SOAS Library Archives – a SOAS gem

French map of central Jerusalem

SOAS Library’s Archives & Special Collections has a formidable repository of manuscripts, documents and rare books relating to Africa, Asia, and the Middle East spanning 250 years. The SOAS Archives open day takes place once a year where staff and students have exclusive access to items relating to the history of the School, large artworks, ethnographic works, new acquisitions and – this year, magic!

The selection on alchemy drew the biggest crowd draw due to the beautifully written and bound spellbooks which instructed the readers on how to make an amulet to protect oneself from snakebites.

[Manuel for making amulets: Talismanic figures and magic squares including Garauda and Naga tattoo to protect against snakebites. Myanmar 19th Cent]

[Pushtah (Manual for magic and divination) Northern Sumatra made of tree bark and has wooden covers. Compiled by Batak priest-magicians (datu), Red earth based paint.]

The release of A United Kingdom (Nov 2016) starring David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike inspired the archive’s collection of Daily Mail news clippings spanning 1945 – 49 telling of the controversial marriage between a white, British secretary and Seretse Khama, Prince of Botswana. Many visitors enjoyed reading the events unfold in the yellowed pages of news articles printed 70 years earlier.

As part of a deposit from Christian Aid, the original Band Aid 1985 minutes from a gathering of charities (British Red Cross, Action Aid, Oxfam) were on display. The agenda was on how to spend the £50 million raised from the Live Aid concerts and the 1984 hit ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ Curiously, a handwritten scrawl at the top of the document points out their actual discussion didn’t make it into the final minutes.

Periodic behind-the-scenes tours of the archives gave a more practical overview of what it takes to secure and preserve thousands of volumes. The cooling system, fire doors, and non-acidic folders were of much interest to students curious about a career in archives.

SOAS’s collection falls into three broad categories: missionary organisations, charities and NGOs; British businesses based in Africa, Asia or the Middle East; and individuals whose lives and works relate to the geographical areas of study at SOAS.

The SOAS Archive Blog is a curation of some of the rarest items in the School’s possession. It also photographs and documents new acquisitions before they enter the vaults, never to be seen again (or at least until someone requests to view it). By keeping up to date with their projects and recent work it becomes plain to see how elements of the past are of intrinsic importance to our understanding of the future.

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