Tuesday, 24 May 2016

95th SAALG conference at SOAS, 30 June 2016

I do hope you will be able to join the SAALG community at our next summer conference in London on Thursday 30 June.  Please note it is on a Thursday this year rather than the normal Friday. 

We are delighted to be at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) to celebrate their centennial with a programme in honour of Sir Edward Denison Ross, Orientalist, linguist and their first Director from 1916 to 1937.

Please circulate details of the conference among South Asianists but note that there will only be 38 places, so it is advisable to book early!    For the full programme of speakers and how to book,  please read on.  I look forward to seeing you there.

Thursday, 30 JUNE 2016
School of Oriental and African Studies, Philips (main) building, 1st floor, Room 116
10 Thornhaugh St., Russell Sq., London WC1H 0XG


1030-1100                   Arrival, networking and coffee

1100-1110                   SAALG chair’s welcome

1115-1150                   Christine van Ruymbeke, University of Cambridge
Sir William Jones and the Anvar‐e Sohayli: Containing a fortuitous but nevertheless essential note on the Orient Pearls.

1200-1235                   Ursula Sims-Williams, The British Library
Everlasting Flame’ at SOAS and in New Delhi: an exhibition case study

1250-1400                   Lunch and networking

1400-1430                   Tour of Brunei Gallery’s Treasures of SOAS permanent exhibits

1440-1515                   Nilanjan Sarkar, The London School of Economics and Pol. Science
                                    Ordering the Archive: Examining a ‘fatwa’ from medieval India

1525-1600                   Saqib Baburi, The British Library
Histories of Shāh Jahān: Reconstructing the Corpus of Royal Manuscripts

1610-1620                   Coffee

1625-1700                   SAALG business meeting

Note: The venue accommodates only 38 seated individuals. Standing room capacity is not permitted in consonance with School-wide policies on health and safety. Your forbearance is sought. Bookings in advance are possible. Kindly e-mail both SOAS staff members to reserve your place, as it would be appreciated for organizing catering and conference packages (£30 to be paid on the day of the conference to the SAALG treasurer; claimants will subsequently receive electronic receipts for reimbursement from their institutions).

e-mail:            bw3@soas.ac.uk (Burzine Waghmar) and
                        fq@soas.ac.uk (Farzana Whitfield)

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

@SouthAsia71: Widening Access to Archives on Twitter

In the first of three posts over the course of two months, I will introduce my Twitter account @SouthAsia71 as a new and unique means of widening access to archives.

Over the course of my doctoral studies, I found that I had collected a vast amount of archival data that I was desperate to share. Having taken over 100,000 photographs of documents from archives in the UK and the US, I took to Twitter in an attempt to have them reach a wider audience. In 2015, @SouthAsia71, with the use of the archival pictures and other resources, tweeted Bangladesh's road to independence as if it were happening on that day, in real time. Since January, I've continued to tweet about the events of 1971, now concentrating on creating narrative arcs and providing analysis for the account's followers. I've also worked to ensure that content is free from copyright restrictions and is fully referenced.

Since its launch in December 2014, the account has gained almost 2,500 followers at an average growth rate of around 150-200 followers per month. In December 2015, during the 14 days of the 1971 war between India and Pakistan, the account received over 1,600 retweets and 1,000 likes, and in just 4 days this March, the account accrued over 800 retweets and 400 likes. Via retweets, material often reaches more than 5,000 Twitter users and has reached as many as 13,000. Engagement rates (which include retweets, likes, follows, link clicks etc) for @SouthAsia71's tweets rarely dip below 3%, often reach 10% and can be as high as 20%; This is in comparison with an average engagement rate of 0.5% for all Twitter users. Through tweeting the documents themselves alongside infographics produced with information from primary material, @SouthAsia71 is engaging thousands of people with archival sources.

@SouthAsia71 has the potential to showcase any archive that has material relating to Bangladesh's independence. With an audience engaged online with the history of South Asia the account certainly has scope to expand beyond the study of 1971. In the coming weeks, I will be incorporating information from the oral histories project at Cambridge University's Centre for South Asian Studies into the Twitter feed. As well as producing tweets from the data, I will also use Storify to both provide a repository for the data I use and to provide an editorial narrative (I've produced an example of a Storify story here).

I have written a long-form article about the project for E:International Relations (available here). My next post will discuss the results of my usage of the material at Cambridge.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Glimpses of early Siam and Burma [Thailand and Myanmar]

Thibaw, the last King of Burma (1878-85), and his wife Supyalat, c 1878-80, RCS Y3029D_1
Thibaw, the last King of Burma (1878-85), and his wife Supyalat, RCS Y3029D_1

Dr John Cardwell, Archivist of the Royal Commonwealth Society collections in Cambridge University Library, writes:

The Royal Commonwealth Society Library has just created an electronic catalogue for one of its largest and most significant manuscript collections: the papers of the diplomat, colonial administrator and orientalist Henry Burney (1792-1845). Burney was born in Calcutta, the son of a Senior Master of the Calcutta Military School for Orphans. His grandfather was the musicologist Dr Charles Burney and his aunt the novelist Frances Burney. Burney was commissioned into the East India Company’s army in 1808, but transferred to its political service when appointed Military Secretary to the Governor of Penang in 1818. From 1825 he served as Political Agent to the states adjacent to Penang and led several political missions. From the beginning of his career, Burney had displayed a gift for oriental languages, soon mastering Hindustani, and during this time he acquired Siamese and Malay. Burney’s grasp of local politics and languages led to his appointment as Envoy to the Court of Siam, and he travelled to Bangkok in September 1825. By June 1826 he had successfully negotiated a treaty with the King.

Territory to west of Thanlawatee Myeet, 1830s [Mae Nam Khong River], RCMS 65_9_9_3
Territory to west of Thanlawatee Myeet, 1830s [Mae Nam Khong River], RCMS 65_9_9_3

In 1827 Burney was posted to the new British province of Tenasserim, which had been acquired during the First Anglo-Burmese War (1824-1826), serving as Deputy Commissioner of Tavoy. Burney immediately began learning Burmese. In 1829, he acted decisively to suppress a rebellion. His diplomatic experience and linguistic skill were further recognised in 1829 with the appointment as the Indian government’s representative to the Burmese Court. Burney arrived at the capital of Ava on 24 April 1830, establishing the first British Residency. Burney’s study of Burmese (with the aid of a tutor) had advanced so rapidly that by April 1832 he was able to communicate directly with the Burmese ministers in their own language. He enjoyed initial success, resolving the problem of banditry on the Arakan and Tenasserim frontiers and a territorial dispute on the Manipur border. He also persuaded the Burmese government to pay the final instalment of the indemnity owed as part of the war’s settlement.

King Bagyidaw appreciated Burney’s efforts to foster good relations, honouring him with a Burmese title inscribed on gold leaf, Mahaz-eyayazanawrahta, accompanied with a badge of office, a nine-stranded salwe. Burney’s position, however, was undermined in 1837 when Bagyidaw was deposed by the Prince of Tharrawaddy, who later became King, and he found it difficult to work with the new regime. Burney was recalled on 8 March 1838 and went on furlough to England. In 1842, he returned to active service with the EIC army, but died at sea in 1845 while travelling to England on medical leave.

The collection preserves important records of Burney’s diplomatic missions: his instructions, travel, correspondence, journals and reports, which include rare insight into the Siamese and Burmese Courts. It also contains examples of traditional texts, such as Siamese kradat phlao and Burmese black parabaiks and palm leaf manuscripts. Burney shared the family’s intellectual curiosity and literary flair, and was fascinated by Siamese and Burmese culture. He researched the two countries’ climate, geography, languages, history, philosophy, religion, astronomy, mathematics and astrology, and collected important translations from original sources. Burney presented papers to learned bodies such as the Royal Asiatic Society and published in the ‘Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal’, the ‘Asiatic Journal’ and the ‘Journal of the Statistical Society.’ During the early 1840s, Burney received permission from the EIC to publish the journal of his mission to Siam and it is possible that he also contemplated writing a pioneering English language history of Burma. With the resumption of his military career, ill health and an early death at the age of 53, however, these plans never came to fruition. The RCS is also fortunate to possess a number of early photograph collections relating to Burma dating from the 1870s (RCS Y3029A-F), which complement the Burney archive.

To view the Janus catalogue of the Henry Burney Collection, RCMS 65, please follow this link: