SOAS University of London

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Leverhulme Research Leadership Award PhD studentship: Mapping Sumatra’s Manuscript Cultures

Deadline: 9 July 2021

The studentship is offered as part of the Leverhulme Research Leadership Award ‘Mapping Sumatra’s manuscript cultures.’ This project focuses on three case studies: the Palembang royal library, looted by the British in 1812 and by the Dutch in 1821, and dispersed across institutional collections in several countries; the libraries of religious schools in the Minangkabau highlands digitised by the Endangered Archives Programme (EAP 144); and personal libraries from Aceh, again digitised by the EAP (EAP 329). Using archives assembled by colonial-era collecting and those that remain in situ in Sumatra, the project aims to produce a ground-breaking, holistic and contextualised understanding of the writing and intellectual traditions of Islamic South East Asia in the 18th and 19th centuries. It will look at the surviving manuscripts not solely as individual texts but as books embedded in libraries, part of a specific social and intellectual context. It also aims to consider Islamic manuscripts, predominantly in Arabic, alongside literary manuscripts, predominantly in vernacular South East Asian languages such as Malay, Javanese and Acehnese, as part of a shared writing culture.

Eligible programmes

  • The proposed PhD research must be focused on an intensive analysis of material from at least one of the case studies named above, and must contribute to the overall aims of the project. Possible research topics include:

  • critical studies of one or more key manuscripts drawn from the case studies, or comparisons between these exemplars and others in the wider manuscript tradition, including both textual and/or material aspects;

  • topics represented within the case studies, such as esoteric Sufism, the relationship between Islamic and literary genres, and the intervention of colonialism in the manuscript tradition;

  • key figures, including authors, copyists, collectors or library owners;
    the social institutions in which these manuscripts were and are found, such as Minangkabau surau, Acehnese dayah and/or the Palembang kraton;

  • the circulation of particular texts, genres or authors between libraries in Sumatra and beyond;

  • the meaning and use of manuscripts from these case studies in the present day.


Other topics may also be considered, so long as they fit within the scope of the project. The successful candidate will be expected to contribute to the overall aims of the project, such as by assisting with cataloguing and transcription, as well as with research and outreach events.
The PhD will be supervised by Dr Mulaika Hijjas, the principal investigator of the project.

Candidate Criteria

Minimum Entry Requirements:
  1. a good Master’s-level degree (or overseas equivalent) in a relevant subject (i.e. literary, historical, cultural, philological, or Islamic studies of insular South East Asia);
  2. advanced proficiency in Malay/Indonesian (other relevant languages, including Arabic, Acehnese, Minangkabau or Javanese are welcome in addition);
  3. experience and expertise working with archive material, especially Jawi manuscripts, and in digital humanities approaches to archives, or a willingness to expand your skills in these areas;
  4. willingness to work as part of the larger research team and to contribute to the overall aims of the project.

Only new applicants may apply: those already enrolled on a research degree programme at SOAS are not eligible.


Your on-line admission application should include:

  • a research proposal outlining your proposed research topic (2,000 words), including how it will fit into the project aims described above
  • a personal statement (1,500 words) indicating how you would contribute to the overall aims of the project and the way in which you are qualified to carry it out.


Shortlisted candidates will be interviewed remotely via Zoom during the week of 9 August 2021.
The studentship is for a duration of 3 years and will cover course fees at the Overseas rate and a student stipend (circa £15,609 pa--to be confirmed with Research Office).

Candidate Assessment

  • Candidates will be assessed on academic merit by a Selection Panel consisting of three academic members of staff.
  • The assessment of your application will be based on the information in your on-line application for admission. Selectors will be looking at your degree results and also at academic references, personal statement, research proposal and other relevant information.

Scholarship Application Deadline

  • Scholarship applications must be received no later than 17:00 (UK local time) on Monday, 9 July.
  • In order to be considered for this studentship, you are also required to apply for the research degree by the same deadline.

Notification of Results

Successful candidates will be notified by 20 August. If you have not heard from us by then, you should assume your application was unsuccessful. Please note that you will be required to be based at SOAS during the studentship, but that a period of remote working is possible in the initial stages, due to the pandemic. Supervision will be online in Term 1, 2021/22.

Scholarship Application Procedures

Applicants should complete the following steps:

STEP 1: Apply for the research degree (MPhil/PhD) in South East Asian Studies at SOAS

Applicants must submit a COMPLETE on-line application for admission to the research degree (MPhil/PhD in South East Asian Studies) as soon as possible but no later than the scholarship deadline of 17:00 UK time, 9 July 2021. Please be sure to state in your admissions application that you wish to be supervised by Dr Mulaika Hijjas and that you are applying for the Leverhulme RLA studentship funding.
A complete application for admission includes academic transcripts and degree certificates, an explanation of the grading system for any degrees obtained outside of the UK, two academic references, CV, coherent research proposal of 2000 words and a supporting statement.
IMPORTANT: Your on-line admission application should include a research proposal outlining how you would fulfil the provisional project aims described above and a personal statement indicating how you would contribute to the overall aims of the project and the way in which you are qualified to carry it out.
For any queries regarding the programme application procedure, please click here

STEP 2: Apply for the scholarship

You must apply for this scholarship via the on-line scholarship aapplication form as soon as possible but no later than the scholarship deadline of 17:00 (UK time), 9 July 2021.


For any queries regarding the studentship application procedure, please email scholarships@soas.ac.uk


For any queries regarding the project, please email Dr Mulaika Hijjas, mh86@soas.ac.uk