We have manuscripts dating back to the 17th century, early printed books, newspapers and periodicals, and modern research-level publications in the humanities and social sciences.
About the collection
The British Library holds around 1,800 manuscripts from Myanmar. Most are written on palm leaf, but there are also many paper folding books (parabaik), and texts written on diverse materials such as gold, silver, copper and ivory sheets in the shape of palm leaves. As well as Burmese works, there are many Pali canonical texts and also works written in Arakanese, Shan and Mon. The collection is particularly strong in historical, legal and grammatical texts, and in illustrated material. It includes:
- the John Murray collection (Add.12237-12260), acquired in 1842, in which there are several manuscripts from Arakan dating from the 1740s
- the Sir Arthur Phayre collection (Or.3403-3480) acquired in 1886, collected and used by Phayre for his History of Burma (London 1883)
- the Royal Mandalay collection acquired in 1886
- the Henry Burney Collection
- Maunggan gold plates, one of the oldest Buddhist texts from Southeast Asia, Pali in Pyu script, gold leaf, 5th century
- Or 14004 Illustrated Buddhist cosmology manuscript, Burmese, parabaik, 19th century
- Or 14297 & Or 14298 Scenes from the life of the Buddha, Burmese, parabaik, mid-19th century
- Or 4762 Scenes from the life of the Buddha, Burmese, parabaik, 19th century
- Or 14405 Scenes from the life of the Buddha, Burmese, parabaik, c. 1875
- IO Man/Pali 20 & IO Man/Pali 21 Collection of rules for Buddhist monks and nuns, Pali with Burmese script, palm leaf, 19th century
- Or 12010 J The first sermon, Pali with Burmese script, silvered palm leaf, 19th century
The printed book collection includes rare examples of early Burmese printing, many acquired under the Press and Registration Books Act from 1867 through to the 1930s. The British Library also holds printed books in Pali and in other languages of Myanmar including Shan, Karen, Mon, Kachin and Chin. There is an important collection of books, serials and ephemera from the 1980s relating to the Pro-Democracy Movement.
What is available online?
The British Library's online catalogue Explore Archives and Manuscripts includes a large part of the Myanmar (Burma) manuscript collection. Published catalogues and handlists include the full collection. Consult the Myanmar (Burma) Help Guide to find material.
60 manuscripts in Burmese, Arakanese, Shan, Mon and Pyu have been digitised so far. For a full list see.
Further digitised material can also be found in the Endangered Archives Programme, which includes the Fragile Palm Leaves project, the Pa'O manuscripts project, as well as the Ahom manuscripts project and the Mizoram records project. All of these manuscripts are fully digitised and searchable via Explore Archives and Manuscripts.
The Asian and African Studies blog contains short research articles on selected items from Myanmar.
The British Library's online catalogue Explore the British Library includes all books and periodicals in the collection. Some early printed books have been digitised and are accessible via the catalogue through 'Available online (beta)' search. Consult the Myanmar (Burma) Help Guide for further information on how to find material.
Early printed books from the British Library are also available on the Southeast Asia Digital Library.
Hundreds of digitised photographs relating to Myanmar are available on Explore the British Library catalogue through 'Our website' search.
The Endangered Archives Programme includes the Myanmar photographic negatives project with thousands of digitised photographs available ranging from 1940s-1980s. These photographs can be searched via Explore Archives and Manuscripts.
What is available in our Reading Rooms?
All manuscripts and printed books can be consulted in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room with a Reader's Pass. Some printed books which are stored at Boston Spa in Yorkshire may take up to 48 hours to be made available.
Self-service photography is allowed for most material.
What is available in other organisations?
- Myanmar Manuscript Digital Library holds a large collection of manuscripts from Myanmar
- Digital Library of Northern Thai Manuscripts holds a collection of manuscripts in Burmese and Shan
- The Asia and Pacific Museum has digitised a collection of manuscripts in Pali, Burmese, Shan and Pa'O
- Aichi University has digitised a large collection of parabaiks relating to the socio-economic history of Myanmar
- Buddhist Digital Resource Centre is in the process of digitising a large collection of manuscripts from Myanmar (search by title)
- Southeast Asia Digital Library includes manuscripts, printed books and video recordings from Myanmar
- The Royal Asiatic Society's Online Collections include digitised manuscripts in Pali and Burmese
- Wellcome Collection includes digitised manuscripts in Pali and Burmese
- National Library of Myanmar (Yangon) upholds a digitised collection, including newspapers and Buddhist literature
- SOAS Digital Collections include digitised manuscripts, printed books, newspapers and photographs relating to Myanmar
- The New York Public Library Digital Collections include photographs, images and manuscripts from Myanmar
- Digital Bodleian includes some digitised manuscripts in Burmese
- Cambridge Digital Library has digitised maps and photographs from Myanmar
- Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology has digitised paintings, maps, photographs and other items from Myanmar
- Manchester University Library's Digital Collections include some manuscripts from Myanmar
- The British Museum's Online Collection includes images of Burmese manuscripts
- Chester Beatty Library has digitised some Burmese items
- Gallica includes some digitised manuscripts in Burmese and Pali
- Bayerische Staatsbibliothek has digitised some Burmese manuscripts
- The Digital Walters holds digitised items from Myanmar, including some manuscripts
- The Inya Institute Digital Archive includes digitised items and manuscripts
UK and Ireland
- SOAS Library and Archives, London
- Wellcome Institute, London
- Royal Asiatic Society, London
- Cambridge University Library
- Bodleian Libraries, Oxford
- John Rylands Research Institute and Library, Manchester
- Liverpool University Library
- Edinburgh University Library
- Trinity College Dublin
- Chester Beatty Library, Dublin
- Library of Congress, Washington DC, United States
- Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris, France
- Musée Guimet, Paris, France
- Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, Berlin, Germany
- Bayerische StaatsBibliothek, Munich, Germany
- Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Göttingen, Göttingen, Germany
- Universitaire Bibliotheken Leiden, Leiden, the Netherlands
- Det Kongelige Bibliothek, Copenhagen, Denmark
On the British Library's collections
- Duroiselle, Charles, Pageant of King Mindon leaving his Palace on a visit to the Kyauktawgyi Buddha Image at Mandalay, 1865. Reproduced from a contemporary and rare document (Calcutta: Government of India, 1925).
- Herbert, Patricia, ‘The Sir Arthur Phayre collection of Burmese manuscripts’, The British Library Journal, 1 (1975), 62-70.
- Herbert, Patricia, ‘The making of a collection: Burmese manuscripts in the British Library’, The British Library Journal, 15 (Spring 1989), 59-70.
- Herbert, Patricia M., The Life of the Buddha (s.l.: The British Library, 1993).
- Herbert, Patricia. 'Burmese court manuscripts', in Donald M. Stadtner (ed.), The Art of Burma: New Studies (Mumbai: Marg Publications, 1999).
- Herbert, Patricia, 'Burmese cosmological manuscripts', in Alexandra Green and T. Richard Blurton (eds.), Burma, Art and Archaeology (London: The British Museum Press, 2002).
- Herbert, Patricia, 'Myanmar Manuscript Art', in Teruko Saito & U Thaw Kaung (eds.), Enriching the Past: preservation, conservation and study of Myanmar manuscripts: proceedings of the International Symposium on Preservation of Myanmar Traditional Manuscripts, January 14-15, 2006 Yangon (Tokyo: Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, 2006).
- Lammerts, Christian. 'The Murray Manuscripts and Buddhist Dhammasattha Literature Transmitted in Chittagong in Arakan'. Journal of Burma Studies, vol. 19, no. 2 (Dec. 2015), 407-444.
- May, San San and Jana Igunma, Buddhism Illuminated: manuscript art in Southeast Asia (London: British Library Publishing, 2018).
- Schwartzberg, Joseph, 'Cosmography in Southeast Asia', in J. B. Harley and David Woodward (eds.), The History of Cartography, vol. 2, pt. 2 (Cartography in the Traditional East and Southeast Asian Societies), (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1994), 701-740.
On collections in other libraries
- Bechert, Heinz et al., Birmanische Handschriften = Burmese Manuscripts, 7 volumes (Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1979-2010). (Vol. 6 and vol. 7 available online)
- Catalogue of Pali and Burmese books and manuscripts belonging to the library of the late King of Burma and found in the palace at Mandalay in 1886 (Rangoon: Office of the Supt. Govt. Print., 1910).
- Godakumbura, C.E. Catalogue of Cambodian and Burmese Pali manuscripts (Copenhagen: Royal Library, 1983).
- Frasch, Tilman, A Preliminary Survey of Burmese Manuscripts in Great Britain and Ireland, SOAS Bulletin of Burma Research, vol. 2, no. 1 (Spring 2004).
- Hla, Nai Pan, Eleven Mon Dhammasāt Texts (Tokyo: Centre for East Asian Cultural Studies for Unesco, 1992).
- Isaacs, Ralph, Woven miniatures of Buddhist art, sazigyo: Burmese manuscript binding tapes (Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books, 2014).
- Kaung, U Thaw, U Nuynt Maung et al., Palm leaf manuscript catalogue of Thar-lay (South) Monastery: Thar-lay village, Inlay lake, Shan State, Myanmar (Yangon: Yaung-zin Press, 2006).
- Mong, Sai Kham, ed., Shan Thammasat manuscripts (Tokyo: Mekong, 2012).
- Nyunt, Peter, A descriptive catalogue of Burmese manuscripts in the Fragile Palm Leaves collection, ed. by Claudio Cicuzza, 3 volumes (Bangkok: Fragile Palm Leaves Foundation, 2014-2015).
- Pruitt, William and Roger Bischoff, Catalogue of the Burmese-Pāli and Burmese manuscripts in the Library of the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine (London: The Wellcome Trust, 1998).
- Pruitt, William, ed., Illustrations of Myanmar: manuscript treasures of the Musée Guimet (Thailand: Silkworm Books, 2019).
- Pruitt, William, Yumi Ousaka, and Sunao Kasamatsu, The catalogue of manuscripts in the U Pho Thi Library, Thaton, Myanmar (Bristol: The Pali Text Society, 2019).
- Senmai: Shan Buddhist lik‘̐ lūṅ‘ manuscripts in UK and SE Asian collections
- Terwiel, Barend Jan, ed., Shan manuscripts (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2003).