Archive of the Royal Society for Asian Affairs

This record is held by Royal Society for Asian Affairs

Details of Archive of the Royal Society for Asian Affairs
Title: Archive of the Royal Society for Asian Affairs
Reference: RSAA

Documents, maps, art-work and photographic materials deposited with the Royal Society for Asian Affairs (RSAA). The RSAA archive is divided into three Sections: specific collections of material (designated by the reference RSAA/SC); photographic material used to illustrate lectures to the Society (designated RSAA/L); and a wide range of miscellaneous material (designated RSAA/M). The archive does not include administrative files of the Society.


Specific collections (RSAA/SC) includes material from: Lieut Col F M Bailey, Sir Charles Bell, C A V Bowra, E C M Bowra, John Duncan Vaughan Campbell (5th Earl Cawdor), Gen Sir Edward F Chapman, Col C H Ellis, Major Colin Metcalf Enriquez (pen-name, Theophilus), Col Sir William Everett, Sir Stuart Mitford Fraser, Lieut Robert Grindlay, Eric Kennington, the Shakespear family (predominantly, the papers of Sir Richmond Shakespear), Lieut Col R C F Schomberg, and John Claude White.

Date: 1785-2004
Held by: Royal Society for Asian Affairs, not available at The National Archives
Language: English
Extent: 3475 files and items
Administrative History:

The Royal Society for Asian Affairs (RSAA) was formerly known as The Royal Central Asian Society (originally, The Central Asian Society).


The Central Asian Society was established in 1901. In November of that year, Dr Cotterell Tupp, Captain Francis Younghusband, Colonel Algernon Durand, and General Sir Thomas Gordon convened at Younghusband's house in Gilbert Street, Grosvenor Square, London, to discuss the response to an informal prospectus they had circulated amongst friends during the previous month. They agreed that sufficient interest had been aroused and decided to formally distribute their prospectus for a new Society. The prospectus ("A Proposal to Establish a Central Asian Society") began: "At present there is in London no society or institution which is devoted entirely to the consideration of Central Asian questions from their political as well as from their geographical, commercial or scientific aspect, though Societies such as the Royal Geographical and Royal Asiatic Society discuss these subjects incidentally. It is therefore proposed to establish a society to be called the Central Asian Society, with rooms, where those who either have travelled in Central Asia, or are interested in Central Asian questions, could meet one another."


The "Central Asian questions" to which the Proposal referred derived from the political and diplomatic confrontation between Britain and Russia that continued throughout most of the nineteenth century. The confrontation was played-out in the Central Asian territories that lay between British India and Russia, and came to be known, after Kipling, as the "great game". Many of the founding members and key figures of the Central Asian Society were active participants in the latter stages of this "game" of empires, as much of the material in the archive reflects.


On 1 January, 1975, the Society changed its name to The Royal Society for Asian Affairs, reflecting a shift of emphasis from narrowly Central Asian matters to an embrace of Asia as a whole. The shift of emphasis had already been marked (in 1970) by the renaming of the Society's Journal as Asian Affairs. Formerly, Journal of the Royal Central Asian Society, the Society's Journal has been published continuously since 1914. The present remit of the RSAA is the contemporary economic, political and social developments of every Asian country.


For a detailed history of the RSAA (including the founding "Proposal" quoted above), see Hugh Leach with Susan Maria Farrington, Strolling About on the Roof of the World: The First Hundred Years of the Royal Society for Asian Affairs (Formerly Royal Central Asian Society) (RoutledgeCurzon, London: 2003).

Former Reference Department: RSAA
Conditions of access:

All files are Open to researchers, except files in poor physical condition that are marked 'Closed' and may not be consulted.

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