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Minutes of the 75th Conference

Minutes of the South Asia Archive and Library Group. Held at the Aga Khan University Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations 26 January 2007.


Mrs Penny Brook British Library
Ms Marina Chellini SOAS
Mr John Chignoli British Library
Dr Kevin Halliwell National Library of Scotland
Ms Jana Igunma British Library
Mr Craig Jamieson University of Cambridge Library
Ms Kathy Lazenbatt Royal Asiatic Society
Dr Nicholas Martland SOAS
Ms Emma Mathieson Indian Institute Library
Ms San San May British Library
Ms Leena Mitford British Library
Dr Antonia Moon British library
Ms Catherine Pickett British library
Dr Farid Panjwani Institute for the Study of Islamic Civilisations
Dr Avril Powell SOAS
Dr Geoffrey Roper Institute for the Study of Islamic Civilisations
Ms Rachel Rowe Centre for South Asian Studies, Cambridge
Mr Stefan Seeger Institute for the Study of Islamic Civilisations
Mrs Rosemary Seton SOAS
Ms Ursula Sims-Williams British Library
Ms Jan Usher National Library of Scotland

Delegates were welcomed to the Institute by the librarian, Mr Stefan Seeger, and given a short tour of the new library. There are currently around 7,000 books, around 50% of which are in Arabic. The collection is gradually expanding. The library serves the students, and other researchers, but it is not open to the general public.

Mr Farid Panjwani from the Institute began the proceedings with an introduction to the aims of the Institute, and confirmed that they are seeking to promote it and establish new contacts. The University was founded in 1983 (there are campuses in the UK, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania), and the Institute in 2002 as part of the Aga Khan Development network. In 1992 a chancellors' commission report recommended the establishment of an institute for Islamic civilisations, as a result of a survey on how Islam was taught across the world.

The Institute now offers an MA, short courses, seminars and workshops, lectures, research projects and cultural events. There are a small number of faculty members, and use is made of visiting faculty members.

The MA in Muslim Cultures is a 2-year full-time course, with the first student intake arriving in October 2006. The course uses humanities and social sciences teaching methods and tools with an emphasis on contemporary debate, e.g. the vicissitudes of empire; the role of sacred stories in religious life. The aim is to understand the emergence of Islam in its socio-cultural context to give a full picture of Islam and its history. Arabic is compulsory, as is field-work in another country other than the UK. It was found that the first batch of 15 students (from 8 countries) brought a very theological approach to Islam culture and as a result the course has proved to be an intellectual, as well as an emotional challenge for them. Social sciences and the humanities are generally not taught in Muslim countries. There are now plans to introduce preparatory courses to give students a grounding in social sciences and humanities.

Mr Stefan Seeger demonstrated the Library's attempts to catalogue in original languages/scripts; he showed an example of a record in Bengali. He urged greater collaboration between libraries on such cataloguing issues.

Dr Geoffrey Roper then spoke on the Muslim Civilisation Abstracts (MCA) project. He explained that fundamentally, access to scholarly resources is essential for the promotion and understanding of different cultures. Unfortunately this is especially lacking in the most serious divide in the world today - that between "Western" and Muslim societies. In many Muslim countries the important writings in European languages are hardly known or accessible, and vice versa. Thus scholarship on Muslim societies in various regions of the world has proceeded without taking account of what has been done elsewhere, and the contributions on each side of the divide are insufficiently understood or valued on the other.

The MCA was conceived as a response to this situation by providing systematic bibliographic indexes and abstracts of works concerning Muslim civilisations, published inmost of the languages and countries of the world. These will be selected works involving original research and analysis, advances in relevant methodology and/or creative contributions to the solution of intellectual and social problems affecting Muslims. They will also represent a fair balance between Muslims and non-Muslims, and between languages, countries and peoples. The abstracts will be provided in seven languages: Arabic, Bengali, English, Malay/Indonesian, Persian, Turkish and Urdu.

The principal medium for this will be the internet. The MCA will be made available as a free, open access online database. Versions in print or on CD-ROM may be published, for those unable to access the internet. The project will proceed incrementally, and a pilot project has already been carried out; the project should go "live" in the Spring, and may also join CURL or OCLC. Further details of the project may be found at

Before lunch, delegates were warmly welcomed by the Director of the Institute, Dr. Abdou Filali-Ansary.

Mrs Rosemary Seton then presented an illustrated talk on women missionaries, based on the photographic collection of SOAS. This is part of a digitisation scheme, the Internet Mission Photography Archive (IMPA) based at the University of Southern California. It was partly funded by the Getty Foundation, and has 6 partners (including SOAS).

Rosemary explained that most of the female missionaries tended to be married to male missionaries - there were very few singletons. This trend began to change around the 1900s, however. They established schools for girls, and gave instruction in the "womanly arts", e.g. sewing. They also visited zenanas to talk to the females of the household, which of course male missionaries had been unable to do. Some of the missionaries developed nursing education, and even training colleges; in fact, most female nurses around the 20s and 30s were Christian Indians.

For more information on the project see Internet Mission Photography Archive.