SEALG Annual Meeting 2023 in Marseille

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This year’s Annual Meeting of SEALG will take place at Maison Asie-Pacifique in the sunny city of Marseille, France, on Thursday 15 June and Friday 16 June 2023.
The two-day event will begin with a round table on recent library activities and the annual general meeting on Thursday morning, followed by a panel session for the presentation of selected papers on library and archive related topics and collections in the afternoon.

On Friday morning we will visit the Archives d’Outre-Mer in Aix-en-Provence to see a selection of their materials related to Southeast Asia. In the afternoon, we are planning a thematic round table to allow time for follow-up discussions on the topics of the panel session. After the round table, we will have time for networking while going for a walk along the stunning blue bays of Marseille’s Calanques national park. For those who wish to extend their stay: the region offers ample opportunity for various kinds of activities and outings.
All members of SEALG and guests are most welcome to attend this in-person event and participation will not be restricted to library or archive staff.

In preparation of the panel session on 15 June 2023 SEALG invites proposals for papers on three themes to choose from:

  • collections, archives and library work as well as recent developments in the field of
    South East Asian Studies
  • acquisition, storage and access of born digital material
  • contested heritage and providing access to heritage communities

A paper presentation should not exceed 30 minutes (including time for questions/discussion). Paper abstracts should be no more than 200 words and must include a title, author’s name and affiliation, as well as contact details. We encourage submissions from library and archive staff as well as from scholars and graduate students. The deadline for paper proposals is 31 May 2023. Publication of a paper will be possible in the SEALG Newsletter. For submission of your paper proposal / abstract, registration and further information please contact Christophe Caudron (christophe.caudronATuniv-amu.fr) or Marije Plomp (m.plompATlibrary.leidenuniv.nl).

Photo impressions from a former SEALG annual meeting in Marseille

Recently completed ‘Endangered Archives Programme’ projects in Southeast Asia

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Since 2004, the Endangered Archives Programme (EAP) has helped to preserve cultural heritage and to make it available globally to as wide an audience as possible. To achieve this, grants are provided to digitise and document archives that are at risk of loss or decay, and which are located in countries where resources and opportunities to preserve such material are lacking or limited. ‘Archives’ refers to materials in written, pictorial or audio formats, including manuscripts, rare printed books, documents, newspapers, periodicals, photographs and sound recordings. The material can date from any time before the middle of the twentieth century, though archives that cross over to some extent into the second half of the twentieth century may be accepted if the majority of the material is earlier. One of the key principles is that the original material remains in the country in which it is located. EAP projects create digital material in a format that facilitates long-term preservation, and at least two copies of these are stored: a primary copy that remains at an appropriate repository in the country of origin, and a secondary copy held at the British Library and made available freely on the EAP website. Thanks to generous funding from Arcadia, a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin, EAP has provided grants to several hundred projects in over ninety countries worldwide, in more than a hundred languages and scripts. In this blog post, we introduce six recently completed EAP projects in Southeast Asian countries that provide access to manuscripts and archival materials relevant to research in the field of Southeast Asian Studies.

Identifying and Digitising Eastern Salient Manuscripts of Java (EAP1334)

The project identified and digitised 97 Eastern Salient manuscripts of Java, in 24 collections located in Banyuwangi, Jember, Bondowoso, Situbondo, and Lumajang. They are written in Arabic, Perso-Arabic, Carakan, and Javanese scripts. Data on the contents, subjects, custodial history and original location of the manuscripts were recorded. In many cases, also biographical data of the manuscripts collectors or owners were added to the item descriptions. The contents of these manuscripts cover aspects of pesantren (Islamic boarding schools), religion, history, culture, metaphysics, etc. Due to the vulnerability of the manuscripts, they were digitised by being photographed on location. This project was carried out by Mrs Wiwin Indiarti in collaboration with Universitas PGRI Banyuwangi and Library of Universitas PGRI Banyuwangi. For this pilot project, a grant of £12,795 was awarded in 2021. The digitised manuscripts and a short promotional film can be accessed on the EAP1334 project page.

EAP1334 Digitisation training, November 2021

Personal Manuscripts on the Periphery of Javanese Literature: A Survey and Digitisation of Private Collections from the Javanese North Coast, its Sundanese Hinterlands and the Fringes of Court (EAP1268)

In this project 399 items in 22 collections were digitised. These materials highlight the periphery of Javanese and Sundanese literature and provide insights into the more personal sides of Javanese and Sundanese writing. They cover tales written by scribes residing near shrines, administrative handbooks, notebooks and recipe books scribbled by commoners and works produced by courtiers on their own behalf without apparent patronage from nobles or sovereigns. Their vernacular provenance increases their obscurity and simultaneously limits their preservation due to a lack of patrons. This project was carried out by Mr Simon Carlos Kemper in cooperation with University Gadjah Mada and MAIS archival systems Indonesia. For this pilot project, a grant of £15,057 was awarded in 2019. The digitised manuscripts can be accessed on the EAP1268 project page.

Survey, Preservation and Digitisation of Palm-leaf Manuscripts (lontar) in Private Collections of Bali and Lombok. (EAP1241)

The main outcome of this project has been the digitisation and cataloguing of about 100 lontar manuscripts of the private collection of Balinese man of letters Ida Dewa Gede Catra, which until 2021 were stored in the premises of the Museum Pustaka Lontar Dukuh Penaban (Karangasem, East Bali, Indonesia). The project has also surveyed nine private collections of manuscripts in Bali and five collections in Lombok, gathering information about the extent, history, and state of the material, and putting into effect basic conservation interventions on the manuscripts. 29 manuscripts from the Balinese collections and seven manuscripts from the collections in Lombok were digitised and catalogued. A significant achievement of the project has been in the domain of knowledge-transfer, through the training of a team in Bali that is now able to work independently on the identification, preservation, cataloguing, digitisation and permanent digital storage and retrieval of palm-leaf lontar manuscripts. Equally importantly, this project has contributed to raise the awareness among the owners of manuscripts as well as the general population in Bali and Lombok about the importance of this fragile heritage that forms an important part of the literary and cultural life of Bali and Lombok, and about the need to not only preserve it, but also make it more accessible to interested parties both locally, nationally, and worldwide. This project was carried out by Dr Andrea Acri together with the École Pratique des Hautes Études (EPHE), PSL University and National Library of Indonesia. For this pilot project, a grant of £14,000 was awarded in 2019. The digitised manuscripts can be accessed on the EAP1241 project page.

EAP1241 Inspecting manuscripts in Karangasem

Survey of Lao Manuscripts in Vientiane and two neighbouring provinces (EAP1319)

The project surveyed the manuscript holdings of 166 temples within Vientiane using data from previous surveys as a baseline to investigate changes. As anticipated based on prior isolated inspections, the project confirmed that significant manuscript losses had taken place over the past 20-35 years (depending upon the date of the previous surveys). The overall findings show that out of total of 21,383 manuscripts based on previous survey records, only 12,457 remain in 2022, i.e. the number of manuscripts lost is 9,179 or 42.93% of the expected total. The overarching reason for this very significant loss are lack of care, compounded by termites, rain damage, fire, etc. This project highlighted the need to reconsider existing policies and practices for manuscript preservation in Laos. In addition to a detailed comparison of previous records with current holdings, the project also built on the basic manuscript catalogue data to include information at the repository level, conservation data, records of microfilming or digitisation, contact details of resource persons for the production and use of manuscripts, a photographic record of conditions before and after preservation work, and causes of manuscript loss. The resulting database provides the foundation for a comprehensive ‘national database of Lao manuscript cultures’ to be used as a tool for future preservation, digitisation, and research efforts. A sample of 28 manuscripts from four locations were digitised during the survey project, with dates from 1770 to 1973. This project was carried out by Dr David Wharton in collaboration with the National Library of Laos. For this major project, a grant of £55,070 was awarded in 2021. The surveys and 28 digitised manuscripts can be accessed on the EAP1319 project page.

EAP1319 Manuscript survey in Vat That Khao temple, Vientiane, Laos

Digital Library of the Lanten Textual Heritage – Phase II (EAP1126)

This project continued the digital preservation of manuscripts of the Lanten ethnic group in North Laos that began in a previous EAP project (EAP791). The follow-up project identified a larger number of manuscripts than the ones initially listed to be preserved; it also discovered seriously threatening conditions. The targeted manuscripts contain the information enabling shamans and priests to engage Daoist Deities in the rituals that ensure the continuity of the Lanten society’s socio-cosmological order. The depletion of this corpus following the political and economic turmoil after the Indochina War and the establishment of the centralised socialist Lao State have been affecting the social foundations of this society. This project, which was carried out by Dr Helene Basu in cooperation with Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster and the National Library of Laos, catalogued and digitised 1352 manuscripts in 44 collections. For this phase-II project, a grant of £27,500 was awarded in 2018, and the digitised manuscripts are accessible via EAP1126 project page.

EAP1126 Manuscript owner in Luang Namtha, Laos

Recalling a Translocal Past: Digitising Thai-Mon palm-leaf manuscripts (EAP1123)

The Mon people of Thailand and Burma were regional cultural and religious intermediaries and supported a palm leaf manuscript tradition into the 1920s. Although there are important collections of such manuscripts in Thailand, no official Thai body has ever digitised these manuscripts. Among them are texts unknown in Burma, which are key to understanding recent history and the Mon role in intellectual history. The collections have been exposed to various hazards, like vermin and flooding. Disinterest has also led to damage and loss. Today, young Thai people with Mon ancestry are interested in their heritage and the need to preserve these collections became urgent. Over the course of two months (January to March 2019), the research team gathered the names of some 28 Mon temples/collections in and around Bangkok. This was done by word of mouth from the initial temples visited and through conversations with local experts. Of the 28 temples, a total of 25 were visited; the remaining three were far away from Bangkok in places like Chiang Mai, some 400 miles north. Six temples did not have, or no longer had, Mon-language manuscripts. A survey was produced and 48 manuscripts in six collections were digitised. This project was carried out by Dr Patrick McCormick in collaboration with SEA Junction (Southeast Asia Junction) and Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn Anthropology Centre. For this pilot project, a grant of £11,463 was awarded in 2018. The catalogued records and digitised manuscripts can be accessed on the EAP1123 project page. A major follow-up project “Recalling a trans-local past: digitising Mon palm-leaf manuscripts of Thailand. Part 2 (EAP1432)” is currently underway.

The Endangered Archives Programme continues to offer approximately 30 grants each year to enable researchers to identify and preserve culturally important archives through digitisation. Applications open usually in September every year. The website also offers free access to useful resources and guides to assist with applications and the methodology of successfully carrying out digitisation projects. An immersive yet informative video (14 min) on the important work carried out in projects of the Endangered Archives Programme is available on the EAP blog.

New issue of SEALG Newsletter published

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A new issue of the SEALG Newsletter (December 2022) has been published and is now available online.

Included in the Newsletter is the report of our group’s Annual Meeting that took place in Paris on 1 July 2022, in collaboration with the 12th EuroSEAS Conference. In addition to this detailed report by Marije Plomp and Jana Igunma, the latest issue of the Newsletter contains the following articles:

  • Laos Cultural Vignettes in the British Library’s Philatelic Collections by Richard Scott Morel (The British Library)
  • Talipot and Ceremonial Fans in Thai Manuscript Art by Jana Igunma (The British Library)
  • The Current Status of Cataloging Southeast Asian Language Materials at CORMOSEA Consortium of Research Libraries in the Unites States by Virginia Shih (South/Southeast Asia Library, University of California, Berkeley) and Zoë McLaughlin (South/Southeast Asia Librarian, Michigan State University)
  • Malay Comic Books from the 1950s and 1960s in the British Library by Annabel Teh Gallop (The British Library)

Finally, included is also a report of a Laboratory on “Lao Collections in the Digital Age: Libraries, Archives, Museums” held at the 7th International Conference on Lao Studies, 15-18 November 2022.

Previous issues of the Newsletter in electronic format are also available on the SEALG homepage.

SEALG Annual Meeting and Panel at the EuroSEAS Conference, Paris 2022

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The SEALG Annual Meeting 2022 took place in Paris in collaboration with the 12th EuroSEAS Conference, 28 June to 1 July 2022. On this occasion, our group organised a conference panel with the title Southeast Asia Libraries between Open Science, heritage collections and ethical standards of custodianship, which was held on 1 July as part of the EuroSEAS Conference. The Annual General Meeting took place on the same day, following the panel presentations, at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS), on the new Campus Condorcet, Paris-Aubervilliers.

The program on 1 July started with the SEALG panel which was chaired by Marije Plomp (Leiden University Libraries) and Jana Igunma (British Library). The theme of the panel was inspired by the fact that the foundations of European libraries holding Southeast Asian heritage collections are rooted mainly in the colonial enterprise. Both the collections and the accumulated knowledge about them bear the stamp of the values and beliefs of the European, nineteenth and early twentieth century collectors and scholars, whose assignments were inextricably bound up with the mission of the colonial state. Post-colonial voices from both academia and the broader society have exposed how some of these values have continued to influence the way European libraries manage, describe and present heritage material. As a result, some of these institutions have begun to critically investigate the make-up and provenance of their colonial collections, as well as the manner in which the collections are being managed. These endeavors have given rise foremost to policies directed at bridging the physical distance between heritage collections and the various stakeholders in Southeast Asia. Most libraries have begun taking measures to facilitate access to the collections and academic output through, for example, digitisation and digital collections, Open Access institutional repositories, research scholarships and facilities, and online catalogue tutorials, seminars and Open Access e-publications promoting the collections.

The panel explored these and other practices that can be taken up by libraries aimed at reducing inequalities related to access to heritage collections and knowledge production, next to other topics related to ethical custodianship. Topics for discussion included aspects of supporting Open Science and Open Access; opening up the collections for everyone, not just academia; providing free access to primary and secondary sources, independently from language/script, place of publication, peer-review, and format of publication; improving discoverability of material in non-European languages; critical re-evaluation of the language, scripts and standards used for cataloguing; heritage collection crowd sourcing projects; (re)discovery of collections; provenance research and acquisition transparency in the context of data protection and privacy legislation; optimization of the digitization process and projects; ethical issues arising from digitisation.

During two sessions, which were attended not only by librarians but also scholars and researchers, six papers were presented.

The first session was opened by Marije Plomp (Asian Library, Leiden University Libraries) with her presentation on “Bridging the gap: Managing colonial heritage collections, best practices and opportunities at the Asian Library”. With the transfer of the KIT and KITLV collections related to the former Dutch East Indies/Indonesia to Leiden University Libraries in 2013-14, the library’s Indonesia collection became the second largest in the world. A notable part consists of heritage material that was collected during the colonial period. In the last five years in particular, post-colonial voices from both academia and the broader society have called upon institutions holding colonial collections to critically assess their collections and the manner in which they manage them. Leiden University Libraries reacted with measures directed at bridging the physical gap between heritage collections and the various stakeholders in Indonesia. Marije discussed these measures in her presentation, as well as other actions directed more generally at accommodating Indonesian user groups and stakeholders in the library. Besides this, she looked into the best practices of other institutions that could perhaps be implemented at Leiden University Libraries.

The second presenter was Awang Azman Awang Pawi from the Academy of Malay Studies, University of Malaya Kuala Lumpur, with his paper “From Malay to Malaysiana: Collection between Access and Preservation”. Since the establishment of University of   Malaya (UML) of Kuala Lumpur’s campus in 1959, UML has been developing a collection of publications known as Malaysiana, which are technically defined as material about Malaysia published locally or overseas. The nucleus of the collection itself was inherited from a British colonial who initiated the field of Malay Studies at the UML in Singapore 1953. UML possesses a unique Malaysiana collection with research potential, however, in general the information about it is still superficial. Awang Azman Awang Pawi discussed the accessibility of the Malaysiana collection, as well as the preservation of the collection in the context of the Open Science concept. UML has started several digital initiatives to improve access to the collection for its users, alongside the library’s obligation to preserve this heritage collection. There is also a need for metadata and information enhancements of the materials in the collection to promote research and to encourage researchers from around the world to use this unique source.

The next speaker was Taufiq Hanafi, a researcher at the Royal Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies (KITLV) and the Leiden Institute for Area Studies (LIAS), Leiden University, with his presentation “The Irony of Abundance: Open Science, Copious Resources, and yet Low Research Output”. According to recent research, with relatively low per-capita GDP, underdeveloped electronic text markets, and rapidly growing student population, Indonesia belongs to top users and largest downloaders of shadow libraries. It ranks second in the use of Library Genesis via the B mirror – after Russia – and becomes a major traffic source for data transactions. In addition, other channels for Open Science and data dissemination, such as the official mailing list group for Indonesia’s largest scholarship program LPDP and accompanying social media accounts, have a strong archival function and consistently address the lack of access to digital copies. In this regard, despite the seemingly-illegal nature of this mode of sharing, to date, Indonesia does not only have the ability to access knowledge but also to collect or even hoard. Nonetheless, Indonesia accounted for only 0.65% of academic publications in the ASEAN region and just over 0.2% of global publications, indicative of narrow engagement in science and a weak knowledge sector of the country. Taufiq Hanafi emphasized that his paper did not aim at negating the noble aim of libraries in the European setting at reducing inequalities related to access and opening up their collections for everyone, but rather questioned what can be done to address the issue of insularity in knowledge production.

Taufiq Hanafi presenting his paper during the first session of the SEALG panel

After a lively discussion of the first three presentations, the second session of this panel was opened by Jotika Khur-Yearn, SOAS Library, London, with his talk on “Digital Collections of Shan Manuscripts: Access, Discovery and Evaluation”. His paper discussed the digital collections of Shan manuscripts that have been made available for Open Access through digitisation projects with the support of generous funding from various organisations and institutions in the last few years. Through both Jotika Khur-Yearn’s participation in some of the digitisation projects and his own research interest in the Shan manuscript literature, these digital collections of Shan manuscripts have become treasure troves for exploration and discovery of rare literary material and information resources on various areas in the fields of humanities and social sciences as he illustrated with some examples in his talk. In addition to the digital collections of Shan manuscripts, he was also involved in a few projects to catalogue Shan manuscripts, and as a result he became aware of many more collections of Shan manuscripts that are still awaiting digitisation and preservation.

Jana Igunma from the British Library, London, followed next with her presentation on “The Thai tradition of manuscript copying and related curatorial challenges”. Until the introduction of printing technology in Thailand (then Siam) in the 1830s, the tradition and art of manuscript copying was one of the two main methods to preserve texts, the other being oral transmission by way of memorising texts. While some scribes and artists aimed to perfect their copying skills to produce luxurious manuscripts for the royal family, others explored ways to integrate their individual creativity and innovation with the process of copying, and yet others worked mainly for patrons who ordered custom-made manuscript copies for Buddhist ceremonies, rites of passage or personal use. For the curator or librarian working with Thai manuscripts certain aspects of the manuscript copying tradition pose challenges – especially in the context of establishing the provenance of manuscripts whose creators remain mostly anonymous – namely creation date/period of undated manuscripts, possible place of origin or art school, patron and purpose of manuscripts. Jana Igunma asked what the term “copy” means in the Thai cultural context, discussed problems that arise with the copying of colophons and art styles, and considered what constitutes the fine line between copy and forgery in the light of a revival of the tradition of manuscript copying in Thailand in the 21st century. 

The final talk in this panel was given by Wahyu Widodo, Leiden Institute for Area Studies (LIAS), Leiden University and Fakultas Ilmu Budaya (FIB), Universitas  Brawijaya, Malang, on the topic “Whose Manuscripts are These? The Problems of Authorized Custodianships of the Exiled Clerics Manuscripts in the Nineteenth Century of Colonial Java”. In February 1886, accused of raising a rebellion against the Dutch colonial government, Mas Malangjoeda, a charismatic religious leader of the Banyumas-based Akmaliyyah Sufi order in Central Java, together with seventy-two of his loyal followers, was apprehended and sent to imprisonment in Buitenzorg, West Java.  Shortly afterwards, he was tried in colonial court under the colony’s criminal law and exiled to Buru Island. To add insult to injury, the manuscripts on Islamic mystical teachings that he had authored were seized and brought to Batavia. With interference from Snouck Hurgronje, these manuscripts are now kept in Leiden University Library, coded as “notes of Malangjoeda” with Cod. Or. 7577-7588. Wahyu Widodo’s presentation aimed to investigate the detailed processes of the manuscripts’ acquisition by asking: Whose sinful hands were used to expropriate these manuscripts from their rightful owner? This aim is further problematized by the fact that the European library has treated these colonial loots with high regard, which suggest legitimate custodianship. Should these manuscripts find their way home through restitution, would they be treated with equally high regard and used to contribute to the knowledge production in the postcolonial country?

Q&A and discussion following Wahyu Widodo’s presentation during the second session of the SEALG panel

After the lunch break, the Annual General Meeting of the SEALG was opened by the group’s secretary, Marije Plomp. Members from France, Germany, the Netherlands, the UK and the US attended the meeting. Jana Igunma gave a short summary of the minutes of the last AGM 2019 in Leiden, which are also available on the SEALG website. Treasurer Margaret Nicholson informed the group in advance that, unfortunately, the financial report had to be postponed due to unforeseen circumstances resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic. There had been no expenses the previous two years.

The secretary received notifications from the group’s Chair, Doris Jedamski, and Treasurer, Margaret Nicholson, that they both wished to step down from their roles. This year, the election of the committee that had to be postponed twice due to the Covid-19 pandemic finally took place. Christophe Caudron was elected as the new Chair of SEALG, and the attendants of the meeting congratulated him to his new role. Jotika Khur-Yearn agreed to be interim co-treasurer to assist Margaret Nicholson until a new Treasurer can be found.

Jana Igunma presented the usage statistics of the SEALG blog which saw very good results in the previous year 2021, with 10,562 views in total. However, views for the current year were below average due to the fact that only four blog posts had been published so far. Generally, newly published posts, especially those with a topic related to heritage collections, trigger higher viewing numbers also for previously published blog posts.

Usage statistics of the SEALG blog for the past decade by 30 June 2022

For example, the top five posts with the highest views during the past 12 months (as of 30 June 2022) were: An illuminated Malay Qur’an, A Treatise on Siamese Cats, Two early 19th-century Malay documents, Remembering the Black African Heroes of WWII in Burma, Buddhist manuscript textiles: Southeast Asia. The top ten countries from where the blog was accessed (all time) were the US, Thailand, the UK, Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Myanmar, Singapore, Germany, Philippines which shows that the blog is reaching audiences in Southeast Asian countries.

The next points of discussion were General Data Protection Regulations which affect how we publish information on the SEALG website and blog. The challenge is to follow the regulations, while at the same time we have to fulfil the requirements of transparency and accountability in terms of leadership and how SEALG is run. Another issue that was raised was the cost of the SEALG website (domain name and file storage) which have increased recently, so that the group has to look at possible alternatives.

Last but not least, the attendees gave updates from their libraries, including new and ongoing projects, exhibitions, staff changes, significant new acquisitions, funding, fellowships, news from partner organisations in the US, the use of digital platforms etc. Details of the updates are included in the minutes of the meeting which were distributed to the members of SEALG. Various suggestions for locations to hold the AGM in 2023 were received, including Hamburg, Marseille and Venice.

Apart from attending the SEALG panel and AGM, members had the opportunity to visit two exhibitions that took place during the EuroSEAS conference: Remembering 1965 and its Aftermath and Yadeya & the Coup: Taking Action in Myanmar’s Revolution. In addition, there was a rich cultural programme to accompany the conference, including film screenings, concerts, and book prize award ceremonies.

The SEALG committee, on behalf of the SEALG members, would like to express their gratitude to the organizing team of the EuroSEAS Conference 2022 for their dedicated work and the excellent support given to our group, and especially for accommodating the SEALG panel and AGM!

Performance of Khmu musicians from Northern Laos at the EuroSEAS Conference 2022

Online tools for Southeast Asian librarianship

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In the past decade, various online tools and Open Source software that can be useful in Southeast Asian librarianship have been developed. This article looks at a selection of online tools that are available to help in areas like cataloguing and creation of Romanised versions of Southeast Asian scripts, text recognition, text and image annotation, date conversion, presentation and creative usage of digitised material.

Transliteration and Romanisation tools

Aksharamukha is a free online tool that facilitates the conversion between various writing systems that descended from the third-century BCE Brahmi script. It can be used for Sanskrit- and Pali-based Romanisation of many Southeast Asian scripts. In addition to the simple mapping of characters, Aksharamukha attempts to implement various script/language-specific orthographic conventions such as vowel lengths, gemination and nasalisation. It also provides several customisation options to fine-tune and to apply the correct orthography. Aksharamukha currently supports 120 scripts, including 40 extinct scripts like Ariyaka, as well as 21 Romanisation methods. It is possible to upload images with printed text in any of the supported scripts, which the tool can process by way of automated text recognition and then can be Romanised or converted into any other of the supported scripts. A report on the conversion of Burmese script with Aksharamukha is available from the British Library. However, Aksharamukha is currently not yet suitable for the Romanisation of modern Thai and Lao scripts according to the ALA-LC Romanisation method. Aksharamukha was developed by Vinodh Rajan, a computer scientist and graduate in the field of Digital Paleography.

Screenshot of Aksharamukha displaying some of the supported scripts.

To assist with the Romanisation of modern Thai, the online transliteration tool Plangsarn offers a solution. This free tool, which is easy to use by inserting a Thai word or phrase into a mask and then convert it to the Romanised version according to the ALA-LC standard, was developed by Thammasat University Library, Bangkok, and the National Electronics and Computer Technology Center (NECTEC), a statutory government organization under the National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA), Ministry of Science and Technology of Thailand. Problems encountered with Plangsarn are word/syllable separation and capitalisation, which can result in incorrect spacing within words and erroneous capitalisation of names or parts of names. For example, the conversion of the name “มหาวิทยาลัยมหาจุฬาลงกรณราชวิทยาลัย” resulted in “mahāwitthayālai mahā čhulā long kō̜n Na rāt witthayālai”, which acccroding to OCLC should be “Mahāčhulālongkō̜n Rātchawitthayālai”.

A free online tool for the Romanisation of modern Lao script is the Lao Romanisation converter, although it has its limitations since it does not support the ALA-LC Romanisation standard. The tool is based on the newly developed Romanisation system MoH 2020 which had been adopted by the Ministry of Health of Laos since 2020. In this system, each character corresponds to only one phonetic sound (with few exceptions). Diacritics (accents) and tone marks are not used, and short and long vowels are romanised the same. Geographic names are written in Roman script as a single word with only the first letter capitalised. The Romanisation is based on the Lao spelling reforms by the Lao government in 1975. The tool was initially developed for the Department of Planning and Cooperation, Ministry of Health of Laos, with the hope that it will be adopted as the national Romanisation system by the Lao government to mitigate the risks of the widespread “Karaoke” Romanisation of modern Lao script that is often used in social media.

Text recognition and annotation tools

Automated text recognition is becoming increasingly important in the work with manuscripts, not only among scholars and researchers, but also in the library world. Transkribus is a platform that uses machine learning technology to automate text recognition of handwritten and printed documents. By using a transcription editor to manually transcribe historical documents, members of the Transkribus community train specific text recognition models that are capable of recognising handwritten, typewritten or printed documents in any language. A pool of existing text recognition models is available for mainly European languages, which makes the process of training a specific model for an archive or manuscripts easier and faster. There are many models for non-western languages on Transkribus, but they are still mostly not available publicly. However, one can get in touch with the model creator/s and ask for them to be shared. Curators at the British Library have created a trained model on Arabic scientific manuscripts, for example. Transkribus was developed by the READ project. When the project ended, they have established a cooperative, the READ-COOP, a consortium of leading research groups from all over Europe headed by the University of Innsbruck, to continue the development and maintenance of the software and its community. Transkribus Lite is the web based instance of Transkribus. Users can upload documents, perform layout analysis, run text detection, and can experiment with their own digitised collection items.

Recogito is an online platform for collaborative document annotation with the aim to foster better linkages between online resources documenting the past. Recogito provides a personal workspace where users can upload, collect and organise source materials – texts, images and tabular data – and collaborate in their annotation and interpretation. Recogito helps to make research more visible on the Web more easily, and to expose the results of research as Open Data. An online tutorial explains in simple steps how Recogito can be used. For Southeast Asian librarianship the function of identifying geographical names within annotations as references to places and plotting them on a map, as well as the possibility to tag persons and events are useful functions to make connections between different sources in different collections. Recogito is an initiative of the Pelagios Network, developed under the leadership of the Austrian Institute of Technology, Exeter University and The Open University, with funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Date conversion

Southeast Asia librarians, cataloguers and curators are often confronted with various calendar or time recording systems that are used to date manuscripts, archival and early printed material as well as published books. There are numerous online tools to assist with date conversion, many of which are supported by adverts or religious contexts.

The website Ancient Buddhist Texts offers a selection of Buddhist-Christian/Common Era converters specifically for Buddhist calendar systems used in Thailand/Laos/Cambodia and Sri Lanka/Myanmar/India. In addition, it also provides date conversion for the Cūḷasakarat (Chulasakkarat) calendar. The Ancient Buddhist Texts website is maintained by the Theravada monk Bhante Ānandajoti.

A simple and advert-free tool for the conversion of Hijri A.H. (Islamic) dates and Christian (Common Era) dates is available from Islamic Philosophy Online, a website that was developed my members of the Institute of Asian and Oriental Studies at the University of Zurich.

A Javanese calendar (Saka era) online converter can be found on the front page of the website for Javanese literature, Sastra Jawa. This website is run by the non-profit organisation Sastra Lestari whose mission is to preserve and disseminate the literary works of the Indonesian archipelago.

Librarians and researchers working with manuscripts from mainland Southeast Asia often find themselves confronted with colophons mentioning dates according to the luni-solar calendar, like for example “eighth day of the waxing moon of the seventh month”. The website timeanddate offers a tool to calculate moon phases at any given place anytime in the past or future (not ad-free, but advertisements can be switched off). This website has been developed by Time and Date AS, a team of almost 30 programmers, designers, journalists, and administrative staff from four different continents based in Norway.

Screenshot of the timeanddate website displaying the moon phases of the year 1723 CE in Luang Prabang.

Presentation and creative usage

Digitisation projects of the past decade have resulted in huge collections of digital content that are accessible online via library websites. This has created the need to raise awareness, and to promote engagement and learning with these online collections. One useful free online tool is Exhibit, a user-friendly, fast, and responsive editor to create stories and quizzes with 3D models and IIIF-compatible high resolution images. Exhibit has a range of presentation modes including scrollytelling, slideshows, kiosks, and quizzes that can be embedded in websites or social media channels via an iframe. They can also be duplicated and remixed by users, which is perfect for online learning and classroom environments. Exhibit is supported by a group of the world’s leading libraries and museums and has a vibrant supportive community at its core. The tool was developed by Mnemoscene with the support of the Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund. Initiated to meet the online teaching needs of The University of St. Andrews, it is now used by major organisations in the UK including The British Library, Bodleian Libraries, University of Cambridge and Royal Pavilion and Museums Trust Brighton. An example of an exhibit of the Vessantara Jataka with illustrations from a Thai manuscript at the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin, can be viewed by clicking on the image below.

Chevening Fellowship: Shan Collections at the British Library

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Applications for the Chevening Fellowship 2023-2024 “Shan Collections at the British Library” are still open until 1 November 2022 for individuals from Cambodia, China, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar and Thailand who are fluent in Shan language and able to read a variety of Shan scripts, including Old Shan.

This 12-month fellowship will be hosted by the Asian and African Collections department of the British Library in London, which holds about 3000 manuscripts from Southeast Asia, forming the largest and most significant collection of Southeast Asian manuscripts in the UK. Of these, approximately 100 manuscripts, divided between the Burmese and Thai collections, are written in Shan language and script, spanning from the 18th–19th centuries, and including some of the highlights of these collections. The Library also holds ca. 100 print publications in Shan, including early printed books from the 19th century and a complete set of the Tipitaka. This Chevening British Library Fellowship is an opportunity to work closely with curatorial staff in the Library’s Southeast Asia Collections on cataloguing and researching Shan language manuscripts and print publications.

British Library Chevening Fellows are based at the Library’s St Pancras site in London and benefit from a unique research and professional development experience. They are embedded in their host department, but also in the Library’s wider postgraduate research community.

For more detailed information and online application, please consult the Chevening website.

Shan manuscript, front cover, dated 1893. British Library, Or 14572

Asian Division Florence Tan Moeson Research Fellowship Program, Library of Congress

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Applications are open for the Asian Division Florence Tan Moeson Research Fellowship Program at the Library of Congress, Washington DC.

The Asian Division Florence Tan Moeson Research Fellowship Program is made possible by the generous donation of Florence Tan Moeson, who served as a cataloger at the Library of Congress for 43 years until she retired in 2001. Mrs. Moeson passed away on November 15, 2008.

The purpose of the fellowship is to provide individuals with the opportunity to pursue research in the area of Asian studies, using the unparalleled collections of the Asian Division and the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. The fellowships are for a minimum of five business days of research at the Library of Congress. The grants may vary from $300 to $3,000 and are to be used to cover travel to and from Washington, overnight accommodations, as well as other research expenses. All research trips need to be completed before September 15, 2023. Graduate students, independent scholars, researchers, and librarians with a need for fellowship support are especially encouraged to apply.

The fellowship application is accepted only via email submission of the completed acrobat application form and must be submitted by midnight Monday, January 16, 2023. For more details on the application process and contact information please consult the website of the Library of Congress.

Main reading room, Library of Congress. Image source: Wikipedia

Online access to historical newspapers from Southeast Asia

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In the decades of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, much of Southeast Asia was under Western colonial dominance. Most of the region was divided among the British, French, Dutch, Spanish, and American powers, supplanted by a brief period of Japanese influence following the outbreak of World War II in Europe and the Pacific. The post-war era witnessed a series of revolutions as local leaders looked to regain independence from colonial powers. Decolonisation efforts and movements spread throughout the region, leaving the newly independent states in charge of their own political, economic, and social pathways for the first time in decades.

The Southeast Asian Newspapers, an Open Access collection supported by the Center for Research Libraries and its member institutions, chronicles the changes that took place throughout the region during this period, and the challenges of early statehood. Covering several countries from the region, including Cambodia, Indonesia, Myanmar (formerly Burma), Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam, and featuring multiple languages such as Dutch, English, French, Javanese, Khmer, Spanish, Thai, and Vietnamese, the Southeast Asian Newspapers collection incorporates a wealth of coverage and perspectives on major regional and global events of the late nineteenth and twetieth centuries.

To date, altogether 129 newspaper titles with a total of 67,762 issues dating from between 1839 to 1976 have been included: 57 from the Philippines, 37 from Vietnam, 24 from Indonesia, 5 from Thailand, 3 from Malaysia, 1 from Cambodia and 1 from Myanmar. Among the earliest printed newspapers in the collection are Tranh đ̂áu, a newspaper in Vietnamese language published in Saigon (33 issues from between 1839 to 1938, with gaps), and Nangsư̄ čhotmāihēt (หนังสือจดหมายเหตุ – Bangkok Recorder), a Thai newspaper published in Bangkok (11 issues from 1844 to 1845).

The online collection provides free access to the fully digitised issues of the newspapers (altogether 463,246 pages). Search functions by newspaper title, free word search, date and map help locate information easily. One additional feature is “On this date in history”, which presents randomly selected articles from various newspapers published in different countries on the date in history of the visit of this collection.

(This post contains information from the website of the Southeast Asian Newspapers collection)

Voices from a Lost World: A Rediscovered Collection of late XVIIth C. Mardijker poetry

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Recently the Portuguese printing house Imprensa Nacional in Lisbon has published an edition of a manuscript written in the Northern European kind of hand that was in use in the 17th and18th century, on the cover of which is written as title, Livro dos Pantuns.

This manuscript, which had been known to the famous 19th-century scholar of Creole Portuguese, Hugo Schuchard, has been recently rediscovered in the Lisbon Museu Nacional de Arqueologia by the linguist Prof. Ivo Castro and its librarian, Livia Coito in the collection of the Museum’s founder and polymath, José Leite de Vasconcellos.

One half of the manuscript’s poems consist, as its title indicates, of series of verses in a kind of pantun-form. These are worded in a now disappeared non-standard, Mardijker, variant of Malay, and are in this book presented in the Mardijker Malay reconstructed by Alexander Adelaar.

The manuscript’s other half consists of poems in the now defunct Creole-Portuguese that was spoken by the Mardijkers in Batavia until the end of the 19th century, and in Tugu it persisted into the early 20th. Of these poems, most consist of entreaties of the ardent but scorned lover addressed to his fair lady.

Whereas both in the Malay and the Creole Portuguese parts of the Livro such love poetry is the most conspicuous presence, the manuscript also contains some poems that are interesting because of their link to important events and persons in the VOC in late 17th-century history. This is, for example, the case with the poem about the presumed ‘rebellion’ against Batavia’s High Government in 1689 by Captain Jonker, the leader of the VOC’s Muslim Ambonese militia (Panton Joncker).

In view of the internal evidence from their contents, the pantuns and cantigas of the Livro must have been composed in the late 17th or early 18th century for and by the Mardijker communities of Batavia and/or Tugu.

In the new book the Livro’s poems have been provided with full transliterations and translations as well as introductions by Ivo Castro, Hugo Cardoso, Allan Baxter, Sander Adelaar and Gijs Koster. The book also contains a facsimile edition of the entire manuscript.

(Announcement by Gijs Koster)

Front cover of the recently published book Livro de Pantuns.

SEALG Annual Meeting and Panel at EuroSEAS 2022

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The annual meeting of the Southeast Asia Library Group is taking place on 1 July 2022 at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales and Campus Condorcet, Paris-Aubervilliers. It has been organised in cooperation with the 12th conference of the European Association for Southeast Asian Studies (EuroSEAS) which will be held from 28 June to 01 July 2022 at the same venue.

On this occasion, a conference panel has been organised on behalf of SEALG with the title “Southeast Asia Libraries between Open Science, heritage collections and ethical standards of custodianship“, to be held in two sessions on 1 July 2022, prior to the annual meeting.

Paper presentations in the panel include:

  • Bridging the gap: Managing colonial collections, best practices and opportunities at the Asian Library, Leiden University Libraries (Marije Plomp, Leiden University)
  • From Malay to Malaysiana: Collection between Access and Preservation (Awang Azman Awang Pawi, University of Malaya and Haslan Tamjehi, University of Malaya)
  • Researchers archives online and Open Science diktats (Louise Pichard-Bertaux, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique)
  • The Irony of Abundance: Open Science, Copious Resources, and yet Low Research Output (Taufiq Hanafi, Leiden University)
  • Digital Collections of Shan Manuscripts: Access, Discovery and Evaluation (Jotika Khur-Yearn, School of Oriental and African Studies/University of London)
  • Searching for ‘the real’ Doctor William Bosch in the Dutch colonial collections (Rupalee Verma, Delhi University)
  • The Thai tradition of manuscript copying and related curatorial challenges (Jana Igunma, British Library)
  • Whose Manuscripts are These? (The Problems of Authorized Custodianships of the Exiled Clerics Manuscripts in the Nineteenth Century of Colonial Java) (Wahyu Widodo, Leiden University/Universitas Brawijaya)

Visitors are welcome to attend the panel. Registration is still possible through the EuroSEAS website which will give access to the entire programme of the conference, including all panels, roundtables, film screenings, book prize, special events etc . The annual meeting of SEALG is open to members only. For more information please get in touch via the SEALG website.

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