SOAS University of London

SOAS Library

V. Archives & Special Collections

V.i Collections (26)

SOAS Library holds an important and expanding collection of archives and manuscripts relating to Asia, Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific.  Two thirds of these comprise archives and papers documenting the activities of a number of major British missionary societies, and of individual missionaries, making SOAS the leading centre in the United Kingdom for mission studies.  There are significant holdings of business archives; a substantial number of collections relating to East Asia; rich African language and literature holdings and an immense range of manuscripts and scholarly papers relating to East Asia, South and South East Asia and the Pacific.

Papers of scholars, writers, travellers, and other significant figures whose life or work is important to the study of Africa and Asia are actively acquired.  Amongst figures represented in our collections are:  A. J. Arkell; Jean Boyd's papers on Nana Asmaù; Robert Wellesley Cole; Thomas Fox-Pitt; J.S. Furnivall; Andrew Hake; J. T. Hardyman; James Legge; Francis Light; D.L.R. Lorimer; Solomon Plaatje; Ifor B. Powell. Charles G. Richards; William Sewell; Abraham Nahum Stencl.

An extensive range of descriptive lists and catalogues is kept in the Special Collections Reading Room.  The online SOAS Archive Catalogue currently includes over 35,000 records, including collection descriptions for all of the catalogued archive collections.

Administrative and Diplomatic papers

Most of these relate to East Asia, an area of special strength, and include papers (dated 1860-1943) of leading members of the Chinese Maritime Customs, such as Sir Robert Hart and Sir Frederick Maze.  A recent development has been the acquisition of collections of former members of the China Consular Service, including Sir Chaloner Alabaster, Sir John Pratt, P.D. Coates and Sir Alwyne Ogden.  The Library also holds the papers of Sir John Addis, Ambassador to China from 1972-1974.

Business archives

In 1975 the Library acquired the archive of John Swire & Sons.  The company, known in the East as Butterfield and Swire, first dealt in textiles but subsequently switched to shipping, sugar refining and dockyard work.  Other business interests represented include records of the Guthrie Corporation, relating to the financial administration of its Malaysian plantations, and papers of Sir William Mackinnon, co-founder of the British India Steam Navigation Company in 1862 and Chairman of the Imperial British East Africa Company from 1883 to 1895.  The Library also holds an extensive collection of the papers of Sir Charles Stewart Addis, Hongkong and Shanghai Bank, 1883-1945.

Missionary archives

Following the completion of the new Library building in 1973, the School began to take in deposits of modern archives and to build up its collections of private papers.  About two thirds of the holdings document the presence and work of British Protestant missionaries in Asia, Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific.  There are approximately 950,000 documents, some 19,000 photographs and, in the missionary libraries, about 20,000 published works of memoirs, histories, annual reports, missionary magazines and translations.  Organisations represented include the China Inland Mission, the Council for World Mission, the Methodist Missionary Society, the Conference of British Missionary Societies and Christian Aid.

Language and Literature

There are rich collections on the languages and literature of Asia, Africa and the Pacific.

Africa is particularly well-represented with papers of such scholars as R.C. Abraham, J.W.T. Allen, G.P. Bargery, W.A. Crabtree, M.M. Green, M. Guthrie, P. Hackett, G.W.B. Huntingford, Sir H.H. Johnston, F.W. Parsons, A.N. Tucker, A. Werner and W.H. Whiteley.  Important literary collections include typescripts of works published in the Heinemann African Writers series while the Boyd Collection contains manuscript copies of the writings of the Nigerian woman poet, Nana Asma'u (1793-1865), who wrote in Fulfude, Hausa and Arabic.

Collections of scholars working in other areas include papers of Sir Thomas Arnold, Professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies in the University of London (1921-1930) and Sir Denison Ross, first Director of the School of Oriental and African Studies (1916-1937).  In addition, the missionary archives contain many references to the compilation of dictionaries and grammars, and to the translation of the Bible, and other publications, into a large number of languages.
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V.ii Manuscripts

The Library holds more than 2,500 individual manuscripts.  Of these about 2,000 are in the languages of Asia and Africa.  A number of the manuscripts originally formed part of the extensive collection of the Orientalist, William Marsden (1754-1836), author of Dictionary of the Malayan language and Grammar of the Malayan language (London, 1812).

Many of these manuscripts are in Malay, reflecting Marsden's major interest, but there are a number of manuscripts in Persian, Arabic, the Indian languages and Chinese – some of them rare and valuable.  In 1835 Marsden presented most of his manuscripts to King's College London; these were later transferred to the School of Oriental and African Studies.

Later benefactors have included Mr R.C. Reid, who donated the D.D. Dickson collection of 109 Persian manuscripts in 1942 and Mrs E. Hichens whose donation of the William Hichens and W.E. Taylor collections has been a significant contribution to the Library's important holdings of Swahili manuscripts.

A benefactor of particular significance is Miss Ouseley who, in 1921, donated a sixteenth-century, illuminated, manuscript copy of Husain Va'iz Kashifi's Anvar-i-Suhaili.  This outstanding manuscript was produced for the Mughal court in India in 1570, soon after Emperor Akbar’s atelier commenced its activity.  One of only three copies of its kind in the world, the manuscript is not only one of the finest productions of this period but also testimony to an experimental phase in which the artist in various ways breaks away from the conventional format found in Persian manuscripts for a more original formula.

About 109 languages are represented in the manuscript holdings.  These include, principally, 400 Arabic manuscripts, 93 in Chinese, 32 in Japanese, 56 in Javanese, 135 in Malay, 360 in modern Indo-Aryan languages, 400 in Persian, 250 in Sanskrit, Pali and Prakrit (including some on palm leaves and birch bark), 75 in Swahili and 45 in Turkish.  In addition there are several hundred individual manuscripts in western languages, chiefly in English, consisting of letters, diaries, unpublished memoirs and reports.
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V.iii Oral Archives

Plain Tales from the Raj

A collection of cassette copies and transcripts of 82 interviews, conducted in  Britain and India between 1972 and 1974, on which the BBC series Plain Tales from the Raj (first broadcast in 1974) was based. The men and women interviewed, most of them British, describe their experiences of life and work in India from the closing years of the nineteenth century until Independence in 1947. See Plain tales from the Raj:  a catalogue of the BBC recordings, (London, 1981).

British in India Oral Archive Project

The British in India Oral Archive Project was a continuation of the Plain Tales from the Raj series.  It comprises cassette copies and transcripts of a further 77 interviews with both British and Indian subjects covering the pre- and post- Independence period.

Partition of India

A set of 83 tapes and transcripts of interviews carried out in 1997 in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh in preparation for a BBC World Service series on the Partition of India.  Most of the tapes are in English but some interviews were recorded in Hindi, Urdu, Bengali or Punjabi.

Sounds Interesting

The Methodist Missionary Society oral archive project “Sounds Interesting” was begun in 1991 and comprises recordings (cassettes and summaries) of 140 interviews with former missionaries, both lay and ordained, from all areas of the Society's work.

Tape Recordings

A number of manuscript and archive collections contain tape recordings, notably those of J.W.T. Allen, E.G.A. Henderson and H.V. Hodson.
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V.iv Photographs

There are approximately 26,000 photographs in the Library’s Archives and Special Collections which have been donated or deposited with archives or private papers collections.  Many of the photographs await detailed cataloguing but it is apparent that while the vast majority date from the first half of the twentieth century, there are a significant number of nineteenth century photographs.

Most of the photographers were amateurs though the work of Samuel Bourne in India, Sir John Kirk in East and Central Africa and John William Lindt in Papua New Guinea is represented in the holdings.  Photographs are to be found with the papers of Sir Charles and Sir John Addis; the Bowra Papers and other Chinese Maritime Customs papers; the Durand and the Moraes Papers; the Barbara Whittingham Jones papers; the Lorimer Collection; and the Powell collection which is particularly good on photographs of tribal peoples in the Philippines.

Missionary Photographs

This collection comprises albums, photographic prints, glass-plate negatives and lantern slides.  For the most part they form part of the official archive and were used by the various missionary societies in publications and as illustrations for exhibitions and lectures.  A number of photographs are marked up for publication.  Other photographs have been received with collections of papers of individual missionaries and are more informal and personal in nature.

The range of subjects covered by the collections is vast, showing groups of converts, pupils, medical and mission staff and mission buildings as well as depicting the lives, work and pursuits of indigenous peoples; means of transport; historical events and topographical scenes.  The Council for World Mission archive has the largest number of photographs, approximately 11,000 and these relate to South and Central Africa, China, India, Madagascar and the Pacific.  Significant collections are also to be found in the archives of the Methodist Missionary Society (West Africa; China, India); the China Inland Mission (China and South East Asia); and the Presbyterian Church of England (China and Taiwan).

A selection of over 2,000 images from the missionary archives held at SOAS have been digitised and are available on the Internet Mission Photography Archive.
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(26) Information mostly taken from:  http://www.soas.ac.uk/library/archives/collections/


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