Library & Archive

The RSAA library and archive have their origins in the collections of the founders of the Central Asian Society. Originally a resource for its own members, the RSAA library and archive are now accessible to anyone with a serious interest.

The RSAA Library

The RSAA’s library reflects the interests of the Society both geographically and chronologically.

The library, consisting of some 7.000 volumes is focussed on the period after 1800, although they include a small number of items from earlier centuries. The holdings of the Library reflect the interests of the founder members. Today the Library has books that cover Asia, from Turkey to the Philippines. The collection is shelved according to country and covers historical, political, economic, cultural and artistic subjects. In addition, there are sections on languages, travel guides, biographies and a complete set of the Society’s journal Asian Affairs.

The Hugh Leach Library is a separate collection from the RSAA main library. It was the personal library of Hugh Leach OBE, a respected soldier and diplomat. Leach was the Historian of the RSAA and the collection reflects the interests of its creator, with a particular emphasis on the Middle East.

The bulk of the RSAA Library has been held at Haileybury since 2016 and is housed in William Wilkin’s revolutionary building for the East India College. Members, academics, students and anyone with a serious interest are welcome to visit. Those wishing to visit the Library must make a request in advance to view the material.

A smaller portion of the Library remains, for the time being, at the RSAA offices in central London where they can be consulted by prior arrangement.

The RSAA Archive

The RSAA Archive’s unique and varied collection from the mid-19th century to the present day includes a number of personal papers, notably from the explorer Colonel Reginald Schomberg; thirty-four unpublished letters from Sir Aurel Stein and the Shakespear family archive with their Central Asian and Indian connections.  The original decree from the Khan of Khiva releasing 416 Russian prisoners into the care of Sir Richmond Shakespear in 1840 is of particular interest.

There are over 1,000 maps in the collection covering the Middle East, Mesopotamia, the Arabian Peninsula, Transcaspia and Russia.  General Sir Samuel Browne’s own annotated map of Afghanistan used at the start of the Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878) is one of collection’s highlights.

The RSAA’s photographic collection contains images ranging from late-nineteenth century views of Bokhara; Sir Francis Younghusband’s expedition to Tibet (1904); St John Philby’s pictures of Mecca and Medina in the 1930s; pioneering overland car journeys to Baghdad, as well as rare photographs of Yezidi and Assyrian tribes in the twentieth century.

The Michael Stokes Postcard Collection contains over 6,000 cards of Indian scenes that would have been familiar to ‘Tommy Atkins’ the private soldier serving during the British Raj – cantonments, railway stations, barracks, camps, bazaars, docks, churches, church parades and cemeteries.

A small but select number of Indian miniatures include paintings from Rajputana (present day Rajasthan) and part of a Ragmala series.

Search our Catalogues

Our library and archive catalogue, covering both London and Haileybury locations, is available here:

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Visit in Person

To arrange to visit the library or archive in person, either at Haileybury or the London office, please contact us:

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