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South Asian Studies: History

History of UCB's South Asia Collection

Berkeley's research and collecting interests in South Asia are long-standing, dating back at least to 1906, when Sanskrit was first taught here. At that time, the Library's acquisitions included Indic religion, history, philosophy and literature, in Sanskrit and Western languages. As faculty interest in the region grew during the ensuing century, collecting widened to the social sciences and humanities, in both South Asian and Western European languages. The South Asia region now accounts for over a fifth of the world’s population, and is home to (by most counts) the world’s second and sixth most-spoken languages, Hindi and Bengali, as well as a booming publishing industry that includes indigenous as well as English language materials.

Berkeley continues to maintain and develop its world-class collection, reflecting the diversity and dramatic growth of South Asian studies on the campus. Berkeley’s South Asia faculty are among the premier scholars in their fields, and our South Asia-related programs are among the nation’s best. The Center for South Asia Studies has some 40 affiliated faculty on the Berkeley campus, whose research spans academic disciplines from anthropology, political science, public health, and women’s studies, to linguistics, theater, and history of art. A sampling of current faculty research, for instance, includes transnational feminist theory, religious social movements, electoral politics in India, colonial and post-colonial Hindi literature, South Asian folklore, social forestry, diaspora communities, Tamil literature and poetry, Gandhian thought and practice, Sanskrit literature, water management and transnational river conflicts, ethnomusicology, and the Bollywood film industry.

Berkeley’s Institute for South Asia Studies is one of only a dozen federally funded “National Resource Centers for South Asia.” In addition to frequent colloquia and lectures, the Institute sponsors a highly popular film series each year, and an annual South Asia conference that draws participants from around the world. In 2004-2005, the Institute has organized a year-long interdisciplinary lecture series on “The City” which is bringing renowned urban studies scholars like Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Mike Davis, Neil Smith, and Amitava Kumar to Berkeley. The Institute also hosts distinguished Visiting Scholars each year who enrich the campus’ dialogue on South Asia, and maintains vibrant ties with the Bay Area’s South Asian communities through outreach, exhibits, lectures and fundraising.Students may obtain degrees with a specialization in South Asian studies in numerous academic departments and interdisciplinary programs.

Both faculty and students make heavy use of the South/Southeast Asia Library, Berkeley’s reference point for South Asia studies, which houses an extensive collection of specialized reference material as well as unbound current periodicals and newspapers. It serves as a service point for Berkeley’s large and dispersed collection of South Asia materials, which are housed in the Main Stack as well as many subject specialty libraries. The number of monographs in all languages, including English, is over 350,000. Current collecting in South Asian languages focuses on literature, history, and religion, with special strengths in Hindi, Urdu, Tamil, Punjabi, Bengali, and Nepali. English language collecting is extremely broad, from humanities and social sciences to the natural sciences. The Library subscribes to around 500 serial and newspaper titles in South Asian languages and about 3,300 titles in English and Western languages.

The South/Southeast Asia Library has been a unit on the Berkeley campus for five decades, and coordinates many specialized South Asia collections, including the South Asians in North America Collection (primary source materials in Punjabi, Hindi, Urdu, and English on this Indian nationalist party, based in northern California); the Kipling Collection (rare materials, manuscripts, and ephemera); the Henry Morse Stephens Collection (relating to British India); the Nimbkar Collection (on India's Congress Party); the Court Fee and Revenue Stamps of the Princely States of India (designed by the British as a means to collect taxes as early as 1797); and Maps of South Asia (including 4,500 maps and nautical charts). The Nepal and Himalayan Region Collection, a unique resource in the U.S., includes material on politics, history, and law from the 1950s until today, including microfilm portions of holdings of London’s India Office Library as well as the National Archives in New Delhi. See details.

The South/Southeast Asia Library moved into the Library in 1970, but it existed in some form under the auspices of the Centers for South and Southeast Asia Studies for two decades previous to that. In the early ‘50s, a group of faculty hired a librarian on grant funds to help with the campus’ Modern India Project. In 1958, another South Asia bibliographer was hired to create a reference collection to handle the materials pouring in on the newly created PL 480 program. During the mid-1960s, the SSEA Reading Room, then located at 2538 Channing Way, attracted students from all the northern UC campuses interested in the newly important (at least in the eyes of US policy-makers) regions of South and Southeast Asia, and plans were afoot to make the SSEA Reading Room a Library unit. These plans got an unintentional boost in the summer of 1970, when demonstrators targeted the Center in the wake of the US invasion of Cambodia because a faculty member who worked there had accepted grants from the Pentagon for counter-insurgency research. Plans to move into the Main Library were put on the fast track and in September 1970, the collection moved into 438 Doe Library and became the South/Southeast Asia Library, with the center continuing to provide substantial financial support.

In 1999, the South/Southeast Asia Library relocated to 120 Doe Library to be more accessible to patrons. It continues to serve generations of UC students and community users, and has expanded its reach with an extensive web presence, including research guides, online exhibits, and internationally-known bibliographic and historical resources on the South Asia diaspora.

Photo above: the late Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru on a visit to California in 1961 (Bancroft Library collection); the Bharat Grocery Store at 316 First St. Marysville, California, a social center for the Sikh community, from Allan Miller's "An Ethnographic Report on the Sikh (East) Indians of the Sacramento Valley" (Bancroft Library, BANC MSS 2002/78cz).

Contact Us

Adnan Malik
South Asia Curator
South/Southeast Asia Library
120 Doe Library
510-643-0849 x 1

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