Manuscript Cultures Where the Seas Converge
The waves and the sea are undivided.
—Poem 29:9c by Hamzah Fansuri,
in Drewes and Brakel 1986:136
This project investigates three kinds of manuscript collections—the royal library of Palembang; libraries of private individuals in Aceh; and mosque libraries in Minangkabau—to rediscover the intellectual and literary culture of Sumatra in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Sixteen academics and ten masterclass participants came to SOAS on 24-26 May 2023 for Mapping Sumatra’s Manuscript Culture’s first workshop, “Colonialism and manuscript libraries of island South East Asia.”
Performances and Presentations
About the Project
Sumatra was the earliest point of contact between South East Asia and the Islamic world to the west. Its orientation towards the sea facilitated the movement of people, goods and ideas, making it essential for understanding ‘oceanic’ Islam, profoundly differently from the land-based polities of the Islamic empires of the Indian subcontinent and western Asia. The project will digitally reunite the surviving manuscripts from the Palembang royal library, one of the richest in the region until it was looted by the British in 1812 and again by the Dutch in 1821. It will compare this collection with two other case studies that remain in Sumatra and have recently been digitised by the Endangered Archives Programme: mosque libraries in the Minangkabau highlands (EAP144) and personal libraries in Aceh (EAP329). By studying these different kinds of gatherings of texts and readers, the project seeks to broaden and deepen our understanding of textual and intellectual developments in 18th- and 19th-century Sumatra, address the legacy of colonial intervention on South East Asian writing traditions, and contribute to a paradigm shift in the study of Islam in the region and beyond. This website will provide access to and insight into these manuscript libraries and their worlds.
The project is funded by a Research Leadership Award from the Leverhulme Trust, and is hosted by SOAS University of London.