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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.

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.

The Leiden University Library holds a number of photogaphy collections related to the Netherlands-Indies/Indonesia, lose photographs and albums alike. They show a great variety of subjets, representing different periods, styles and procedures, including many albumen prints, glas positives, and also daguerreotypes. Further, the collection includes a unique set of 950 photographs of Islamic tombstones in Pasai, North-Sumatra, taken between 1908-1915. Those images are part of the Snouck Hurgronje Collection.

The Kern Institute Photography Collection  holds thousands of photographs pertaining to architecture, material art, archaeology, anthropology and ethnography of Indonesia and mainland Southeast Asia. The so-called OD-collection consists of ca. 21.800 photographs taken between 1901 and 1955 commissioned by Oudheidkundige Dienst in Nederlandsch-Indië . The focus lies on the remains of the Hindu-Buddhist period, both artefacts and monuments.

The KITLV-collection contains ca. 180.000 photographic images pertaining to Southeast Asia, all of them digitally accessbile and supplemented with metadata. There are about 120.000 photographs, 15.000 negatives, 19.000 colour slides, 1.700 black-and-white slides, 3.800 glass plate negatives and 500 glass plate positives, 5.700 print cards and 2.700 photo cards. A jewel is the collection of more than 2500 Woodbury and Woodbury & Page photographs, among them about 150 glas plate positives from the Netherlands East Indies dating back to the mid-nineteenth century. In 2016 this collection, likely to be the largest in the world of its kind, has again grown distinctively.

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 online catalogue. Digital versions are available in the KIT map viewer:  Dutch Colonial Maps.

The photocollection of the Kern Institute is mainly accessible via the online catalogue (digital images are available via Digital Special Collections).

 The KITLV photography collection is available via KITLV Digital Image Library. Due to copyright restrictions, part of the collection is accessible within the walls of Leiden University Library only.

Furthermore the online catalogue describes many thousands of printed works (and hundreds of manuscripts and archives) from the colonial and post-colonial period, part of collections such as 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).