Rare Malay newspaper in the Wellcome Library

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The Wellcome Library in London is one of the world’s major resources for the study of medical history. They offer a growing collection of material relating to contemporary medicine and biomedical science in society.

The Wellcome Library is currently developing a world-class online resource for the history of medicine by digitising a substantial proportion of its holdings and making the content freely available on the web.

The Library’s digitisation programme includes:

  • cover-to-cover books
  • video and audio
  • entire archive collections and manuscripts
  • paintings, prints, drawings, photographs, ephemera and more.

The Library was founded on the collections of Sir Henry Wellcome (1853-1936) and is best known for its medical materials. However, the Library also holds important Asian collections especially pertaining to medicine, religious practices, divination and magic, including Malay, Batak and Javanese manuscripts (described in Ricklefs & Voorhoeve 1982).

Wellcome Images, another digitisation initiative of the Wellcome Library, makes available a wealth of images, including images from Malay manuscripts on magic, photographs of Sarawak and Penang, watercolour drawings of Singapore and Johor, and a very rare a copy of an early Malay newspaper published in Singapore in 1877, of which no other copies are known to survive anywhere else in the world: Peridaran al-Shams wa-al-Qamar, ‘The revolution of the sun and the moon’.  

Annabel Teh Gallop had a closer look at this rare item and published an article on the Rare Malay newspaper at the Wellcome Library on the Asian & African Studies Blog of the British Library, explaining the historical context of this newspaper and providing the details of publications for further reading on that topic.

Early Malay Publications in SOAS Library’s Special Collections

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SOAS Library has a treasure of early Malay publications in Arabic script (known as Jawi script), most of them dated 19th century and some early 20th century. These were originally on the open shelves in the main library at classmark IBA although some might have been classified at IBC.

In 1993 Ian Proudfoot published Early Malay printed books: a provisional account of materials published in the Singapore-Malaysia area up to 1920, noting holdings in major public collections. A copy of this work is held in the South East Asia reference section at Ref. HG015/687711. It lists SOAS Library holdings, giving the IBA classmark for each publication. When Proudfoot’s work was published, it alerted people to some of our rare holdings. A decision was then made to withdraw this material from the open shelves and transfer the material to the rare book collection (although a few of them can still be found on the open shelves). Those items transferred have ‘EA’, ‘EB’, ‘EC’ or ‘ER’ classmarks. For more information, contact jk53@soas.ac.uk or docenquiry@soas.ac.uk

Jotika Khur-Yearn