February 29, 2024

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Digitising Indonesia’s Manuscripts

Image credits: brin.go.id

As an archipelago country with historical diversity, Indonesia possesses many ancient manuscripts that serve as a primary window to comprehend its rich and intricate past. These ancient manuscripts encompass inscriptions, historical texts, archives, and other material remnants that span various periods and regions across the archipelago. The Archaeology, Language, and Literature Research Organisation (OR Arbastra) under the National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN) plays a role in Indonesian manuscript research.

Herry Jogaswara, the Head of OR Arbastra at BRIN, states that the roles of OR Arbastra include:

  • Gathering and documenting manuscript data in society to advance knowledge and culture.
  • Conducting research or studies on manuscripts.
  • Innovative development that adds value to manuscripts for the community.

Another role is to protect and restore collaboratively with relevant parties, such as the National Library (Perpusnas), universities, and professional organisations like Mannasa. Additionally, OR Arbastra promotes literacy about preserving and utilising manuscripts, publishing research findings, organising local seminars and workshops, and collaborating with local communities/manuscript owners in line with their aspirations for preservation and utilisation.

According to Herry, with the enactment of Presidential Regulation No. 78 of 2021 on BRIN, all research institutions in Indonesia have consolidated under one umbrella, particularly research and development from ministries and institutions.

“This includes the researchers of Indonesian manuscripts who were previously situated within the Research and Development of the Ministry of Religion, Language Body, and the National Manuscript Board (BPNB). Researchers of Indonesian manuscripts are now part of the Arbastra Research Organisation at BRIN,” Explained Herry.

Herry has outlined the planned research strategies in his introduction and focuses on extending them to 2025-2029. He explains that during this period, research endeavours will be concentrated on three main domains that have substantial implications for Indonesia’s cultural and intellectual development. These areas are sustainable cultural programme initiatives, digital-based research, and fundamental Arbastra research.

Herry elaborates on digital-based research, which is a significant primary focus. He describes it as an effort to establish an integrated framework for managing and accessing data related to ancient manuscripts. Herry emphasises the importance of designing a system that facilitates seamless connection and accessibility to vast manuscript data distributed across diverse cultural institutions and establishments, all easily accessible to researchers.

“In his vision, the interconnection between various distinct data repositories will enable researchers to explore a wider and more profound potential of information from diverse sources,” he affirms.

Emphasising a strong commitment to collaboration and open access, Herry underscores that the primary aim of this digital-based research initiative is to facilitate the cross-institutional exchange of knowledge and expand the scope of research. With a robust and interconnected infrastructure, researchers specialising in manuscript studies will find it more straightforward to integrate data from diverse sources, gaining richer insights and crafting a more comprehensive depiction of Indonesia’s history and culture.

It is anticipated that collaborative efforts among various institutions and researchers will play a pivotal role in the success of this digital-based research. In building an interconnected and inclusive network, the research community will be adept at overcoming access barriers and optimising the hidden potential within ancient manuscripts scattered across various locations.

In alignment with this spirit, Herry believes these endeavours will result in more accessible and equitable access to manuscript data, promote cross-institutional collaboration, and materialise richer and more in-depth research in manuscript studies. Thus, digital-based research will be crucial in shaping our understanding of Indonesia’s rich and diverse history, culture, and knowledge.

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