Im/materiality of return: Digitisation and presentation of (sacred) manuscripts

Key information

5:30 pm to 6:30 pm
Russell Square: College Buildings
Khalili Lecture Theatre (KLT)

About this event

In this lecture/discussion, Panggah Ardiyansyah explores the return of manuscripts in digital form as part of broader decolonial and heritage practices.

The point of departure is the royal manuscripts looted from the palace of Yogyakarta in June 1812 by the British army. Some made their way into the British Library and have been recently digitised. By tracing the trajectories of their digital copies and displays, he examines the cross-cutting processes of remembering (and forgetting) underpinning such a return. 

Some manuscripts in traditional Java, designated as pusaka (Eng. sacred heirloom), were not merely media transmitting textual information; their materiality is a power of its own. Through the narrative of digital return, the lecture will  consider the shifting assumptions about the nature of textuality and manuscripts and how this might impact the future restitution of looted manuscripts from Indonesia.

About the speaker

Panggah Ardiyansyah is a PhD candidate of History of Art and Archaeology at SOAS University of London. Prior to doctoral project, he has spent more than a decade working professionally as a heritage educator for Borobudur Temple in Magelang, Indonesia, where he was responsible to design and implement guided tours and travelling exhibitions. In 2021, he co-edited a volume entitled Returning Southeast Asia’s Past: Objects, Museums, and Restitution. 

This volume explores the lives of artefacts which have been repatriated from the West to museums in Southeast Asia and is the first edited volume entirely devoted to object restitution to this region. In 2022, he worked as a consultant for the British Institute for International and Comparative Law’s project entitled “Beyond Restitution: Exploring the Story of Cultural Objects After Their Repatriation”. 

For this project, he investigated the afterlives of materials returned to Indonesia, including the much-coveted Diponegoro kris returned by the Netherlands and religious objects donated to Nias Heritage Museum from abroad. He has published his works through various media, including chapters in edited volumes, journal articles, blog posts, and podcasts.

About the organiser

The PARR (Provenance, Accessibility, Repatriation and Restitution) Working Group is a SOAS-wide network that draws together colleagues with shared interests in grounding SOAS’ decolonising agenda through practical approaches that seek to repair post-colonial trauma and loss. The Network looks at issues surrounding repatriation, encompassing both digital and material dimensions especially in relation to Area Studies and colonial archives (textual, sonic, visual, and material culture). 

PARR is underscoring the necessity of expanding definitions and approaches to repatriation, evolving into rematriating practices that redefine the process beyond the mere physical transfer of objects to source cultures. Instead, the network emphasises a relational process that aims to establish source community-based spaces for co-producing knowledge about collections, creating community-led methods for redefining the value and significance of their material heritage, and building capacity to inscribe this knowledge in ways that are accessible, transferable, and meaningful to source cultures.