THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Asian and African studies blog

News from our curators and colleagues

Introduction

Our Asian and African Studies blog promotes the work of our curators, recent acquisitions, digitisation projects, and collaborative projects outside the Library. Our starting point was the British Library’s exhibition ‘Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire’, which ran 9 Nov 2012 to 2 Apr 2013 Read more

03 October 2016

What do you think about our digitised Hebrew manuscripts?

We’ve been digitising Hebrew manuscripts and making them available on the Digitised Manuscripts website since 2013, with generous funding from The Polonsky Foundation. With the recent start of Phase 2 of our digitisation project (funded by the National Library of Israel), we took the opportunity to hear your thoughts! We conducted a survey to find out if and how we can improve access to our digitised Hebrew manuscripts, and whether we can be of assistance with digital research using the collection.

We were thrilled to received 107 responses to our survey, mostly from researchers and academics. They come from a wide breadth of organisations in the UK, Europe, Israel, the US, Canada, Australia, and even Uruguay!

Access to data

One key issue covered by our survey was accessibility. Our digitised manuscripts are currently available for viewing through the Library’s Digitised Manuscripts website. This platform offers search functionality and a smart viewer, with which you can browse images quickly and in very high resolution.

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Mishneh Torah by Maimonides (British Library Harley MS 5698), viewed on Digitised Manuscripts. Noc

When asked how access can be improved, most respondents wanted to be able to download images, preferably in high resolution. They asked to make the collection free to use, but also to make it clear when one should be aware of usage terms. Being able to view manuscripts’ thumbnails was another suggestion, as well as that our viewer supports IIIF (IIIF – International Image Interoperability Framework – is a set of standards to promote the interoperability and ease of use of digital images, using standard web protocols). People also wanted to be able to share images of digitised manuscripts, for example through e-mail or social media.

Our respondents’ interest was not only in the digitised images, but also in the metadata – our catalogue records. People requested that we make our metadata available for download. In addition, they asked that we update and correct our metadata, or create a framework to crowdsource this task. It was also considered important that the visual appearance of metadata on our viewer is improved. Enhancing search functionality was also a very popular suggestion – people want to find manuscripts of interest more easily. And another prominent request was that we provide a list of all digitised Hebrew manuscripts.

We’re happy to say that we have either addressed or in the process of addressing all of these issues! To start with the latter suggestion, we have made available a list of manuscripts to download as a spreadsheet from the Hebrew Manuscripts website. We have also made our entire set of TEI XML metadata records available for download as a ZIP file (with open license CC-0). We’re also aware that Digitised Manuscripts offers limited search options, and we’re in the process of replacing this viewer with a new one (see below). In the meantime, searching this spreadsheet (e.g. in MS Excel) or filtering the data by column would make it easier to find things and get to manuscripts of interest.

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A catalogue records viewer, created by Alex Mendes, enabling to display and export the project’s metadata

Downloading high quality images was indicated as a key necessity among our users. Following the approval of an internal British Library group (Access and Reuse), we are now able to release our images for free as 300ppi JPEGs. We are in the process of preparing those for British Library Labs data.bl.uk website (to be launched in November 2016). This involves assigning the right usage term statement to each manuscript, converting the project’s TIFF files into JPEGs, and compressing these JPEGs – while keeping them in very high quality.

Preparing our collection for free and easy access will also address the suggestion to release our material as open data. Our material will be released as Public Domain, although some of it is technically still in copyright (according to UK copyright law). As this is a very low risk, it will be released for use as Public Domain, but with an appropriate disclaimer. We will make clear which manuscripts fall under which licensing category.

Many suggestions for improvement will be addressed with the transition from the Digitised Manuscripts platform to a new viewer. The new viewer is based on the Universal Viewer technology, an open source project in which the British Library is a partner. The new viewer is replacing legacy viewers for accessing digitised collection items.It will bring together manuscripts, printed books, born digital and sound content. Some of the issues mentioned above will be addressed by this viewer’s functionality:
1.    Features such as Download, Print, Share and Embed.
2.    The Universal Viewer is IIIF compliant.
3.    It enables thumbnails on a side panel, allowing for a quick browse of the manuscript. These can be expanded throughout the whole page (Gallery view), and enlarged or reduced in size as needed.
4.    Better quality viewing experience for digital collection material and metadata.
5.    It will enable the insertion of text transcriptions alongside digitised images of the manuscript represented. The full text would then be searchable.
6.    It will also indicate the relevant license and usage terms for each manuscript.

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A sample item on the Universal Viewer, demonstrating the viewer’s functionality. Noc

Digital Research

Another goal of the survey was to get an idea of the types of digital tools and techniques used by researchers to analyse digitised Hebrew manuscripts.  Most researchers indicated using digital tools for their work, the most popular being image/script comparison tools, annotations and data visualisations, followed by text mining, image analysis tools and crowdsourcing.

It is clear, however, that we can do so much more to facilitate research in this respect. Several people suggested that the project should be more geared toward research and enable a dedicated platform for some or all tools mentioned above. Special emphasis was made on the need for transcriptions, translations and annotations – and a platform to crowdsource them. These features would not only help promote research in general, but also open up our collection to non-Hebrew readers.

Other suggestions related to the creation of relationships with other digital resources such as catalogues and databases, for better discoverability. These included using Linked Open Data (LOD) to express relationships with other resources in other languages, and creating connections to the web catalogue of the Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts in Jerusalem (IMHM) and to other databases in Jewish studies. It was also suggested that we create API access to search our digitised collection via other platforms.

We are very grateful for these ideas – they are definitely something for us to explore. Whether we create something from scratch, or leverage on platforms or tools that were developed or are in the process of development – these useful suggestions will be examined in terms of priorities and potential future projects.

It was encouraging to see the level of survey participation and feedback, and hopefully we will keep improving our resources for the benefit of our growing audience!

Adi Keinan-Schoonbaert, Digital Curator (Polonsky Fellow)  Ccownwork

26 September 2016

Where’s Arjuna? Renaming the Monoliths of Mahabalipuram

The ancient capital of Mahabalipuram stands on India’s Coromandel coastline, facing one of ancient Asia’s most famous and lucrative shipping channels. Its formidable 7th-century stone monuments, many of which were hewn from single granite boulders, were created under the Pallava Dynasty over 1300 years ago. These caves, temples and monoliths all bear witness to the power and wealth of the Pallava kings responsible for their construction. Today, Mahabalipuram is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Many of the monuments at Mahabalipuram show scenes from stories and legends that were important to the Pallava kings. One of these scenes, taken from the Mahabharata, shows the actions of Arjuna, one of the story’s five Pandava brothers.

Two monuments at Mahabalipuram relate to Arjuna. The first of these is the massive sculpted cliff face showing Arjuna performing penance to Shiva, in order to receive “weapons” to augment his warrior abilities. The second monument dedicated to Arjuna is one of the five monolithic stone “rathas” (chariots) which stand in a group on Mahabalipuram’s beach. Unlike the sculpted cliff face, this second monument doesn’t bear any visible narrative connection with Arjuna from the Mahabharata. Why is this?

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View of the Five Rathas at Mahabalipuram, 23 July 1816. British Library, WD 2625 Noc

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Sculpted Cliff Face at Mahabalipuram, 1808. British Library, WD 2624 Noc

Two of the earliest written accounts from Mahabalipuram, written in 1799 and 1803, provide an astonishing explanation for the seemingly random naming of the Arjuna Ratha. The monument that is today called the Arjuna Ratha was only given this name a little over 200 years ago. Previously, the same ratha was named after Sahadeva, Arjuna’s youngest brother in the Mahabharata. Before this change occurred, there was another ratha named after Arjuna at Mahabalipuram, but it was nowhere near the group of five rathas on Mahabalipuram’s beach. It was a solitary monolith located on a rocky hill, close to the sculpted cliff face showing the “Arjuna’s Penance” relief.

In 1799, the old Arjuna Ratha was described as “cut out of one stone from bottom to top: & a Lingum placed in it... the people told me that Rajah Arjoon prayed to this image of Seevoo for a considerable time when he was here...” The Arjuna Ratha of the 18th century was connected with the famous sculpted cliff face showing Arjuna doing penance to Shiva. The precious linga inside the original Arjuna Ratha, alongside the incredible sculpted cliff face, worked together to localise the narrative of “Arjuna’s Penance” amidst Mahabalipuram’s rocky, seaside landscape.

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The original Arjuna Ratha (now called the Ganesha Ratha) at Mahabalipuram. British Library, Photo 472/1(28) Noc

The old Arjuna Ratha was renamed the Ganesha Ratha in the early 19th century. The account of the site gathered in 1803 explains why:
“... [In]the Chariot of Arjoonoo, [which is] cut out of one stone the people say that herein formerly was one Image of Seevoo: but some years ago an English Gentleman carried it away [and] afterward the village Bramins placed a Ganasa in its place...”
Thus at some point between 1799 and 1803, the linga inside the old Arjuna Ratha was stolen. This meant that the old Arjuna Ratha could no longer fulfill its distinctive narrative function as the place where Arjuna worshiped Shiva. The linga’s replacement with an image of Ganesha is poignant because Ganesha, “the remover of obstacles”, is the deity that people appeal to in times of difficulty.

In response to the linga’s loss, Arjuna’s location at Mahabalipuram shifted to the stand of five rathas on the beach. The ratha that had been occupied by Sahadeva, the youngest of the Mahabharata’s five Pandava brothers, was renamed the Arjuna Ratha in the early 19th century, and Sahadeva ended up moving into the same ratha as his older twin brother, Nakula. This explains why the monument called the Nakula Ratha in the 18th century was renamed the Nakula-Sahadeva Ratha in the 19th century.

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The original Sahadeva Ratha (now called the Arjuna Ratha) at Mahabalipuram. British Library, Photo 1003/(2226) Noc

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The original Nakula Ratha (now called the Nakula Sahadeva Ratha) at Mahabalipuram. British Library, Photo 27/(64) Noc

Two Telugu Brahmins, who also happened to be brothers, gathered the accounts at Mahabalipuram that recorded these changes. Now part of the British Library’s Mackenzie Collection, the accounts gathered by Kavali Boriah in 1799, and Kavali Laksmiah in 1803, prove that the names of monuments at Mahabalipuram were not fixed, and that the meaning behind Hindu temples, even when they are carved out of solid stone, can always be reinterpreted.

Further reading:

Dalrymple, William. “A History of Indian Art Through Five Monuments. Part 2: Mahabalipuram.” Sutra Journal, February 2016.

Dehejia, Vidya. “A Riddle in Stone: Pallava Mamallapuram.” Chapter 8 in Dehejia, V. Indian Art. London: Phaidon, 1997.

Howes, Jennifer. “Colin Mackenzie, the Madras School of Orientalism, and Investigations at Mahabalipuram”. Chapter 3 in Trautmann, T. The Madras School of Orientalism: Producing Knowledge in Colonial India. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Kaimal, Padma. “Playful Ambiguity and Political Authority in the Large Relief at Mamallapuram.” Ars Orientalis, 24, pp. 1-27.

Kavali, Venkata Boriah. “Account of the Ruins & Sculptures at Mahavellyporam by Cavely Venkata Boria Bramin sent to Captain Colin Mackenzie to explain them.” December 1799. British Library, Mss Eur Mackenzie General 21, ff.281-286.

Kavali, Venkata Laksmiah. “Particular List of the Gods Goddesses Radums or Chariots, Muntapums nd other Sculptures now remaining at Mahavellyporam. “ May 1803. British Library, Mss Eur Mackenzie General 21, ff. 299-314.

Jennifer Howes, Independent Art Historian Ccownwork

19 September 2016

Hebrew Manuscripts Digitisation Project Phase 1 completed

The Hebrew Manuscripts Digitisation Project has been digitising the British Library’s Hebrew manuscript collection since 2013. The Library’s collection is one of the most important in the world, and this project has enabled us to make the manuscripts freely available to view online, transforming access for scholars and the public worldwide.

Funded by The Polonsky Foundation, we have now completed Phase 1 of the project, with 1,300 manuscripts available to search and view online. The digitised collection includes medieval and early modern codices, single sheets, charters and scrolls, as well as an oak board (Or 6302). The oldest item we have digitised is Or 4445, the London Codex, a copy of the Pentateuch from 920-950.

This phase has taken 3 years, 435,307 image captures and 37TB of storage space, an incredible achievement by a dedicated team of conservators (including a specialist textile conservator), photographers, cataloguers and quality control officers, with expert support from Lead Curator Ilana Tahan, and enriching digital scholarship including the creation of our website and 3D models. See this video for an overview of the project and the different stages of the digitisation process.

The digitised manuscripts can be viewed on the British Library’s Digitised Manuscripts website. The viewer is searchable by keyword or shelfmark, and manuscripts can be viewed as single pages or in ‘open book’ format, and can be zoomed in to provide high levels of detail on illuminations, micrography, and the grain of the paper or parchment. A full list of all of the manuscripts digitised by Phase 1 of the Hebrew Manuscripts Digitisation Project (and all of the catalogue records) can be found here.

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The viewer of the British Library Digitised Manuscripts website showing an open-book view with zoom of folios 5v-6r from Add MS 11639, ‘The Northern French Miscellany’, France 1277-1324. The Polonsky Foundation Catalogue of Digitised Hebrew Manuscripts. Noc

Digital access to manuscripts not only saves much time and effort spent travelling to the Library, but also makes the content much more visible. We have already seen how this has increased access, research, and opportunities for innovation using the Hebrew collection. It has also enabled us to reveal illegible and hidden text and images. For some of the more over-sized items, such as the scrolls, digitisation provides a unique opportunity to view them opened out fully, which would be impossible with the physical manuscript due to their size and fragility. As more institutions begin to digitise their collections and publish them online, manuscripts from the British Library’s Hebrew collection can now be compared with manuscripts from the collections of other institutions, from all over the world.

I’d now like to share with you three of my personal highlights from the Hebrew collection, now all available to view online.

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Detail from ‘Kaifeng Torah Scroll’, China 1643-1663. The Polonsky Foundation Catalogue of Digitised Hebrew Manuscripts. British Library, Add MS 19250  Noc

This is a Torah scroll from the Chinese Jewish community in Kaifeng (Add MS 19250), one of the seven ancient capitals of China. This scroll may have been made between 1643–1663. It is 42 metres long, which is very long for a Torah scroll, but not as long as the collection’s longest scroll, which is over 52 metres long. The Kaifeng scroll is made of 94 strips of soft sheepskin, sewn together with silk thread (usually Torah scrolls are sewn together with animal sinew). As well as being incredibly rare and beautiful, this silk-route scroll tells a really interesting story about a remote Jewish community.

There is evidence of Jews in Kaifeng from as early as the first century CE. The community’s everyday activities incorporated customs unusual for China (such as abstinence from pork), as well as traditional Chinese practice (such as binding of feet). Jesuit missionaries came across the Jewish community in Kaifeng in the 1600s, and were particularly intrigued by their Torah scrolls, as they hoped that due to the community's isolation from the rest of the Jewish world, their scripture would be ‘uncorrupted originals’ of the Old Testament, shedding new light on Christian interpretations. In the 1800s, in response to the growing interest in their Torah scrolls, the Kaifeng community obliged collectors by selling them several copies. The contents of these Torah scrolls turned out to be identical to that of conventional scripture. This scroll was bought by missionaries in 1851, and presented to the British Museum in 1852.

The full scroll can be viewed on the Digitised Manuscripts website here.

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Letter of Jacob Rafael of Modena, Italy 1530. The Polonsky Foundation Catalogue of Digitised Hebrew Manuscripts. reply of Jacob Rafael of Modena. British Library, Arundel MS 151, f. 191r Noc

At first glance the Hebrew manuscript shown above (Arundel MS 151) may not look like much, but it demonstrates a less well-known but fascinating aspect of one of the most famous events in English history – the divorce of King Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon in 1533. This manuscript is bound in a volume called 'Letters and Papers relative to the divorce of Henry VIII', which also includes correspondence from Cardinal Wolsey, Stephen Gardiner, and the King himself. So where does Hebrew come into it?

Catherine of Aragon married Henry VIII in 1509, after his brother Arthur had died. The Jewish law of levirate marriage was one of the ways that this strategically advantageous marriage was justified (Deuteronomy 25:5-6). Years later, Jewish law was also used to try and justify their divorce. The king had teams of scholars study Jewish law, and thought that there might be a loophole due to a prohibition against marrying a sister-in-law (Leviticus 18:16, 20:21). This ‘sin’ is punished by childlessness, which Henry may have felt was reflected in his own situation (with only a daughter).

The king sent a delegation to Italy to discuss this loophole with learned Jews (Jews had been expelled from England in 1290). This letter is the reply of Jacob Rafael of Modena, who did not give the answer the king was looking for. He stated that the law of levirate marriage overrode the prohibition in Leviticus, and therefore Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon was valid and could not be annulled on those grounds.

The full letter (folios 190r-191v) can be viewed on the Digitised Manuscripts website here.

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Detail from Book of Esther, Germany 1600-1699. The Polonsky Foundation Catalogue of Digitised Hebrew Manuscripts. British Library,  Or 1047  Noc

This beautiful illuminated scroll of the Book of Esther is from Germany from the 17th century (Or 1047). It is just under 4 metres long. This scroll needed a lot of conservation work before it could be digitised, as at some point in its history, it had been backed onto material when damp. This had caused a lot of crinkling and contractions as it dried, risking flaking the illuminations and tearing the scroll. The conservation process was incredibly painstaking, involving very carefully removing the backing as slowly and carefully as possible.

This scroll is illustrated with the story of Esther, read by Jewish people during the festival of Purim. The illuminations show the whole story, from the beauty contest for the new queen at the beginning, the political machinations of the main characters, to the violent and bloody ending. It includes some of the exegetical interpretations of the story within the illuminations and the text: the hidden presence of god in the story is emphasised with god’s name highlighted in the lettering. It also includes contemporary images of people enjoying the revelry typically associated with the festival of Purim, a graphic circumcision scene, a Venetian galleon, two elephants and a rhinoceros.

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Detail from Book of Esther, Germany 1600-1699. The Polonsky Foundation Catalogue of Digitised Hebrew Manuscripts. British Library, Or 1047 Noc

The full manuscript can be viewed on the Digitised Manuscripts website here.

Phase 2 of the Hebrew project, in partnership with the National Library of Israel, began digitising the remainder of the Library’s Hebrew manuscript in April 2016. This phase will include the digitisation of the manuscript collection that belonged to Moses Gaster, and the Library’s Samaritan manuscript collection.

Miriam Lewis, Project Manager, Hebrew Manuscripts Digitisation Project Ccownwork

12 September 2016

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned: the legend of the bell of Dōjō-ji

This famous English saying - often misattributed to William Shakespeare, but actually a partially paraphrased quotation from William Congreve - could apply to many tragic tales from all over the world through the centuries. Here we will introduce a famous Japanese story featuring one such jilted woman, associated with the ancient temple of Dōjō-ji 道成寺 in Kii province (modern Wakayama) in Japan.

Dōjō-ji is a Buddhist temple dedicated to Senju Kannon 千手観音 or Avalokiteśvara “With a thousand arms and eyes” and his flanking attendants Nikkō Bosatsu (日光菩薩  Suryaprabha) and Gakkō Bosatsu (月光菩薩 Candraprabha). Dōjō-ji is believed to have been established in 701. Senju Kannon’s thousand arms and eyes symbolise the depth of his compassion (慈悲Jihi), keeping his eyes on all living things and extending his hands to anyone suffering from hardship.

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Ofuda of Dōjō-ji Senju Kannon (highlighted above). From a collection of ca. 330 Japanese amulets printed up to the 1880's, mounted in 5 albums. [Ofuda harikomichō : Daiei Toshokanzō お札貼込帳 : 大英図書館蔵] British Library, 16007.d.1(2)30-33r Noc
 
Although there are a number of variations on the story of tragic romance and the Dōjō-ji bell, the most famous version is that of Anchin安珍 and Kiyohime 清姫. Anchin is a handsome young trainee monk who catches the eye of a local maiden called Kiyohime. Kiyohime is very attracted to Anchin, but this story doesn’t have a happy ending!

As a novice monk Anchin has no intention of falling in love with a woman, and therefore in order to escape from his admirer Kiyohime he tells her he has to go away, but falsely promises that he will come back for her. He dashes away, but she chases after him. He gets to the river and attempts to escape by crossing the river by boat, but Kiyohime does not give up easily, and dives into the water and swims after him.

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Kiyohime chases Anchin as he flees across the Hidaka River in his boat. Dōjō-ji emaki 道成寺絵巻.
Manuscript scroll. National Diet Library

As Anchin flees from Kiyohime, he sees her gradually transforming herself from a young girl into a scaly creature while continuing to pursue him. Anchin is horrified and asks the monks at Dōjō-ji to rescue him. The monks sympathise with Anchin and give him a hiding place, inside the bell of the temple, but it is too late: Kiyohime has already turned into a fire serpent. Persistent Kiyohime, who is no longer a woman but a fiery demon, wraps herself around the bell, and burns Anchin to death inside the bell.

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Consumed by anger a desperate Kiyohime transforms herself into a fire serpent. Dōjō-ji emaki 道成寺絵巻. Manuscript scroll. National Diet Library

The story has many variations and sequels, and its basic theme of transformation has inspired numerous Kabuki and Bunraku puppet plays as well as other dramatic and literary forms including No drama.

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Monks preparing for the ceremony of reinstalling the bell. Dōjō-ji utai ezu 道成寺謡絵図. Manuscript, mid Edo period (ca. 18 century). British Library, Or.977 Noc

Returning to the narrative, one spring the restoration of the bell is finished and the monks of Dōjō-ji are looking forward to a ceremony for reinstalling the bell. They forbid women to participate because of the tragic memories associated with the previous bell. However, one girl manages to sneak in to the venue on the pretext that she would like to perform a dedicatory dance for blessing the new bell.

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A girl pretending to dance for the dedication for the new bell. Dōjō-ji utai ezu 道成寺謡絵図. Manuscript, mid Edo period (ca. 18 century). British Library, Or.977 Noc

As it turns out she is the incarnation of the fire serpent who burned the man to death in the old bell. She deeply opposes the new bell being placed in Dōjō-ji and wants to prevent the monks from celebrating it. The monks are taken by surprise, and immediately pray to exorcise the demon woman, in order to protect the bell and to defend the temple from supernatural interference.

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Monks vs the demon woman.  Dōjō-ji utai ezu 道成寺謡絵図. Manuscript, mid Edo period (ca. 18 century ). British Library, Or.977  Noc

Although the monks successfully defeat the vengeful sprit, eventually the bell is sent to another temple in Kyoto. Ultimately all the departed souls related to the Dōjō-ji bell legend, including the jilted woman who changed into a demon and took her revenge on the man who had spurned her, are placated and granted peaceful rest by the virtues of Buddha.

"Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, nor Hell a fury like a woman scorned" is the full quotation from William Congreve's 'The Mourning Bride' (1697). Probably the fundamental message in this story is a lesson for life. Rage is often caused by our own misunderstandings, and we should not lay blame on a fate imposed on us by heaven or hell.

References:

Dōjō-ji Home page

演目事典:道成寺

狂言の絵画資料の収集 その四 - 東洋哲学研究所

"Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor Hell a fury like a woman scorned." The Mourning Bride. William Congreve (1670-1729)
「天には、愛が憎しみに変わったような激しい怒りは無く、地獄にも蔑まれた女の烈火の怒りのようなものはない。」

Yasuyo Ohtsuka, Curator, Japanese collections Ccownwork

05 September 2016

The formation of the British Library’s Vietnamese collection. Part 2: South Vietnam

This blog is the second in a two-part series chronicling the efforts by the British Library to build up its Vietnamese collection, particularly throughout the difficult period of the Vietnam War years, based on departmental archives. Part 1 dealt with North Vietnam; in Part 2 we look at South Vietnam.

Unlike the situation with North Vietnam, throughout the war years the British government maintained a diplomatic relationship with the South Vietnamese regime in Saigon, and there was a Republic of Vietnam embassy located in London. The earliest evidence of an attempt by the then Library of the British Museum to establish book exchanges with South Vietnam is found in a letter from G.H. Spinney (the Keeper of the State Paper Room) to the Vietnamese Embassy in London, dated 7 May 1959. In it, he mentioned his lack of success in contacting the State Library of Vietnam in December 1958 regarding establishing a book exchange programme, and also reiterated the necessity of collecting material from South Vietnam.

Through the London Embassy of the Republic of Vietnam and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Saigon, an agreement in principle was reached on 12 January 1960. Despite the absence of a formal exchange contract, from 1959 onwards the British Museum Library started to exchange both official publications and books with various South Vietnamese government ministries and departments.  Negotiations between two parties regarding the details of exchanges went on for some years, dealing with details such as whether or not the supply of back numbers of periodicals of any date could be arranged and included (source: letter from Miss E.C. Blayney, The Foreign Office to Mr. J.R. MacKay, H.M. Stationery Office, 17 July 1962).

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Letter from the Republic Of Vietnam’s Embassy in London to the Library of the British Museum (precursor of the British Library), 1960.

Finally, on 30 November 1962, the UK government and the government of the Republic of Vietnam agreed upon an Exchange of Notes concerning the exchange of official publications between the two governments. This agreement formed the basis for material collected from South Vietnam during the war years. The Directorate of National Archives and Libraries in Saigon was entrusted with the task of sending official publications from the Republic of Vietnam to the British Library.

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Exchange of Notes between the UK government and the government of the Republic of Vietnam, 1962.

The correspondence between the British Library and the Vietnamese Embassy in London demonstrates that there was a regular exchange between the two institutions, and Saigon occasionally also sent a few monographs to the Library. However, it is quite surprising  that the number of official serials and monographs from Saigon in our collection during the war period is much smaller than that received from Hanoi, considering the fact that the UK only had diplomatic relations with the Saigon regime, and that the Republic of Vietnam was a ‘free country’. The answer to this puzzle probably lies in Nguyễn Thế Anh’s observation that in the socialist North, where culture and literature were placed under the direction of the state, publications were often issued in large editions and played an important role in society. On the other hand, in the South, where free enterprise reigned, publishing benefited from the latest technical innovations but was often disorderly, with a proliferation of limited and poorly distributed editions (Herbert & Milner 1988: 82).

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Publication from Saigon, 1960. British Library, 16622.a.12.

It should also be noted that all printed material for export in the North came under the state-run enterprise, XUNHASABA. Even though the export of printed material was subject to strict rules and controls, the state distributor worked more efficiently than the private suppliers in the South during the war years. As a result, the British Library sometimes received duplicates from the North which were then donated to the Embassy of Vietnam in London for their own use, illustrating how rare such material was, and how the gathering of such essential information was valued by these two war-torn states was during the Vietnam War.

All these attempts by those who were involved in acquiring material from both sides of Vietnam have paid off. Today, the Vietnamese collection in the British Library is probably the largest in the UK. Even though the collection of manuscripts in Vietnamese is small by comparison with many other language traditions in the British Library, it represents well the literary tradition of Vietnam. We are also continuing to add to the collection of modern printed books, and to date we have about 10,000 items in our collection, which cover a wide range of important fields in social sciences and humanities, such as linguistics, law, literature and anthropology.

References:

H.J. Goodacre and A.P. Pritchard. Guide to the Department of Oriental Manuscripts and Printed Books. London: British Museum Publications Limited, 1977.
Patricia Herbert & Anthony Milner, eds. South-East Asia Languages and Literatures: A Select Guide. Arran, Scotland: Kiscadale Publications, [1988?]
P.R. Harris. A History of the British Museum Library, 1753-1973. London: The British Library, 1998.

Sud Chonchirdin, Curator for Vietnamese Ccownwork

31 August 2016

Merdeka: Malaysian independence day

31 August is celebrated each year in Malaysia as Hari Merdeka, ‘Independence Day’.  It marks the momentous occasion that took place on 31 August 1957, when at a great ceremony at the national stadium in Kuala Lumpur, Tunku Abdul Rahman proclaimed the independence of the Federation of Malaya, after a long period of British colonial rule. In 1963 the expanded nation of Malaysia was formed from the Federation of Malaya, the Borneo states of Sarawak and Sabah, and Singapore, although two years later in 1965 Singapore left Malaysia to become independent.  

Merdeka for Malaya
The only known copy of a rare publication on Malayan independence published in Colombo by Francis Cooray, a Sri Lankan journalist who had lived in Malaya for 29 years, for 21 years as Special Correspondent for the Financial Times. Francis Cooray, Merdeka for Malaya (Maharagama: Saman Press, 1957).  British Library, 8025.c.96

In 1511, the Portuguese captured Melaka, the ‘Venice of the East’, the greatest Malay sultanate and port-city in Southeast Asia. Over the next three hundred years, Melaka was tossed about like a ping-pong ball by rival European powers: in 1641 it was wrestled from the Portuguese by the Dutch, and in the early 19th century passed into British hands. Entering the era of ‘high colonialism’, following the Pangkor Treaty of 1874 a British Resident was appointed to the state of Perak, and by the early 20th century, the whole of the Malay peninsula was under British control. The proclamation of Merdeka in 1957 thus marked the end of over four centuries of the presence of European power-bases in the Malay peninsula.

In 2007, to mark the 50th anniversary of Merdeka, the British High Commission in Kuala Lumpur requested help from the British Library to compile an album of images from souvenir publications in its collection commemorating Malaysian independence, for presentation to the then Prime Minister of Malaysia, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.  Some of the most interesting pictures are reproduced below to mark today, the 59th anniversary of Merdeka.

The first featured guide is Merdeka Celebrations Guide 31st August 1957 (10059.d.13), published in Penang just before Independence Day itself, to publicise the celebrations prepared for Merdeka.

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Merdeka Celebrations Guide 31st August 1957: showing programmes of Penang, Province Wellesley & Kuala Lumpur. Penang: G.K.M. Dean, 1957. British Library, 10059.d.13

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Timetable of Merdeka celebrations planned for Georgetown, Penang. Merdeka Celebrations Guide 31st August 1957: showing programmes of Penang, Province Wellesley & Kuala Lumpur. Penang: G.K.M. Dean, 1957. British Library, 10059.d.13

The other three souvenir booklets shown here were published after the event and include photographs of the Merdeka celebrations. The Merdeka Anniversary Souvenir 31st August 1958 (Cup.25.e.50) was published to mark the first anniversary of independence.

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Merdeka Anniversary Souvenir 31st August 1958 / Sambutan Ulangtahun Merdeka yang pertama Persekutuan Tanah Melayu 31 August 1958. Kuala Lumpur: Lai Than Fong, 1958. British Library, Cup.25.e.50, front cover

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Merdeka Anniversary Souvenir 31st August 1958 / Sambutan Ulangtahun Merdeka yang pertama Persekutuan Tanah Melayu 31 August 1958. Kuala Lumpur: Lai Than Fong, 1958. British Library, Cup.25.e.50, p. 41

Malaya Merdeka Souvenir (X.702/1766) was published in Ipoh, Perak by O.S. Pada, and includes a pictorial record of the process of political negotiations leading up to independence, as well as of the great day itself.

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Malaya Merdeka Souvenir, 31st Aug., 1957. Ipoh: O.S. Pada, Pada Advertising Agency, 1957. British Library, X.702/1766

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Malaya Merdeka Souvenir, 31st Aug., 1957. Ipoh: O.S. Pada, Pada Advertising Agency, 1957. British Library, X.702/1766, p.43

The fourth and final commemorative booklet, Kulim Merdeka Souvenir Magazine (X.700/13428) is particularly interesting in presenting a record of the Merdeka celebrations not in the federal capital, but in Kulim, a small town in Kedah. It features on its front cover the famous Kulim Merdeka Clock Tower, unveiled by Sultan Badlishah of Kedah on 15 September 1957 to mark the declaration of independence.

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Kulim Merdeka Souvenir Magazine, 31st August 1957. Kulim: Chan Khuan Ooh, 1957. British Library, X.700/13428

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A record of Merdeka celebrations in Kulim, including the unveiling of the Clock Tower, a parade of UMNO youths and Kaum Ibu, and a Boria performance. Kulim Merdeka Souvenir Magazine, 31st August 1957. Kulim: Chan Khuan Ooh, 1957. British Library, X.700/13428

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The Merdeka arch in Baling, a small town in Kedah near the border with Thailand best known as the site of abortive negotiations in 1955 between Tunku Abdul Rahman and the Communist leader Chin Peng to end the Malayan Emergency. Kulim Merdeka Souvenir Magazine, 31st August 1957. Kulim: Chan Khuan Ooh, 1957. British Library, X.700/13428

Merdeka album - fc
The album of images from British Library publications presented by the British High Commissioner in Kuala Lumpur to the Prime Minister of Malaysia, 2007.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia  ccownwork

23 August 2016

The formation of the British Library’s Vietnamese collection. Part 1: North Vietnam

In the digital era, accessing information of any kind from a library is just one click away on your computer keyboard, and almost makes you forget how difficult this activity could be in the past.  Half a century ago, this luxury was unimaginable, thanks not only to the state of technology at that time but also to the scarcity of source materials. The problem became even more acute when you were dealing with materials from a country which had gone through difficult circumstances, such as Vietnam in the 1960s.  In this two-part blog, I will discuss the great lengths to which the British Library went in order to acquire publications from this war-torn and politically-divided country, based on archives held in the department.

The drive to acquire materials from Vietnam was mainly due to G.H. Spinney, who from 1948 was Keeper of the State Paper Room (which subsequently became the Department of Official Publications in the British Library). During the early 1960s Spinney campaigned vigorously to increase the collection of official publications in the State Paper Room, largely by utilising the mechanism of international exchange (Harris 1998: 598, 654).  

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Publication from North Vietnam, 1961. British Library, 16684.a.1

The Vietnamese collection was originally held in the British Museum’s Department of Oriental Printed Books and Manuscripts. Unlike the large numbers of publications in Burmese and Malay from former British colonies in Southeast Asia, up to the 1950s the Vietnamese collection was very small. The Cold War and scarcity of information from remote communist-bloc countries compounded the difficulties in acquiring materials in both vernacular languages and English, and on 13 December 1960, H.A. Arnold from the State Paper Room wrote to Kubon & Sagner, a book supplier in Munich, Germany to see whether it would be able to supply materials from Mongolia, U.S.S.R., North Korea and North Vietnam for the Library.  

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1963 catalogue from XUNHASABA, the state-owned book supplier in North Vietnam, received via Kubon & Sagner, a supplier in Germany.

For sourcing materials from North Vietnam, the British Museum enlisted the help of Hanoi’s main ally, China, to find ways to contact relevant institutions. The National Library of China in Beijing eventually provided Spinney with contact details for North Vietnam and in May 1959, he wrote a long letter to the Director of the National Library in Hanoi to ascertain whether the latter would be interested in establishing book exchanges with the British Library. Parts of Spinney’s letter are worth quoting here:
“… During a general review of our accessions from Asiatic countries, we were disturbed to find that we have so far received no official publications from the Government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam … and we need therefore urgently to acquire documentation from official sources in the Democratic Republic of Vietnam to provide a basis for research …. You will readily appreciate that in acquiring such documentary material we have to think in terms of the requirements of posterity as well as of current research …” (G.H. Spinney to the Director of the National Central Library, Hanoi, 4 May, 1959)
There is little evidence that Spinney’s request was well received by Hanoi, and further approaches were made in 1962 and 1963, as shown by copies of letters held in the archives from H.A. Arnold to the Cultural Attaché of the Embassy of the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam in Moscow (dated 2 August 1961, 27 August 1962 and 15 July 1963).

Despite these setbacks the Library persevered in its attempts to build up the national collection in Vietnamese. In the 1960s, this task was split between two departments: the State Paper Room was in charge of acquiring official publications from Hanoi, while the Department of Oriental Printed Books and Manuscripts collected printed books on social sciences and humanities. They used book dealers in (West) Germany and Hong Kong, and occasionally bought directly from Xunhasaba, the North Vietnam state-owned book dealer. Requests were sometimes rejected by Hanoi, especially for official publications, with the reason being given that “the item is not for export”, a message which indicates the level of secrecy and control of information in this country. However, sporadic donations of materials were also received from North Vietnam’s diplomatic mission in New Delhi.

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“No Export” notification on an item ordered from North Vietnam.

Towards the end of 1961, the Committee for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries in Hanoi started to send some publications to the British Museum. Subsequently, the task was transferred to the National Library of Vietnam and the Library of Social Sciences in Hanoi (source: letter from H.A. Arnold to Hoang Xuan Bui, Director for the Committee for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries, 15 July 1963), and this arrangement continues to the present day with the British Library. In January 1968, the newly established Central Library for Science and Technology in Hanoi offered a publications exchange programme with the Library but the actual despatches only started in 1971 (source: letter from H.A. Arnold to Miss J.M. Fraser,  Publications Division, H.M.S.O., 16 April 1971).

Deliveries of books during the war years were never easy, and sometimes despatches from London to Hanoi or vice versa did not arrive at their destination. Correspondence between Ngyuễn Minh Tăn, the Vice Director of the Central Library of Science and Technology in Hanoi, and H.A. Arnold, the Keeper of the State Paper Room, illustrates vividly the problems experienced by the libraries in London and Hanoi. On 10 March 1973 Ngyuễn Minh Tăn wrote to Arnold:
“… We are happy to advise you that despite of the savage bombing of Hanoi by the US, our Library as well as the Library for Social Science and the National Library are very safe. We were evacuated for some time but we are now back in Hanoi, and working normally … We are currently experiencing some difficulties and cannot acquire some of your requested periodicals …”
To which Arnold replied on 24 May 1973:
“… It was good to hear from your Library again - Mr Tran Mai’s last letter to me …. was dated October 10th, 1971 – and I was very pleased to learn that not only was your own Library safe from the bombing, but also the Library for Social Science and the Bibliotheque Nationale as well … I can well appreciate that you are having many difficulties at the present time and that you are not in a position to send me some of the journals I have requested in the past. I am sure, however, that as conditions improve, … you will send me whatever you can find…”
[“The savage bombing” referred to in the above correspondence was the Operation Linebacker or the Christmas Bombing (18-29 December 1972) in which the US launched serious bombings over Hanoi to force the latter to negotiate a peace deal and eventually the Paris Agreement was signed on 27 January 1973.]

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Postcard to the Library of the British Museum from the Committee for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries, Hanoi, October 1968.
 
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Picture on the front of the postcard of 1968 shown above.

Despite all the difficulties during the Vietnam War, Vietnamese material from North Vietnam continued to arrive in London through various channels. When in 1973 the British Library was formed from the Library of the British Museum, the Vietnamese collection in the re-named Department of Oriental Manuscripts and Printed Books consisted of 3 manuscripts and about 800 printed books and some titles of periodicals (Goodacre and Pritchard 1977: 61).

No evidence of formal contracts for book exchanges with any institutions in North Vietnam have been found in our archives but we can deduce from various correspondence that the Library had exchange programmes with at least three libraries in Hanoi in order to acquire official Vietnamese publications on the economy, science and social sciences. It is interesting to note that the number of printed material, both official publications and monographs, which the British Library received from North Vietnam from 1973 underwent a noticeable increase. This might be related to the signing of the Paris agreement in January 1973 which eased tensions and hence allowed almost normal daily activities to resume. At the same time, the British Library still continued to acquire printed books from Vietnam on humanities, art and culture via book dealers in Germany and Hong Kong.

In the second part of this blog post, I will look at publications from South Vietnam.

References:

P.R. Harris, A History of the British Museum Library 1753-1973. London: The British Library, 1998,
H.J. Goodacre and A.P. Pritchard, Guide to the Department of Oriental Manuscripts and Printed Books. London: British Museum Publications Limited, 1977.

Sud Chonchirdsin, Curator for Vietnamese  ccownwork

17 August 2016

The Indonesian Proclamation of Independence

Today marks the 71st anniversary of the Proclamation of Independence of the Republic of Indonesia. On the morning of 17 August 1945, the Indonesian nationalist leader Sukarno read out before a small audience gathered outside his own house at Jalan Pegangsaan Timur 56 in Jakarta a simple statement which was broadcast throughout the country:
Proclamation: We the people of Indonesia hereby declare the independence of Indonesia. Matters concerning the transfer of power, etc., will be carried out in a conscientious manner and as speedily as possible.  Djakarta, 17 August 1945. In the name of the people of Indonesia, Soekarno - Hatta
The red-and-white flag, ‘Sang Merah Putih’, was raised and the song ‘Indonesia Raya’ – now the national anthem – was sung.

The rare handbill shown below, in the shape and colours of the national flag and measuring 17 x 11 cm, bears the type-written text of the proclamation:
PROKLAMASI  Kami bangsa Indonesia dengan ini menjatakan KEMERDEKAAN INDONESIA. Hal-hal jang mengenai pemindahan kekuasaan, dan lain-lain diselenggarakan dengan tjara saksama dan dalam tempo jang sesingkat-singkatnja.  Djakarta 17 Agustus 1945. Atas nama bangsa Indonesia. Sukarno - Hatta
Although it is not known on which occasion this handbill was produced, it probably dates from very shortly after the original event. 

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Typewritten handbill with the text of the Proclamation of Independence of Indonesia. British Library, RF.2005.a.465  noc

Just two days earlier, on 15 August 1945, the Japanese occupying forces in Java had surrendered unconditionally to the Netherlands East Indies.  Since no Allied forces had yet landed to reconquer Indonesia, the country was in a state of political turmoil, and the opportunity to proclaim independence was seized. But the armed struggle was only just beginning, and for the next four years Indonesian nationalists were forced to wage a revolution against returning Dutch forces attempting to reimpose colonial rule, and it was only in 1949 that the Dutch finally acknowledged the independence of Indonesia.

It is hardly surprising that the British Library has few publications or papers deriving from the chaotic earliest days of the new republic. But thanks to the personal interest of a former curator of Dutch collections in the British Library, Dr Jaap Harskamp, in the late 1980s and 1990s the British Library slowly began to build up an important collection of papers, documents, books, pamphlets and posters relating to the Indonesian struggle for independence, many deriving from the heirs of Dutch soldiers and officials fighting against the Indonesian forces.  The Indonesia Merdeka Collection, which now numbers around 1,500 titles, is in size and scope second only to the holdings of the KITLV in Leiden.  The collection has been fully catalogued in a published volume (Harskamp 2001), with all the individual items also accessible through the Library’s online catalogue Explore.  The rare copy of the proclamation shown here is one of the highlights of the collection.

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Reverse of the handbill containing the text of the Indonesian Proclamation of Independence. British Library, RF.2005.a.465  noc

Further reading:

Jaap Harskamp, The Indonesian question: the Dutch/Western response to the struggle for independence in Indonesia 1945-1950: an annotated catalogue of primary materials held in the British Library. Introduction by Peter Carey. Boston Spa: British Library, 2001.
Dorothée Buur, Persoonlijke documenten Nederland-Indië/Indonesië.  Leiden, 1973.
Dorothée Buur, Indische jeugdliteratuur. Geannoteerde bibliografie van jeugdboeken over Nederlands-Indië en Indonesië. Leiden, 1992.

Annabel Teh Gallop, Lead Curator, Southeast Asia  ccownwork