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Southeast Asia: Resources for Southeast Asian studies in the British Library

We have exceptionally rich resources for the study of Southeast Asia, past and present, covering the present-day countries of Burma (Myanmar), Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Brunei and East Timor (Timor-Leste)

Relevant material can be found throughout the collections, in the form of printed books and periodicals, newspapers, manuscripts, archival resources, photographs, prints and drawings, sound recordings and moving images, electronic resources, theses and maps. In addition to material in English and European languages, the Library holds, and continues to collect, a substantial amount of material in the languages of Southeast Asia and about the languages and cultures that have shaped the region for thousands of years.

Researching Southeast Asia at the British Library

British Library collections

Online and published resources


Printed books and periodicals

Almost all books and serials in English and European languages relating to Southeast 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 Explore the British Library. For most languages, books acquired since 1980 are included in  Explore the British Library, whilst older books are listed in published catalogues or on card catalogues available in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room. Details can be found on the pages relevant to the major language groups below.

There are also holdings in a range of other Southeast Asian languages, including Shan, Balinese, Sundanese, Batak, Bugis and Makassar. Printed or card catalogues for older materials are available in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room, and most recently acquired material is included in Explore the British Library.


European language newspapers published in Southeast Asia are included in Explore the British Library. They can be searched directly, or by selecting the ‘Newspapers’ subset to narrow the search. See the British Library 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 site. Many newspapers acquired since 1980 are included in Explore the British Library.  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 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, but a link will be available here as soon as it becomes available again.


The Library’s manuscript collections in both European and Asian languages offer an exceptionally rich resource for study of the region. Manuscripts in European languages include the writings of politicians, diplomats, academics, travellers, missionaries, artists and journalists. Most of the Library’s manuscripts in European languages are included in the Manuscripts catalogue. There are also some materials relevant to Southeast Asia in the India Office Private Papers, particularly relating to Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles.

Manuscripts in Asian languages are not yet included in Explore the British Library. They are listed in published catalogues and unpublished handlists, by language. For details of the manuscript collections and catalogues, see the relevant language pages:

The Library holds manuscripts in some other Southeast Asian languages, including Shan. Catalogues for these are available in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room.

Archival resources

There are resources on Southeast Asia, particularly on Burma, Java, Sumatra, the Philippines, and the Straits Settlements of Penang, Melaka and Singapore up to 1867, 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. Apart from the Library’s own catalogues, published listings of resources most relevant to the study of Southeast Asia may be found in:

Farrington, Anthony and Dhiravat na Pombejra: The English factory in Siam, 1612-1685 (London: British Library, 2007)

Baxter, Ian. Dutch records from Malacca in the India Office Records. Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1983, 56(2):105-133

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’s collection of prints, drawings and photographs is particularly strong in archaeological drawings from Java in the Mackenzie and Horsfield collections and natural history drawings from Malaysia and Indonesia.

There is an online catalogue to visual materials.

Published guides and catalogues relating to visual materials on Southeast Asia include:

Bastin, John and Pauline Rohatgi, Prints of South East Asia in the India Office Library, (London, 1979).

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

Gallop, Annabel Teh, Early views of Indonesia: drawings in 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 Southeast Asia. There are other relevant resources in the oral history, drama and literature collections and in the collection of wildlife recordings. Of particular interest is the Vietnamese oral history archive, comprising interviews with Vietnamese refugees in the United Kingdom.

These resources may all be accessed through the Sound Archive catalogue.

Electronic resources

A number of key electronic resources for the study of Southeast 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 Index Islamicus, Excerpta Indonesica, and the Encyclopedia of Islam. The Library also subscribes to a growing number of electronic journals relevant to Southeast Asian studies. 

The Library also has digital copies of materials held in Southeast Asia, and digitised through the Endangered Archives Programme.

Other resources

In addition to these resources the Library offers access to 

Collection development

The appendices to the British Library’s Content Strategy describe current collection development for Southeast Asian Studies.

Items of Southeast Asian interest on the British Library website

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

Images On-Line

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. 

British Library publications available in the Library’s on-line shop

Major items of Southeast Asian interest in the online shop include:

H.J. Noltie. Raffles’ Ark Redrawn: natural history drawings from the collection of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles 

Anthony Farrington and Dhiravat na Pombejra. The English factory in Siam

Internet links

The Asian studies internet links page includes a number of major internet resources for the study of Southeast Asia, including portals, bibliographies, guides, archives and visual material.


Asian and African Studies enquiries
The British Library
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Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7873
Fax: +44 (0)20 7412 7641

E-mail: Ask the Reference Team