We have manuscripts dating back to the 17th century, early printed books, newspapers and periodicals, and modern research-level publications in the humanities and social sciences.
About the collection
The British Library holds around 1,800 manuscripts from Burma. Most are written on palm leaf, but there are also many paper folding books (parabaik), and texts written on diverse materials such as gold, silver, copper and ivory sheets in the shape of palm leaves. As well as Burmese works, there are many Pali canonical texts and also works written in Mon, Shan and Arakanese. The collection is particularly strong in historical, legal and grammatical texts, and in illustrated material. It includes:
- the John Murray collection (Add.12237-12260), acquired in 1842, in which there are several manuscripts from Arakan dating from the 1740s
- the Sir Arthur Phayre collection (Or.3403-3480) acquired in 1886, collected and used by Phayre for his History of Burma (London 1883)
- the Royal Mandalay collection acquired in 1886
- the Henry Burney Collection.
The printed book collection includes rare examples of early Burmese printing, many acquired under the Press and Registration Books Act from 1867 through to the 1930s. The British Library also holds printed books in Pali and in other languages of Burma including Mon, Shan, Chin, Kachin, and Karen. There is an important a collection of books, serials and ephemera from the 1980s relating to the Pro-Democracy Movement in Burma.
What is available online?
Digitised Burmese manuscripts and other Burmese material can be found in the Endangered Archives Programme. Some early Burmese printed books from the British Library are available on the Southeast Asian Digital Library.
The British Library’s online catalogues, Explore the British Library (for printed books and periodicals) and Explore Archives and Manuscripts, include all Burmese printed books and some manuscripts from Burma.
The Asian and African Studies blog contains short research articles on selected items from Burma.
What is available in our Reading Rooms?
All Burmese manuscripts and printed books can be consulted in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room. Some printed books which are stored at Boston Spa in Yorkshire may take up to 48 hours to be made available.
- Barnett, L. D., A catalogue of the Burmese books in the British Museum (London: Oxford University Press, 1913). (About 2,500 items, including Pali texts with Burmese glosses, all currently searchable on Explore the British Library)
- Blackmore, Thaung, Catalogue of the Burney parabaiks in the India Office Library (London: British Library under the auspices of the British Academy Oriental Documents Committee, 1985)
- Fausböll, V., Catalogue of the Mandalay manuscripts in the India Office Library (London: Pali Text Society, 1897)
- Herbert, Patricia, ‘The Sir Arthur Phayre collection of Burmese manuscripts’, The British Library Journal, 1 (1975), 62-70
- Herbert, Patricia, ‘The making of a collection: Burmese manuscripts in the British Library’, The British Library Journal, 15 (Spring 1989), 59-70
- Raper, T. C. H., ed., Catalogue of the Pali printed books in the India Office Library, rev. by M. J. C. O’Keefe (London: The British Library, 1983) (Includes editions in Burmese script)
- Tin, Pe Maung, ‘Burma manuscripts in the British Museum’, Journal of the Burma Research Society, 14 (1924), 221-245
- Whitbread, Kenneth, Catalogue of Burmese printed books in the India Office Library (London: H.M.S.O., 1969).