Digital Library of Northern Thai Manuscripts


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).

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

Southeast Asia in the British Pathé Film Archive

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British Pathé was once a dominant feature of the British cinema experience. Before the advent of television, millions around the globe came to movie theatres for their weekly dose of filmed news. The birth of this phenomenon took place when renowned French filmmaker Charles Pathé came to London in 1910 to introduce an innovative medium to British audiences – the cinema newsreel.

Over the course of a century, British Pathé reported on everything from armed conflicts and seismic political crises to the curious hobbies and eccentric lives of ordinary British people. In so doing, the organisation set the benchmark for cinematic journalism, blending information and entertainment with unparalleled success and influencing whole generations of Britons.

British Pathé is considered to be the most comprehensive newsreel archive in the world and is a treasure trove of 85,000 films unrivalled in their historical and cultural significance. Spanning the years from 1896 to 1976, the collection includes footage from around the globe of major events, famous people, fashion trends, travel, science and culture. Over the last 40 years, this material has been used extensively by broadcasters, production companies, corporations, publishers, teachers and museums, among many others. Now most of the material is available publicly via the British Pathé website for viewing and educational purposes.

Almost 300 film clips can be found for Indochina, for example. Although most of the footage is related to the war in Indochina, there are also clips documenting the lives of ordinary people, the cultural traditions of various ethnic groups and outstanding Southeast Asian landscapes.

A keyword search for “Burma” reveals over 200 film clips. One particularly interesting short film documents the Water Festival as is was celebrated in Yangon in 1946. Another very rare film shows footage of East African soldiers who fought in Burma in the 1940s.

Just over one hundred clips are related to Thailand/Siam, mainly covering state visits, political events and some cultural topics. A very short film gives insight into the life of young Prince Ananda at his school in Lausanne. Fun to watch is a documentation of Prince Birabongse winning the Ulster T.T. race in Northern Ireland.

Hundreds more films deal with events in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Brunei, including the coronation of the Sultan of Johor in 1960.


Thai rainbow archives project: a digitised collection of Thai gay, lesbian and transgender publications now online

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The emergence of open gay, lesbian, and transgender (GLT) cultures in major world cities is a sociologically significant phenomenon. The Thai capital Bangkok is home to some of Asia’s oldest and largest GLT communities. Only a decade ago, Asian GLT studies was a neglected if not taboo field. However, the 1st International Conference of Asian Queer Studies in Bangkok in 2005 demonstrated the rapid maturing of this new field. Research libraries though have not kept up with this rapid academic development, and for a variety of reasons have not collected the publications of Thai GLT communities.

Since the 1970s, Thailand’s GLT communities have produced large quantities of Thai language publications including multi-issue periodicals and magazines and community organization newsletters. This large volume of vernacular materials, totalling several thousand items, documents the history of one of the world’s most important non-Western homosexual/transgender cultures and is a largely untouched research trove. Thailand’s GLT magazines are an academic resource of genuine international importance.

While extensive, like the communities they represent, Thai GLT magazines are socially marginalised and culturally stigmatised. Thai GLT publications have often been ephemeral and of an underground nature known only to the members of these marginalised communities themselves. They have rarely been distributed through mainstream bookstores or magazine outlets. As a result, there is currently no public archive of Thai GLT vernacular materials anywhere in the world, and research in this field is seriously hindered by this institutional deficiency. These materials are in danger of being destroyed and disappearing completely in the next few years. Since no Thai or Western library or archive has collected these materials, the only remaining copies are in the hands of private collectors.

This project, funded by the British Library’s Endangered Archives Programme, was part of an attempt by Thai community organisations, working in collaboration with the Australian National University, to preserve materials that have not been collected by any Thai institutional archive. In order to set the groundwork for this project, Thai community organisations were encouraged to physically salvage the materials that were finally digitised. These materials have never previously been collected in one location. This project also operated under the added disadvantage of a local situation where some authorities view the materials as deserving of destruction rather than preservation.

A total of 648 issues of Thai gay, lesbian and transgender community organisations and commercial magazines from 32 different series were digitised. A website hosted by the Australian National University has been created and pdf versions of each magazine issue have been posted there. Information on the website is in the process of being translated into Thai, to make this resource fully bilingually functional.

The original materials will be transferred to the Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn Anthropology Centre (SAC), Bangkok – the final transfer was delayed because of the disruptions caused by the massive flooding of Bangkok in late 2011.

The records copied by this project have been catalogued in the British Library’s Endangered Archives, where the fully digitized material has been made available online:

EAP128/1 Thai Rainbow Archives Collection: A digitised collection of Thai gay, lesbian and transgender publications [1982-2009]

In memory of Parathakorn (Joe) Nimsang (Born 12 March 1979, Died 10 April 2014) whose tireless dedication to preserving Thailand’s heritage of endangered gay, lesbian and transgender publications was pivotal to the successs of the Thai Rainbow Archives Project.

[Information from the Endangered Archives Programme]

Mandalay Marionettes Theater Online

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The ever growing Southeast Asia Digital Library (SEADL), hosted by the Northern Illinois University, has made available access to ten videos recording various aspects of the Mandalay Marionettes Theater.

In Burma, marionette puppetry has played an important role in the history and development of dramatic art and culture over the last 500 years. Burmese puppetry served as a means of making people aware of current events; as a medium for educating people in literature, history, and religion; as a display of lifestyles and customs; and as mouthpieces for the people in the days of the monarchy.

Burmese puppet theatre show, photograph by Philip A. Klier, 1895 (British Library Photo 88/1(42))

Burmese puppet theatre show, photograph by Philip A. Klier, 1895 (British Library Photo 88/1(42))

The practice of traditional marionette puppetry in Burma has waned over the decades, and is on the verge of becoming a lost art form. In 1986, Mrs. Ma Ma Naing and Mrs. Naing Yee Mar formed the Mandalay Marionettes Theater as a step in saving this rich legacy. This troupe has been working to preserve Burmese puppetry and original Burmese traditions such as Burmese dancing and music, sculpture, sequin embroidery and painting.

The Mandalay Marionettes Theater troupe has contributed an assortment of performance videos to the SEADL. Included in these is an introduction and overview to the Burmese marionette tradition; a ritual dance that is done to respect the Nats, or the guardian spirits of the area; the Himalayas dance, featuring the horse, monkey and demons; and a dance of an alchemist or the Zaw-Gyi dance. Daw Ma Ma Naing, one of the founders of the Mandalay Marionettes Theater, also gives a brief history about marionettes. Other videos highlight the skills of the puppeteers themselves, while demonstrating the dance of the two royal pages; a humorous dance performed by two villagers named U Shwe Yoe and Daw Moe; a dance between a human being and a puppet; a romantic and sentimental dance called “Myaing Da;”and a performance from the Ramayana epic where Rama chases a golden deer for his princess, Sita.

To go directly to the video collection at SEADL, click HERE.

For further information about the Mandalay Marionettes Theater, please visit http://www.mandalaymarionettes.com/.

Digital “resurrection” of lost Lao Ramayana murals

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A groundbreaking project with the aim to digitally replicate the lost Phralak-Phralam (Lao version of the Ramayana) murals at Vat Oub Mong in Vientiane has been under way for several years. The project is being carried out by the Digital Conservation Facility, Laos (DCFL); affiliated since 2003 with the Center for Southeast Asian Studies (CSEAS) at Northern Illinois University. DCFL founder Alan Potkin has recently been developing interactive visualization and virtual reality technologies in ecological and cultural conservation for applications in impact assessment, heritage management, museological and site interpretive materials, public participation; and accessible institutional memory for corporations, government agencies, and NGOs.

The historical temple hall at Vat Oub Mong that contained the original murals had been demolished in the year 2000. However, prior to the demolition, photographs were taken of the murals which had been created in 1938. Thanks to this initiative and newly emerging technologies, digital replication of the lost cultural heritage is now possible.
But digital replication is not the only goal of the project – equally important is the replication at Vat Oub Mong (Vientiane) of the demolished Phralak-Phralam murals which was completed in 2011. In addition to this, the original 2,100-page palm leaf manuscript containing the Pralak-Pralam text in Lao tham script has been digitised and is currently being transliterated into modern Lao by the monks at Vat Oub Mong.
Alan Potkin gave talks about this project and its progress at several conferences in the recent years.

An abridged translation of the Phalak-Phralam text together with some photographs of the original murals from the demolished temple can be found on the homepage of the Center for SEA Studies at Northern Illinois University.

Latest news from the project can be found on the Theravada Buddhist Civilizations website.

An English translation of a Phralak-Phralam text found in a manuscript at the Royal Palace in Luang Prabang, together with photographs of the murals at Vat Oub Mong are in Sachchidanand Sahai’s book “Ramayana in Laos. A study in the Gvay Dvorahbi” (published in 1976 by B.R. Publishing corporation, Delhi).

Digital Humanities Conference 2014

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Lausanne, 8-11 July 2014

Digital Humanities is the annual international conference of the Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations (ADHO), the umbrella organization of:

■ The European Association for Digital Humanities (EADH)
■ Association for Computers and the Humanities (ACH)
■ Canadian Society for Digital Humanities / Société canadienne des humanités numériques (CSDH/SCHN)
■ centerNet
■ Australasian Association for Digital Humanities (aaDH)
■ Japanese Association for Digital Humanites (JADH)

The Digital Humanities 2014 conference is jointly hosted by the University of Lausanne (UNIL) and Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL).

The theme of DH 2014 will be “Digital Cultural Empowerment”. There will be pre-conference workshops on 7-8 July 2014 and an excursion on 12 July 2014.

For more details visit the Digital Humanities homepage.

A Treatise on Siamese Cats


Jana Igunma, British Library

A Thai Treatise on Cats (Or.16797) has recently been digitised and made available online by the British Library. The original manuscript containing fine paintings of cats was brought to the library in February 2011 by the wife of an elderly manuscripts collector in the UK. The manuscript could easily be identified as a Treatise on Cats, similar to one manuscript already in the library’s Thai collections (Or.16008). However, the significant difference between the two manuscripts is that the illustrations in the newly acquired item are watercolour paintings on cream coloured paper whereas the other manuscript contains drawings in white chalk on blackened paper.

The newly acquired Treatise on Cats has the format of a Thai folding book (samut khoi) with 12 folios, which open from top to bottom. It was produced in the 19th century in Central Thailand. Folding books were usually made from the bark of mulberry trees, whereas minerals, plant liquids and occasionally materials imported from China and Europe were used as paints. Sometimes the paper was blackened with lamp black or lacquer to make the paper stronger and more resistant against damage by bugs or humidity.

Or.16797, folio 2

Or.16797, folio 2

The text that accompanies the 23 paintings is in Thai script which, at that time, was mainly used for the production of non-religious manuscripts in Central Thailand. The rather short captions give descriptions of the features of different types of cats that were known in Siam. For each type of cat there is also a note what effect keeping this cat could possibly have on its owner. Unfortunately, as it is often the case with Thai manuscripts, neither an author or illustrator, nor a date is given in the manuscript.

There was a tradition in 19th century Siam to produce treatises on animals which played an important role at the royal court and monasteries. Among such were first of all elephants, particularly albinos, but also horses and cats.
The breeding of the most famous Siamese cats, for example the Wichienmat, was reserved for the royal family alone. Certain cats also were believed to be the “keepers” of Buddhist temples resulting in this cat being closely guarded and highly revered. There was a strong belief that certain types of cats could bring good luck, prosperity, rank or health to the owner, whereas other types of cats were regarded as unlucky animals to be avoided.

For example, a white cat with nine black spots, auspicious green eyes, and a strong and beautiful voice was regarded as a lucky cat. It is said that whoever keeps this cat, he or she will become a respected person and gain a high social status.

Further reading:

Clutterbuck, Martin R.: The legend of Siamese cats. Bangkok, 1998

Everyday life in Java in the late 18th century: Serat Damar Wulan

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Annabel Teh Gallop, British Library

The newly-digitised Serat Damar Wulan (MSS.Jav.89) is one of the loveliest Indonesian manuscripts in the British Library, with a treasury of illustrations depicting Javanese society in the late 18th century. The pictures are rich in humour and the artist had a marvellous eye for facial expressions and bodily postures (a woman sleeping with her arm across her eyes, a sandal just balanced on a foot). Everyday ‘things’ are depicted in fascinating detail, from bird cages to garden pots and textiles, with wonderful scenes of music and dance of enormous interest to performers today, as Matthew Cohen points out in one of his latest posts on his blog Indonesian performances.

A contemporary English note which accompanied the donation of the manuscript in 1815 states ‘This Book is said to be 2 hundred years old’ (image numbered ‘front-i’), but according to Dr Russell Jones, the watermarks of the much-thumbed and soiled pages of Dutch paper, ‘J HONIG’ and ‘J H & Z’, have so far only been found in Indonesian manuscripts dated ca.1800 to 1855, and so a late 18th-century dating is perhaps most likely for this manuscript.

A messenger on horseback bringing news Daha has been attacked by Balambangan (MSS.Jav.89, f.33v, detail).

A messenger on horseback bringing news Daha has been attacked by Balambangan (MSS.Jav.89, f.33v, detail).

Early scholars of Javanese texts were notoriously oblivious to the artistic aspects of manuscripts, but the Serat Damar Wulan proved irresistible. In 1953, Lina Maria Coster-Wijsman (grandmother of Javanese art historian Marijke Klokke) published a valuable study, ‘Illustrations in a Javanese manuscript’, identifying all the illustrations in the manuscript. For a concordance of her illustration numbers with the current folio numbers of the British Library manuscript (Damar MSS.Jav.89) click here.

Pages from the Serat Damar Wulan were also reproduced in colour in the British Library photographic exhibition Golden Letters, which travelled all over Indonesia in 1991, and in the book Early views of Indonesia, which was published in 1995 as a gift from the British government to mark the 50th anniversary of Indonesian independence. One picture showed Damar Wulan being prepared for his marriage by two formidable female attendants, looking exactly like the bossy professional wedding planners still active today. Imagine my surprise when, in 2000, I noticed on the wall of the Jakarta home of my friend Jennifer Lindsay a glass painting of exactly this scene, which she had bought in the market in Solo the previous year. (Knowing how much I loved the picture, in 2003 Jenny generously gave it to me, and it will eventually join the collections of the British Library). It was wonderful to see how, after a period of two centuries, the pictures in the Serat Damar Wulan were feeding back into the artistic life of Java. With the full manuscript now online, hopefully the digitised images will inspire many more such artistic re-creations.

Damar Wulan being prepared for his wedding, 18th c. (MSS.Jav.89, f.134v, detail), published in Early views of Indonesia (1995).

Damar Wulan being prepared for his wedding, 18th c. (MSS.Jav.89, f.134v, detail), published in Early views of Indonesia (1995).

A glass painting of the same scene, produced in central Java, ca.1998.

A glass painting of the same scene, produced in central Java, ca.1998.


L.M. Coster-Wijsman, ‘Illustrations in a Javanese manuscript’, Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde, 1953, 109 (2): 153-163
‘Editorial note‘, Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde, 1953, 109 (3): 276.
Annabel Teh Gallop, Early views of Indonesia: drawings from the British Library. (London: British Library, 1995), p.58.

An illuminated Malay Qur’an

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Annabel Teh Gallop, British Library

An exquisite illuminated Qur’an (Or.15227), dating from the 19th century and originating from the East Coast of the Malay peninsula, is the first Qur’an manuscript in the British Library to be digitised in its entirety. The manuscript was displayed in the British Library’s Sacred exhibition in 2007, and also featured in the accompanying book by Colin Baker on Qur’an manuscripts.

Beginning of Surat Yasin.  Or.15227, ff.222v-223r

Beginning of Surat Yasin. Or.15227, ff.222v-223r

On the basis of various codicological features the manuscript can be attributed to the cultural zone encompassing Kelantan, on the north-east coast of Malaysia, and Patani, in southern Thailand. In many ways the Qur’an is typical of manuscript production in Patani, with black endpapers of Thai manufacture, a cloth cover with elaborate stitched headbands, and illuminated frames with typical Patani features such as the ‘interlocking wave’ motif. And yet the exactitude of the drawing and colouring, and the repetition of ornamental details, is more typical of Qur’ans from the court of Terengganu, the richest centre for Islamic manuscript illumination in Southeast Asia. The hybrid character of this manuscript is emphasized by some other unusual features, including the presence of double decorated frames in the middle of the Book marking the start of Surat al-Kahf and Surat Yasin, instead of just at the beginning of Surat al-Isra’, as is usual in East Coast Qur’ans. Also of great interest are two unfinished monochrome frames in black ink (ff.303v-304r, 306v-307r); the zoom capabilities of the digitised manuscripts viewer can be used to follow how the artist worked.

Detail of an illuminated heading for Surat al-Mujadilah, with a marginal ornament marking the start of the 28th juz’, and a tiny red marginal inscription maqra’, indicating a portion selected for recitation.  Or.15227, f.273v (detail)

Detail of an illuminated heading for Surat al-Mujadilah, with a marginal ornament marking the start of the 28th juz’, and a tiny red marginal inscription maqra’, indicating a portion selected for recitation. Or.15227, f.273v (detail)

To see the fully digitised manuscript click here

[Please note that because the British Library digitised manuscripts viewer was developed for Greek manuscripts, the ‘open book’ viewing option is not suitable for right-to-left scripts such as Arabic, and therefore the ‘single’ view option should be used.]

The British Library Malay Qur’an joins other fully digitised Southeast Asian Qur’an manuscripts on the internet, including a superbly illuminated Acehnese Qur’an, Cod.Or.2064 in Leiden University Library, and four Javanese Qur’an manuscripts (Arabe 458, 582, 583 and 584) in the Bibliothèque nationale in Paris.

Thus for the first time, it is possible to study online Qur’an manuscripts from three distinctive regional traditions in Southeast Asia.

Annabel Teh Gallop, ‘The spirit of Langkasuka? illuminated manuscripts from the East Coast of the Malay peninsula’, Indonesia and the Malay World, July 2005, 33 (96): 113-182, pp.146, 161.
Colin F. Baker, Qur’an manuscripts: calligraphy, illumination, design (London: The British Library, 2007), pp.92-93.

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