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Southeast Asia Team

The Southeast Asia Team was established after a divisional reorganization in 2004.  The team has responsibility for the Southeast Asian collections, which include material from Brunei, Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, East Timor, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. Team members focus on collection development, reference services and outreach programs. The Team is also responsible for collections on the South Pacific.

Southeast Asia Collections

The Story of Abdullah
Hikayat Abdullah

(The Story of Abdullah), 1843.
Southeast Asia Team

Representing a wide range of diverse cultures, religions and languages, modern Southeast Asia includes the nations of Brunei, Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, East Timor, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. The Library’s holdings in the languages of the region include modern publications as well as rare, historical material.

Among the earliest Southeast Asian books to come to the Library of Congress were a collection obtained in Singapore in 1842 by Lt. Charles Wilkes’ U.S. Naval Exploring Expedition. The expedition’s philologist, Horatio Hale, collected Malay manuscripts and early printed books with the assistance of Alfred North, an American missionary in Singapore. This collection went first to the Smithsonian Institution, which later transferred the collection to the Library in 1865. Included are rare manuscripts written in the script used by the Bugis of South Sulawesi who controlled an extensive trading network of which Singapore was a central part. Wilkes also obtained a manuscript copy of The Story of Abdullah, a valuable nineteenth-century account of the Malay world, and an 1840 Mission Press edition of The Malay Annals, an important Malay history written in 1612.

The Southeast Asian collection also contains many palm leaf manuscript copies of the Tipitaka, the basic text of Theravada Buddhism, which is the majority religion of Burma, Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand. An especially fine collection of Burmese manuscripts in the Pali language as well as a Tipitaka in Pali using Burmese script was presented to the Library in 1949 as part of a large Burmese donation. In addition, a special Thai Tipitaka was presented to the Library by Thailand’s King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) in 1905.  An important Burmese history, The Glass Palace Chronicle, written by a group of scholars in 1829, was part of the 1949 Burmese donation to the Library. Several examples of Vietnamese dynastic histories are also represented, including texts printed from early woodblocks at the former imperial palace at Hue. In addition, the Library holds a wide range of reprints from early works that have been translated from Vietnam’s old Chinese-characters writing system into modern Vietnamese.

The Asian Division also holds rare material from the Philippines. Of special note is a set of inscribed bamboo tubes, with lettering in the old Indic script similar to the ancient scripts used in neighboring Indonesia. The collection of 55 bamboos in prose and 22 in verse provides a fascinating glimpse into Mangyan (Hampangan) and Tagbanua society.

The Southeast Asian collection continues to grow and to benefit from the presence of Library of Congress field offices in Jakarta and New Delhi.  Through dealers and representatives in most Southeast Asian capitals and periodic buying trips, the Delhi and Jakarta offices ensure a continual flow of current publications. Contemporary holdings in the languages of Southeast Asia reflect the full range of publications available in the region. The Asian Division also collects grey literature documenting a wide variety of subjects including the growth of civil societies, local music in minority languages, and environmental change.


Acquired in 2006, the Carlos Bulson Archive exemplifies the Asian Division’s increasing efforts to collect materials pertaining to Asian Americans.  Carlos Bulosan was a Filipino immigrant who, despite numerous difficulties, maintained a very positive attitude about his adopted motherland.  He documented his own experiences and those of other Filipino Americans in his poems, short stories and books.  The Library of Congress’ Carlos Bulosan Archive contains documents pertaining to Bulosan’s attempts to organize Filipino workers in the Pacific Northwest, serial clippings about the author, a fascimile of one of Bulosan’s original manuscripts, and various ephemera.  A finding aid is available.


This unique collection consists of papers from the Burmese government during the country’s involvement in World War II. The records include public and private correspondence, financial/legal records and correspondences of police and military officials, newspaper clippings, and documents once held by the Burma Corporation Ltd. The collection also contains a large number of documents regarding the Indian Independence League (IIL)/ Indian National Army (INA), including a census and volunteer roles for the IIL.  The documents are predominantly in English and Burmese but there are also documents in Hindi, Bengali, Urdu and Japanese.  A finding aid is available.


The Asian Division has an outstanding collection of Malay manuscripts from across the archipelago.  It contains both fine specimens of classical works and items that are unique in the world.  Classical manuscripts include Hikayat Johor and Sejarah Melayu.  Unique items include a series of letters from various Malay leaders in Johor, Kelantan, Trengganu and elsewhere to William Farquhar, the first British resident in Singapore. 

A certain corpus of the Asian Division’s Malay manuscripts represents one of the United States government’s earliest attempts to acquire information about the Malay world.  These are the Malay manuscripts collected by the Wilkes Exploring Expedition.  Under the leadership of Captain Charles Wilkes, this expedition was sent by Congress to circumnavigate the globe, chart unknown waters and collect specimens of extremely varied items including books from 1838 until 1842.  Accompanying this expedition was the philologist Horatio Hale.  When the expedition called in Singapore, the philologist profited immensely from the assistance of Alfred North, an American missionary residing there who had taken considerable interest in Malay literature.  Through his contacts, the Wilkes Exploring Expedition was able to numerous Malay manuscripts as well as early Malay printed materials and Bugis manuscripts.  These items were originally deposited in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution but were later transferred to the Library of Congress in the 1860s.  Finding aids are available.

Other Asian Division TeamsChina/Mongolia Team | Japan Team | Korea Team | South Asia Team
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  November 15, 2010
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