RAS awarded £15,000 grant for conservation of Latin-Chinese manuscript dictionaries


We are delighted to announce that we have been awarded a grant of £15,000 from the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust (www.nmct.co.uk) towards the conservation of a rare two-volume Latin-Chinese manuscript dictionary. Donated to the Royal Asiatic Society by Sir George Staunton in 1824, the dictionary is in very poor condition and is almost impossible to handle without causing severe damage. The NMCT grant will ensure that the manuscript receives top-quality conservation treatment from professional conservators and can be made available to scholars and researchers for generations to come. 
The dictionary was created in Beijing in 1745, and was given to Sir George Staunton by the Catholic missionary Padre Adeodato di Agostino, who worked in China for almost 30 years. The volumes include 1200 pages, with Latin terms arranged alphabetically and followed by their translation in Chinese. Volumes such as these are particularly interesting because they were created before a universal system of Romanization of Chinese had been developed, and the translations relied on the compiler’s personal knowledge of local dialects and his preferred system of transliteration. As such, the volumes are a fascinating example of early cultural and intellectual interaction between Europeans and China, an area which seems to be experiencing increasing scholarly interest. 
The dictionaries were working volumes, used to assist ongoing translation work in the eighteenth century, and were clearly well-used. They must have experienced some wear and tear in their early years as there is extensive evidence of historical repair work which aimed to reinforce the pages by adding strips of paper along the edges. Unfortunately, over time the added strips of paper created a sharp edge along which the pages have split, and continue to do so, resulting in knife-like cuts to the page. One of the goals of the conservation project will be to remove all these pieces of paper and repair the damage. The volumes will also be re-bound and re-covered, and kept in custom-made archival boxes. 
Below are some images of the manuscripts in their current state. We look forward to sharing new images of the manuscripts later in the year to demonstrate the progress of the conservation project. 
The volumes will have new coverings and bindings
The original binding structure has failed and the volumes will be rebound
Razor-like tears in the page will be repaired
Sir George Staunton was, in effect, the first sinologist from the British Isles, having accompanied the 1792 embassy of Lord Macartney to China at the age of 12. He later entered the employ of the East India Company where he was a pioneer translator most notably of the Qing legal code. After his return to England he became involved in the Royal Asiatic Society and donated a number of manuscripts and books to the Society which form a core part of the collection.
We are extremely grateful to the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust for their generous grant. We are currently in the process of raising the remaining funds (£5,285) for the project. [This has now been secured thanks to the generosity of the Sino-British Fellowship Trust–please see below.]
The National Manuscripts Conservation Trust helps preserve important manuscript and archive collections by awarding grants for their conservation. Since the NMCT was founded in 1990 it has awarded grants of nearly £2.5m which have enabled the conservation of hundreds of musical, literary, architectural and other vital historical documents that would otherwise have been lost or faced an uncertain future. The NMCT is the only UK grant-giver that focuses solely on the care and conservation of manuscripts in the UK.

UPDATE: since this blog was first published, we have learned that the Sino-British Fellowship Trust (www.britac.ac.uk/funding/guide/intl/sbft.cfm) have awarded us a grant for the remaining £5,285, for which we are most grateful.