Thursday, May 21

The beauty of palm leaf manuscripts (3): storage and preservation

As I've mentioned to you earlier kids, we have three old old manuscripts. Not exactly a full library which will need retrieval eh?

But information retrieval is very important these days. If you do computer science, one of the first things they will teach you is to how to do information retrieval and searches. In a variety of areas, you need to know how to categorise information so that you can retrieve it easily. There's no point in having information and not being able to get to it.

Think about it. People Google for information but they have forgotten that Google also filters and arranges information. So for example if I'm looking for a film or museum opening hours, yes Google is fine. But if I'm looking for say information relating to film or collections, I'm not going to start there. That's where Google scholar comes in. Or science direct or other search engines where more detailed and particular information is served up to you.

SEO. search engine optimisation is an entirely newish field where your content is served up. More efficiently.

But here we hark back to an older age where we have Palm leaf manuscripts. How do you store them? One of my ladies, Hypathia, who I've spoken about before, worked in the library of Alexandria. Can you imagine trying to retrieve a scroll from those towering cupboards? Difficult eh?



The beauty of palm leaf manuscripts (3): storage and preservation - Asian and African studies blog
(via Instapaper)

In my two previous posts on this topic, I looked at palm leaf manuscripts from central Thailand and the northern Thai regions. In this final post on the beauty of palm leaf manuscripts in Tai manuscript cultures, I will take a closer look at traditional retrieval aids, and storage and preservation methods. Some temple libraries held large numbers of manuscripts which were stored in specially made furniture. Due to the fact that many manuscripts were wrapped in a piece of cloth, and the title or contents were rarely mentioned on the front leaf or front cover of a manuscript, quick retrieval of a particular manuscript was only possible if certain finding aids and methods were in place. For example, the manuscripts could be arranged in a systematic order within one cabinet, and several cabinets could be placed in a systematic order in the library building. One important finding aid was the title indicator. A title indicator, which could constitute a beautiful little work of art itself, was attached to a rope, and the rope was wound around the manuscript.    


Wooden title indicator covered with black lacquer, and text incised in Tham script on gold background. Lanna, 19th century. British Library, Or.16555. Acquired from Dr Henry Ginsburg’s bequest, in memory of Dr Henry Ginsburg.


Title indicators made from wood or bamboo were important means of identifying manuscripts when these were stored together in large numbers in wooden cabinets. The length of a title indicator could range from 100 to 400 mm. Bamboo and wooden indicators were often simple strips with the title and list of contents of the manuscript incised or written on, but sometimes wooden and ivory indicators could be carved with beautiful floral ornaments. Often they were lacquered red or black and decorated with gold leaf before the text was incised.    

Indicators Or14528-9

Two wooden title indicators covered with red lacquer, with text incised in Tham script on a gold background. Lanna, 19th century. British Library, Or.14528-9.

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