Chao Ren (Tufts University)

Archives of Economic Lives of India

In my research, I worked in the National Archives Department in Yangon, Myanmar, a less explored archive for the economic history of India. The collections of this archive are generally considered to be pertaining to “Southeast Asian history”, yet the archival materials related to the British colonial period are highly useful for an understanding of economic history of colonial India.

The National Archives Department in Yangon, Myanmar is located on 114 Pyidaungsu Yeiktha Road of Dagon Township, in the embassy area to the west of downtown Yangon. Compared to many South Asian archives, it is a very user-friendly and well-catalogued archive. It hosts official records of various governmental institutions of Burma since the early days of colonialism in the 1820s, including documents in Burmese and other regional languages of Myanmar. The archive is open from 10a.m. to 4p.m. during the week. The air-conditioned reading room is on the upper level of the colonial-style building, and shoes are prohibited in the reading room. For foreign researchers on the colonial period, the only documents needed for registration are a letter of statement from the researcher, two passport photos and a registration fee of USD 30 per year (or the equivalent in MMK). For researchers on the postcolonial period more documents may be required, including a letter from a local Myanmar historian.

The archival materials of the pre-independence period have been widely digitized. To access the archival documents, a researcher is supposed to use one of the computer terminals in the reading room to search for and order documents via an archive intranet. A reference number of the document must be submitted to the archivist, who will be in charge of accessing the document for the researcher. Most of the colonial document come in the form of PDFs, and can only be read on the computer terminals in the reading room. Copying comes in either one of two forms: print or CD. With my inaccurate memory, the cost of print and CD copying are respectively around MMK 10 and MMK 60 per page.

The staff members of the archive are friendly and helpful, and almost all of them are fluent in English. The reading room hosts a small shelf of reference materials, including British Library publications and catalogues of historical publications in Myanmar. Notably, the archive publishes a catalogue titled Guide to the Archival Sources of History in Myanmar, introducing the collections of the National Archives Department. This Guide is for sale in the reading room at a price of around MMK 4000 per copy. It is not a comprehensively annotated catalogue yet it is an indispensible starting point for researchers interested in the history of colonial Burma.

May 2017