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British Library 1 November 2010

As part of the research project Europe’s Asian Centuries, Prof. Maxine Berg invited a group of experts to deliver a series of introductory talks on the use and content of the India Office Records, held within the Library’s Asia, Pacific and Africa Collections. This collection can be regarded as the single most important repository for investigating the history of Britain’s trade to Asia for the period that is covered by the team of researchers, roughly from 1600-1830.

The first session of the workshop was intended to provide an overview of the collection as well as of the online database. This was followed by a conducted tour, guided by Dr Margaret Makepiece that took us to the reading room with its maps and several portraits of EIC administrators. The joint lunch with all participants provided a great chance to talk about shared interests and the wide range of topics that are currently being studied among the attendees.

During the first part of the workshop, eminent scholars, including P. J. Marshall, Margot C. Finn as well as Roger Smith, were so kind to share their great experience with us, pointing to some of the pitfalls and treasures that one might encounter by using this vast collection of sources related to the history of the English East India Company (EIC) and its European rivals. Tim Davies, an ESRC PhD student studying the EIC and private trade in Western India and the Arabian Sea at the University of Warwick, delivered a thought-provoking presentation on the range of sources he is currently using for his own thesis project.

Maxine and her team are especially grateful to Margaret Makepiece, the Senior Archivist and Penny Brooke the Senior Curator at the Asia, Pacific and Africa Collections, at the British Library for hosting this stimulating event. It provided us with helpful insights into the collection and it made us acquainted with the current digitalisation project carried out at the British Library. While doing so, they introduced some of the new features that allow an efficient use of the database, for instance the topic-related key-word search – which proves to be a great time-saver.

Report by Meike Fellinger, PhD student