of August 1781, in the Bugis diary of Sultan Ahmad al-Salih. British Library, Add. 12354, f. 52r (detail).
Entries for the first few days of August 1781, in the Bugis diary of Sultan Ahmad al-Salih. British Library, Add. 12354, f. 52r (detail).

Annabel Teh Gallop, San San May, Jana Igunma, Sud Chonchirdsin

Southeast Asia section curators