Jawi and the Malay Manuscript Tradition (Masters)

Key information

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Module code
FHEQ Level
South East Asia Section

Module overview

This course is an introduction to the Malay textual tradition in the adapted Arabo-Persian script known as Jawi.  The Malay language has a rich written heritage, which, before the 20th century, was most commonly written in Jawi.  Learning Jawi thus allows access to essential primary source material and local voices from the Malay-speaking areas of South East Asia.  This course provides the skills necessary for reading Jawi manuscripts and printed texts, and provides an introduction to Malay manuscript culture, covering both textual and codicological aspects.  It outlines the major literary genres, including poetry, prose, historiography and religious texts, and provides a critical understanding of European intervention in the Malay manuscript tradition in the 18th and 19th centuries.  It also extends Said’s critique of philology as a political project to take in the uses to which Malay manuscripts have been put in postcolonial Malaysia.  The module includes hands-on visits to some of the world’s most important collections of South East Asian manuscripts, such as SOAS Special Collections, the Royal Asiatic Society, and/or the British Library.

At least one year of Malay/Indonesian is normally required, but students interested in taking the module who do not have this are invited to contact Dr Hijjas to discuss alternative arrangements.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

By the end of the module students will be able to:

  • Read simple manuscript texts, both handwritten and printed.
  • Have an understanding of the various philological issues involved in the study and editing of manuscripts.
  • Have an understanding of codicological aspects of Malay manuscripts.
  • Identify the key genres found in the various manuscript traditions of the archipelago.
  • Understand the development and transformation of these genres with the emergence of lithographic and typographic reproduction.
  • Understand the role of European philology in shaping the epistemology of the Malay manuscript tradition.
  • Gain experience in reading and interpreting primary source material, including archive research.


A total of 10 weeks teaching with 3 hours classroom contact per week consisting of a one hour lecture, one hour tutorial, and one hour on Jawi literacy.

Method of assessment

An essay of 2,500 words to be submitted on day 1, week 1, in the term following the one in which the module is taught (60%); in-class tests in Week 5 and Week 10 (40%).

Suggested reading

A comprehensive reading list will be supplied by the convenor at the beginning of the module.


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