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Libraries and Special Collections in County Durham

Middle East and Asia

With extensive research collections relating to China, India, South Asia and the Near and Middle East, the region of Durham attracts academic researchers from across the globe.


The Durham University Oriental Museum houses over 10,000 objects in its Chinese collection, offering a rich and diverse overview of Chinese material culture from 5000 BCE to the present day.

Highlights include a substantial collection of ceramics, embroidered and woven silks, and the largest collection of jades in the British Isles. In 2008 the Chinese collection was recognised by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council as being of outstanding national importance.

Material relating to China can also be found in the Durham University Archives and Special Collections. The Oriental Manuscripts include photographs relating to China and a Taoist weather manual whilst the Y. Hunter Papers in the Sudan Archive describe Hunter's visits to Ceylon, Singapore, Hong Kong and China in 1909.

The Bowes Museum also possesses a notable collection of Chinese ceramics, mostly of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, including some Chinese armorial export wares.

Himalayas, Tibet and Central Asia

The Durham University Oriental Museum possesses a number of artefacts from Tibet, Nepal, Mongolia, and Afghanistan. In addition to ritual objects, arms and armour, and prints, the Oriental Museum possesses a notable collection of Tibetan thangka paintings.

The Bentley Beetham Collection in the Durham University Archives and Special Collections records Beetham's Everest expedition in 1924, charting his process through Tibet to the foot of Everest and the ascent of the mountain. The photographs and documents in the collection provide a detailed record of Tibetan life along the route and the assault on Everest.

Southeast and East Asia

The South East Asian Collection at the Oriental Museum is extremely diverse, encompassing Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, and Thailand. The collection ranges from ceramics to textiles, and include musical instruments, wood carvings, opium weights, lacquerware, shadow puppets, and arms and armour.

Durham University Library's East Asian studies resources include over 50,000 volumes of books, over 50 current journal subscriptions and several online databases in both European and East Asian languages.

India and South Asia

The Indian and South Asian Collection in the Durham University Oriental Museum contains artefacts relating to the major religions to emerge from the sub-continent: Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism and Jainism. The museum also holds a set of nearly 5000 photographs of archaeological sites and monuments made between 1902 and 1923 by Sir John Marshall, Director General of Archaeology in India.

The Oriental Museum collection is complemented by the Indian and South Asian material which can be found in the Durham University Archives and Special Collections. The Winterbotton Collection contains travel literature on Africa and Asia, whilst Mather, W. and Mellor, J. E. M., both held in the Sudan Archive, include descriptions of travels in India. 

Other relevant collections include the John Stevens Blackett letters, which cover the period of the Indian Mutiny and describe the course of the rebellion in the neighbourhood of Agra, and the Sergeant Papers, which make reference to Indian nursing and medicine.

Near and Middle East

The Durham University Oriental Museum houses a range of artefacts relating to the Near and Middle East, including objects from Syria, Iran, Armenia, Turkey, the Caucasus, Iraq, and the Ottoman Empire. The Ancient Near East is well-represented by excavated material from Jerusalem, Jericho, Lachish, Ur and Nimrud.

The Middle Easten and Islamic Studies collections in Durham University Library constitute one of the most important of their kind in Britain.

Additionally, a significant number of relevant documents can also be found in the Durham University Archives and Special Collections. The Foster Albums relate to a tour of the Middle East made by Foster in 1953 whilst the Donald Hawley Papers outline the career of Sir Donald Hawley, including his time spent in Iraq and Oman.

Other relevant collections include the T. M. Johnstone Papers, relating to the study of Arabic and MSA languages, and the Oriental Manuscripts, which include photographs of Syria and Iraq. 

In the Sudan ArchiveMellor, J. E. M. and Udal, J. O. contain photographs of Middle Eastern countries such as Palestine, Lebanon, Israel, Syria, Turkey, Cyrenaica, Tripolitania, Jordan, and Iraq.

The Middle East Documentation Unit in the Durham University Bill Bryson Library contains primary source documents on the economy, politics and society of the contemporary Middle East.

In addition to the material held by Durham University, Ushaw College possesses a significant volume of Jesuit material, including records of travels to the Middle East.


The Japanese collection at the Durham University Oriental Museum is extremely diverse, including textiles, arms and armour, ceramics, woodblock prints, inro, and netsuke. The artefacts date from 1300 to the present day.

Material relating to Japan can also be found in the Durham University Archives and Special Collections. The Oriental Manuscripts contain photographs of Japan and two Japanese diaries from World War II whilst the Y. Hunter Papers in the Sudan Archive include the diaries of Gillian Barclay, missionary in Japan 1908-1909, and of Y. Hunter's trip to Japan in 1909. 

The Louis Allen Papers comprise Louis Allen's research on Japan and World War II.

In addition, the Teikyo University in Durham Library contains 35,000 books, mostly on Japan and in Japanese, microfilm archives of several major Japanese newspapers and a significant number of audio-visual material. 


The Durham University Oriental Museum houses a small but varied collection of Korean objects dating from the Koryo (935-1392 CE) and Choson (1392-1910 CE) dynasties. Objects range from ceramics and earthenware to textiles and costume.

The Oriental Manuscripts in the Durham University Archives and Special Collections also contain photographs relating to Korea.

Oriental Museum

The Oriental Museum is the only museum in the North of Britain devoted entirely to the art and archaeology of the Orient. Visitors can explore galleries devoted to China, Ancient Egypt, Japan, India and Tibet, the Islamic World and South East Asia.

Middle East Documentation Unit

The Middle East Documentation Unit (MEDU) is an invaluable resource held within Durham University's Bill Bryson Library. It contains primary source documents on the economy, politics and society of the contemporary Middle East.