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

07 January 2019

History from Between: Global Circulations of the Past in East Asia and Europe

The East Asian Uses of the European Past  project, funded by the Humanities in the European Research Area, in collaboration with the British Library, is proud to announce a one-day conference on 1 April 2019 to discuss the creation of historical knowledge between East Asia and Europe from 1600-1950.

In two thematic panels and two keynote talks, we will explore how ideas about the past circulated and were repurposed within East Asian networks of exchange. Some of the questions we will consider include: how did East Asian actors use their understanding of European expansion to burnish their own colonial aspirations? What does it mean to say the Chinese had a ‘Middle Ages’—originally a way of talking about the history of and for Europeans? How might the maritime narratives of East Asians challenge how the past of cultural others is viewed?

The event will run from 10am-5pm in the British Library Knowledge Centre, with a smaller reception from 5pm-7.30pm. You can register for the day event (10am -5pm) at our  Eventbrite page. There are also a smaller number of tickets available to our evening keynote and drinks reception from 5pm-7.30pm. You can register for this through our separate Eventbrite page.

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Nagasaki ezu ‘An illustrated map of Nagasaki’. Printed c.1680 (British Library Or.75.g.25)   noc

The first panel, Oceans, Islands, and Imperial Expansion in East Asia, will explore how maritime expansion of the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries was understood by Chinese and Japanese actors.

Professor Leigh Jenco of the LSE will examine the earliest first-hand account of Taiwan’s indigenous peoples, written by the seventeenth-century military advisor Chen Di. In contrast to both European and Chinese contemporaries, Chen showed how the lives of these people might be understood on their own terms rather than in contrast to an established yardstick of civilization.

Professor Martin Dusinberre of the University of Zurich considers the late-nineteenth century intellectual dialogue between the Cambridge professor J.R. Seeley and his young Japanese student Inagaki Manjirō (1861-1908). The result of this encounter was Inagaki’s articulation of a future ‘Pacific Age’ of Japanese expansion, modelled on the past expansion of the British Empire. Finally, Dr Birgit Tremml-Werner, also of the University of Zurich, examines how the late-nineteenth century Japanese translator and historian Murakami Naojirō used European sources to reconsider Japan’s history of maritime engagement in Southeast Asia as a model for its future expansion.

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Jesuit-designed Chinese terrestrial globe, early 17th century (British Library Maps G.35)
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Our first keynote speaker, Timothy Brook, of the University of British Columbia, will discuss Picturing the World: Chinese Uses of European Cartography. Sailing the oceans in the sixteenth century obliged Europeans to come up with new models to visualize the world. As these models reached China toward the end of the century, Chinese cartographers reacted not by abandoning their model of the world, but by importing features of European maps and adjusting their image of the world accordingly. The impact is not always obvious, and the results can be surprising, as we watch both cultures make their way along separate paths toward seeing the world in common.

Our second panel on Entangled Histories will explore how European ideas about the past were repurposed by East Asian actors to understand or reinterpret their own histories. Dr David Mervart of the University of Madrid will discuss how Japanese translations from the Dutch work History of Japan by Engelbert Kaempfer shaped understandings of Japan’s time as a ‘closed country,’ as well as of the merits and demerits of opening the country to outside trade.

Professor Joachim Kurtz of the University of Heidelberg reviews attempts by twentieth-century Chinese historians to use the concept of the “middle ages,” derived from European history, as a meaningful way of partitioning Chinese history.

Finally, Dr Lorenzo Andolfatto of the University of Heidelberg will examine historical conditions which give rise to utopian thinking, through a comparison of the sixteenth-century England of Thomas More and the late nineteenth-century China of the novelist Wu Jianren. He suggests that a fundamental rethinking of the world and England and China’s place in it helped to stimulate both authors’ works.

The day will close with a smaller keynote from Professor Megan Thomas of the University of California, Santa Cruz. Professor Thomas will explore European Pasts in the Margins of Filipino History Making. In the late nineteenth century, when the Philippines was subject to Spanish sovereignty, young Filipino intellectuals imagining their country’s future turned to history. In writings now part of the British Library’s collections, these young men treated what they called the “pre-history” of the Philippine islands as well as the history of Spanish occupation, seeking to glean from the past what could illuminate the present and future.

Their subject was the Philippines, yet in the margins of their accounts were sometimes references to European history—not only the history of Spanish presence in the Philippine islands, but also references to the folklore, customary law, and political history of Europe. They did not look to Europe’s past for models, however; instead they thought that comparing elements of Europe’s past with the Philippines showed dynamic possibilities in the Philippine past, present, and future.

The one-day conference History from Between: Global Circulations of the Past in East Asia and Europe will run from 10am-5pm on 1 April 2019 at the British Library Knowledge Centre.

Jon Chappell, London School of Economics

HERA Logo

28 December 2018

Download Hebrew Manuscripts for free, in partnership with BL Labs

We are delighted to announce that five more downloadable datasets containing a total of 139 digitised Hebrew Manuscripts have just been published online here, bringing the total number of Hebrew datasets to 22, and 723 manuscripts. These manuscripts were digitised as part of The Polonsky Foundation Catalogue of Digitised Hebrew Manuscripts (2013-2016), and we are able to provide them to download and reuse as part of the British Library Labs project (BL Labs).

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Festival Prayer Book, Italy, 1427-11499. Harley MS 5686, ff. 28r: miniature on the top shows a congregation praying in a synagogue, and the miniature on the bottom depicts the allegorical ‘Shabbat Bride’ under a wedding canopy. The manuscript can be found in dataset Heb19
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Formed in 2013, BL Labs is an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation funded project which supports and inspires the use of the British Library’s digital collections and data in exciting and innovative ways, through competitions, events and collaborative projects around the world. The team provides a digital research support service (you may apply for up to 5 days’ support service using this form) and promotes engagement with the Library’s digital collections and data through a series of events and workshops around the UK.

Each autumn, the British Library Labs Awards recognises exceptional projects that have used the Library’s digital collections and data in four awards categories: Research, Artistic, Commercial, and Teaching/Learning (If you know of someone who has done outstanding work using British Library digital collections and data, please encourage them to apply).


What’s in the datasets?
The digitised manuscripts are provided as 300ppi JPEGs, divided into small datasets of around 50GB each, sorted alphabetically by shelfmark (20 to 30 manuscripts per dataset). They contain a huge variety of Hebrew manuscripts, including Kabbalistic works, linguistic works, prayer books, biblical texts and commentaries, marriage certificates, charters and scrolls. The manuscripts also contain texts in many different languages, including Latin, Greek, Yiddish, Persian, Italian, Arabic and Syriac. The catalogue records for all of these manuscripts can be found in dataset Heb1 (TEI XML files).

All of the manuscripts are Public Domain, but we would appreciate it if users could read our Ethical terms of use guide before reusing the Hebrew manuscripts datasets.

Below is an overview of each of the new datasets, and a full list of all of the manuscripts included in the datasets can be seen here. We'd love to hear what you've done or made with the manuscript images and/or metadata, so please email us at digitalresearch@bl.uk.

Heb18. This dataset includes 22 manuscripts ranging from Add MS 27141 to Arundel Or 50. It includes commentaries on the Talmud and Midrash, Kabbalistic works, two German prayer books (Add MS 27208 and Add MS 27556) and a collection of medical prescriptions ‘Sefer Refu’ot’ from the 15th century, Germany (Add MS 27170). The miscellany Arundel OR 50 (1400-1799) includes a Hebrew Grammar in Latin, with a translation of the Lord's Prayer and the Christian confession of faith.

This dataset also includes ‘The Polyglot Bible’ (Add MS 5242), created in England in 1665. As well as having beautifully detailed illustrations, this manuscript, will be of great interest to linguists. It contains excerpts from the Old and New Testament and liturgical pieces translated into many different languages: Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Syriac, Aramaic, Ethiopic, Arabic, Persian, Coptic, Spanish, Italian, French and German.

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The Polyglot Bible, England, 1665 Add MS 5242, ff. 7v-8r: the commandment of keeping the Sabbath
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The Polyglot Bible, England, 16, Add MS 5242, ff. 14v-15r: Canticum B Virginis
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Heb19. This dataset includes 20 manuscripts from Harley MS 1743 to Or 12983. It contains many manuscripts looking at language and translation, including several Hebrew-Latin dictionaries and grammars, a 17 – 18th-century copy of the Psalms with Greek and Latin translations (Harley MS 2427), and Harley MS 7637, an 18th-century gospel of St Matthew in Hebrew translation. It also contains the 18 – 19th-century German manuscript ‘Perek Shirah’ (Or 12983), a midrashic commentary with a Yiddish translation.

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Perek Shirah, Germany, 1750 – 1899, Or 12983, f. 1r: a depiction of the world God created at the beginning of Chapter 1 of ‘Perek Shirah’: “The Heavens are saying: ‘The Heavens speak of God’s glory, and the skies tell of His handiwork.’ (Ps. 19:2)”
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The dataset also includes two early copies of parts of the Talmud – one of the central texts in Judaism. Harley MS 5794* (this manuscript has since been renamed in the British Library catalogue as Harley MS 5794A) contains sections of the Mishnah of Tractates Avot and Zeva’im, and was written in Spain in the 12th century. The manuscript Harley MS 5508 contains eight tractates of Seder Mo’ed from the Babylonian Talmud, and it was written in Spain in the 12th or 13th-century.

Heb20. This dataset includes 32 manuscripts from Or 2486 to Or 2508. It includes many different biblical commentaries and Midrashim (biblical exegesis) in Persian, Arabic, and Judeo-Arabic. Some of these range from as early as the 13th century (such as Or 2494 – Or 2497).

The dataset also includes the Torah scroll Or 13027. This 30 metre, 18-19th century scroll was digitised alongside its silk mantle, which was extensively restored by the British Library’s textile conservator Liz Rose. An article discussing her work can be seen here. As part of the Hebrew Manuscript Digitisation Project’s digital scholarship activities, this Torah mantle was 3D modelled by Dr Adi Keinan-Schoonbaert. You can read more about 3D imaging within the British Library here, and the 3D image of the Torah Mantle can be viewed, annotated and downloaded from Sketchfab.

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Pentateuch Scroll, Or 13027, unknown, 1750–1899. Silk brocade mantle after conservation
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Heb21. This dataset includes 33 manuscripts from Or 2518 to Or 5834. It includes many Arabic and Judeo-Arabic commentaries ranging in age from the 10th to the 16th centuries, such as on the Psalms and other biblical books from the Prophets and the Hagiographa. The earliest of these (Or 2552) is a collection of commentaries on Ecclesiastes and Lamentations, and Japheth ben Ali's Arabic commentary on Job. Japheth ben Ali is considered to be the foremost Karaite commentator on the bible, and he lived during the ‘Golden Age of Karaism’ in the 10th century. He died sometime in the second half of the 10th century, and so this manuscript, dated between the 10th and 11th century, could feasibly have been copied during his lifetime, or by someone who knew him directly.

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Sefer ha-Peli’ah, unknown, 1562. Or 2672, ff. 31r and 67r: two folios from ‘Sefer ha-Peli’ah’ (The Book of Wonder), a Kabbalistic biblical commentary
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Heb22. This dataset contains 32 manuscripts from Or 6236 to Stowe Ch 297. As well as several commentaries, a magic spell, and the Revelation of St John in Hebrew translation (Sloane MS 237), this dataset includes six different Jewish marriage certificates (Ketubot) dating from between 1711 and 1835, and a discussion on marriage law from the 15th century (Or 6358).

Stowe Ch 297 is part of the British Library’s fascinating collection of English charters dating to before the expulsion of the Jews in 1290. It is a French quitclaim with a Hebrew docket dating from 1266, in which Beatriz of Rattlesden, the prioress and the convent of Flixton is released from any obligation on the lands she and her convent acquired from Oliver Buscel.

Or 6360 is a 17-18th-century collection of astrological, kabbalistic and magical fragments. It includes ‘Sefer ha-Levanah’, an astrological book about the stages of the moon’s orbit, and ‘Mafteah Shelomoh’, a Hebrew translation of part one of the 14th or 15th-century grimoire ‘Key of Solomon’, one of only two versions that exist in Hebrew (part two, in Or 14759, is in the process of being digitised as part of Phase 2 of the Hebrew Manuscripts Digitisation Project). The text is attributed to King Solomon, and it would have been written originally in Latin or Italian. It includes invocations to summon the dead or demons, and compel them to do the reader’s will. It also includes curses and spells such as for finding stolen items, invisibility, and love.

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Collection of Astrological, Kabbalistic and Magical Fragments, unknown, 1600–1700. Or 6360, f. 1r: the first page of ‘Sefer ha-Levanah’, with an Astrologer
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Miriam Lewis, Project Manager Hebrew Manuscripts Digitisation Project
https://blogs.bl.uk/.a/6a00d8341c464853ef022ad37726d4200c-pi

23 December 2018

Christmas at Lahore, 1597

Based at the Portuguese settlement at Goa, the Jesuits would be the earliest Europeans to visit the Mughal court at Fatehpur Sikri in the late sixteenth century. Receiving an invitation from the Mughal Emperor Akbar (r. 1556-1608), they made three visits to the court from 1580-95. The agenda of the three missions was to indoctrinate the Mughals to Christianity. During the third mission to the court at Lahore, Father Jerome Xavier (1549–1617) collaborated with the Mughal court writer Abd al- Sattar ibn Qasim Lahori (fl. 1590–1615) to prepare a Persian text based on the Old and New Testaments known as the Mirʼāt al-Quds (‘Mirror of Holiness’). This text was made at the request of the Emperor Akbar and was completed at Agra in 1602. Father Xavier presented a copy of the text to both Emperor Akbar and his son Prince Salim (the future Emperor Jahangir). Although the proselytization was not very successful, there was a clear impact on local artists. With both Akbar and Salim establishing rivaling artistic studios at Agra and Allahabad respectively, they would commission their artists to produce illustrations to accompany their individual copies of the Mirʼāt al-Quds.

In terms of the illustrated version of the Mirʼāt al-Quds, Jéronimo Nadal’s Evangelicae Historiae Imagines (1593) has been identified as the primary source of Biblical imagery that was either directly copied or adapted for their scenes on the life of Christ (Carvalho 2012, pp. 49-62). What remains of Akbar’s copy, as confirmed by the presence of his seal that signifies imperial ownership and patronage, is in the Lahore Museum (Stronge 2002, p. 105). (Carvalho debates and does not corroborate this information.) The remnants includes only ten rather damaged folios with illustrations. According to the art historian Susan Stronge, Prince Salim desired a far superior illustrated version and ordered his artists to execute double the number of pictures for his volume (Stronge 2002, p. 105). The surviving part of Salim’s commission consists of 160 pages of text and 24 illustrations; this manuscript is held in the Cleveland Museum of Art.

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The Adoration of the Magi from Mirʼāt al-Quds, Allahabad, India, c. 1602-04. Cleveland Museum of Art, CCO.

The British Library’s collection includes an un-illustrated manuscript of the Mirʼāt al-Quds, that was copied and dated 8 Ramazan 1027 (29 August 1618) which falls into Jahangir’s reign (r. 1605-27).

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Jerome Xavier’s Mirʼāt al-Quds, copied on 8 Ramazan 1027 (29 Aug 1618). Xavier’s translation was made at the request of the Emperor Akbar and was completed at Agra in 1602 with assistance from Mawlavi ʻAbd al-Sattār ibn Qāsim of Lahore, British Library, Harley 5455  noc

As Father Jerome Xavier arrived in Lahore in 1595 and remained at court until 1615, his letters document his perceptions of life at the Mughal court and in particular, how the Mughals celebrated Christmas at Lahore in 1597. Father Xavier, reporting from Lahore to the Provincial in Goa in 1598, Xavier wrote (Maclagan, pp. 72-3):

At Christmas [1597] our brother Bendict de Goes prepared a manger and cradle as exquisite as those of Goa itself, which heathens and Muhammadans, as well as Christians, thronged to see. In the evening masses were said with great ceremony, and a pastoral dialogue on the subject of the Nativity was enacted by some youths in the Persian tongue, with some Hindūstānī proverbs interspersed (adjunctis aliquot Industani sententiis).… At the conclusion of the sacred office, the gates were opened to all…. Such was the crowd of spectators in those days that the cradle was kept open till the 8th day after Epiphany the fame of the spectacle spread through the town and brought even outsiders to see the sight.

In another letter, Xavier describes some of the decorations they used at the Christmas crib (Bailey, p. 32, quoting from British Library Add. 9854, f. 164b):

…a [mechanical] ape which squirted water from its eyes and mouth, and above it a bird which sang mysteriously...and a globe of the world supported on the backs of two elephants...and above this a large portrait of the King [Jahangir] which he sent us when he was a prince. . .and next to this figure was placed a large mirror at the front of the crib. . .[At the gates] were the Angel, i.e. Gabriel, with many angels, who were accompanied by placards proclaiming ‘Gloria in Excelsis Deo’ or ‘Nolite Timere’ in Persian. Around the Holy Infant in the crib were some sayings of the Prophets who pretold the coming of God into the World.

Although there are no paintings of the Christmas celebrations at the Mughal court that have been documented, nor are there any individual illustrations or detached folios to the Mirʼāt al-Quds in the British Library's collection, there are a number of drawings that document the experimentation with Christian iconography by Mughal artists. This genre of painting would become popular by the early seventeenth century during Jahangir’s reign. Artists were appropriating imagery from European engravings as well as received information from the Jesuit priests on how to convert the cross-hatching of engravings into wash in preparing their nim-qalam drawings (Losty and Roy 2012, 119). Below is an example of an engraving of the Virgin and Child that was pasted into a Mughal album page and compiled into an album for Prince Dara Shikoh and another showing a nim-qalam drawing of the Virgin and Child with Anna the prophetess.

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Engraving of the Virgin and Child by a Dutch or Italian artist, 16th or 17th century in a Mughal album page, c. 1630. British Library, Add Or 3129, f.42v  noc

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Virgin and Child with Anna the prophetess, Mughal school, c. 1605-10. British Library, Johnson Album 14,4.  noc

Further reading:

Gauvin Alexander Bailey, “The Lahore Mirʼāt al-Quds and the Impact of Jesuit Theater on Mughal Painting,” South Asian Studies 13 (1997), pp. 95-108

Pedro de Moura Carvalho and Wheeler M. Thackston, Mirʼāt al-quds (Mirror of Holiness): a Life of Christ for Emperor Akbar: a Commentary on Father Jerome Xavier's Text and the Miniatures of Cleveland Museum of Art, Acc. no. 2005.145; edited and translated by W. M. Thackston. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2012

J.P. Losty., 'Further Deccani and Mughal drawings of Christian subjects', Asian and African Studies Blog, 16 November 2015.

J.P. Losty and M. Roy, Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire – Manuscripts and Paintings in the British Library, London, 2012

E. D. Maclagan,  “The Jesuit Missions to the Emperor Akbar”, Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal 65, part 1 (1896), pp. 38-113

S. Stronge, Paintings for the Mughal Emperor, Victoria and Albert Museum Publications, London, 2002.

 

By Malini Roy and Ursula Sims-Williams