South Asian Studies

South Asian Studies

South Asian Studies covers India, Pakistan, Tibet, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. A humanities concentration focused on an area of the world, it is multifarious in its approach to the region: students can focus on South Asia’s history, literatures, languages, religions, and philosophies, as well as any other desired aspect they might wish to concentrate on. As a library historically associated to Western Civilization, Houghton contains many materials about South Asia, particularly India, from an European perspective—especially a British, and thus colonial, vantage point. That does not mean that the library’s collection is exclusively non-South Asian; in fact, Houghton’s HOLLIS catalogue includes almost 140 manuscripts classified as Indic, as well as 21 Sanskrit, nine Tamil, eight Pali, five Tibetan, and two Sinhalese manuscripts, besides multiple other materials hailing from the region in question.

Most of the library’s South Asian material, however, is not yet catalogued online, and two physical compendia—Volume 12 of Poleman’s Census of Indic Manuscripts in the United States and Canada (Z6605.I5 P7 1938, 001911650)  and Pingree’s Concordance of Harvard Indic and Poleman Numbers Z6605.I5 P7 1938 Index, 001911616)—provide more comprehensive lists of the almost 2,400 Indic manuscripts housed in the library. Poleman, in fact, goes so far as to categorize items in a more detailed fashion than the manuscript cataloguing system, including details such as language and discipline, and South Asian Studies students are highly encouraged to peruse these two items to enrich their research projects in the subject. Concentrators focusing on the manuscripts that cannot be found online should also access the online catalogue of the Sanskrit Library, an independent organization that indexed the Houghton collection.

Indeed, the most significant aspect of Houghton’s South Asian material is its interdisciplinarity: students can delve into the literature, history, economy, art, and religion of the region, perceiving a truly multifaceted picture of South Asia. This multidisciplinary approach often presents students with materials they would not use in other research settings. Houghton, for instance, contains Mughal drawings spanning the period 1400-1850 (MS Typ 406, 009318016) as well as drawings of India by Thomas and William Daniell covering the years 1789-1836 (TypDr 805.D316.00m, 007483970) and Edward Lear’s drawings of Central India (MS Typ 55.5, 007483066). By contrasting the local and the foreign artworks, students can gain insight into not only the artistic style and its art historical consequences, but also the underlying cultures that created the pieces. This juxtaposition can also be observed in collections such as the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions archives (ABC 1-91, 000602481), which include material about India and Southeast Asia, and in curious items such as an eighteenth-century English edition of a ninth-century account of India and China by two Arabic travelers (Ch 181.6*, 003855270), an item that can be studied in conjunction with Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations and East Asian Studies. These items can be coupled with more traditional research foci, such as the Hans Stefan Santesson collection on Indian independence (MS Am 2924, 013724270), a 1924 typescript of a Harvard thesis titled “Foreign Relations of Tibet” (MS Chinese 11, 009957170), or the Rabindranath Tagore  papers (MS Eng 1159, 000602391), to produce research that is at once rich in primary sources and holistic in its approach to the subject.

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