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South Asia Collection and Seminar Rooms

The significance of the collection

The University has one of the most important and largest collections of research material relating to the study of South Asia in the United States.  Starting with the nineteenth century, when Sanskrit was first taught at the university, the libraries have continued to expand materials relevant for the study of the region.

The University was one of the first American academic institutions to offer courses in Sanskrit by the 1880s and began offering a major and a minor in Sanskrit. Professor W. Norman Brown was responsible for the creation of the Department of South Asia Studies and expanded well beyond his own Indological interests. He was also responsible for helping to establish the well known PL 480 program which supplied the library with hundreds of thousands of volumes from South Asia. During the course of the PL 480 program from 1954 to 1998, the library acquired material actively through the  field offices (New Delhi and Islamabad), and also through various vendors in South Asia, Europe and North America. Since 2013, the South Asia Librarian also manages acquisitions from the Library of Congress Field Office in Jakarta. The Library of Congress continues to supplement the activities of collecting all material including monographs, serials, film, and digital formats. The Penn Libraries also have one of the largest collection of material for archaeology in South Asia because of the history of the University of Pennsylvania in the field of archaeology.


The manuscripts and collections

The library holds various special collections including some that are housed in the Kislak Special Collections Center because of their unique, rare, or fragile nature The Indic manuscripts collection is the largest in North America, and one of the largest in the western hemisphere. Over 90% of these manuscripts are in Sanskrit. The manuscripts are regularly used in classes, and together with other manuscript and paper holdings of the University Museum and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, constitute an important corpus of texts in Sanskrit, Prakrit, and other languages of South and South-East Asia. The voluminous private papers of Kanji Dwarkadass, an important labor organizer and political leader, are also in the Kislak Special Collections Center, There are several dozen photographic albums from the years between the wars

The library also holds a collection of sources including:

  • Manuscripts and documents relating to the British East India Company and governance in South Asia, most notably the Macartney Papers, comprising letters and documents that belonged to Lord George Macartney during his time as the Governor of Madras (1780-1786
  • A series of manuscripts on 18th- and 19th-century East India politics collected by the historian Holden Furber (Professor, South Asia Studies, 1948 -1973).
  • Travel narratives, ships’ logs, letters, and material on the military history of the East India Company, including the sieges of Seringapatnam and Bharatpur.
  • Colonial items such as a letter from Wajid Ali Shah’s secretary to the East India Company, early diaries of English officials and their wives in British India, and a series of 19th- and 20th-century photograph albums of Indian landscapes and city life, as well as rare prints and drawings of Indian scenes, buildings, and everyday life offers scholars from diverse disciplines a unique perspective into South Asia.
  • The Kislak Special Collections Center also has eclectic material from South Asia, such as some of the early lithographed and printed books in various scripts, early bibles in multiple languages, and postcard sets published by the Archaeological Survey of India. Amar Chitra Katha comic books are also housed in Special Collections. There is also a valuable collection of late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century Judaica from India, some of which is housed in the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies 

The South Asia Seminar Rooms are based on the fifth floor of the Van Pelt library and the librarian Jef Pierce is able to help with most enquiries. Otherwise you can learn more about the resources by visiting:

For inquiries, please contact Jef Pierce:
T. 215.898.7146
Van Pelt-Dietrich library Center, Room 555