skip to content

Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies

Online webinar
Event date: 
Thursday, 21 January, 2021 - 17:15 to 18:30
Event organiser: 

MES Public Talks Seminar given by Ursula Sims-Williams, British Library


The library of Tipu Sultan of Mysore is one of the most important in the history of Indo-Persian collections.  Formed during the eighteenth century, it was estimated at the fall of Seringapatam in 1799 to consist of about 2000 volumes. Of these the British Library holds some 540 manuscripts while others are in the Asiatic Society, Calcutta and scattered around the world.

Conflicting views exist as to the origins of the collection. Charles Stewart, in his Descriptive Catalogue of the Oriental Library of the late Tippoo Sultan of Mysore (1809) – up to now the only published study of the collection - described it as largely comprising “plunder brought from Sanoor, Cuddapah, and the Carnatic.” By contrast Maya Jasanoff, in Edge of Empire (2006) writes “a study of the owners’ seals and price markings in Tipu’s manuscripts suggests that their provenances were varied, and that Tipu was an active buyer on the book market.”

My research into Tipu’s Library is largely based on the collection as it exists in the British Library today, taking it as representative of the collection as a whole before it was disbanded at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Disregarding the late-eighteenth century productions which are mostly of a semi-archival nature and make up perhaps fifteen percent of the total, I analyse the contents of the library and in particular look at the smaller collections of which it is made.

Ursula Sims-Williams is Curator of Persian at the British Library, an Affiliated Researcher of the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies and Trustee of the Ancient India and Iran Trust Cambridge. Her main interests are in Pre-Islamic Iran and Central Asia, Zoroastrianism, and Persian manuscript culture and circulation. She has published widely and has curated a number of exhibitions, most recently Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire, British Library, 2012-2013, The Everlasting Flame: Zoroastrianism in History and Imagination, Brunei Gallery SOAS, 2013 and an expanded Everlasting Flame exhibited in collaboration with SOAS and the National Museum, New Delhi, 2016 

Dr Assef Ashraf: