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Minutes of the 79th Conference

Minutes of the South Asia Archive and Library Group. Held at the University of Cambridge Library
27 June 2008.


Ivan Coleby, Centre for SA Studies, Cambridge
Fiona Grant, British Library
Dr Kevin Halliwell, National Library of Scotland
Jessica Haynes, British Library
Mr Craig Jamieson, University of Cambridge Library
Ms Kathy Lazenbatt, Royal Asiatic Society
Mr Nicholas Martland, SOAS
Mr Burzine Waghmar, SOAS
Dr Antonia Moon, British Library
Ms Catherine Pickett, British Library
Dr Sarah Preston, Royal Commonwealth Society
Farzana Qureshi, SOAS
Ms Rachel Rowe, Centre for SA Studies, Cambridge
Ms Ursula Sims-Williams,British Library
Mrs Jan Usher, National Library of Scotland


Emma Mathieson; David Blake; Penny Brook; Paul Carter; Margaret Makepeace; Rosemary Seton; San San May; Andrew Cook; Leena Mitford; Marina Chellini.



Delegates were welcomed to the Cambridge University Library by our Chair, Rachel Rowe.

The conference commenced with a fascinating presentation by Anna-Maria Motrescu of the Centre for South Asian Studies' film collection. This contains about 300 amateur films and 4 professional films, and Anna-Maria proceeded to demonstrate how colonial identity was not necessarily comprised of colonial stereotypes, and showed the "colonial gaze" on subjects such as Indian involvement in freemasonry, a subject on which very little documentation exists. These clips also revealed incidents which didn't appear in news footage at the time, such as Partition refugees with faces covered with cloths (to mask the smell of corpses only faintly discernible in the background). So, these were not simply "home movies", but reveal a political dynamic, too.

Annamaria also discussed the Centre's Oral History project, and the work being undertaken by Dr Kevin Greenbank and Mr Ivan. It includes South Asian newspapers, government microfilms, maps and audio collections. Kevin is currently working on web streaming the clips for the web.

John Cardwell (Royal Commonwealth Society) then introduced us to Queen Mary's Indian collection. She read widely, including histories, literature, biographies, languages, culture and politics of India, and was particularly interested in Indian religions. She had a good grasp of Indian affairs - "quite remarkable in a woman" - and so was well prepared for the state visit of 1905-06. She fell in love with the country during this visit, and began collecting anything related to it; she was famous for never throwing anything away. During the durbar in 1911 (when she and George V were declared Emperor and Empress), she continued to collect paintings and objects, records of their tours, photographs and mementoes. While her husband was away on a 10-day trip shooting anything that crept or flew, she went on a cultural tour, collecting photographs including street scenes as well as notable buildings. In 1937 the India Office was presented with this collection, which was transferred by H.R.H. to the Royal Empire Society in 1950, and arrived in Cambridge as part of the Royal Commonwealth Society Library in 1993, after a public appeal to save the Library for the nation. There was then an opportunity to view items from this wonderful and varied collection (some of which features on the RCS website). We were also shown a selection from the extensive collection of South Asian maps.

Andrea Pass's talk, on her thesis "Those infamous memsahibs", showed us that the stereotype of the colonial wives was not always a fair portrait. They were not aloof, or disdainful of India. The social mores of the time did not require them to play an active part in that society, and so not much documentation is available from the women themselves. However, in the early 20th century, questionnaires were sent to wives of planters, etc. by Mary Thatcher (working for the British Association of South Asian Cemeteries). These, along with various memoirs, are now kept in the Centre for SA Studies in Cambridge where Miss Thatcher had become the Centre's first Archivist. These resources are very revealing of the memsahibs' lives and particularly their longing for "home", and indeed, their dilemma about where home actually was - the UK or India? The sense of exile was worsened during wartime, when stories of British deprivations made their relatively easy lifestyles seem wrong. Their interaction with Indians tended to be with servants, and was inevitably restricted by language barriers.

Business meeting

Jan apologised for the lack of previous minutes; they would be circulated as soon as possible.

Matters arising:

Rachel had circulated her draft letter to SOAS regarding opening hours. Nicholas reported that there had been some minor improvement since our last meeting, but the letter should still be sent. Craig Jamieson suggested adding a point about lack of access to external scholars - this was agreed.

4) Jan again apologised for the lack of Secretary's report.

5) Treasurers' report - Antonia circulated this.
6) Newsletter - Leena requires copy for the next issue. Any thing on SA collections or news would be welcomed; she has had some promises from various members of SAALG. Jan agreed to circulate an email regarding this.
There was some discussion about using a blog - Jan agreed to do a pilot and circulate for comment.
It was reported that Francoise Simmons (Librarian, Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, Cambridge) may be interested in joining SAALG.

7) Website - Xiao Wei Bond is happy to continue updating the site - pleases send all such requests through Jan at

8) NACIRA - the survey of non-Roman scripts sent by Gill Goddard (required for a HEFCE funding bid) had been emailed to SAALG members. Everyone was encouraged to send even rough estimates of any either not catalogued or on card catalogues, or if none at all.

9) Intute - Rachel reported on Kevin Greenbank's experience as a cataloguer for Intute, as he had produced a report for SAALG. He worked mainly on Arts & Humanities, and found many SA sites he was unaware of. This exercise has greatly increased the numbers of sites since he began work in January 2008.

10) News and projects - Nicholas Martland reported that there may be some organisational change at SOAS (HEFCE funding is dependent on this). This will be clearer by December.

Antonia Moon reported that the BL were developing a system for integrating various non-books catalogues with the main catalogue, and this was undergoing in-house testing before a full launch in about 3 years' time. She also mentioned the Ramayana exhibition and its associated events (until October).

Kevin Halliwell reported that he had made a list of NLS indigenous language material and Jan Usher had distributed this by email to SAALG members to try and find out what was worth digitising. SAALG members said it would be helpful if photographs of title and end pages could be sent, too. Kevin and Jan agree to organise this and forward in an email. It was agreed it was very helpful to have the expertise of the group and other South Asiainist contacts on these matters. For example, Rachel reported on their collection of miniature paintings on talc - these were very fragile and they had sought advice from the V&A on preservation.
Kevin also reported on the possibility of the NLS taking part in the Kolkata Book Fair in January 2009 - the theme country is Scotland.
Jan reported that the Medical History of British India project had been awarded its 3rd Wellcome Trust grant, which would also be enhanced by an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award student working on the 3rd phase of the collection (colonial veterinary reports).

Rachel Rowe reported on the Centre for SA Studies, Cambridge, Oral History Project. Around 200 transcripts and recordings are on-line. There will be a revamp of the website. Ivan Coleby has worked extensively on this, and will do so until March 2009 when funding runs out. John Caldwell has been appointed to a 7-year project on the RCS archive by creatively combining budgets!

11) Next SAALG conference - there was no shortage of suggestions for venues and themes, and the European angle was especially favoured. Nicholas Martland reported on his SEA studies group contacts and how they encourage European speakers to attend by running their meetings in parallel with relevant conferences. He would supply SAALG with European contacts after his SEA conference in July.

Ursula Sims-Williams suggested sending out a general call to European colleagues - if the SAALG conference is in central London then they are more likely to attend. Ursula also reported on an email she had received from a Maltese-based librarian, asking for any librarians holidaying there to give a talk on their home library in return for hospitality and a meal!

The Steering Group's meeting in March had discussed highlighting lesser known SA collections. For example, the John Rylands Library in Manchester; Royal Horticultural Society; Powys Castle; National Maritime Museum; Chester Beatty Library. U.S. connections were also discussed - the Office of the State Dept Historian had released files which contained some of relevant to SA. The National Library of Germany may have documentation about the Indian regiments there ("Free India Legion", suggested to Hitler by Chandra Bose) during WWII.

It was finally agreed that the next conference should be held at the Wellcome Trust, with the theme as science/medicine. Dates to be chosen from 6th, 13th or 20th February 2009 OR November 2008 (preferred).