SIMS is pleased to announce 2015-2016 Graduate Student Fellowship recipient:
Susanne Kerekes, University of Pennsylvania
Horoscopes, Epic Poetry, and Grammar: Documenting the 19th-century Thai manuscripts of a University of Pennsylvania alumnus and American missionary, William Samuel Waithman Ruschenberger
William Samuel Waithman Ruschenberger – a University of Pennsylvania alumnus – made US history in 1838 with the publication of his travel diary. The diary details events leading up to the signing of the US’s first-ever treaty with an Asian nation. Only one year after receiving his doctorate in 1880, Ruschenberger was commissioned as a surgeon for the US Navy, and assigned to accompany diplomat Edmund Roberts on the USS Peacock in 1835. Roberts died of dysentery on the journey home, leaving Ruschenberger solely responsible for documenting the remaining events of the mission, as well as posthumously publishing Roberts’ diary. Thus, while it was Roberts who was sent by President Andrew Jackson to secure the aforementioned treaty with Siam (present-day Thailand), it was Ruschenberger who made the accounts of the mission known.
Among the roughly fifty Thai manuscripts in the Penn Libraries’ collection, one is from Ruschenberger. The manuscript is made of mulberry paper, formatted in concertina style, and is 31-folios long on both sides. Although the manuscript is void of text and illustrations (save for a hand-written colophon in ink by Ruschenberger), it is rare evidence of a 19th-century Thai manuscript before its use by a scribe. Thus, it provides a unique opportunity to examine the materiality of a Thai manuscript without textual or pictorial mark-up. Looking at this manuscript against the backdrop of five other more complete Thai manuscripts, this project will take the opportunity to explore the material and conceptual construction of Thai manuscripts through a process of physical analysis and translation. The project will result in online translations of several of the texts in these manuscripts, available for the first time, and a short film documentary on these manuscripts that will showcase the richness of the Thai manuscript tradition while also highlighting a history of some early collectors of Thai manuscripts.