SOAS University of London

Department of the History of Art and Archaeology, School of Arts

Illustrated Manuscript Cultures of Southeast Asia

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2019/2020
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Taught in:
Term 2

This course is concerned with the arts of the manuscript in Southeast Asia, up to the present day. Examples of manuscripts that will be studied include those from Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. It will introduce the large variety of languages, scripts and materials that make up the manuscript tradition of Southeast Asia. The course covers the artistic, calligraphic and codicological aspects of manuscripts on both religious and secular material, such as Buddhist painting, Qur'anic illumination and magical talismanic designs, highlighting the commonalities of the regions as well as identifying local idiosyncrasies. The relationship with other aspects of Southeast Asian art, such as textiles, woodwork and shadow plays will be investigated.

The course will include discussions and hands-on sessions of a selection from the around 400 Southeast Asian manuscripts that are kept in SOAS, one of the most extensive and important collections in Europe. Other collections will also be examined such as the ones in the Royal Asiatic Society and the British Library.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the course the student should:

  • Have a good grasp and familiarity of the artistic and codicological aspects of manuscript production in Southeast Asia
  •  Understand the main issues raised by the art historical discourse surrounding it.
  •  Be able to identify relevant objects assigning them accurately to their time and place
  •  Have developed further skills in critical reading and well-structured


  • One hour Lecture, one hour Seminar

Method of assessment

  • One 1 000 words book review (worth 30%)
  • One  2 000 words essay (worth 70%)

Suggested reading

  • Contadini, Anna (ed.), 2007, Objects of Instruction: Treasures of the School of Oriental and African Studies, London: School of Oriental and African Studies.
  • Fraser-Lu, Sylvia, 1994, Burmese Crafts: Past and Present, Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, see Chapter 9: Palm and Bamboo.
  • Gallop, Annabel Teh, 2005, "Islamic Manuscript Art of Southeast Asia", in James Bennett (ed.), Crescent Moon: Islamic Art & Civilisation in Southeast Asia / Bulan Sabit: Seni dan Peradaban Islam di Asia Tenggara, Adelaide: Art Gallery of South Australia, pp. 158-189.
  • Gallop, Annabel Teh and Bernard Arps, 1991, Golden Letters: Writing Traditions of Indonesia, London, Jakarta: British Library, Lontar Foundation.
  • Ginsburg, Henry, 1989, Thai Manuscript Painting, London: British Library.
  • Ginsburg, Henry, 2000, Thai Art and Culture: Historic Manuscripts from Western Collections, London: British Library.
  • Guy, John, 1982, Palm-leaf and Paper: Illustrated Manuscripts of India and Southeast Asia, Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria.
  • Herbert, Patricia, 1993, The Life of the Buddha, London: British Library.
  • Herbert, Patricia and Anthony Milner (eds), 1988, South-east Asia Languages and Literatures: A Select Guide, Whiting Bay, Arran: Kiscadale.
  • Kumar, Ann, and John H. McGlynn (eds), 1996, Illuminations: The Writing Traditions of Indonesia, Jakarta, New York: Lontar Foundation, Weatherhill.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules