Special collections: South-East Asian manuscripts and rare books

Manuscripts in South-East Asian languages were among the earliest gifts to the Bodleian Library from Archbishop Laud in the 17th century. The collection of over 70 items includes important manuscripts donated to the library by its great benefactors of the 17th to the 19th centuries. The most significant manuscript collections are those in Burmese or Burmese script (over 30), Javanese (15), Malay (21) and Thai (12).

Highlights include the earliest Malay letters held in a British collection. The three 17th century Malay documents from Aceh are amongst the earliest surviving Malay manuscripts anywhere, and date from the first official contact between the English East India company and the Malay world. The letters also preserve the earliest known Malay seal, the earliest surviving Malay envelopes and the grandest and earliest known illuminated Malay letter (MS. Laud Or. Rolls b. 1).

The library’s manuscript collection includes some fine Buddhist manuscripts from Burma and Thailand, including a 17th-century samut khoi Thai folding book richly illuminated with scenes from the life of the Buddha (MS. Pali a. 27(R)).

Coverage of the discovery and colonisation of the Dutch East Indies includes many works in Dutch and English from the 17th century onwards, and much material on the society, culture and languages of the area.

See also