[Susan Thomas <S.Thomas at nla.gov.au>: Robin Jeffery's Roundtable issues paper (fwd)]

David Magier magier at columbia.edu
Tue Feb 7 11:51:52 UTC 1995

For your info, an interesting article on South Asia librarianship and
South Asia scholarship in Australia, by Robin Jeffrey (La Trobe)
presented at the Asian Studies Rountable at the National Library of
David Magier

>From S.Thomas at nla.gov.au Tue May  9 00:33:27 1995
Date: Tue, 7 Feb 1995 16:34:12 +22303754 (EET)
From: Susan Thomas <S.Thomas at nla.gov.au>
Subject: Robin Jeffery's Roundtable issues paper (fwd)
To: asialib at info.anu.edu.au
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      T T T T T T T T        Susan Thomas      
      I I I I I I I I        S.Thomas at nla.gov.au
      I I I I I I I I        National Library of Australia       
      T T T T T T T T        Phone: +616 2621136
    ===================      Fax: +616 xxxxxxx       



Robin Jeffrey
La Trobe University

Three factors increasingly influence Australian research on South
Asia: new media technologies, post-modern fashion and economic,
"practical" imperatives.

Australia's distinguished contribution to research on South Asia
dates from the 1950s and flowered in some ways in the 1960s.[1]
For me, the remarkable library holdings have scholars' names
connected with them. The holdings of the Fisher Library at Sydney
University, I associate with Marjorie Jacobs; those at the ANU and
relatedly at the ANL, with Anthony Low and the late A. L. Basham;
at the Baillieu Library at Melbourne, with S. N. Ray; at the
University of Queensland, with D. P. Singhal; at the Reid Library in
Perth, with Peter Reeves and the late Hugh Owen.

This is not the place to analyze the decline in the commitment of
Australian universities to the study of South Asia since the early
1980s.[2] What is significant for our task here is to point out that the
scholars who created a following for India/South Asia in the 1960s
and 1970s were chiefly classicists and cultural historians or modern
social and political historians.[3] Library collections reflect that fact.
In December, for example, George Miller at the Menzies Library
had a query from an Indian writer in Bombay who had heard that
the only surviving documentation about the suppression of a
Malayalam newspaper in 1910 was in the Menzies Library. In fact,
the man was wrong: it was in the National Library, purchased from
a Madras bookseller who had bought up an extensive private
collection sold off by heirs in the 1960s. 

Research on modern South Asian history which such material
supports will no doubt continue. So too will occasional projects
relating to classical subjects, demography, politics, defence and
security, and sociology or anthropology. 

Let me try to explain where I believe new directions in research will
go and thereby illustrate the possible needs of researchers. 

Media and Technology

Modern media technology is transforming South Asia. Though the
Indian film industry has long been famous, television only became
widely available in India from 1982. Since the late 1970s,
audio-cassettes, easy to produce, disseminate and play, have
become a major means of making money and spreading ideas.[4]

My exemplar for the sort of research that can and should be done in
these areas is Peter Manuel's outstanding Cassette Culture: Popular
Music and Technology in North India (Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, 1993). Much more than a book about music, Manuel's work
illustrates three areas of which Australian researchers and
librarians must increasingly take account. First, Manuel is a good
linguist who has been able to listen to and understand
audio-cassettes in Hindi. The lesson here is that we can no longer
hope to understand South Asia through English alone. We never
thought it possible with China, Japan or Indonesia; we have been
misguided in not having ensured a flexible method of instructing
Australian researchers in Indian languages, particularly
Hindi/Urdu.[5] For libraries, this means we must devise sensible
ways of acquiring key materials in some South Asian languages
and keeping abreast of publications in - and reliable repositories for
- other languages. 

Second, Manuel's book emphasizes that we must find ways of
acquiring, storing and cataloguing the new media. His work is
heavily based on audio-cassettes, mostly musical but some political,
produced in small quantities by even smaller entrepreneurs.
Manuel credits audio-cassette technology with preserving and
reinvigorating languages, dialects and artistic forms.
Audio-cassettes provide scholars with invaluable insights into what
people want to hear and what they will pay money to listen to. 

Video-cassettes have had a similar effect. Until satellite television
began to sweep India in 1992, there was a ten-year period in which
monthly news programs (similar to something like 4 Corners) were
prepared as video-cassettes by media companies and posted to
subscribers. This method bypassed the government monopoly on
broadcast television and created thousands of hours of video-tape
on all aspects of Indian politics, society and culture in the 1980s. So
far as I am aware, none of this material is held systematically in
Australia.[6] In addition, of course, there are thousands of hours of
other material - much of it documentary film - prepared on
video-cassette each year.

The third element of Manuel's research relevant to our discussions
arises from his use of specialist publications devoted to the new
media and partly made possible by the revolution that the
computer and the offset press have brought to printing in Indian
languages. Put shortly, the print media in India especially, and
South Asia generally, has been revolutionized in the past 15 years as
a result of new technology and consumer demand. Manuel, for
example, often used the Indian music-industry magazine Playback
and Fast Forward, which we do not hold in Australia so far as I know.
These new periodicals and growing ephemera are the ore of social
scholarship. Scholars would like to find them in a single seam,
rather than having to scour the country looking for a nugget here
and there.

How do we keep abreast of the new media in South Asia and of the
published sources relating to it?

Fashions in Scholarship

One of the admirable outcomes of the post-modern or
post-colonial fashion of the past ten years has been to encourage
study of aspects of life often previously ignored. Prisons, health,
food, sport and costume have, for example, become typical topics
for historians and sociologists, not just criminologists, doctors,
nutritionists and couturiers.

One example of such a project - though it is inspired neither by
post-modernism nor promise of direct economic gain - is the study
of fisheries in South Asia going on at Curtin University in Perth.
Involving a number of scholars, the project has closely scrutinized
the colonial documentation on fish and fishing, diet and nutrition,
and now has anthropologists and economists, as well as historians,
examining the place of fish in South Asia today. Such work, of
course, may have economic spin-offs. Perth boat-builders have
already sold some craft to India, and marine scientists from South
Asia and Australia may find through this project opportunities to
work together on common problems. 

As well as the government publications, archival materials and
mainstream books and journals, to study such subjects closely, and
thereby extract significance from them, requires access to sources
like those discussed earlier - visual and audio media, new
periodicals, ephemera.[7]

Australian libraries cannot attempt to collect such material
comprehensively. But how do we keep track of where it is located
in South Asia? Will it, indeed, be collected at all? Indian libraries
move slowly and have acquisition programs that long pre-date the
invention of audio-cassettes and television. And most of them find
it as difficult as an Australian library to find funds to buy a new

Economic Imperatives

The example of fishing suggests that economic returns may
possibly arise from such projects. In the next ten years, much
research will be directly concerned with economic return. The
establishment of the Australia South Asia Research Centre at the
ANU in 1994,[8] which, in spite of its general name, is obviously
intended to be a centre of economics research, indicates a growing
sense that South Asia, particularly India, must be part of any
successful Australian engagement with India.

Such research will, I expect, range from studies of the broad
contours of South Asian economies - the sort of work of academic
economists - to narrowly focussed research into particular
industries or regions. At this end of the spectrum, we will, I believe,
see much more attention paid to market research. In India, such
research and polling has been carried on increasingly widely and
accurately for the past ten years.[9] As the Indian economy opens to
foreigners, Australians are going to want to undertake or
commission such research. The problem of acquiring new
periodicals again arises. For example, we do not hold in Australia a
collection of A&M, the chief Indian advertising and marketing
fortnightly, founded in 1988.

Capitalism - the need to market products and politicians, - drives
this kind of research. Yet the people who conduct it have usually
been trained as scholars, and at its best, their work is scholarly. One
of the ablest foreign journalists working in India recently observed
that "Hindustan Lever knows more about the human geography of
India than does the Indian government."[10] Moreover, as we meet,
the fifth and greatest National Readership Survey (NRS-V) is
being carried out all over India with a sample of more than 140,000
people. It will try to learn a great deal about the disposable incomes
and reading habits of urban Indians, and based on its findings,
millions of dollars of advertising will be spent in the next three or
four years.[11] 

Research Needs

In focusing on areas of likely future research, I have emphasized
new sorts of sources that such research will require. More
conventional sources - periodicals, books, journals and official
publications - remain essential. Indeed, the importance of such
sources was illustrated for me in a discussion with the ambitious
young marketing manager of a major Indian newspaper. He
hungered for the next instalment of his region's 1991 census data as
if it were Red Riding Hood and he, a career-oriented Wolf.

The revolution in printing technology has improved the
appearance of South Asian books and periodicals. It is has also
allowed governments to bring out official publications faster and
sometimes more attractively. Indeed, in India, where 25 state
governments also produce official publications, the new technology
may be increasing the volume of such documents. These are
notoriously difficult to track down and acquire; they often
disappear immediately on publication, only to be found years later
in the government-press warehouse by a researcher looking for
something else. Yet these publications - for example,
constituency-wise election results - are immensely valuable.

How are we to keep abreast of such publications for 25 Indian
states, four Pakistani provinces, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka?

First, we need to make the most of what we already have in
Australia. South Asianists around Australia and the National
Library submitted an unsuccessful bid to DEET for Mechanism C
funds last year to survey and expand South Asian collections. I
hope a similar bid in 1995 will succeed. As matters stand,
substantial bodies of material, especially on microfilm, are still to
find their way onto national data-bases. Financed by the National
Centre for South Asian Studies in consultation with the National
Library, some work of this kind on South Asian newspapers has
already been carried out by Anne Brennan of Adelaide who has
worked in libraries in Adelaide, Melbourne and Canberra.

Second, we need closer personal connections between librarians in
Australia and librarians, booksellers and media producers in South
Asia. Our goal ought to be to have a representative of the National
Library based in New Delhi with a brief to cover South Asia. A less
desirable but still productive option might involve lobbying the
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) to station a
Cultural Attache in New Delhi, part of whose duties would be to
represent Australian libraries and carry out the national
acquisitions strategy which we badly need. A third, and still
cheaper possibility, would be to have a group of three or four
Australian librarians, perhaps the drafters of a national acquisitions
plan, tour the region to establish links which could then be
maintained through electronic mail and facsimile.

Third, we need a data base of the best libraries in South Asia, a
listing that will allow us to discover rare items and get them on loan
or as photocopies. The knowledge necessary to create such a list
will require personal relationships to be established between
Australian and South Asian librarians. In short, a few Australian
librarians have to develop a familiarity with their counterparts in
the region.

The volume and diversity of media in South Asia presents an
immense challenge for librarians. This is compounded by the fact
that today every aspect of life is a potential field for scholarly
research. Yet the technology that creates the challenge also
provides ways of meeting it. What we require for South Asia is an
agreed national plan for acquisitions, based on the familiarization of
more of our librarians with the region.

[ ] 1 Alfred Deakin, Irrigated India: an Australian View of India and Ceylon,
their Irrigation and Agriculture (London: W. Thacker, 1893), Alfred
Deakin, Temple and Tomb in India (Melbourne: Melville, Mullen and
Slade, 1893) and Bertram Stevens, New Horizons:a Study of
Australian-Indian Relationships (Sydney: Peter Huston, 1946) indicate
earlier interest.

[2] The casualty list is in National Strategy for the Study of India and
Indian Languages (Melbourne: Melbourne South Asian Studies Group
for the Asian Studies Council, 1991), p. 16n.

[3] I know that discussing names is fraught with the danger of
careless oversight and hurt feelings, but two exceptions come to
mind: Sir John Crawford's work on Indian agriculture and Jack
Caldwell's demographers at ANU.

[4] The Asian Studies Review, published by the Asian Studies
Association of Australia, Inc., began to carry reviews of
video-cassettes in its November 1990 issue. The Journal of Asian
Studies, the leading American journal in the field, began a similar
section in February 1991.

[5] The National Library's holdings of Indian-language
newspapers, dating back to the lustrous 1960s, are remarkably

[6] I have a run of "Newstrack," the monthly video produced by the
Living Media India, owners of India Today. I subscribed from
February 1990 until Living Media India discontinued the magazine
after the cassette of September 1994.

[7] Two recent articles illustrate this development. Joseph S. Alter
uses sports magazines and books written in Hindi to open up the
world of adulated wrestlers in north India. ("Somatic Nationalism:
Indian Wrestling and Militant Hinduism," Modern Asian Studies, vol.
28, no. 3 (July 1994), pp. 557-88). Sanjib Baruah uses music
cassettes to analyze Assamese nationalism and secession through
the work of an Assamese song-writer. ("`Ethnic' Conflict as
State-Society Struggle: the Poetics and Politics of Assamese
Micro-Nationalism," in ibid., pp. 649-71).

[8] Insight, 19 December 1994, pp. 9-10. The other recently
established academic body devoted to the region is the National
Centre for South Asian Studies, a consortium of the ANU, Curtin,
Deakin, La Trobe, Monash, New England and Swinburne, set up in
1993 and based in Melbourne.

[9] Political polling came into its own at the time of Rajiv Gandhi's
election victory in December 1984.

[10] Hamish McDonald, Far Eastern Economic Review, 30 December
1993-6 January 1994, p. 46.

[11] The first National Readership Survey (NRS-I) was carried out
in 1970. NRS-II was in 1978; NRS-III in 1983; NRS-IV in 1990. 

 					Michael Ledwidge 
					National Library of Australia       


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