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Symposium “Reframing the Archive: The Reuse of Film and Photographic Images in Postcolonial Southeast Asia”

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1 June 2017, School of Oriental and African Studies, London

This symposium will explore the ways in which colonial and postcolonial film and photographic archives have been rearticulated within a range of Southeast Asian political and aesthetic contexts. How have artists and filmmakers sought to subvert existing power relations through the use of colonial images? To what extent have archival materials and technologies allowed for an investigation into the emancipatory potential of the lens? How have these techniques been utilised by diasporic populations? Though preference will be given to submissions which focus on Southeast Asia, papers that draw comparisons with other postcolonial contexts are also welcome.

The symposium will be accompanied by screenings of two feature-length films by Cambodian filmmakers and a series of short films by emerging filmmakers from Southeast Asia. This programme, we believe, will provide a further opportunity to address the themes raised by the symposium.

The conference and screening programme are organised by Dr Joanna Wolfarth, Dr Fiona Allen, and Annie Jael Kwan independent curator, The Asia Projector.

To submit a paper, please send paper titles, abstracts of c. 500 words and a 2-page CV to reframingthearchive@gmail.com

The deadline for abstracts is 31st January 2017.

For more detailed information, please view the symposium homepage.

 

 

Update from the Changi Digitisation Project, Cambridge

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The Changi project team at Cambridge University Library have recently finished a major conservation challenge, the archives of John Weekley. In a new blog post John Cardwell, Project Archivist, and Emma Nichols, Project Conservator, discuss the content and challenges presented by this important part of the Changi Archive.

John Weekley served as an area commandant in the Changi and Sime Road men’s civilian internment camps for almost the entire three and a half year period of their existence. As a senior member of the camps’ administration, his papers are an invaluable source for understanding their day to day management. Many are notices disseminating information to internees, and those relating to diet, health and hygiene shed significant light upon the medical history of the camps. They record the organisation of medical services through the foundation of a hospital and the appointment of a Chief Medical Officer, a Chief Health Officer, a Medical Reference Committee, and a Fatigues Medical Board responsible for the health and safety the camps’ many workers.

The John Weekley Archive forms one of the ten conservation work packages in the Changi Archive and is by far the largest; consisting of over a thousand leaves of paper, adhered by their left hand edge into several thicker paper folded covers. The papers are all of differing sizes – from A4 to 1 cm strips; weights – from thick paper to very thin transparent paper known as onion skin; and colours – classic white and cream to violent shades of pink, yellow and blue. Though each folder had originally been one solid block of papers, over time, probably through a combination of intent and accident, the leaves had been separated into sections of varying number, adhered together but no longer to the cover. All of the leaves had sustained some kind of damage ranging from tears, losses and skinning, to staining from the adhesive.

To find out more details about the John Weekley Archive and how conservation work was carried out, including photographs documenting the conservation process, please visit John Cardwell’s and Emma Nichols’ article on “The History and Conservation of the John Weekley Changi Archives”.

Digital Humanities for Asian and African Texts – report from a workshop

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On 6 June, 2016, a one-day workshop dedicated to the theme “Digital Humanities for Asian and African Texts” took place at SOAS, London, which was attended by approximately 40 participants from a variety of UK and European institutions.

The first session focused on digitisation projects and the scholarly use of such projects for research and teaching. The first presenter, Erich Kesse (SOAS Library, with Christine Wise) spoke on “Current digital projects at SOAS and future plans for Asian and African texts” and gave an overview of a variety of digitisation projects carried out by SOAS Library, which by now have made approximately 18,000 items available online. He highlighted certain aspects of technical requirements, cataloguing and standards, metadata and coding, funding, commercial partnerships and co-operation with SOAS exhibitions.

Lars Lamaan (SOAS) and Fresco Sam-Sin (Leiden University) presented a paper on “Manchu online study and research environment: from scrum to crowd sourcing” and explained the importance of Manchu sources for historical research and the significance of transliteration, translation and annotation tools in digital manuscript/text collections. Fresco Sam-Sin also demonstrated his digital research and learning platform Manc.hu that is used as a collaborative online classroom for university students.

Almut Hintze (SOAS) followed with a talk on “The multimedia Yasna”, a project that deals with a Zoroastrian ritual of the Parsi community in India in which the oral tradition of memorising texts plays a more important role than the written tradition. The aim of the project is to learn more about the oral texts used in this ritual by recording the performance, editing the recording, transcription and transliteration of texts, creation of metadata and finally provision of online and print editions.

Dmitry Bondarev (SOAS/University of Hamburg) gave an introduction to “Old Kanembu Islamic manuscripts: digital collection, archive, database?”, a project that aims to enable more and better linguistic research into Kanembu Islamic manuscripts found in West Africa, particularly the comparison of different versions of texts.

Jody Butterworth (British Library) presented an overview of the British Library’s “The Endangered Archives Programme: digitising vulnerable material around the world”. The priority of this project is to preserve material that is under threat due to natural disasters or political conflicts – not only manuscripts, but also newspapers, photographs, audio-visual material, family archives etc. – and to make it available online for research. The project has worked with over 290 partners in 80 countries.

The second session emphasized concepts and methods of Digital Humanities for Asian and African Studies. The first speaker in this session, David Beavan (UCL) presented “A Beginners guide to Digital Humanities”, giving an overview of the general steps digitisation, transcription and analysis involved in digitisation projects for scholarly research. He gave advice on project planning, transcription softwares, as well as quantitative methods for analysis.

Nora McGregor (British Library) spoke about “Doing digital research at the British Library with Asian and African Collections” and her involvement in various initiatives of the library’s Digital Research Team which include Big Data creation, Crowdsourcing, PhD placements, Digital Scholarship, training programmes for library staff etc.

Finally, Chris Dillon (UCL) presented a paper on “Community sourcing and non-Latin scripts” in connection with his project Bridge to China, a free online grammar of Mandarin, that was created by community sourcing.

The workshop was a great opportunity to meet people working in various areas of Asian and African Studies who, at the same time, are also engaging with Digital Humanities. The presenters demonstrated how long-standing research traditions can be linked with newly emerging methods and technologies, new perspectives and research practices.

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]

Changi digitisation project at Cambridge University Library

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Cambridge University Library has been awarded a Wellcome Trust Research Resources Award to conserve, digitise and make freely available online the archives of two WWII civilian internment camps on Singapore – Changi and Sime Road. These form part of the Royal Commonwealth Society’s British Association of Malaysia and Singapore archives. The two-year grant commences in September 2015 and it is planned to launch the records in Cambridge Digital Library in August 2017.

The archives will be of immense interest to the families of internees, academic researchers, students and the general public, since few survivors ever spoke of their traumatic ordeal. The first stage of the project involves the meticulous conservation of the archives.

The archives contain invaluable primary sources for the reconstruction of the lives of Singapore’s civilian internees. They include official records compiled by the camps’ internal administration, which document personal data like an internee’s name, date entered camp, marital status, occupation, age, nationality, and camp address. Other sources shed light upon accommodation, camp discipline, relations with the Japanese authorities, work parties, diet, health and hygiene, recreation and leisure, the delivery of mail, and the repatriation of internees at the end of the war. Newspapers circulated within the male camp, such as the ‘Changi Guardian’, reported upon events, disseminated news of sporting, musical and theatrical societies, and published fiction, poetry and humour. These official records are complemented by the correspondence, diaries and memoirs of individual internees.

More information on the historical background and provenance of the archives can be found on the Cambridge University Library Special Collections webpage.

An article by Peng Han Lim on “Identifying and collecting primary sources of information to reconstruct the daily lives of the civilian internees at Changi Prison and Sime Road Camp 1942-45” is included in the SEALG Newsletter 2013.

End of Empire – Online initiative by NIAS Press

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An online initiative with the title “End of Empire – 100 days in 1945 that changed Asia and the world” by NIAS press was launched recently to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Asia.

The initiative publishes day by day ‘real-time broadcasts’ of what happened in Asia at the end of World War II. The site combines daily events with commentary, photographs, maps, personal accounts and other material plus links to resources found elsewhere.

Aiming to balance the focus on European events in global public discussions and reminiscences of World War II, the project focuses on a brief, 100-day period at the end of the war across a broad sweep of eastern Asia – a time when the Indonesian and Vietnamese revolutions were born, the fragile wartime truce between Communists and Nationalists in China began to fray, and the first steps were made in Japan towards a new democratic order.

The website is part of a radical, multi-faceted project to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the war’s end and its immediate aftermath. This is done not just via the website but also in printed and electronic publications plus via social media. Nor does the project simply present existing scholarship. It also actively reaches beyond the academic world to encourage non-academics to come forward with primary source material unknown to historians and often limited to their own private circles.

Here, perhaps, is a model for scholarly publishing and learning that both exploits new technologies and retains traditional standards.

One of the great merits of this website is the way it conveys a sense of the fast pace of events in mid-1945 and their interconnectedness across the region at the time.

Those who may find the website difficult to navigate may want to consult the Facebook page for the project.

The outcome of the initiative is due to appear in published form as End of Empire: 100 Days that Changed Asia and the World edited by David Chandler, Robert Cribb and Li Narangoa.

(reported by Gerald Jackson and Inga-Lill Blomkvist)

Endangered Archives Programme – Call for applications 2015

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The Endangered Archives Programme has been running at the British Library since 2004 through funding by Arcadia, with the aim of preserving rare vulnerable archival material around the world. This aim is achieved through the award of grants to relocate the material to a safe local archival home where possible, to digitise the material, and to deposit copies with local archival partners and with the British Library. These digital collections are then available for researchers to access freely through the British Library website or by visiting the local archives. The digital collections from 144 projects are currently available online, nearly 5 million images.

The Endangered Archives Programme is now accepting grant applications for the next annual funding round – the deadline for submission of preliminary applications is 6 November 2015 and full details of the application procedures and documentation are available on the EAP website.

The Programme has helped to preserve manuscripts, rare printed books, newspapers and periodicals, audio and audio-visual materials, photographs and even rock inscriptions. Since 2004 approximately 270 projects have been funded, ranging from rare books in Armenia to Cham manuscripts in Vietnam.

To find out more about the Programme and previous digitisation projects, visit their Endangered Archives Blog.

(reported by Cathy Collins, Endangered Archives Programme at the British Library)

Locations of previous projects of the Endangered Archives Programme in Asia

Locations of previous projects of the Endangered Archives Programme in Asia

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