Visits, Conferences, and Events at the Royal Asiatic Society

As part of the global community of scholars and enthusiasts involved in Asian studies, the Society is always looking for opportunities to develop international partnerships and bring our collections to the attention of an international audience. This week, we were pleased to welcome two groups for visits to the Society which helped further these goals. The first was a visit on Monday 1 July by 15 librarians and teachers from California, on a tour supported by the P. Y. and Kinmay W. Tang Center for Silk Road Studies, visiting British institutions with collections associated with the Silk Roads and Sir Aurel Stein. The Society holds about 800 photographs that were taken by Stein during his expeditions, all of which are catalogued and some of which can be found on our website, in addition to Stein’s books, maps, and other related objects. Stein was awarded the RAS Gold Medal in 1932. In particular, the group wanted to meet Professor Susan Whitfield, currently a member of the RAS Council, who has written extensively on the culture and art of the Silk Roads and has followed in the footsteps of Stein by visiting many of the sites identified in his books. Sue gave a wonderful lecture on Sir Aurel Stein and Dunhuang, which was followed by a very jovial lunch in the Council Room.

We were also delighted to receive a visit this week from a delegation from the National Museum of World Writing Systems, based in Incheon, Korea. The Society’s collection reflects the extraordinary diversity and ancient lineage of Asia’s many writing systems, which have been an integral part of the transmission of culture both within Asia and around the world. Moreover, the Society’s early nineteenth-century origins can arguably be traced to the work of philologists and other scholar-administrators, such as Sir William Jones and Henry Thomas Colebrooke, who were heavily engaged with the history of language and writing. The Society maintained this tradition after its founding, with notable contributions including the Society’s central role helping adjudicate the ‘race’ to decipher Cuneiform, one of the world’s oldest known writing systems. One of the key figures in this process was Sir Henry Creswicke Rawlinson, later President of the RAS, many of whose archives are held at the Society. This includes letters documenting his studies of Cuneiform during his years in Baghdad. Our history and collections resonate strongly with the goals of cultural institutions around the world, including the National Museum of World Writing Systems, and we hope to see more collaborations going forward.

Further reflecting the Society’s involvement in scholarship and academic debate, today (Friday 5 July) we are excited to host the ‘New Worlds of the East India Company’ conference, in collaboration with Southampton University ( The conference will see a packed programme featuring sixteen papers organised into panels on ‘Beginnings, Ends, and Legacies’; ‘Labour, Knowledge, and Networks’; ‘Art and Visual Culture’; and ‘Protest and Scandal’. The conference is now fully-booked, and we are looking forward both to enjoying the papers and discussions today, and to see how the research and dialogues reflected in the conference will help shape scholarship and public debate going forward.

Last week, on Wednesday 26 June, the Society hosted a book launch for The Alcock Album: Scenes of China Consular Life, 1843-1853, by Dr Andrew Hillier. The book introduces an album of sketches and watercolours by Henrietta Alcock (1812-1853), first wife of British Consul Rutherford Alcock, which provide a fascinating glimpse of the Chinese ‘treaty port’ world in the years after the First Opium War, as seen from the artist’s perspective. More information about the book is available online via

Finally, in sad news, the Society learned of the recent passing of Robert Irwin. Over many years, Robert made a great contribution to the study of Arab literature, Orientalism, and Asian studies more broadly, which the Society recognised in 2023 by awarding him the RAS Medal. Our thoughts at this time are with his family and friends.

There is a notice about Robert in this week’s Times Literary Supplement. Readers may also be interested in this blog post from last year, about his award of the RAS Medal, which also includes a link to Robert’s lecture on ‘Tales from the Mamluk Crypt’: