Re-establishing relationships : The Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland

Our Director, Dr. Alison Ohta, again provides the majority of this week’s blogpost:

As part of the bicentenary celebrations, one of the primary aims was the revival of the Society’s links with Ireland and our Irish fellows as well as publicising the Bayly Prize among students at Irish universities. To this end, I consulted Dr. Anna McSweeney, Trinity College, Dublin, Dr. Moya Carey and Dr. Ai Fukunaga of The Chester Beatty Library  who generously provided advice on how this could be achieved. The Society is extremely grateful to all of them for facilitating the arrangements, planning the event and giving generously of their time. Dr. Norbert Peabody (President), Binney Hare, Dr. Gordon Johnson (Vice President), Faith Johnson, Professor Sarah Ansari (former President), Cheryl Porter, Rachel and Nicholas Ward all travelled to Dublin and the Society thanks them for their support.

In conjunction with Trinity College, Dublin and the Chester Beatty Library, the Society invited Professor Jane Ohlmeyer, Erasmus Smith’s Professor of Modern History at Trinity College to give a  lecture  on the 30th May drawing on her research for her latest book Making Empire, Ireland, Imperialism and the Early Modern World (OUP, 2023), copies of which may be purchased using the code AAFLYG6 on the OUP website. Professor Ohlmeyer chose a particularly suitable topic discussing the nature of the connecting relationships between Ireland and India. Ireland was England’s oldest colony and many Irishmen played an active role in the administration of empire while India was its largest. She also discussed  the  relationships that developed between the nationalist movements of Ireland and India in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Dr. Norbert Peabody, President RAS, gave an address and the lecture was very well attended.

Norbert Peabody (President), Jane Ohlmeyer (lecturer), Sarah Ansari (ex-President) and Alison Ohta (Director)

In the afternoon, before the lecture, the Chester Beatty Library invited the RAS group to lunch at the excellent Silk Road Café followed by a viewing of the treasures from the Library’s Islamic and East Asian Collections in the company of Dr. Moya Carey and Dr. Ai Fukunaga. The exhibition included the Ibn al-Bawwab Qur’an, Mughal miniatures from the Minto album, exquisite Japanese scrolls, netsuke and a Chinese jade book of the text of the Prajnaparamita Sutra (Perfection of Wisdom).

Dr Norbert Peabody with Dr Ai Fukunaga at the Chester Beatty

The day finished with dinner at Fallon and Byrne in Exchequer Street with fellows and guests of the Society. It was generally agreed that this journey ‘across the water’ should become a regular event held every couple of years or so.

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On Thursday 6th June, the Society hosted Professor Ruby Lal who, in conversation with Lipika Pelham, discussed her latest book The Vagabond Princess (Yale, 2024). This is the biography of Princess Gulbadan, daughter of the Mughal Emperor Babur and is based on the only copy of her memoir now held in the British Library (Or. 166). This chronicle of courtly life also contains an account of her journey with eleven close female family members to Mecca to perform hajj in 1578  where they remained for four years. As Professor Lal pointed out this book is unique as the only prose work by a woman of a Muslim court and she meticulously excavates the text to evoke the world of a Mughal princess. We enjoyed their discussion around the new book and having the opportunity to learn more about this significant document.

Ruby Lal with Lipika Pelham

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This coming Tuesday 18th June, 6.30 pm we welcome Professor Lydia Walker who will be in conversation with Dr Ria Kapoor about her latest publication States-in-Waiting: A Counternarrative of Global Decolonization. Lydia Walker is Assistant Professor and Seth Andre Myers Chair in Global Military History at the Ohio State University. Dr Ria Kapoor is Lecturer in History at Queen Mary,University of London. We look forward to their discussion on this interesting topic.


Following this event, on Wednesday 26th June, 6.30 pm, Dr Andrew Hillier will launch and lecture on his book, The Alcock Album: Scenes of China Consular Life, 1843-1853  (City University of Hong Kong Press, 2024)  in which he examines the album of sketches made by Henrietta Alcock, the wife of the first British Consul, Rutherford Alcock. Andrew Hillier is an honorary research associate at the University of Bristol.

Both these events are open to the public and all are welcome to join us at the Society’s premises or online. For an online link please contact Matty Bradley (