Conferences, Congresses and Societies

Over the course of the Royal Asiatic Society’s history, the Society has been associated with, and attended, many conferences, congresses and societies. These associations are primarily concerned with research into Asia and its many countries, cultures, archaeology etc., but there have also been associations with a variety of other learned Societies. Thus we have, within the archival collections, an invitation from the Royal Geographical Society for the Royal Asiatic Society to send a delegate to their centenary celebrations, dated 15th February 1930; and notification from Philip, His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh, President of the Royal Society of Arts, concerning an Extraordinary Meeting of Council at Buckingham Palace on 16 July 1953, where it was resolved that the bicentenary of the Society be commemorated in 1954 with Divine Service at the Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields on 22 March followed by a Special Meeting of Members of the Society in the Society’s House, John Adam Street, Adelphi, at which congratulatory addresses of kindred Societies may be presented.

There has been no systematic retention of these records through the history of the Society but over the last few weeks, I have begun to sort and catalogue some of this material that has been kept. I have been amazed at the number of different conferences, congresses and societies that have existed and with which the Society has been involved, many of which still continue in their original or a modified form. I have started to catalogue the papers. They create both an interesting record of the Society and of these other associated organisations. I thought in this blog, I would highlight just a few to give some idea of the variety. All the ones that are catalogued thus far can be found on Archives Hub, and these will be added to in the coming months. Most catalogues are not extensive but they do give a snapshot into Asian (and other) studies through time.

The Association of British Orientalists existed to co-ordinate the activities of British orientalists and to co-operate with other agencies both in Britain and abroad to advance the diffusion of knowledge of Eastern civilizations. It produced an annual Bulletin of Oriental Studies and held conferences at intervals of not more than two years.

Association of British Orientalists

The photograph shows some of the material we hold for this Association which includes the printed report of the Conference held at Pembroke College, Cambridge, in 1947; a letter from W. Montgomery Watt, to inform that the next meeting of the Conference will be held in Edinburgh from 15-21 July 1953, dated November 1952; and correspondence from 1962, between the Association of British Orientalists and the Royal Asiatic Society, concerning the payment by members of the Royal Asiatic Society for attending the  Association’s conference as the Royal Asiatic Society was partly sponsoring it.

The China Society existed in London in the 1930s. I haven’t been able to find out much about its history, but within our collections are some papers connected with the China Society, consisting predominantly of correspondence with Henry Thomas Silcock concerning the administration of the Society in 1931. The China Society held a Dinner on the 11th June 1931 at the Trocadero Restaurant, London, and the collection include a menu card for the Dinner and a printed copy of the then Chinese National Anthem.

China Society

The Joint Session of the Royal Asiatic Society, the Société Asiatique, American Oriental Society and the Scuola Orientale-R. Università di Roma was hosted by the Royal Asiatic Society, from 3-6 September 1919. The 17th International Congress of Orientalists, fixed to be held in Oxford in 1915, was abandoned due to the First World War. In September 1919, Orientalists, principally from the Royal Asiatic Society, Société Asiatique, American Oriental Society and Scuolà Orientale – R. Università di Roma, with representatives from other nations, gathered to discuss the future of Oriental Studies. The programme gives some idea of their activities but not all was serious discussion – a Banquet was held at the Imperial Restaurant, Regent Street, an occasion for dressing up, as can be seen from the invitation card below.

Joint Session of the Royal Asiatic Society, the Société Asiatique, American Oriental Society and the Scuola Orientale-R. Università di Roma

From more recent history, we have records for the Tenth International Conference of Ethiopian Studies held at the Palais de l’UNESCO, Paris from 23-26 August 1988. Richard Pankhurst, a former Honorary Librarian of the Royal Asiatic Society, and a Ethiopian scholar, was one of the many participants to read a paper at the Conference. Our collections include the Programme for the Conference, and most of the abstracts and a few full copies of the papers read. The International Conference of Ethiopian Studies is a series of gatherings that takes place every three years. Traditionally, every third conference is held in Ethiopia, but we only have records for their tenth conference.

Tenth International Conference of Ethiopian Studies

These are a few of those already catalogued and there are still many more to catalogue, including the larger collection of papers for the International Congress of Orientalists, but I hope they give a flavour of some of the material available in our archival collections. Please do get in contact if you would like to find out more.

On Thursday 17th October, the Society welcomed Professor Stephen Martin  from the University of Chiang Mai to an unique event. Not only did Professor Martin speak on the life of Dr Ferdinand Dejean who worked for the Dutch East India Company and was a great polymath and sponsor of Mozart, but Professor Martin illustrated his lecture with a flute recital of pieces composed by Mozart and by Ferdinand Dejean.

Professor Stephen Martin

Next week we welcome Dr Philip Mansel who will lecture on “The Sun King and the Sultan: Louis XIV and the Ottoman Empire”. Using unpublished archives and drawings,  Dr Mansel has discovered how the traditional alliance between France and the Ottoman Empire became a corner-stone of French foreign policy under Louis XIV. He will share some of his research on Tuesday 22 October at 6.30pm. All are welcome to attend.