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Indonesian studies

The British Library holds approximately 450 manuscripts in Indonesian languages, namely in Javanese (250), Malay (120), Batak (20), Bugis (30), Makasarese (2), Balinese (15) and Old Javanese (10). 

We also have a large collection of printed books in modern Indonesian, as well as extensive holdings on Indonesia in western languages. These include the Indonesia Merdeka special collection on the period of the Indonesian revolution (1945-1950). There are also strong collections of visual and archival material.

Researching Indonesia at the British Library

Indonesian manuscripts

The Indonesian manuscripts in the British Library cover a wide range of topics including history, literature, law, divination and theology.

There have been Indonesian manuscripts in the British Library (from the collections of Sir Hans Sloane) since the foundation of the British Museum in 1753. Many more manuscripts in Malay, Javanese and Bugis were acquired in the early 19th century from British scholar-administrators such as John Crawfurd and Colin Mackenzie, who served with Thomas Stamford Raffles in the East India Company in Southeast Asia.

The strengths of the Indonesian manuscript collections include illuminated and illustrated Javanese manuscripts from the early 19th century, royal letters in Malay from the courts of the archipelago, some of the earliest known Batak divination manuals (pustaha) from Sumatra, illustrated Balinese palmleaf manuscripts, and royal Bugis diaries from the court of Bone in Sulawesi.  

Arabic manuscripts from Indonesia are described in the Arabic manuscript catalogues, and include several Qur’an manuscripts from Aceh and Java, as well as other theological works.

Published catalogues and guides:

Ricklefs, M.C. and P. Voorhoeve, Indonesian manuscripts in Great Britain: a catalogue of manuscripts in Indonesian languages in British public collections. Oxford, 1977.

Ricklefs, M.C. and P. Voorhoeve, ‘Indonesian manuscripts in Great Britain: addenda et corrigenda’.  Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, Vol.XLV, 1982, Part 2, pp.300-322.

Gallop, Annabel Teh with Bernard Arps. Golden Letters: writing traditions of Indonesia.  London, 1991.

Manuscripts concerning Indonesia in European languages include the writings of politicians, diplomats, academics, travellers, missionaries, artists and journalists. Most of our manuscripts in European languages are included in the Manuscripts catalogue.   

There are also manuscript materials relevant to Indonesia in the India Office Library Private Papers. Those relating to Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles and Colin Mackenzie are of particular interest for Indonesia.

Printed books and periodicals

The British Library holds about 10,000 printed books and 100 serial titles in modern Indonesian, from the 20th century onwards, and we continue to collect research-level publications selectively across the arts and humanities. 

The Abbé Favre collection, acquired by the British Museum in 1888, consists of about 100 early imprints in Malay from Christian mission presses throughout the archipelago, including some of the first examples of printing from Bengkulu, Ambon, Banjarmasin and Kupang in Timor. We also hold about 300 19th century educational tracts published in Batavia (Jakarta) by the Dutch colonial government in Malay, Javanese, Sundanese and other minor Indonesian languages.

All monographs and periodicals in Indonesian and regional Indonesian languages catalogued since 1982, and some earlier collections, can be accessed through  Explore the British Library. Titles in Indonesian, Malay, Javanese, Sundanese and Balinese acquired before 1982 are found on printed or card catalogues available in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room at St Pancras.

Almost all books and serials in English, Dutch and other European languages published in or relating to Indonesia can also be found through the British Library Explore the British Library.

The Indonesia Merdeka collection is of particular interest. This consists of primary source materials in western languages relating to the struggle for independence (1945-1950).There is also a published catalogue of this collection:

The Indonesian question: the Dutch/Western response to the struggle for independence in Indonesia 1945-1950. An annotated catalogue of primary materials held in the British Library. Compiled by Jaap Harskamp. Introduction by Peter Carey. Boston Spa: British Library, 2001

The Library also holds a large collection of earlier literature in Dutch on Indonesia; all the titles can be found in the Explore the British Library, but can also be browsed, with a date of publication index, in the following list:

A colonial obsession: Dutch narrative literature on the East Indies 1800-1945: a catalogue of holdings in the British Library. Compiled by Jaap Harskamp, 2009.

Archival resources

There are substantial western-language archival resources on Indonesia in the India Office Records, which are the documentary archives of the administration in London of the English East India Company and the pre-1947 government of India.

The India Office records include files relating to the British administration of Java (1811-1816) and the East India Company factories at Banten (1602-1684) and Bengkulu (1685-1824). Apart from the Library’s own catalogues, published listings of resources most relevant to the study of Indonesia may be found in:

Lawrence, David. India Office Records, the Board’s collections: sources for the Malay world, 1836-58.  Indonesia and the Malay World, 1997, No.72: 144-175.

Visual materials

The Library has a large collection of visual materials relating to Indonesia in the Prints, Drawings and Photographs Section of the Asia, Pacific and Africa Collections. These are mostly from Java and Sumatra. 

Strengths of the collection include archaeological drawings of Java from the Mackenzie and Horsfield collections; natural history drawings from Java and Sumatra collected by Marsden, Raffles and Horsfield; and a small number of early photographs of Java and Sumatra. 

There is an online catalogue of the visual materials collection. Published catalogues of material relating to Indonesia include the following:

Archer, Mildred and John Bastin, The Raffles drawings in the India Office Library. Oxford, 1979.

Bastin, John and Pauline Rohatgi,  Prints of Southeast Asia in the India Office Library: the East India Company in Malaysia and Indonesia, 1786-1824.  London, 1979.

Gallop, Annabel Teh,  Early views of Indonesia: drawings from the British Library. London, 1995.

Noltie, H.J., Raffles’ ark redrawn: natural history drawings from the collection of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles. London, 2009.

Recorded sound and audio-visual resources

The British Library Sound Archive holds one of the world’s largest collections of world and traditional music, with many recordings from Indonesia.

There are other relevant resources from Indonesia in the oral history, drama and literature collections, and field recordings of wildlife, including birdsong from Sulawesi and Halmahera.

These resources may be accessed through the Sound Archive catalogue.

Electronic resources

A number of key electronic resources for the study of Indonesia 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 Index Islamicus, Excerpta Indonesica, and the Encyclopedia of Islam. 

The Library also subscribes to a growing number of electronic journals relevant to Indonesian studies. 

Through the Endangered Archives Programme, the Library is receiving digital copies of manuscript collections in Indonesia, including manuscripts from Islamic colleges (pesantren) in East Java, heirloom documents held in Kerinci, literary and theological works from Riau, mosque libraries in West Sumatra, and chancery documents from Buton, Sulawesi.

Other resources

In addition to these resources the Library offers access to 

Items of Indonesian interest on the British Library website

The Online Gallery includes virtual books viewed through the Turning the Pages program, online exhibitions and features. Major items of Indonesian interest include:

Images Online 

Images Online gives instant access to thousands of images from the British Library's collections, including manuscripts, rare books, musical texts and maps.


Copies of all collection items can be ordered from the Library’s Imaging Services.


Annabel Gallop
Asian and African Studies
The British Library
96 Euston Road
United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7661
Fax: +44 (0)20 7412 7641



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