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Subject guide

Southeast Asian Special Collections

The Southeast Asian Special Collections contain text and audiovisual materials pertaining to the languages, histories, philosophies, religions, literatures, and (material) art of the region. The focus lies on the Malay world, in particular on the Nederlands-Indies/Indonesia. Apart from books and periodicals published before 1950, the library also holds over 18,000 manuscripts, furthermore rubbings and estampages of inscriptions, archives and archival materials, scholarly notes, letters, and an impressive number of drawings, prints, posters, maps. The photography collection contains about 220,000 images.

Ever since its foundation in 1587, the library has acquired manuscripts from the Malay archipelago. Those belong to the oldest manuscripts of its kind worldwide. In the second half of the nineteeth century the collection expanded essentially when three large collections came to be part of the Leiden University Library: the colonial library of the Delft Academie, that of the Leiden Institution for the training of civil servants in the Netherlands Indies, and the bequest of H.N. van der Tuuk.The collection again grew substantially in the twentieth century thanks to some major donations, among others the bequest of  C. Snouck Hurgronje. Long-term projects such as the so-called ‘Projek Tik’ in Bali (transcriptions of manuscripts kept in Balinese collections) also contributed decisively to the growth of the Leiden collection. The collection still expands at a regular pace.

Apart from the major European languages and Malay, many regional languages and scripts are represented in the Southeast Asia collections, such as Javanese, Sundanese, Madurese, various Batak languages, Rejang, Acehnese, Minangkabau, Bimanese, Buginese, and Makassarese. Numerous manuscripts in the Arabic language also originate from the Malay archipelago. Beside prose and poetry, the manuscript collection contains religious, philosophical, legal and medical texts as well as letters and scholarly notes. The range of material used to write on includes both European and indigenous paper, palm-leaf, tree-bark, wood and bamboo, bone, and copper, Furthermore, the Southeast Asian collections hold a variety of manuscripts from mainland Southeast Asia (Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam).

De Batak pustaha collection housed in the Leiden University Library is considered the most extensive and earliest collection of Batak texts in the world. It consists of c. 340 manuscripts and manifold scholarly notes. The majority of the pustaha manuscripts was collected and even commissioned by H.N. van der Tuuk in the late nineteenth century. In the early twentieth century other collections, for instance that of C.A. van Ophuijzen, were added.

The catalogue by Voorhoeve (1977) offers detailed descriptions of the Leiden pustaha collection.

Several thousands maps of the region are kept in the Maps and Atlasses Collection, which has its own web page. Most of them belong to the KIT collection and can be found in the Catalogue. Digital reproductions are available in the Digital Collections.

More information can be found in the subject guide Cartographic Collections.

This large collection reflects the research and extensive studies of the linguist and Indologist, Herman Neubronner van der Tuuk (1824-1894). During his career in the service of the Netherlands Bible Society and subsequently as a civil linguistic servant in the Dutch colonial administration he collected and commissioned manuscripts in the Sumatran Batak lands and Lampung districts, West Java, and North Bali from 1847 until his death. In Bali he also collected and commissioned some hundred drawings that are now kept in the Leiden University Library. The catalogue (part I and part II) by Hinzler provides detailed descriptions.

To learn more, see the collection guide for the Herman Neubronner van der Tuuk collection.

In July 2014, Leiden University Libraries became responsible for the extensive and world-famous KITLV collections on Southeast Asia, with a special focus on the Malay Archipelago. Since 1851 the KITLV has broadly collected rare books, manuscripts and archives, but also ephemera, drawings, letters, prints and posters, as well as photos and picture cards from and about the region in question.

More detailed information can be found in the collection guide Library of the Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies (KITLV) and in the collection guides of the individual archives.

One of the KITLV subcollections consists of novels and periodicals in Chinese-Malay, written and published by Chinese in the Netherlands-East Indies/Indonesia between 1870 and 1950. This collection of Sino-Malay texts is unique in the world. To supplement the collection the KITLV acquired material from the Chinese Indonesian Heritage Center (CIHC) in 2010. The CIHC foundation aims to preserve the cultural heritage of Chinese-Indonesians in the Netherlands and to keep up and spread the knowledge of the (migration) history of this particular group. The CIHC collection, still under construction, contains a great variety of materials, such as letters, diaries, archival materials, photos, and recorded interviews. Since 2014, the Leiden University Libraries work together with the CIHC, which mediates donations by the Chinese-Indonesian community to the library.

Items from the Special Collections can, depending on the type of material, be found and requested through the online catalogue or the collection guides. For information on using collection guides and the online catalogue please go to Accessing Special Collections.

The online catalogue describes many thousands of printed works, hundreds of manuscripts and includes links to the collection guides of archives and collections from the colonial and post-colonial period, including those of KIT, KITLV and the former Ministry of Overseas Affairs.

In 2016, a project started that will bring bring the university library’s oriental manuscripte (including over 18.000 Southeast Asian) online, based on information from a selection of printed catalogues. For an overview of the printed catalogues see: Collection Catalogues of the Holdings of Leiden University Libraries (Section B).

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