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Locating Literature, Lived Religion, and Lives in the Himalayas: The Van Manen Collection

Locating Literature, Lived Religion, and Lives in the Himalayas: The Van Manen Collection by Berthe Jansen Assistant Professor of Tibetan Studies, Leyden University.

The Van Manen collection, held in the Leiden University Library, contains a large number of Tibetan and Himalayan texts. These started arriving in Leiden in the 1920s and 1930s, when the texts were sent from India, along with Sanskrit and other Indic materials, by Johan Van Manen (1877-1943). After Van Manen’s death in 1943 a large part of his personal collection also came to be housed in the Kern Institute, now part of Leiden University. Later, the artefacts he collected, both his personal collection and what he had been commissioned to buy for the University, were housed in the Ethnographic Museum in Leiden (Museum Volkenkunde) where they remain to this day. While it was a relatively important resource for earlier generations of scholars of Tibetan and Himalayan Studies writ large, in recent years the collection has come to be more or less forgotten.

In this talk, I will present some of the fascinating aspects of this collection: the autobiographies written by non-elite ethnic Tibetans alive in the 1920s; a collection of folk stories on yetis; rare ritual manuscripts; Van Manen’s letters, religious implements collected in the greater Kalimpong area, and so on. I will further elaborate on what a potential study of this multi-media collection as a whole and in its entirety could offer the fields of Himalayan studies, colonial history, art history, linguistics, and museum studies.

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