Heritage and the Politics of Culture
This double panel focuses on the collecting histories and networks shaping the Asian Library in Leiden – emphatically from an Asia- and/or South-centred perspective. While the ‘treasures’ kept in Asian libraries worldwide rank as expressions of ‘enlightened’ collecting, and as keys to understanding the wider world, they also entail colonial violence, and networks of collecting based in the South, and thus multiple forms of knowledge, agency, exchange and production ‘outside’ the text we get access to when we enter these libraries. With books, manuscripts and visual material therefore not only considered for their content, but primarily as ‘objects’, this panel aims, for the nineteenth and twentieth century, to gain insight in 1.) the ‘Asian’ agency behind the makings of these collections. For this we will explore forms of knowledge and knowledge exchange at the levels of production, collecting, translation, travelling, inventorizing and storing, in the context of colonial relationships, decolonization, and inter-colonial, transnational, and inter-Asian networks; 2.) how, when and why, colonial and various local forms of knowledge disclosed by these collecting histories and networks, developed in parallel, competed and/or influenced each other, and contributed to the various, changing hierarchical relations in knowledge production on Asia at multiple sites of learning; 3.) the ‘postcolonial’ legacies and afterlives of these histories and traditions of collecting and knowledge production in Asia, the Netherlands, and beyond; and 4.) it seeks for ways to open up the Asian Library, in various ways, for various users within and beyond the Netherlands, and provide access to the narratives it encapsulates.
Participating scholars, junior and senior, from different disciplines and regional expertise, following one or more of these four queries, will explore the heuristic value and possibilities of this approach ‘by example’, and do so by starting from a specific case, i.e. collectors and producers on location in Asia, an individual collector’s collection, sub-collection, or even only one specific ‘object’ (a book, manuscript, or visual material like a photograph, a map, a drawing etcetera) kept, or once kept, in the Asian library and unravel the making of this object or sub-collection between Asia and Europe. Alternatively, they start from collections in ‘Asian Libraries’ elsewhere in the world to explore, along the main queries and aims of this panel, to discuss how and why these may challenge Leiden-centred views on Leiden’s Asian connections, and how to open up facing the possibilities and limits of digitalization.