Friday, 29 July 2022

SAALG Summer gathering, 8 September 2022

The South Asia Archive and Library Group Summer gathering will take place on Thursday, 8 September 2022 at the Ancient India & Iran Trust.

Address: 23 Brooklands Avenue, Cambridge CB2 8BG (view on Google maps)

The charge will be £15 per person (in cash or cheque on the day). 

Places limited; please e-mail if you intend to come.


Arrival and coffee, 11.30 – 11.40

11.40 – 11.45


Ursula Sims-Williams, Ancient India & Iran Trust


11.45 – 12.15

Some Collections at the Ancient India & Iran Trust


Joanna Salisbury, Ancient India & Iran Trust

12.15 – 12.45

Alexander the Great in South Asia


Ursula Sims Williams, British Library

12.45 – 1.00

Display of collection items from the Ancient India & Iran Trust



1.00 – 2.00

Lunch (provided) and networking



2.00 – 2.30

Sources for Military Ancestry in the East India and India Office Records


Hedley Sutton, British Library

2.30 – 3.00

Tilya Tepe and Taliban: Bactrian Gold's Afghantsy Past


Burzine Waghmar, SOAS


3.00 – 3.30




3.30 – 4.30

Updates from all and SAALG Committee meeting







Tuesday, 18 May 2021

Head of South Asian Collections, British Library

Exciting news: The British Library has advertised a new permanent post - Head of South Asian Collections. 

The post will also be advertised on external websites (The Guardian, etc.) today but you can find all details on our website

The deadline for applications is 14 June 2021. 

The successful candidate will join the Asian and African Collections Department and will lead the South Asia team in developing, managing and promoting the collection of manuscripts, printed books, newspapers and digital resources from or relating to South Asia. They will be responsible for all projects and activities relating to these collections, and will lead in developing future major programs and partnerships.

Monday, 20 January 2020

South Asia Archives and Library Group Winter Meeting


31 January 2020, at the British Library, London NW1 2DB


13.25:    Welcome & introduction    Hedley Sutton & Antonia Moon, British Library

13.30  -  14.10:    ‘The Endangered Archives Programme: some examples from South Asia’    Graham Jevon, British Library

14.10  -  14.50:    ‘The Two Centuries of Indian Print Project’    Alia Carter & Priyanka Basu, British Library

14.50  -  15.30:    ‘The British Library’s 2019-2020 Buddhism Exhibition’    Jana Igunma, British Library

15.30  -  16.00    Refreshment break (at own expense)

16.00  -  16.30    Show’n’tell of selected collection items    Hedley Sutton, British Library

16.30  -    Business meeting

17.15    Close

Please notify, tel. 0207 412 7865 if you plan to attend the meeting. 

Antonia Moon and Hedley Sutton will be waiting at the Library’s front hall information desk from 13.00 to meet and greet, and accompany attendees to the venue.

Monday, 9 December 2019

Queen Mary’s South Asian tour scrapbooks, 1905-1906

This post by Dr John Cardwell first appeared in Cambridge University Library's Special Collections blog, 6th December 2019. It has proved impossible to maintain the original layout and formatting.

Royal Tour of India, 1905-1906, RCMS 89_35_2_35
The Royal Commonwealth Society department has digitised a fascinating series of scrapbooks documenting the Royal Visit to India in 1905-06 by the Prince and Princess of Wales, the future King George V and Queen Mary.  Princess Mary possessed considerable intellectual curiosity, and as soon as the visit was announced, she began rigorous, systematic study in preparation.  She read at least 36 books, and these were not simple tourist guides, but serious works of history and politics by experts on Indian affairs.  This was balanced by research into India’s great ethnic, religious and cultural richness.  Caring less about the experience of European residents, she was most intrigued to learn about the real lives of India’s peoples, and was especially fascinated by their religions.  The map to the left emphasises the ambitious nature of the tour, which lasted roughly six months and covered vast distances by ship and rail, encompassing places as far apart as Bombay, Peshawar, Karachi and Rangoon.  It was particularly demanding for Princess Mary, who had given birth to her sixth child, Prince John, only several months before.
 Princess Mary reading on HMS Renown, 1905, QM 20

The success of Princess Mary’s programme of research is emphasised by the impression she made on the chief of staff for the 1905 tour, Sir Walter Lawrence, who had served as private secretary to the Viceroy Lord Curzon.  During planning meetings he declared, ‘I consider you have a very good grasp on Indian affairs, quite remarkable in a woman.’  She later wrote to a friend from India, ‘I felt much flattered and repeat this for your ears only, as you know what trouble I took to get the right books’. 
 Pilgrim map of Benares, RCMS 89_35_3_36

 Song lyrics, RCMS 89_35_2_21

This foundation helped Queen Mary to make the most of what she saw, as she confided to the same friend, ‘The religions too, I know something of, Hindu, Mohammedan and Buddhism.  All this knowledge, however small, helps one to take a keen interest in all one sees, and I therefore enjoy to the utmost every detail of the wonderful sights.’  George V ascended the throne in 1911, and the new king and queen returned in November for a grand coronation Durbar. Queen Mary prepared just as assiduously for her second visit, which deepened her understanding and admiration of India.

Queen Mary’s official biographer James Pope-Hennesy emphasised what an astounding revelation India was to her, ‘It stirred her emotionally, and it would be no exaggeration to say that Princess May fell in love with India.  Ever afterwards a certain dreamy note would enter her voice when she spoke of India. “Lovely India, beautiful India,” she used to murmur like some incantation’.  Queen Mary lovingly preserved a remarkable record of her two visits to India: 29 photograph albums containing approximately 3,800 images, numerous printed books, many of which are presentation copies in special bindings from India’s ruling princes, as well as the scrapbooks of ephemera we’ve digitised, containing programmes of rail travel, receptions, military reviews, equestrian events, plans and orders of ceremonials, invitations, menus and guest lists.
Punjab Ball, RCMS 89_35_1_3 (artist: E.A.P. Hobday)

RCMS 89_35_2_28
 RCMS 89_35_3_5
RCMS 89_35_1_5 (artist: E.A.P. Hobday)

After the death of her husband, Queen Mary presented her collection to the India Office Library in 1937.  The independence and partition of India was very distressing to her, and she reacted with an allusion to Queen Mary Tudor and the loss of Calais, ‘When I die, India will be found written on my heart’.  When it was proposed that the India Office Library should be divided between India and Pakistan, Queen Mary transferred her collection to the RCS in 1950.  It came to Cambridge by purchase in 1993 along with the rest of the RCS Library, after a public appeal raised sufficient funds to prevent its sale and dispersal. More digital images of this Royal Tour of India may be viewed on the RCS Photograph Gallery.
RCMS 89_35-3-31

Chappar Rift Bridge, Sind-Pishin Railway (photographer: Fred Bremner)

Fruit market Quetta (photographer: Fred Bremner
Group of Brahuis (photographer: Fred Bremner)

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

Charting change in Asian Landscapes: Festival of Ideas, Cambridge University Library, Saturday 26th October

Do hope to see you in Cambridge University Library on Saturday morning, 26th October 2019 - a drop-in event (no need to book) which is part of the Festival of Ideas.  Between 10 am and 12.30 pm in the Library's Map Room, you will be able to view spectacular photographs and water-colours, and study fascinating maps and panoramas charting enormous changes to Mumbai and Hong Kong landscapes.

Friday, 21 June 2019

SAALG Summer meeting in Cambridge, 25 July 2019

Cambridge University Library will be the venue for our summer meeting this year, and we will be viewing South Asian material from the Royal Commonwealth Society's Fisher and COVIC archives, as well as rare maps and plans from the University Library's Map Department.

Follow links for information on the Fisher photograph collection,  and the Papers of the Colonial Office Visual Instruction Committee.

Sabrina Meneghini will share some of her research. Do read her blog posts of 19 January 2018 and 12 April 2018.

We will be hosting a larger exhibition of work from this archive entitled 'Classroom Photographic Journeys' in the Alison Richard Building, West Road, Cambridge 20 April - 29 May 2020. Please make a note in your 2020 diary! 

Our summer meeting on 25th July will commence at 2 pm, and finish around 5pm.

Spaces will be limited, so if you haven't yet confirmed your attendance, please contact Rachel Rowe  (rcs @ with the subject line: 'SAALG 25 July 2019') if you plan to attend. 

Looking forward to seeing you on Thursday 25th July.

Rachel Rowe
Smuts Librarian for South Asian & Commonwealth Studies
University of Cambridge

Friday, 14 June 2019

Job Vacancy: Research Associate (Persian Collections), John Rylands Library

The John Rylands Research Institute wishes to appoint a Research Associate to work on the University of Manchester’s world-class Persian Manuscript Collection. The successful candidate is expected to hold a Ph.D. in Persianate studies or a related area, ideally dealing with Persian book culture, possess an excellent command of Persian and Arabic and have extensive experience of cataloguing manuscripts in Persian scripts.

For more information and to apply see:

Thursday, 9 May 2019

New Open Acccess publication - Early Modern India: Literatures and Images, Texts and Languages

Interested in Indian vernaculars, Persian, Sanskrit? In the relations between various yogic traditions? Then please have a look at the newly released Early Modern India: Literatures and Images, Texts and Languages, edited by Maya Burger and Nadia Cattoni. 

This book presents recent scholarly research on one of the most important literary and historical periods of the Early Modern era from a wide range of approaches and perspectives. It contains a selection of contributions presented at the 12th International Conference on Early Modern Literatures of North India which provide fresh and new material as well as innovative methods to approach it.
The organizing principle of the volume lies in its exploration of the links between a multiplicity of languages (Indian vernaculars, Persian, Sanskrit), of media (texts, paintings, images) and of traditions (Hindu, Jain, Sikh, Muslim). The role of the Persian language and the importance of the translations from Sanskrit into Persian are discussed in light of the translational turn. The relations between various yogic traditions, especially of Nath origin, from Kabir and other sampradayas, are reconsidered.
Burger, Maya and Nadia Cattoni (eds.). Early Modern India: Literatures and Images, Texts and Languages. Heidelberg; Berlin: CrossAsia-eBooks, 2019. - 358 p. with coloured illustrations. ISBN (PDF) 978-3-946742-46-3; ISBN (Hardcover) 978-3-946742-45-6.

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Spears collection in the Centre of South Asian Studies

Over 80 books and 74 boxes of papers were bequeathed by T.G.P. Spear 1901–1982) to the Archives of the Centre. The papers include reprints of Spear's articles for the fifteenth edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1974 and his research notes. The book collection includes works published in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Dr (Thomas George) Percival Spear was a Lecturer at St Stephen's College, Delhi 1924-40 and held various posts in Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India 1940-45 and was subsequently Bursar of Selwyn College, Cambridge 1945-70 and Lecturer in History, Cambridge University 1963-69.

His publications (held in the Centre) include:
Delhi : its monuments and history, 1943
Twilight of the Mughuls : studies in late Mughul Delhi, 1951
India : a modern history, 1961
Master of Bengal : Clive and his India, 1975
The Oxford history of modern India, 1965 2nd ed 1978
India remembered 1981

Archive SPE 1-4

Archive SPE 2-7
The oldest books in the donation are Archive SPE 1 An account of the war in India : between the English and French, on the coast of Coromandel, from the year 1750 to the year 1760. Together with a relation of the late remarkable events on the Malabar coast, and the expeditions to Golconda and Surat; ... / by Richard Owen Cambridge. Dublin : printed for George and Alexander Ewing, 1761, which is also held in Cambridge University Library,
Archive SPE 19 The history of Hindostan; : from the earliest account of time, to the death of Akbar; translated from the Persian of Mahummud Casim Ferishta of Delhi: ... With an appendix, containing the history of the Mogul empire, from its decline in the reign of Mahummud Shaw, to the present times. / By Alexander Dow. In two volumes. London : printed for T. Becket and P. A. de Hondt, 1768, which is also held in the Parker Library of Corpus Christi College,
Archive SPE 13-18
Archive SPE 4
and unique to Cambridge but has been digitized from an American edition by the Hathi Trust Archive SPE 4 Grant, Colesworthey, 1813-1880. Lithographic sketches of the public characters of Calcutta, Calcutta : W. Thacker & Co, 1850, containing presscuttings and a useful summary of the characters illustrated.

Archive SPE 4

Monday, 25 March 2019

Challenges in the preservation of Lahore’s archives: a researcher’s perspective

I am delighted to publish this post by Mobeen Hussain, PhD candidate in the Faculty of History at the University of Cambridge. 

During my summer research trip to Pakistan in 2018, I visited many local archives and libraries which provided a snapshot of the archival and scholarly landscape of Lahore. I visited the Punjab State Archives and Civil Secretariat Library, the Pakistan Research Society at the Punjab University, Punjab Public Library, the Quad-i-Azam Library and the National College of Arts (formerly Mayo School of Industrial Arts). 

Getting to grips with content: 

Visiting Lahore for the first time meant that I was able to observe numerous researcher and archival challenges; challenges that local users are aware of and have to contend with on a daily basis. Upon arrival at the Punjab State Archives, I met with the archives’ director, Mohammed Abbas Chughtai, who explained that the archive and its libraries have received fewer visitors after the events of 9/11 due to concerns about safety in the country. The archive does, however, receive some non-native and international scholars, and the research officer and director were eager to help as well as point visitors in the direction of other useful resources. The Punjab State Archives and the associated Civil Secretariat Library boast of lengthy Persian and Urdu collections as well as administrative documents from the Punjab during British colonial rule. I learnt much about the archive culture in Lahore by taking time to talk to academics, fellow researchers, archivists and librarians who were pleased to receive scholars in their institutions. Speaking to archivists and librarians is a must­­— they know their materials best. I would also advise researchers to take some time speak to fellow Lahore-based researchers and academics at local universities including the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) and Punjab University. Local scholars often know about the research potential across the city, about new books published in Pakistan (particularly by the Oxford University Press based in Karachi) and other places of interest.

Handlists, Catalogues and Digitisation: 

Due to limited funding and resources, many South Asian libraries and archives do not have intuitive online catalogues or websites. If they have a website, such as the Punjab State Archives, it can be unwieldy and only highlight key points of interest in the archive (and not reflective of the content held). However, many institutions have handlists including the Civil Secretariat and Punjab Public Library. These are by no means exhaustive but are useful in order to take stock of what an archive holds and helps to narrow and focus a search. The Punjab State Archive has announced its digitisation project and recruited digitisers, but the project is yet to start and the archive is waiting on lengthy administrative processes to obtain more funding.   

Heat and humid conditions: 

The climate of Pakistan presents its own preservation pressures. The heat and humidity, despite the use of fans (and, at times, air conditioning) as cooling methods, results in brittle paper that is prone to easy wear and tear and the rapid accumulation of dust. 

Space and building issues: 

When discussing the preservation of archives in Pakistan, Saamia Ahmed, the associate professor in charge of the archives at the National College of Arts, noted that finding space was one of the biggest challenges facing small and local archives. Indeed, the Civil Secretariat library has a handlist of English-language colonial-era books, but numerous items went missing as a result of numerous relocations of collections. Researchers just have to try their luck but I definitely recommend a visit as the current location is library aficionado’s dream.  

Consulting materials:

A few of the libraries and archives I visited did not have many handling restrictions. The use of pens was not prohibited, and fans and drinks were vital for users in the summer heat but could easily contribute to the damaging of records. The limited restrictions were useful when viewing and handling full records and taking photographs. However, in order to help maintain records for future, researchers should not take advantage of this and handle material with care (taking note of best practice at other institutions). Both researchers and archivists have a responsibility to think about long term preservation and how best to attract visitors to use their vast materials.
Of course, it is important to bear in mind that many of these archives are still young compared to institutions like the British Library in London. Most Lahori archives and libraries run on limited funding and resources. Therefore, sharing knowledge practice with other national archives like the National Archives of Pakistan in Islamabad and international organisations would be useful. Some of this collaborative work has been done but needs to continue in order to preserve and make the most of these rich resources. 

Other useful resources on South Asian archives:
The Archives of Economic Life in South Asia
A Review of Three Archives in Pakistan

Image: Punjab State Archives in the Tomb of Anarkali, Civil Secretariat (author’s own photograph).

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

New open access journal - Dastavezi: The Audio-Visual South Asia

The first volume of the new open access journal Dastavezi: The Audio-Visual South Asia is out !

Dastavezi: The Audio-Visual South Asia is a journal for scholars and filmmakers, filmmakers as scholars, and filmmaking scholars working on regional and transregional South Asia. The journal provides a platform for linking audio-visual and scholarly practice from and on South Asia.
Dastavezi is an open-access archive of audio-visual knowledge. By providing films published in the journal with Digital Object Identifier (DOI) numbers, Dastavezi encourages filmmakers and scholars working on South Asia to cite documentary film as a legitimate source of academic production. Furthermore, it aims to make the films accessible to audiences beyond the structures of the market domain. Through linking the production of audio-visual material with the filmmaker’s own conceptual writing we hope to widen the horizons of the existing field of documentary film-studies, visual-anthropology, and film practices on and from South Asia.

The first issue includes an introduction by the main editors, Max Kramer and Jürgen Schaflechner, and films and essays by:
  • Fathima Nizaruddin. My Mother’s Daughter (19:05). Delhi.
  • Mahera Omar. Perween Rahman: The Rebel Optimist (1:06:57). Karachi.
  • Yaminay Chaudhri. Mera Karachi Mobile Cinema (22:22). Karachi.
  • Aditya Basu. Kaifiyat (8:13). Mumbai.

Further information on the journal can be attained from

Submissions (film-links and essays) should be sent to: 

Dastavezi is an offer of CrossAsia within the DFG funded project FID Asien. The journal is hosted by Heidelberg University Library in cooperation with the South Asia Institute at Heidelberg University.