South Asia Image Collection

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About the Penn Libraries South Asia Image Collection

Penn has been involved in the study of South Asia for over a century and a half. Its rich collection of materials relating to South Asia is not limited to books and journals it includes a sizable collection of Sanskrit manuscripts, as well as large numbers of images from a variety of sources. In keeping with a philosophy that the unique image collections in our holdings constitute a trust to be shared as widely as possible with those who have a specific interest in this area, we have embarked on a project to provide access to them online in the context of a powerful faceted search (see Search Strategies). To date, our Wheeler and AIIS collections are available on this site.

The Mary Binney Wheeler Image Collection

This wonderful collection of slides was generously given to the Library in 1996 by Ms. Wheeler's daughter. Ms. Wheeler's interest in South Asia and Indian art was initially inspired by her close friendship with Dr. Stella Kramrisch, the curator of Indian art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Interest quickly transformed itself into passion as she went on to make no fewer than fourteen trips to the Indian subcontinent, meticulously recording every aspect of the art, culture and landscape that she encountered. Returning to Philadelphia, Mary B. Wheeler delighted in sharing her experiences with friends, family and with the general public in a series of lectures, the recordings of which we are truly privileged to possess. Ms. Wheeler's death in 1995 marked the end of an age: She can be rightfully considered as the last in a long line of "romantic" artistic and literary travelers, true adventurers of the human spirit seeking to discover and unlock the mystique of far away lands. And yet her images are never simply "picturesque" or "exotic." She possessed a unique sensibility, an ability to balance the timeless with the mundane, splendour with homeliness.

The American Institute of Indian Studies Collection

Beginning in the sixties of the last century, the American Institute of Indian Studies embarked on a challenging and ambitious project that was to extend over many years: the Institute undertook to survey and photograph virtually all of the temple architectural and sculptural heritage of India. Over the next several decades nearly 150,000 photographs were taken. Penn was designated to be the North American duplicate site for the photographs and they are currently housed in the Van Pelt Library, South Asia Reading Room. A small subset of images dealing with Buddhist architecture was selected for digitization. Digitization of the entire collection has been undertaken by the AIIS, along with the Digital South Asia, and that project is nearly one third complete (dsal.uchicago.edu/images/aiis/).