Friday, 5 December 2008

Date for your diaries

The next SAALG conference will be held on Friday, 20th February 2009, at the Wellcome Library, Euston Road, London. Further details will appear on this blog in the next few weeks, as well as the usual email and snail mail contacts. Nice to have something to look forward to in the New Year!

Thursday, 4 December 2008

The British Government and India

The National Archives have made another great resource available, The Cabinet Papers Online, 1915-1977. The section on colonialism in India will be of most interest to SAALG members. This is a JISC funded digitisation programme, and it's packed with information, photographs and maps on the workings of cabinet government at a fascinating period of UK history.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Respected Memsahibs

The Centre of South Asian Studies, University of Cambridge, is pleased to announce the publication of Respected Memsahibs: an anthology / compiled by Mary Thatcher during her time as Archivist at the Centre. It is published by Hardinge Simpole, ISBN 1-84382-2148, price £18.95, and is available from Amazon.

It contains extracts from the letters, memoirs and narratives of nineteen women who lived and worked across the British Indian Empire between the First World War and Independence in 1947. These records form part of the archives of the Centre of South Asian Studies and form a unique record of life and work in the latter days of the British Raj.

Mary Thatcher began collecting material from former residents of different parts of British Asia in the late 1960s and assembled a large number of collections of papers and recorded interviews. She was particularly interested in the lives of women and encouraged many to write more memoirs of their time in India

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

'Flu pandemic

While I was working in the National Library of Scotland's stacks on the India Papers Collection I had a look at some of the Sanitary Commissioner's annual reports from 1918, when influenza swept the world and killed millions. Thousands were killed in the Madras Presidency; in some districts as many as between 30-50,000 people. One problem was the superstitions of the people, particularly in rural areas:"Several people, mostly in the interior, were averse in the beginning to resorting to a medical treatment under a superstitious belief that the epidemic was a visitation of the Goddess or Amman and that no treatment by drugs should be attempted." (Annual report of the Sanitary Board, the annual report of the Sanitary Commissioner and the annual report of the Sanitary Engineer, Madras 1918)
Meanwhile the European Army in India had 19,308 men admitted to hospital and 775 deaths. As in the rest of the world, the second wave in autumn 1918 caused high mortality amongst sufferers.

(Francine Millard)

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Scottish Cemetery Kolkata

Off a busy street in Kolkata lies a little corner of Scotland - the old Scottish cemetery, containing the remains of hundreds of Scots who made their home in what was the heart of Imperial India. The decaying cemetery is now the subject of a project by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS). At the invitation of the Indian National Trust for Art & Cultural Heritage and the Kolkata Scottish Heritage Trust, RCAHMS staff are on their first field trip there to assess the damage and draw up a restoration plan.
Names from the interment register will be added to a database, and the team will not only restore the monuments, but help create a green space for the city.

You can follow the team's progress in their blog.

Monday, 3 November 2008

Medical History of British India - on microfilm, too

All 136 volumes from the Medical History of British India project Phase 2 have all been microfilmed and are available to view at the National Library of Scotland. To view what’s on each reel, including Phase 1, enter Mf.IP in the search box on the main NLS catalogue and then select the shelfmark option. The volumes themselves will be returning to the shelves by the end of November; some will be undergoing conservation treatment first, however.
The digital images are undergoing renaming, sorting and conversion to Jpeg format. Then they will be processed by Optical Character Recognition (OCR) so that you can fully search them when they are online next spring . I can’t wait for that, especially to look for names of Indian Medical Service officers.

Francine Millard.

Monday, 20 October 2008

A National Flag for India

A National Flag for India: Rituals, Nationalism and the Politics of Sentiment / Arundhati Virmani. Delhi : Permanent Black, October 2008. 380 p.

The historiography of modern India generally emphasizes the innumerable conflicts which divide the subcontinent’s society (communalism, caste, irridentism, gender, language), thus suggesting a nation perpetually on the edge of collapse – a disintegration which somehow never happens. The present book revises this picture of divisions and differences, and proposes to examine the history of India also as the construction of new forms of cohesion and successful cohabitation.

Unearthing the complex history that lies behind the construction of a unifying political symbol – the country’s national flag – Arundhati Virmani painstakingly reveals this material object as the result of a long cultural process. Despite huge conflicts, it eventually imposed a set of values and sentiments that came to be largely shared or at least accepted by an incredibly diverse and scattered body of people.

Arundhati Virmani was Reader in History at Delhi University until 1992, when she moved to France. Today she teaches at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales Marseille. Her publications include an essay in Past and Present, as well as two books: India 1900–1947. Un Britannique au cœur du Raj (Paris, Autrement, 2002), and Inde. Une Puissance en mutation (Paris, Documentation Française, 2001).

Friday, 17 October 2008

NACIRA 2008 conference & AGM

The NACIRA conference & AGM will be held on Tuesday December 9th at SOAS. The theme of the conference will be “expanding the boundaries of information resources on Asia in the UK” marking the establishment of NACIRA, and the emphasis will be on reaching the widening range of customers for NACIRA's resources.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Need help selecting books?

New Asia Books is a website designed to help academics and librarians to identify, evaluate and purchase new publications in their fields. The website lists academic English language books published on Asia in the preceding 12 months (using data obtained from Nielsen BookData), and it encourages academics, including authors, to review and comment on the books listed.

New Asia Books is an International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS) initiative.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Vets in India

The National Library of Scotland's India Papers collection continues to take the staff down unexpected paths. Not only do we now have a publisher producing facsimile reprints of the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission Report with their unique sepia photographs of hemp users but the website Medical History of British India is now nearing the end of phase 2 (look out for our Digitisation Manager Francine’s fascinating blog entries about this).
We’re pleased to announce that the Wellcome Trust approved funding for phase 3 of the project, which will see our veterinary reports digitised and added to the site in the coming months. This project has helped enormously in the success of a Collaborative Doctoral Award from AHRC, with the Library and the University of Strathclyde as partners. The post-graduate student, Chris Gill, will begin his study of the Civil Veterinary reports this month and he’ll contribute to the text for the website, enabling greater understanding of the content of this important collection.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Sex, lies and red tape

The Lock Hospitals were part of a system to control the spread of venereal disease amongst troops in India in the latter part of the 19th century.
There are 5 volumes of reports on the working of these hospitals in the Medical History of British India project and they have returned from being filmed and scanned. Of all the collections in the project I find this the most extraordinary, giving lively and unrestrained accounts of the Imperialist implementation of the Indian Contagious Diseases Acts of 1864 and 1868.
To protect soldiers from disease prostitutes were encouraged to register and be examined weekly. However, some did not bow to the authorities and continued to ply their trade any way they could: “a woman, believed to have been a source of much mischief, was found in the lines, living in a rum-barrel.” (North-Western Provinces, 1878) Click on the image that accompanies this post to see the full page containing this quote.
The authors of the reports did not disguise their feelings about the native women, many of whom were driven to prostitution through poverty and addiction: “It is worse than useless retaining these hags on the register; they should be turned out of cantonments, and a younger, less repulsive class of women substituted. Until something of this kind happens the Lock Hospital is not likely to prove a success.” (R. M. Edwards, 1877)
Anyone interested in governmentality, colonial medicine and power, history of prostitution and military health will find these reports fascinating. Lock Hospitals were not just used in India; the London Lock Hospital opened in 1747 and as recent as the 1940s there was one on Fantome Island, North Queensland, which treated Aboriginal people.

See more on the Medical History of British India here

(by Francine Millard).

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

New MPhil Modern South Asian Studies

The Centre of South Asian Studies, University of Cambridge, announces a new Masters' course in Modern South Asian Studies, to commence October 2009.

MPhil in Modern South Asian Studies

A.T.W. Penn : Pioneering Indian photographer

Just published:

In pursuit of the past: the discovery of the life and work of A.T.W. Penn, pioneering photographer of South India / Christopher Penn.

Christopher Penn was a speaker at SAALG's December 2005 conference at the Kashmir Bhawan Centre, Luton.


In November 2000 Christopher Penn discovered an old letter
crumpled up behind the top drawer of his late father’s writing
bureau. It led to the discovery of a family – his own – of which he
had been unaware and knowledge of his great-grandfather Albert
Thomas Watson Penn, who was one of the pioneering
photographers of South India. He left home in England before he
was twelve and had started work as a photographer in the hill
station of Ootacamund in the Nilgiri Hills by 1865, the year in
which he turned sixteen. His work is now held in all the major
collections of nineteenth century photography.

Research for the book made use of newspapers of the time, held on
microfilm in the British Library, church records and the
photographs taken by A.T.W. Penn to piece together the details of
his life and that of his family. The Public Records Office in Kew
provided vital information on the tragic life of the author’s
grandfather who, having won the Distinguished Conduct Medal for
valour at the battle of Omdurman, riding in the same squadron as
Lt. Winston Churchill, and won a fortune eleven years later in the
Calcutta Derby Sweepstake, died a pauper and in disgrace.

Profits from the sale of this book will go entirely to three charities
in South India in equal parts: The Nilgiri Documentation Centre
(an offshoot of the Save the Nilgiris Campaign), The Dohnavur
Foundation and The Edhkwehlynawd Botanical Refuge, which is
concerned with protection and preservation of the fauna and flora
of the Nilgiris and care for the Toda, an aboriginal tribe.

Price £14:50 plus £2:50 p&p (£7:50 p&p overseas), available from
the author and publisher: C.F.Penn, Pendle, Burdenshot Hill,
Worplesdon, Surrey, England GU3 3RL
Tel/Fax: 44 (0) 1483 235 609

Monday, 1 September 2008

Internet resources for oriental studies

NACIRA, the National Committee for Information Resources on Asia, has its annual seminar in a couple of weeks' time. "Internet & Related Resources for Oriental Studies" will be held at Cambridge University Library from 10:30 Wednesday 17 September - 17:00 Thursday 18 September 2008.

East India Company ships' logbooks & climate change

East India Company ships’ logbooks and climate change

There has recently been much interest in East India Company ships’ logbooks as the information that they record about the weather can be used for modern scientific studies of climate change. For more information see

Captains’ logs yield climate clues

Understanding climate change

For catalogues of East India Company ships’ logbooks see

Access to Archives

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Public Knowledge Project

Free access to scholarly journals published in Bangladesh, Nepal and Vietnam is now possible via the Public Knowledge Project.
Bangladesh Journals Online
Nepal Journals Online
Vietnam Journals Online

Friday, 4 July 2008

79th SAALG conference, Cambridge University Library

27th June 2008
Annamaria Motrescu
(PDR Colonial Cinema Project) British Colonial testimonials in amateur films made in South and Southeast Asia.

John Cardwell
(RCS Project Archivist, Cambridge University Library) Queen Mary’s Indian Collection.

Exhibition of South Asian artefacts, photographs & manuscripts in Keynes Room and South Asian maps in Map Room.

Andrea Pass
(Magdalen College, Oxford) Those infamous memsahibs: a failure to 'connect'? British 'official' wives and the end of the Raj.

SAALG business meeting