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Collaborative Project for the Conservation, Digitisation, Research and Publication of Tangut Material in the British Library

Close up on Tangut writing, ink on paper which has some visible damage.
Tangut fragment. Or.12380/19

The project which started in January 2015 is a collaboration between the British Library and the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region Archive (NXA) to enable the conservation, digitisation and cataloguing of the Tangut manuscripts and printed documents held in the British Library.

Using existing archival material relating to the collection including concordance lists and notes from early researchers and conservators the aim is to conserve, number, digitise and make available the estimated 6–8,000 documents on the IDP Interactive Web Database by June 2017, thereby contributing to the preservation and international dissemination of this important material and stimulating scholarly research.

The Tangut manuscript and printed material in the British Library was excavated from the city of Karakhoto (10th–14th c.) by Aurel Stein on his 3rd expedition (1913–16) following Russian excavations at the site (material now in the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts, an IDP partner and also working with NXA). Part of the Stein material was sent to India (National Museum of India). The remainder became part of the collection of the British Museum and then the British Library.

Despite early research by scholars such as Professor Tatsuo Nishida, much of the material has never had full curatorial attention. Many items remain in the paper packets in which they were placed by Stein during his excavations and therefore remain unknown and inaccessible to scholars.

Small crumpled paper fragments, collected together in a paper wrapper, placed in an archive box.
Pre-conservation Tangut fragments in Stein’s paper packets.

The project will make the entire British Library Tangut collection available for the first time for IDP’s international community of scholars and researchers, paving the way for future work including cataloguing and linking with related material in other collections. Potential work may also include the input and digitisation of related archival material such as historical catalogues and expedition reports.

Funds are secured for the first two stages of the project, enabling a conservator to work full-time on the unconserved material for one year. Funds are now being sought for stage three, for the remaining conservation and digitisation. Any offers of support are welcome.

To follow the progress of the project and digitisation output follow #Tangut @idp_uk.


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