Royal Asiatic Society at 195 years old

This week marks the 195th anniversary of the Royal Asiatic Society, which held its inaugural meeting on 15th March 1823. We are creeping towards our 200th anniversary in 2023 which we hope will be a time of celebration – of events, lectures and exhibitions highlighting the Collections, the Members and the breadth of activities with which the Society is involved. In the meantime the day-to-day work continues both in organising events, producing our Journal and other publications, and in caring for the Collections and providing access to them. On our birthday this week we were pleased to welcome to the Reading Room, members from the Wellcome Collections’ Collection Information Team. They came to see some of our Collections and discuss possibilities of caring for, and discovering more about, their own Asian Collections, some of which have little provenance. It was good to share experiences and we will look for other ways of possibly collaborating in the future.

Our birthday was also marked by another celebration – that of the launch of Robert Irwin’s book, “Ibn Khaldun: An Intellectual Biography”. It was good to see many people at the event as Robert shared some of the story of Ibn Khaldun – the genius of the Arabic World.

Robert Irwin

Irwin told how Ibn Khaldun, who lived in a world decimated by the Black Death, held a long series of posts in the tumultuous Islamic courts of North Africa and Muslim Spain, which meant he became a major political player as well as a teacher and writer. But he was also a  devout Sufi mystic who was obsessed with the occult and futurology. The book, based on Irwin’s extensive research, weaves Ibn Khaldun’s story to create an unique insight into the man’s life and culture.

The next event on the RAS Calendar is the lecture on Tuesday 20th March at 6.30pm, when Professor Zeynep Yürekli-Görkay from the Oriental Institute, Oxford, will lecture on “An Ottoman Sense of Place: Topographical Illustration between Europe and Iran”. We hope to welcome you there.

Being the archivist, I couldn’t let a birthday blog go by without looking at something from our Institutional Archives. I have been busy cataloguing the Papers for the Society’s Triennial Gold Medal which was first instated in 1897 to celebrate Queen Victoria’s diamond Jubilee. It’s aim was to honour eminent British Orientalists and it was given approximately every three years until 1990. I will do a full blog post about the Medal when the catalogue is online, but to whet your appetite here is the original Declaration of Trust Document.