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

The British Library offers exceptionally rich resources for the study of South Asia, past and present. South Asia is taken to include India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tibet, Bhutan, Sikkim, Nepal and Sri Lanka. 

Relevant material can be found throughout the collections, in the form of printed books and periodicals, 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, and continues to collect, a substantial amount of material in the languages of South Asia and about the languages and cultures that have shaped the region for thousands of years.

Researching South 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 South 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 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 language groups below:

Printed or card catalogues for older materials are available in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room at St Pancras.

Publications proscribed by the government of India: a catalogue of the collections in the India Office Library and Records and the Department of Oriental manuscripts and Printed Books (London, 1985) lists publications banned by the pre-1947 government of India.

The Library’s holdings of official publications include much pre-independence material from South Asia, and we also hold information on Indian intellectual property material and patents.

Newspapers  

European-language newspapers published in South 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 at Colindale, north London.

Some of the Library’s most important English language early Indian newspapers held by British Library Newspapers at Colindale are listed here. Some Asian newspapers in English and European languages are consulted at our St Pancras site.

Newspapers in the languages of the region can also 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’. A list of Asian language newspapers is available from the Reference Enquiries Desk in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room. The Bibliography of South Asian periodicals: a union list of periodicals in South Asian languages (London, 1982) lists 399 titles, of which 52 are current. 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. 

Manuscripts 

The British 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 many materials relevant to South Asia in the India Office Private Papers. These include the papers of colonial administrators, and in a number of cases the manuscripts they collected in South Asian languages. An outstanding example is the collection in the languages of Nepal formed by Brian Houghton Hodgson.

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:

An unpublished register of all oriental manuscripts in the British Library is available in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room.

Archival resources 

There are abundant resources on South Asia in the India Office Records, which holds the documentary archives of the administration in London of the East India Company and the pre-1947 government of India, leading up to independence.

Some of the archival sources on Afghanistan can be found here.

Visual materials 

The Library has an exceptionally rich collection of visual materials from South Asia, with prints and drawings including drawings in the (East India) Company style made by Indian artists for British patrons such as the ‘Delhi book’ of Thomas Metcalfe and natural history drawings, as well as Indian popular paintings and Indian miniatures, while the photograph collections are especially rich in archaeological subjects. There is also a small collection of paintings, sculpture and furniture commissioned by the East India Company. 

An online catalogue of prints, drawings and photographs is available.

Recorded sound and audio-visual resources

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, drama and literature collections, and in the collection of wildlife recordings. These resources may be accessed through the Sound Archive catalogue.

Electronic resources

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 Library also has digital copies of materials held in South 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 South Asian Studies.

Items of South 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 South Asian interest include:

Online exhibitions include:

Images Online 

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.  There are a substantial number of images from Hindu, Jain, Sikh and Buddhist manuscripts.

British Library publications available in the Library’s online shop

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

Catalogue of Jain Manuscripts (2006)

J.P. Losty, Ramayana: love and valour in India’s great epic (2008)

C. Pinney, The coming of photography in India (2008)

Internet links 

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

Contact

Asian and African Studies enquiries
The British Library
96 Euston Road
London
NW1 2DB
United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7873
Fax: +44 (0)20 7412 7641

E-mail: Ask the Reference Team