[INDOLOGY] Manuscripts in India

Matthew Kapstein mkapstei at uchicago.edu
Wed Jan 7 03:53:30 UTC 2015


Though I have had many of the same types of frustrations some of you have had in 
accessing manuscripts in India, I do not by any means regard this as a particularly Indian problem.
Take my recent experience with the Société Asiatique in Paris:

In March last year, I approached the librarians to request access to the collection of Tibetan
manuscripts acquired in the early 20th century by Jacques Bacot. I was told that the collection
was off-limits, except to one Parisian scholar who had been engaged by the Société to catalogue it.
The sole way to access the Bacot materials, they said, was through that person. 

After several months, the individual in question and I succeeded in fixing a time to visit the Bacot collection
together. All seemed fine. However, the evening before our appointment, I received a message from
that person stating that the board of the Société had decided to exclude me personally because I am
not a member of the Société! And the person who delivered this message, who has access to the 
Bacot collection, is not, it turns out, a member. 

When I then complained directly to the board of the SA, I received a rather insulting message to the 
effect that, because the collection will have to be closed in 2016, owing to planned renovations, they
thought it best to exclude me now (!!!)

I could add stories about a number of other European collections, not to mention conditions for
accessing manuscripts in China.

All in all, though far from perfect, the situation in India seems not half bad. 

Matthew Kapstein
Directeur d'études,
Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes

Numata Visiting Professor of Buddhist Studies,
The University of Chicago


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