SOAS University of London


AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Studentship: Shifting Landscapes: Mapping the Intellectual Writing Traditions of Islamic Southeast Asia

Deadline: 9 April 2018

The British Library and SOAS are pleased to invite applications for a three year AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Partnership PhD Studentship, available from 24  September 2018. This doctoral award is funded through the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) under its Collaborative Doctoral Programme. The thesis will be jointly supervised by Dr Mulaika Hijjas of the School of Languages, Cultures and Linguistic at SOAS and by Dr Annabel Teh Gallop, Head of the Southeast Asia section at the British Library.  

The successful candidate will undertake a thesis on MAPPING THE INTELLECTUAL WRITING TRADITIONS OF ISLAMIC SOUTHEAST ASIA that centres on analysis of collections of manuscripts written in Arabic script from Southeast Asia that have been digitised through the Endangered Archives Programme (EAP) at the British Library. There is ample scope for the successful student to develop this project in ways that complement and extend the student’s existing skills-set and interests.


For the past century, studies of the languages, literatures, history, culture and writing traditions of maritime Southeast Asia (present-day Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei and the Philippines) have been fundamentally shaped by the collections of manuscripts held in Western institutions (primarily in the UK and the Netherlands) and those formed under colonial auspices (such as the National Library of Indonesia).  These collections themselves reflect the interests of their collectors, who were mainly European scholars and government officials from the early 19th century onwards, whose interests were focused on literary, historical and legal compositions in vernacular languages such as Malay and Javanese.  Relatively little attention was paid to works on Islam, written in Arabic or in Malay and Arabic, and hence such manuscripts are very poorly represented in Southeast Asian collections in institutions such as the British Library.

In 2004 the Endangered Archives Programme, funded by Arcadia, was established at the British Library, for the preservation of cultural material. To date, 16 manuscript collections relating to Islamic Southeast Asia have been documented and digitised, located in areas ranging from Aceh to the Moluccas, and from Sri Lanka to Cambodia.  Even the most cursory survey reveals that the profile of manuscripts still held ‘in the field’, in private and mosque collections, differs radically from those held in Western libraries, primarily through the very high proportion of Islamic texts, which probably account for around 95% of the manuscripts digitised.


This Ph.D. project is therefore for a doctoral study to investigate these digitised collections of manuscripts from Islamic Southeast Asia, to trace how our understanding of the landscape and ecology of the intellectual writing traditions of the region need to be radically redrawn in the light of these newly-accessible primary source materials.

The main digital BL collections to be utilised are the following EAP collections relating to Islamic Southeast Asia:

  • EAP061 The MIPES Indonesia: digitising Islamic manuscript of Indonesian Pondok Pesantren
  • EAP117 Digitising 'sacred heirloom' in private collections in Kerinci, Sumatra, Indonesia
  • EAP144 The digitisation of Minangkabau's manuscript collections in Suraus
  • EAP153 Riau manuscripts: the gateway to the Malay intellectual world
  • EAP205 Endangered manuscripts of Western Sumatra. Collections of Sufi brotherhoods
  • EAP211 Digitising Cirebon manuscripts
  • EAP212 Locating, documenting and digitising: Preserving the endangered manuscripts of the Legacy of the Sultanate of Buton, South-Eastern Sulawesi Province, Indonesia
  • EAP229 Acehnese manuscripts in danger of extinction: identifying and preserving the private collections located in Pidie and Aceh Besar regencies
  • EAP276 Documentation and preservation of Ambon manuscripts
  • EAP280 Retrieving heritage: rare old Javanese and old Sundanese manuscripts from West Java (stage one)
  • EAP329 Digitising private collections of Acehnese manuscripts located in Pidie and Aceh Besar regencies
  • EAP352 Endangered manuscripts of Western Sumatra and the province of Jambi. Collections of Sufi brotherhoods - major project
  • EAP365 Preservation of Makassarese lontara’ pilot project
  • EAP450 Manuscripts of the Sri Lankan Malays
  • EAP609 Digitising Malay writing in Sri Lanka
  • EAP698 Digitisation of the endangered Cham manuscripts in Vietnam

As clarified above, the majority of the manuscripts digitised are Islamic in content, with about half in Arabic and the others in Malay and Javanese. Texts include copies of the Qur’an, commentaries (tafsīr), ḥadīth collections of prophetic traditions, works on fiqh (observance of Islamic law), Sufism, prayers, sermons, Arabic grammars, etc. By comparison, the historic British Library collection of approximately 250 manuscripts from Southeast Asia in Arabic script, written in Malay, Javanese and Bugis, consists of predominantly literary, historical and legal texts, with only about 30 theological works including just a few in Arabic.

The applicant is encouraged to take advantage of the unique research opportunities afforded by the EAP collections.  This may include investigating not individual texts, as has usually been the case with dissertations on Malay manuscripts, but groups of texts, whether demarcated by genre, place, social milieu, or stylistic features (of binding, illumination, paleography and so on).  The study may also investigate the EAP collections as sets of texts—libraries, or remnants of libraries—from known geographical and social locations. That both the EAP collections and the Malay manuscript holdings of the British Library are digitised opens up a variety of digital humanities approaches. With these overarching themes in mind, there are several directions in which this PhD could be developed, depending on the interests / skills of the candidate.  These include:

  • Quantitative surveying of texts contained in digitised EAP collections, and a comparison with existing Western collections (consulted through published catalogues), to give a macro picture of Islamic manuscript traditions of Southeast Asia
  • A focus on certain genres of texts well represented in EAP collections but almost totally absent in existing Western collections, eg. sermons (khutbah) or Arabic grammars (eg. the Ajurumiyya)  in use in madrasahs (pesantren or pondok) in Southeast Asia
  • Digital humanities techniques applied to manuscripts digitised both through EAP and in the BL’s own Digitised Manuscripts platform, eg. for the study of palaeography or OCR projects, in the context of other developments in Arabic-script digital studies, producing searchable transcriptions linked to visual images, and so on
  • In-depth regional studies, as EAP has provided access to collections from areas totally unrepresented in most Western collections, eg. Islamic manuscripts from Ambon, and Malay manuscripts from Sri Lanka
  • Codicological studies, eg. traditional methods of binding, sewing, storing and preparing writing materials, as manuscripts in Western collections have generally been rebound and traces of earlier physical lives have been obliterated.  While this may sound a contradiction in terms, digitised manuscripts in EAP constitute an extraordinarily rich corpus for material studies of manuscripts.

The project will develop the research skills and knowledge base of the successful student in a range of skills traditionally associated with manuscript studies including philology, codicology and palaeography, as well as in digital technologies. Immersion in the working environment of the British Library will provide privileged ‘in house’ training in a world-leading library and major manuscript repository. The student will also be expected to enrich understanding and usability of the EAP collections, through contributing to improving metadata.

The student will join a community at SOAS which includes research students from over 130 countries and more than 400 specialist academics, including those working on diverse aspects of Southeast Asia, such as languages, literature, film, art, archaeology, manuscript studies, politics and law. Indonesian/Malay studies has a long tradition at SOAS, and SOAS is the only HEI in the UK to offer degree programmes in Indonesian/Malay. SOAS provides exceptional support to its research students through the Doctoral School, including dedicated work space and training programmes.

SOAS Library is one of only five National Research Libraries in the UK, specialising in Asia and Africa. Its Southeast Asia holdings include major manuscript and archive collections.

The student will automatically become part of the UK-wide CDP development scheme, which will provide training in a range of skills needed for research within museums, archives, galleries and heritage organisations.

For further information on the AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Partnership scheme at the British Library, please go HERE.


We are seeking to recruit a highly promising student who will relish the opportunity of combining academic research with the experience of working as part of a professional team of curators and researchers.

An essential qualification for the successful candidate would be knowledge of Malay/Indonesian and/or Arabic, and ideally proficiency in reading Arabic script.


1. Types of awards

There are two types of studentship award (based on meeting residential eligibility criteria):

  • A full studentship award – this covers the cost of approved tuition fees and provides a stipend.
  • A fees-only studentship award – this excludes funds for a stipend

2. Residency Criteria 

Applicants are required to meet the RCUK residence criteria as follows:

  • British nationals who have lived in the UK and Islands all their lives are eligible.
  • Also eligible are non-British nationals who have settled status AND have been resident in the UK for 3 years immediately prior to the date of the start of the course.
  • EU nationals who have been ordinarily resident in the UK and Islands for three years immediately prior to the date of start of the course are eligible.
  • EEA and Swiss nationals (EEA migrant workers) should refer to the full RCUK guidelines to check eligibility and may be eligible for a fees only award.
  • Please refer to pages 17-18 of the RCUK Training Grant Guide for further information.
  •  If you are unsure about your residency criteria, please submit your online application for admission as soon as possible so that your fee status can be assessed.  Fee status at SOAS is assessed by Admissions on the basis on the information and facts applicants provide at the time of applications to the School.

3. Academic Criteria 

Applicants are required to hold, or are expected to complete by 24 September 2018, a UK Master’s degree or overseas equivalent as recognised by SOAS, in a discipline relevant to the research project. 


The studentship is available for full-time study (or part-time equivalent), and applicants must be able to commence their studies on 24 September 2018.

The studentship is awarded for 3 years (pro-rata for part-time students). The Doctoral Stipend in 2018/19 is £17,327 (£14,777 as standard plus £2,000 London weighting plus an additional stipend payment of £550 awarded to Collaborative Doctoral Students).

Additional Student Development Funding, equivalent to an additional 6 months of funding, is available to support further training and skills development opportunities that are agreed as part of the PhD programme and may be used to extend the studentship accordingly. This may, for instance, be used for additional language training, either at SOAS or in Southeast Asia.

The British Library will provide financial support for research-related costs of up to £1,000 a year. 

Collaborative PhD students also benefit from the dedicated programme of professional development events delivered by the British Library in tandem with the other museums, galleries and heritage organisations affiliated to the AHRC CDP scheme.


Applicants should follow two steps:

  • STEP 1:  Apply for Research Degrees (MPhil/PhD) in South East Asian Studies at SOAS by 17:00 (UK local time) on Monday, 9 April 2018.

Apply for Research Degrees (MPhil/PhD) in South East Asian Studies using SOAS’s online admissions form. Further information and the ‘Apply Online’ link are available here.

Applicants must submit a complete online application for admission as soon as possible and no later than the studentship deadline (17:00 (UK local time) on Monday, 9 April 2018)

Further guidance for applying for admission to the MPhil/PhD programme and documents you need to submit is available here.

IMPORTANT: Please state in the admissions application that you wish to be considered for the AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Studentship, use the project title "Shifting Landscapes: Mapping the Intellectual Writing Traditions of Islamic Southeast Asia" as your Research Proposal Title and state Dr Mulaika Hijjas as your Proposed Supervisor.

Use your Supporting Statement to explain why you are motivated to apply for this particular project, and what skills and experience you will bring to the project. In your 2,000 word Research Proposal please respond to the project description and elaborate on how you would approach the project theoretically and methodologically based on your previous academic training and experience.

  • STEP 2: Apply for the Scholarship by 17:00 (UK local time) on Monday, 9 April 2018.

You must apply for this scholarship via the on-line scholarship application form.

Informal Enquiries

  • For enquiries about the application procedure, please contact the Scholarships department:


Telephone: +44 (0)20 7074 5088/5094/5091

  • Informal enquiries about the project can be sent to Dr Mulaika Hijjas (

Interview date

Friday, 18 May 2018 at The British Library, London