Guest post by our Reading Room Attendant, Audrey Buhain.
This new year we processed something that is the first of its kind into our Special Collections: a palm leaf manuscript!
The production of palm leaf manuscripts was most common before mass printing methods were adopted throughout South and Southeast Asia, but their production continues to this day. They consist of literary, folkloric, and religious texts that are handwritten onto palm leaves. Manuscripts are usually arranged between two wooden boards just like the ones pictured in this post.
We also wrote up a short finding aid (coming soon) to go along with this palm leaf manuscript. Written by archivists and librarians to contextualize the archives in their care, finding aids are guides that hope to structure informed, meaningful connections between visitors and the materials they wish to look at.
Crafting a finding aid for something that had never been cataloged into our collections had us thinking about a lot of things. For one, how can we be mindful as we navigate, affirm, and deviate from the historical narratives that already exist around this object? The knowledge we choose to share about the materials in our collections shapes not only present-day interactions between our visitors and our materials, but especially future interactions.
When we recognize that archiving actively shapes how objects exist in the present, and can exist throughout time, it’s our hope that we can offer historical knowledge in such a way that grants our collections the support to be understood with as much dimension and autonomy as is possible.