We have rich resources for the study of Central or Inner Asia, past and present. Central Asia is used here to include Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, western China, Mongolia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and parts of northern India and eastern Iran.
Researching Central Asia at the British Library
Relevant material can be found throughout the collections, in the form of printed books and serials, newspapers, manuscripts, archival resources, photographs and drawings, sound recordings and moving images, electronic resources, theses, and maps.
In addition to material in English and European languages, the Library holds material in the languages of Central Asia and about the languages and cultures that have shaped Eurasia for thousands of years.
British Library collections
- Printed books and periodicals
- Archival resources
- Visual materials
- Recorded sound and audio-visual resources
- Electronic resources
- Other resources
- Collection development
Online and published resources
- Items of Central Asian interest on the British Library website
- Images Online
- British Library publications
- Internet links
Printed books and periodicals
Almost all books and serials in English and European languages relating to Central Asia can be found through Explore the British Library. Many, but not all, books in the languages of the region can also be accessed through the Explore the British Library. For most languages, books acquired since 1980 are included in the Explore the British Library, while older books are listed in published catalogues or on card catalogues available in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room at the British Library, London. Modern books and serials relating to Central Asia are in several different languages, both the local languages as well as Chinese and Russian. Details can be found on the pages relevant to the language groups below:
Turkish and Turkic languages
Overall the British Library has good collections of humanities and social sciences publications in Turkic languages of Central Asia. Further details can be found on the Turkish and Turkic language collections pages.
We hold printed books and periodicals from all parts of the Persian-speaking world and the Iranian diaspora, which range in date from early Iranian and Indian imprints to a selection of the latest publications. The collection includes numerous rarities from Iran, Afghanistan and India. Since the 1960s especially, a wider selection of subjects has been covered. See the Persian collections page for further details.
Records for recently acquired Chinese books are included in a separate online catalogue, while older books are listed in published catalogues or on card catalogues available in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room at the British Library, London. Further details can be found on the Chinese collections pages.
Russian books are part of the Slavonic and East European Collections of the British Library. Russian material is included in the Explore the British Library. For information on searching and transliteration, please see Searching for Cyrillic items in the catalogues of the British Library: guidelines and transliteration tables.
For details of the Library’s holdings in other relevant languages see:
English and European-language newspapers published in Central Asia are included in the Explore the British Library. They can be searched directly, or by selecting the ‘Newspapers’ subset to narrow the search. See the Newspapers pages for details of how to access the Newspaper collections.
Newspapers in the languages of the region can be accessed at the Library’s St Pancras building. Many newspapers acquired since 1980 are included in the Integrated Catalogue. Older newspapers are included in printed catalogues for each language, under the heading ‘Periodical Publications’. There is a list of Asian-language newspapers available from the Reference Enquiries Desk in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room. Asian-language newspapers published in Asia held by the British Library, as well as those held by other UK research libraries, are also listed in the Newspapers database of Mapping Asia. The Mapping Asia website is currently being moved to a new server, and contains only partial information, but a link will be given here as soon as it becomes available again.
The British Library’s manuscript collection offers an exceptionally rich resource for study of the region, comprising medieval manuscripts excavated from archaeological sites, and modern manuscripts, including rich archival collections.
Over 50,000 manuscripts in over 15 languages and scripts are found in the collections of Central Asian manuscripts, comprising the Stein collection and other smaller collections, such as Hoernle and Macartney. Further details can be found on the pages describing the International Dunhuang Project. These include manuscripts from Dunhuang. All the Central Asian manuscripts are being digitised and made freely available via the International Dunhuang Project. The International Dunhuang Project site also gives access to manuscripts and other archaelogical artefacts from over 20 other institutions worldwide.
Details of some manuscripts from Central Asia may be found on the relevant language pages:
- Persian language collections
- Sanskrit language collections
- Tibetan language collections
- Urdu language collections
Manuscripts in European languages include the writings of politicians, diplomats, academics, travelers, missionaries, artists and journalists. Most of the Library’s manuscripts in European languages are included in the Manuscripts catalogue. There are also many materials relevant to Central Asia in the India Office Private Papers.
Maps relating to Central Asia are in both the Maps Collection and the India Office Records. The latter include 1750-1950 official large-scale survey and topographical mapping of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Further details can be found on the India Office Records maps pages.
The British Library holds rich archival resources resulting from British contacts and relations with Central Asia through the agency of the East India Company and the India Office. The downloadable guide gives details of official and private materials available in the India Office Records, which are housed at the British Library, London.
The Library has a rich collection of visual materials from Central Asia, especially for Afghanistan and western China. Further details can be found on the pages about photographs of Asia, Pacific and Africa and there is an online catalogue. Photographs are also to be found in the collections of India Office Private Papers as well as in various 19th century illustrated books. These are also included in the catalogue. The Stein collection of photographs, along with other Central Asian collections and modern photographs, is accessible on the International Dunhuang Project website with images and catalogues.
The British Library Sound Archive holds one of the world’s largest collections of world and traditional music. There are other relevant resources in the oral history collections, drama and literature. These resources may be accessed through the Sound Archive catalogue.
The International Dunhuang Project also has a small but growing collection of video material on the archaeological sites of Central Asia, accessible via the International Dunhuang Project website.
A number of key electronic resources for the study of South Asia are also available at the British Library. For licensing reasons, most of these may be accessed only from the Library’s Reading Rooms. Many important reference resources are held, including Asian Studies Virtual Library, Digital South Asia Library, Electronic Buddhist text Initiative, Journal of Asian Studies and Digital Himalaya. The Library also subscribes to a growing number of electronic journals relevant to South Asian studies.
The International Dunhuang Project offers free online access to material from Central Asia held in collections worldwide. The British Library also has copies of materials held in Central Asia digitised through the Endangered Archives Programme.
In addition to these resources the Library offers access to
- academic theses
- conference proceedings
- science and technology information
- business information
The appendices to the British Library’s Content Strategy describe current collection development for Central Asian Studies.
The International Duhuang Project is an exceptionally rich resource for central Asian material, including online exhibitions, features, educational resources, catalogues, images and videos. See especially the educational pages.
The Online Gallery includes virtual books viewed through the Turning the Pages program, online exhibitions and features. Major items of Central Asian interest include:
- Gandharan scrolls, the earliest Buddhist manuscripts:
- The Diamond Sutra, the world’s earliest, dated printed book
- Ashem Vohu, a Zoroastrian prayer
Online exhibitions include The Silk Road: Trade, Travel, War and Faith.
Images Online gives instant access to thousands of images from the British Library's collections, which include manuscripts, rare books, musical texts and maps. The range of images available includes illustrations, drawings, paintings and photographs.
Major items of Central Asian interest in the online shop include:
S. Whitfield and U. Sims-Williams, The Silk Road: Trade, Travel, War and Faith (2004)
F. Wood, The Silk Road (2003)
The Asian studies internet links page includes a number of major internet resources for the study of Central Asia, including portals, bibliographies, guides, archives and visual material.
Asian and African Studies enquiries
The British Library
96 Euston Road
Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7873
Fax: +44 (0)20 7412 7641
E-mail: Ask the Reference Team