School of Languages, Cultures and Linguistics & College of Humanities

Leverhulme Research Leadership Award: Mapping Sumatra’s manuscript cultures

This project’s interdisciplinary team investigates manuscript libraries from the Indonesian island of Sumatra, the first landing point, geographically and historically, of Islam in South East Asia, to better understand the intellectual and writing traditions of the region.

The project’s case studies are the Palembang royal library, looted by the British in 1812 and by the Dutch in 1821; the libraries of religious schools in the Minangkabau highlands; and personal libraries from Aceh. The latter case studies remain in situ and are digitized by the Endangered Archives Programme. 

The defeated Sultan of Palembang boarding a Dutch ship, 1821. Inset of print by A. Lutz. Image in the public domain, available via Rijksmuseum

As well as reconstituting the Palembang royal library as a digital resource, the project also aims to produce editions of texts from the manuscript tradition that have been unread for centuries, and to develop a holistic and contextualised understanding of the textual culture of Islamic South East Asia in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Frontispiece of a copy of Ṣirāt al-mustaqīm by 17-th century theologian Nur al-Din al-Raniri, in Teungku Ainal Mardhiah Collection, Aceh, north Sumatra. British Library, EAP329/10/104,