Christopher Bayly, Stuart Simmonds and H.G. Quaritch Wales

As the bicentenary of the Royal Asiatic Society approaches in 2023, the Council, Members of the Society, and staff are already thinking of how we might like to mark the event and how the Society can continue to play a relevant role in promoting research and public interest in the histories and cultures of Asia, and in the understanding of how British people, over the centuries, have engaged with and been inspired by Asian cultures. The Society’s membership had, and still has, included many people who have devoted their lives to understanding more about Asia and encouraging others in their research and exploration. These members include those listed in the title – Professor Sir Christopher Bayly, Professor E.H.S. Simmonds, and Horace Geoffrey Quaritch Wales, who spent their lives in different fields of Asian studies. And their legacies continue to have an impact on students today.

This week saw the presentation of the second Bayly Prize set up in honour of  the distinguished contributions of Professor Sir Christopher Bayly to global history, especially to the study of Asia. Awarded for an outstanding PhD dissertation on an Asian topic completed at a British university in the year prior to the award, the Prize has been funded by over fifty friends and colleagues of Professor Bayly and by generous contributions from The Past & Present Society, The Wolfson Foundation, The Thriplow Charitable Trust, Cambridge University Press and Wiley-Blackwell.

This year’s shortlist consisted of:

  • Dr. Radha Kapuria (KCL), Music in Colonial Punjab: A Social History
  • Dr. Ahmad Moradi (Manchester), Politics of Persuasion: Making and Unmaking Revolution in Iran
  • Dr. Sahil Nijhawan (UCL), Human-animal relations and the role of cultural norms in tiger conservation in the Idu Mishmi of Arunachal Pradesh, India
  • Dr. Lexi (Alexandra) Stadlen (LSE), Weaving lives from Violence: Possibility and Change for Muslim Women in West Bengal

It was a strong field, with the judges giving high praise to each of the candidates’ theses. The prize-winner was announced by Professor Lyndal Roper, Regius Professor of Modern History at the University of Oxford.

Professor Lyndal Roper (with Professor Sir Christopher Bayly)

The 2019 Bayly Prize was awarded to Dr Lexi Stadlen who received her PhD from the London School of Economics in December 2018. The judges said:

“Written in an evocative style this work draws the reader into the world of the thesis. With nuanced observations and attention to detail, the subjects accumulate over the chapters, so that through the focus on individual people we learn of different themes and topics. This is an innovative and daring thesis driven by particular ethnographical constraints that are placed at the centre of the writing to produce an unique account.”

Dr Gordon Johnson, Dr Taylor Sherman, Dr Lexi Stadlen, Dr Ahmad Moradi, Dr Radha Kapuria, Dr Sahil Nijhawan and Dr Anthony Stockwell

We give our congratulations to Lexi on gaining the prize and wish her every success with her continuing career.

The Society interacts with students in many different ways. Over the past few years, we have hosted students from the Southeast Asian Art Academic Programme at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). These Alphawood interns are sponsored to spend 100 hours working with our Southeast Asia collections. For the rest of this blog, I will hand over to Vuthyneath Khut, one of this year’s interns from Cambodia, and you will discover how Professor Simmonds and H.G. Quaritch Wales are continuing to make an impact. She writes:

“I really appreciate the opportunity to undertake an internship at the Royal Asiatic Society. I would like to express my sincere thanks to the Royal Asiatic Society and the Southeast Asian Art Academic programme that have made this internship happen.

“I have spent five weeks at the RAS and participated in different projects. The first project was supervised by Nancy Charley, Archivist of RAS. Under the guidance of Nancy, I learnt to arrange and catalogue the archival materials that related to Professor E.H. Stuart Simmonds, a former President of RAS from 1973 to 1976, and a Professor of the Language and Literatures of South-East Asia at the University of London from 1970 to 1982. The catalogue for the Papers of E.H.S. Simmonds which include letters, photographs and a plan, have been added to Archives Hub for researchers to access. Working with archives allowed me to learn many processes in cataloguing such as sorting, arranging, and labelling before putting the material in the RAS repository. Particularly, I have learned how to catalogue on Archives Hub which allowed me to practice with the RAS archival online database.

“The second project has been under the supervision of Edward Weech, librarian at the RAS. I have learned how to catalogue photograph collections into the RAS library catalogue, alongside Sonetra Seng, librarian intern. The collection I worked with is a large collection containing hundreds of photographs, which were taken and collected by Archaeologist and Historian H.G. Quaritch Wales between 1916 and 1980. These photographs significantly relate to archaeological and architectural subjects across South-East Asia, and are therefore of importance for researchers and historical work on Hindu and Buddhist antiquities.

Vuthyneath Khut working with the Quaritch Wales’ photographs

“Importantly, working with Quaritch Wales’s photograph collections give me a chance to see rare photographs that he had taken from various temples in the Angkor region between 1926 and 1933. This is now a UNESCO world heritage site. The collections document architectural monuments and relief sculptures built during the Angkorian period (c.9th-13th century C.E.). Moreover, the large photographs of temples at Angkor reflect the Khmer art and architecture which were influential to the British scholar, even though Cambodia was under French colonial rule at that time. His research lead Quaritch Wales to make publications related to Angkor such as “Angkor and Rome: a historical comparison” in 1965. Thus, his collections will be useful for students and researchers who wish to learn of Cambodian civilisation.

“Finally, the RAS have given me a chance to exhibit the photographs of Angkor from H.G. Quaritch Wales’s photograph collections. The exhibition, which is displayed in the RAS reading room, is available for anybody to come and view. This project enabled me to undertake more historical research and critical examination on interpreting and curating of Khmer art and architecture for the public audience.

“I would like to thank Nancy and Edward who have generously taught and always helped me during this internship. I am grateful for being able to gain valuable knowledge and experience on cataloguing in both papers and database, which will be helpful for my workplace in the library and archive section of the APSARA Authority.”

Both Edward and I are very grateful for the work that Vuthyneath, and her fellow intern, Sonetra Song, have undertaken. Sonetra will continue to work  with us over the coming weeks and will write of her experience in a future blog post. The Quaritch Wales’ photographs are the last collection of photos that needed cataloguing and packaging appropriately. By the end of this internship, this will be completed, which will mark a big milestone in the care of our collections.

And continuing on a Southeast Asian theme, next week’s lecture on Thursday 6 November, 6.30 pm, will be given by Paul Bromberg on “Thai Silver and Nielloware”. Paul  is the serving editor of the Journal of the Siam Society and a contributing editor to Arts of Asia magazine. He is a Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society, a lifetime member of both the Siam Society and the Southeast Asian Ceramics Society, and writes and lectures regularly about Thai art and antiques. We look forward to learning more about this interesting topic.