Drawing to the end of our bicentenary year

This will be the last blog post of 2023, the year of the bicentenary of the Society, and though bicentennial activities are continuing into 2024, with further celebratory lectures and a forthcoming special edition of the Journal, I wanted to end the year with highlighting some of our recent celebrations.

On Wednesday 6 December, at the Brunei Gallery, SOAS, we celebrated the launch of the new limited edition of James Tod’s Annals and Antiquities of Rajast’han, with a Companion Volume by Dr Norbert Peabody. Among the many guests we were delighted to welcome the Maharaj Kumar Sahib Dr. Lakshyaraj Singh Mewar of Udaipur who received an Honorary Fellowship of the Society and a copy of the three volumes.


The Maharaj Kumar Sahib Dr. Lakshyaraj Singh Mewar of Udaipur receives his Honorary Fellowship from RAS President, Professor Sarah Ansari

Dr Norbert Peabody gave an excellent talk on James Tod and the production of his Annals and Antiquities.

Dr Norbert Peabody lectures on James Tod

This has been uploaded to our YouTube channel so even if you were not able to be present on the night you can learn more about this wonderful project. And editions of the book are still available at a reduced price with the discount code below:

Guests at the launch were also able to visit our Extraordinary Endeavours Exhibition. We are pleased to have had many visitors and our Director, Dr Alison Ohta. has also led a number of group tours around the exhibition. Today marks its final day, so next week the Collections staff will be back at the gallery helping to take the exhibition down and making sure all our collections are returned safely to the Society. The van is booked for Wednesday (20th) so we will have time to make sure all the items are properly housed in the strongroom before the Society closes for the Christmas break that evening. We reopen again on Thursday 4th January. We are fortunate that we will also be able to bring back much of the design work carried out by Binney Hare and her team at H2 Associates Design and Print Management.

The town of Shigatse, by a Tibetan artist. The original is on silk and too fragile to display but this replica will enable us to have this intriguing image on permanent display.

We will be able to hang some of these images on the walls in the Society and so continue to display material that is otherwise too fragile to be on permanent display. We are looking forward to accomplishing this in the New Year, so please look out for changes when you attend lectures and other events in 2024. Recently a film was also taken of the exhibition and work is currently being undertaken to provide the background commentary. Once this is complete it will become available online and provide a long-term commemoration of both the exhibition and the bicentenary.

On the 22nd November, the Society welcomed Professor François Déroche who is currently the President of the Société Asiatique in Paris and his wife Professor Nuria de Castilla both distinguished scholars of Islamic codicology. He lectured on the  early relationship between the two societies showing that the RAS and the Société Asiatique have had a long and interesting relationship since their foundation.

Société Asiatique bicentenary medal

The Société Asiatique was founded one year earlier than the RAS in 1822 and it has sometimes been said that this motivated Henry Thomas Colebrooke to establish the RAS in London. Several members of the Société Asiatique were elected members of the RAS from the beginning including Baron Silvestre de Sacy, the eminent orientalist and diplomat, one of the founders and first President of the Société Asiatique, who was described by Edward Said as the teacher of all the important orientalists in Europe; le Chevalier Amédée Jaubert, a distinguished diplomat who became President of the Société Asiatique in 1834; Abel Rémusat, the sinologist who was the first Secretary of the Société Asiatique and Jules Mohl, another student of de Sacy who translated the Shahnama of Firdawsi in 1826 and was elected a member of the RAS in 1827. Likewise, Colebrooke was a corresponding member of the Société Asiatique along with Brian Houghton Hodgson who had been Resident in Kathmandu between 1824 and 1843. Hodgson was particularly interested in Buddhism and he established a particularly close relationship with Eugène Burnouf (1801-1852), Secretary of the Société Asiatique sending him important Buddhist manuscripts from Nepal which served as the sources for his publication, Introduction a l’histoire de bouddhisme indien in 1844.

Obverse of the Société Asiatique medal


At its foundation, the Société Asiatique donated 8 volumes of the Journal Asiatique to the RAS library and again in 1827. Donations were also made by several distinguished  members of the Société Asiatique including Joseph Garcin de Tassy, Abel Rémusat and Burnouf. Members of both societies attended each other’s meetings. Interestingly, Burnouf commented after one meeting in London in 1835 that the grandees of the RAS did nothing depending on the government to come to the rescue and that it was doubtful that the RAS had the means to publish the Journal for the next two years!

François Déroche, President of the Société Asiatique, and his wife Professor Nuria de Castilla at our Extraordinary Endeavours Exhibition

Reading through the publication by the Société Asiatique ( Bicentenaire de la Société Asiatique 1822-2022, Raretés de la bibliothèque, Paris, 2022) celebrating its bicentenary, one feels on familiar ground and that both societies have so much in common in terms of their history,  interests, collections and membership that the L’entente Cordiale should continue to flourish for another 200 years.

The bicentenary publication of the Société Asiatique

We wish you all a very happy festive season and look forward to seeing you in the New Year.