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Glimpses of early Siam and Burma (Thailand and Myanmar)

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The Royal Commonwealth Society Library has just created an electronic catalogue for one of its largest and most significant manuscript collections: the papers of the diplomat, colonial administrator and orientalist Henry Burney (1792-1845). Burney was born in Calcutta, the son of a Senior Master of the Calcutta Military School for Orphans. His grandfather was the musicologist Dr Charles Burney and his aunt the novelist Frances Burney. Burney was commissioned into the East India Company’s army in 1808, but transferred to its political service when appointed Military Secretary to the Governor of Penang in 1818. From 1825 he served as Political Agent to the states adjacent to Penang and led several political missions. From the beginning of his career, Burney had displayed a gift for oriental languages, soon mastering Hindustani, and during this time he acquired Siamese and Malay. Burney’s grasp of local politics and languages led to his appointment as Envoy to the Court of Siam, and he travelled to Bangkok in September 1825. By June 1826 he had successfully negotiated a treaty with the King.

In 1827 Burney was posted to the new British province of Tenasserim, which had been acquired during the First Anglo-Burmese War (1824-1826), serving as Deputy Commissioner of Tavoy. Burney immediately began learning Burmese. In 1829, he acted decisively to suppress a rebellion. His diplomatic experience and linguistic skill were further recognised in 1829 with the appointment as the Indian government’s representative to the Burmese Court. Burney arrived at the capital of Ava on 24 April 1830, establishing the first British Residency. Burney’s study of Burmese (with the aid of a tutor) had advanced so rapidly that by April 1832 he was able to communicate directly with the Burmese ministers in their own language. He enjoyed initial success, resolving the problem of banditry on the Arakan and Tenasserim frontiers and a territorial dispute on the Manipur border. He also persuaded the Burmese government to pay the final instalment of the indemnity owed as part of the war’s settlement.

King Bagyidaw appreciated Burney’s efforts to foster good relations, honouring him with a Burmese title inscribed on gold leaf, Mahaz-eyayazanawrahta, accompanied with a badge of office, a nine-stranded salwe. Burney’s position, however, was undermined in 1837 when Bagyidaw was deposed by the Prince of Tharrawaddy, who later became King, and he found it difficult to work with the new regime. Burney was recalled on 8 March 1838 and went on furlough to England. In 1842, he returned to active service with the EIC army, but died at sea in 1845 while travelling to England on medical leave.

The collection preserves important records of Burney’s diplomatic missions: his instructions, travel, correspondence, journals and reports, which include rare insight into the Siamese and Burmese Courts. It also contains examples of traditional texts, such as Siamese kradat phlao and Burmese black parabaiks and palm leaf manuscripts. Burney shared the family’s intellectual curiosity and literary flair, and was fascinated by Siamese and Burmese culture. He researched the two countries’ climate, geography, languages, history, philosophy, religion, astronomy, mathematics and astrology, and collected important translations from original sources. Burney presented papers to learned bodies such as the Royal Asiatic Society and published in the ‘Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal’, the ‘Asiatic Journal’ and the ‘Journal of the Statistical Society.’ During the early 1840s, Burney received permission from the EIC to publish the journal of his mission to Siam and it is possible that he also contemplated writing a pioneering English language history of Burma. With the resumption of his military career, ill health and an early death at the age of 53, however, these plans never came to fruition. The RCS is also fortunate to possess a number of early photograph collections relating to Burma dating from the 1870s (RCS Y3029A-F), which complement the Burney archive.

The Janus catalogue of the Henry Burney Collection, RCMS 65, is now available online via the Janus homepage, a project that provides access to more than 1800 catalogues of archives held throughout Cambridge.

Reported by Dr John Cardwell, Archivist of the Royal Commonwealth Society collections in Cambridge University Library

Photograph showing Thibaw (d. 1916), the last King of Burma 1878-85, and his wife and half-sister Supyalat [RCS Y3029D_1]

Photograph showing Thibaw (d. 1916), the last King of Burma 1878-85, and his wife and half-sister Supyalat [RCS Y3029D_1]

Lanna manuscripts – Online Collection of Northern Thai Chronicles and Other Texts

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The project Lanna Manuscripts – คัมภีร์ล้านนา was launched in 2005 in the premises of the Siam Society in Bangkok. The initial aim was to test the procedures that had been devised for the digitisation of manuscripts. The rich manuscript library of the Society placed under the responsibility of Achan Term Mitem, a well-known specialist from the National Archives of Thailand, provided an ideal venue for such a ‘pilot’ project. Seventeen manuscripts — all tamnan — from the library were digitised, and they were the first documents of this digital collection.

Between 2006 and 2011 numerous field-trips took place, scouting Northern Thailand province by province. The Princess Mahachakri Sirindhorn Anthropology Centre in Bangkok, an institute under the supervision of the Thai Ministry of Culture, provided the official backing that enabled project workers to gain access to the collections stored in local repositories.

After visiting hundreds of monasteries, forty-one of them were selected either for their rich collections or for their rare manuscripts. In each monastery, the manuscripts deemed worth being integrated into the corpus were studied and photographed in situ. No copies were ever displaced or borrowed. These manuscripts constitute now the main bulk of this online database.

Descriptive records containing textual and paratextual information on the manuscripts were first entered in text files, and later integrated into a prototype database. Then, in Paris, the EFEO provided support for transforming the original database into a MySQL Internet database, which took shape in 2013. Then the photographs of all the leaves of each manuscript were edited and inserted into the viewer component of the database. Thumbnail images of the titles were inserted in every record and series of supplementary photographs relating to monasteries, libraries and conservation of the manuscripts, were added in the form of albums.

This online collection is aimed at students and researchers interested in philology, literature and history of Thailand, especially texts representative of Northern Thai Buddhism. Over 18,000 pages of manuscripts have been digitised with the focus on a principal genre, the chronicles and traditional stories called tamnan (ตำนาน) which are Buddhist narratives of foundation composed almost entirely in the Northern Thai language and tham (Dhamma) script. For reasons of regional linguistic and cultural unity that kind of text developed throughout the Tai area of Southeast Asia (among the Thai, Lao, Shan and Tai peoples) but especially in the ancient kingdom of Lanna, which covered at least the nine northern provinces of Thailand. The project website does not only give access to the digitised manuscripts, but also provides rich information on Northern Thai literary traditions, Lanna manuscripts collections elsewhere, bibliographic resources, and photo galleries illustrating various aspects of manuscripts production, storage, preservation etc.

 

Annual Meeting of the Southeast Asia Library Group 2016

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Copenhagen, 24-25 June 2016

You are cordially invited to participate in the SEALG Annual Meeting 2016 to be held in collaboration with the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies in Copenhagen from June 24 to 25, 2016.

As in the years before, the SEALG Meeting combined with a one-day-conference will be a fabulous opportunity to meet with colleagues from all over Europe (and possibly beyond). We all encounter similar problems in this rapidly changing world of libraries and archives. SEALG hopes to stimulate the exchange of information among Southeast Asian librarians, to strengthen the network and to help facilitate our everyday work.

Participation in the SEALG Annual Meeting offers SEALG members also the opportunity to present their original work and/or to report about projects and initiatives from their institutions. Apart from librarians we also wish to encourage scholars to contribute to the conference with a presentation or a research paper focussing on library collections (for more information please see the attached Call for Papers). Hence, please forward this invitation to researchers who might be interested in attending the SEALG meeting/conference.

The SEALG Annual Meeting including the conference part will take place at:

NIAS – Nordic Institute of Asian Studies at University of Copenhagen, City Campus, Bld 18, 1, fl., Øster Farimagsgade 5, 1353 Copenhagen

In preparation of the SEALG Annual Meeting 2016, we invite proposals for papers on any theme relating to collections, archives and the library work as well as recent developments in the field of South East Asian Studies.

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.

Please submit your paper proposal including abstract to Inga-Lill M Blomkvist not later than by 31 May 2016. We encourage submissions from library and archive staff as well as from scholars and graduate students.

Publication of a paper will be possible in the SEALG Newsletter which is online at www.sealg.org.

For more information, please contact either Inga-Lill Blomkvist or Doris Jedamski .

Map of the venue of the SEALG annual meeting 2016 in Copenhagen

Map of the venue of the SEALG annual meeting 2016 in Copenhagen

Digital Library of Northern Thai Manuscripts

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The University of Pennsylvania and National Library of Laos have launched the Digital Library of Northern Thai Manuscripts as a resource for the study of traditional literature from this region. At present, the digital library contains images of over 4,200 manuscripts which can be searched and viewed online or freely downloaded, and to which more manuscripts will be added subsequently.

The database contains four collections: digitised microfilms from the Preservation of Northern Thai Manuscripts Project (with permission of Chiang Mai University Library), digitised microfilms and also handwritten copies of manuscripts made in the early 1970s during research conducted by Harald Hundius, and directly-digitised manuscripts made during the current digital library project.

A gallery with images from temples which were involved in the project, as well as a collection of written and online resources for further study complement the database.

All digitisation was funded by the German Federal Foreign Office, and the digital library project was funded by The Henry Luce Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the University of Pennsylvania Libraries and the School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania. The project was implemented by the National Library of Laos, based on the existing Digital Library of Lao Manuscripts.

We hope that the digital library will be a useful resource for the study of traditional literature from this region.  Feedback on the site is welcome.

Reported by Justin McDaniel (DLNTM Project Leader, University of Pennsylvania), Harald Hundius (DLNTM Local Project Leader, National Library of Laos), David Wharton (DLNTM Technical Director, National Library of Laos)

Manuscript Chest, Wat Phan On © 2015 David Wharton, Digital Library of Northern Thai Manuscripts (CC BY-NC 4.0).

Manuscript Chest, Wat Phan On
© 2015 David Wharton, Digital Library of Northern Thai Manuscripts (CC BY-NC 4.0).

Panel on Southeast Asian Manuscripts Studies, ASEASUK Conference London 2016

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The next Association for Southeast Asian Studies in the United Kingdom (ASEASUK) Conference, to be held 16-18 September 2016, is being hosted at SOAS, University of London. This conference provides a major venue for the dissemination of research on South East Asia in various disciplines for academics both from the UK and abroad.

ASEASUK is now calling for papers to be presented in about 40 accepted panels. A listing with descriptions of the accepted panels and additional information about the conference can be found here.

We would like to draw your attention to panel 27a on “Southeast Asian Manuscripts Studies”, which I co-convene with Dr Mulaika Hijjas from SOAS London. The panel aims to provide a collegial and stimulating forum for researchers working on diverse aspects of manuscript studies. Topics may include the codicology of manuscripts, including research on illumination and illustration, bindings, inks and paints, calligraphy and palaeography; philological studies of texts in vernacular or sacral languages; and the overlap between manuscript studies and epigraphy, looking at inscriptions in wood, stone or metal. Historical, literary or cultural studies based on manuscript materials will also be welcome, as well as researches on the production and use of manuscripts in historical perspective. I would like to invite you to contribute to this panel if you are currently researching or working with Southeast Asian manuscripts.

The deadline for paper proposals is 15 April 2016. Please note that only one paper per person is permitted for this conference.

Conference registration opens on 1 April 2016 and early bird rates apply until 30 June. Online registration will close on 12 September. The full conference fee is payable from 1 July. All paper presenters must register in advance. Paper presenters who are not members of ASEASUK must additionally register for a one year membership of ASEASUK.

If you consider proposing a paper for the panel on “Southeast Asian Manuscripts Studies”, please contact me directly at jana.igunma AT bl.uk (for mainland Southeast Asian manuscripts) or Dr Mulaika Hijjas at mh86 AT soas.ac.uk (for maritime Southeast Asian manuscripts).

Elephant treatise, British Library Or.13652

Elephant treatise, British Library Or.13652

 

Women and folktales project in Laos

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Women are important storytellers and bearers of cultural heritage in Laos. However, their voices are rarely heard outside their communities, due to their traditional homebound responsibilities and their lack of confidence in participating in public forums. At the same time, traditional folktales and legends are in danger of dying out, as an older generation passes on and young people prefer entertainment from television and the internet.

With this in mind, the Luang Prabang Film Festival and the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre launched the Women and Folktales Project to empower ethnic minority women in Laos and document and disseminate traditional stories using film.

Funded by the US Embassy Vientiane, the project filmed seven women, from Hmong, Kmhmu, and Tai Lue villages around Luang Prabang Province, recounting 19 traditional folktales in their native languages. These films were translated into Lao and English, subtitled, and are now archived within the digital libraries of LPFF and the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre.

Three of these folktales, one from each ethnic group, were turned into animated shorts with the creative input of the storytellers. “The Dog and Her Three Daughters” (Hmong), “The Spider Man” (Kmhmu), and “What the Buffalo Told the Humans” (Tai Lue) are traditional, yet vibrant, cartoons that will be used by TAEC’s Education and Outreach Team in local primary schools and distributed to libraries and children’s organizations, exposing a whole new audience to the diverse cultural heritage of Laos.

All 21 films are now on TAEC’s YouTube page, and are grouped into films with English subtitles and films with Lao subtitles . Please enjoy and share within your networks!

(reported by Gabriel Kuperman, Founder & Director, Luang Prabang Film Festival www.lpfilmfest.org / www.facebook.com/lpfilmfest )

New issue of SEALG Newsletter available online

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The latest issue of the SEALG Newsletter (2015) has been published and is now available online at http://www.sealg.org/pdf/newsletter2015.pdf .

Included in the Newsletter is the report of our group’s Annual Meeting that took place in July 2015 in Paris. This Annual Meeting was the second successful collaborative conference with the South Asia Archive and Library Group whom we owe a debt of gratitude. The theme of the conference “The French Connection – with South and Southeast Asia” gave us the opportunity to look at Southeast Asian materials from a different angle.

In addition to a detailed report from our Annual Meeting in Paris, the new issue of the Newsletter contains the following articles:

Under the Eyes of French Adventurers: Social Conditions of the Upper Mekong Region in the 1860s (Jotika Khur-Yearn, SOAS, University of London)

Archives about Indochina in the National Overseas Archives (ANOM) (Olivia Pelletier and Isabelle Dion, Centre des Archives nationales d’outre-mer (ANOM), Aix-en-Provence)

French Studies of Nusantara: A Glance from Russia (Liubov Goriaeva, Institute of Oriental Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow)

Indonesia calling! Crowdsourcing catalogue records for the British Library’s Indonesian collection (Annabel Teh Gallop, British Library, London)

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

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