CfA: Chevening Fellowship “Manuscript Textiles in the Southeast Asian Collections” at the British Library

Date of event:   02/11/2021 − 02/11/2021

Application deadline: 2 November 2021

This fellowship will be hosted by the Asian and African Collections department. The British Library holds about 3000 manuscripts from Southeast Asia, forming the largest and most significant collection of Southeast Asian manuscripts in the UK. Highlights include illustrated paper folding books from Myanmar (Burma) and Thailand, rare palm leaf manuscripts from Myanmar (Burma), Cambodia, Laos and Thailand going back to the seventeenth century, royal letters in Malay from the courts of the archipelago, some of the earliest known Batak divination manuals from Sumatra, as well as rare royal letters and edicts from Vietnam and Thailand.

Within this body of material, recent British Library projects have brought to light a significant number of manuscript textiles– either wrapped around or attached to manuscripts as a form of protective cover – without or with only minimal documentation and cataloguing data. Often the textiles were custom-made for one particular manuscript, and in this case these objects could be made from valuable hand-woven silk brocades, printed cotton or imported materials like chintz and silk damask. Specially designed textiles were commissioned to add meritorious value to a manuscript or to an entire set of manuscripts. Sometimes discarded textiles like monks’ robes, used and new clothes of people who had passed away unexpectedly, or leftover pieces of cloths made for other purposes were used to create manuscript textiles.

The provenance of these manuscript textiles is often difficult to establish due to the lack of recorded information in the Library’s catalogues and historical handlists. It is obvious that some of the manuscript textiles are of a later date than the manuscripts themselves, and some originate from a different place than the manuscripts they belong to, since there was a practice to replace worn out manuscript textiles with new ones.

This Chevening Fellowship project provides an opportunity to survey, assess and research these under-researched and often fragile Southeast Asian manuscript textiles, in order to provide comprehensive catalogue records and to help plan and inform future conservation work and public engagement.

Key Responsibilities

  • Review, identify and research the British Library holdings of Southeast Asian manuscript textiles dating mainly from the 18thto the 20th century, starting with an existing list of around 50 items
  • Document the materials, estimated age, country of origin, technique of creation and general condition of each item and, where possible, recommend which items should be prioritised for conservation treatment
  • Work closely with the Library’s curators to share information about Southeast Asian manuscript textiles internally, especially with colleagues in the Library’s Conservation Centre, and externally with organisations in the UK and internationally that we are collaborating with
  • Help promote the collection of Southeast Asian manuscript textiles more widely through blog articles and collection highlights on the Library’s webpage, to encourage further engagement with the collections

Candidate Requirements

  • Degree or professional/work experience in a subject relevant to Southeast Asian textiles and/or Southeast Asian manuscripts cultures
  • Experience in a museum, library, archive, textile conservation, manuscript digitisation, academic or other relevant environment
  • Good communicator with some experience of using social media and/or writing for online/non-specialist audiences in English or their native language
  • Interest in curatorial and cataloguing work

For more information, please visit the website here.