This week we are grateful to Alphawood Scholar, Pawinna Phetluan, for our blogpost. In it she writes of the seven weeks that she has spent with us:
When I heard about the internship opportunity at the Royal Asiatic Society from the Southeast Asian Art Academic Programme, SOAS, University of London, I did not hesitate to apply as I am very interested in Southeast Asian antiquities. I was awarded an Alphawood scholarship to work with the Collections of the Royal Asiatic Society. As a Thai archaeology student, I decided to work with H.G. Quaritch Wales’ collection.
Quaritch Wales was a British archaeologist who played a significant role in Thai archaeology, and he contributed many publications such as Siamese State Ceremonies, related to the old Thai customs and traditions.
He also ran an archaeological survey and excavated in many areas of Thailand. I had heard his name when I was studying in Thailand about Dvāravatī. Quaritch Wales had contributed a book upon the subject: ‘Dvāravatī: the earliest kingdom of Siam (6th to 11th century A.D.)’. His book is still dominant today for anyone wishing to study about Dvāravatī.
Working on the Quaritch Wales’ collection allowed me to see primary resources –his archaeological evidence, pottery, photographs journals, letters and records. These I had not had the opportunity to see before. This will be extremely helpful in my future research. I also learnt from his fieldwork; how he worked and recorded archaeological data. This, I believe, will be valuable for me to run archaeological programmes or further develop my research skills in the near future. I also curated the new display in the Reading Room from the personal papers of Quaritch Wales as part of the RAS Collections Open Evening on 21st November 2017. This allowed me to apply knowledge and curating skills which I have learnt whilst at university.
In my previous career, I worked as an archaeologist for Thailand Fine Arts Department. My work was mainly outdoor work including archaeological survey and excavation. Thus, I feel that my time at the RAS was very exciting, valuable, and wonderful because I got opportunities to try to do something new, as I have never done curation work before.
I feel I have benefited in learning organisations skills, as I dealt with a large number of books, diaries and letters, and learnt how to methodically sort and list them ready for cataloguing. I also learnt how to catalogue art works, helping to itemise the RAS Baker Collection on to the online catalogue.
Finally, I would like to thank Ed and Nancy, as they were very helpful in teaching and motivating me to undergo these new challenges. As a SOAS student, it is an honour for me to have this great opportunity to work with the collection under the supervision of both members of staff at the RAS.
We would like to thank Pawinna for all her hard work on both the Baker and the Quaritch Wales Collection. The Papers of Quaritch Wales are now organised, repackaged and listed ready to go on to the Archives Hub catalogue in the New Year. Next week we will hear from our other Alphawood intern, Aria Danaparamita, about her time with us.
This week saw a lecture by historian and travel writer David Leffman titled “William Mesny: How a British Adventurer Became a General in Qing-Dynasty China”, based on his recent biography. Born in Jersey, William Mesny (1842-1919) became a sailor while still a youth, and jumped ship at Shanghai at the age of 18. Amid the upheaval of the Taiping Rebellion, Mesny became a smuggler before being captured and held prisoner by the Taipings, later becoming an arms dealer. He eventually joined the Qing military, participating in the suppression of the Miao Rebellion in Guizhou. Mesny rose through the ranks in the Qing forces, eventually attaining the rank of General, and took advantage of his status to embark on several mammoth journeys across the length and breadth of China. Mesny wrote articles and observations on Chinese customs and the natural environment for English-language publications, looked for economic opportunities (particularly mining), and advised local Qing officials on infrastructure projects.
Mesny was in China during the Self-Strengthening movement and was known to Li Hongzhang (1823-1901) and Zhang Zidong (1837-1909), who both offered him positions in the revamping of the Qing military. David provided a fascinating account of how Mesny’s career unfolded, and having traveled across much of China in Mesny’s footsteps, David was able to share remarkable photos and images to illustrate his lecture. David’s lecture prompted a number of questions from a rapt audience, and was followed by a reception.
We have one more event this year: on Monday 18 December, Emilie Wellfelt will deliver a talk on “Following the Feathers: Global History Along the Trails of the Bird of Paradise”. We hope you will be able to join us.