History of South Asia at the LibraryProf. Morton W. Easton, Professor of Comparative Philology (1883-1912), taught Sanskrit courses at the University of Pennsylvania. He had studied Sanskrit at Yale under W.D. Whitney (1827-1894). Upon completing his dissertation on the evolution of language, Easton was awarded the first American doctorate in Sanskrit in 1872. The University of Pennsylvania was one of the first American academic institutions to offer courses in Sanskrit; already during the 1880s, the university offered a major and a minor in Sanskrit. Easton retired in 1912 and was replaced the following year by Franklin Edgerton. After Edgerton left in 1926, W. Norman Brown was appointed in his place. Brown was responsible for the creation of the Department of South Asia Studies and expanded well beyond his own Indological interests. He was also responsible for helping to establish the well known PL 480 program which in its various permutations over the decades supplied us (and many other institutions) with literally hundreds of thousands of volumes from South Asia.
During the course of the PL480 program (also pioneered by W. Norman Brown) from 1954 to 1998, the library acquired material actively through the Library of Congress (New Delhi and Islamabad) field offices, and also through various vendors in South Asia, Europe and North America. The Library of Congress still continues as one of our major vendors to supplement the activities of collecting all material including monographs, serials, film, and digital formats. It is recognized as one of the most significant libraries in the United States for research on South Asia. Because of the history of the University of Pennsylvania in the field of archaeology, the Penn Libraries also have one of the largest collection of material for archaeology in South Asia.
The American Institute of Indian Studies was founded by W. Norman Brown, and it operated out of the Van Pelt Library till it moved to a more permanent location in Chicago.
The South Asia Art Archive at the University of Pennsylvania Libraries was set up in W. Norman Brown's office in 1979 as a national facility, open to all who are interested in the study of Indian art.The holdings of the South Asia Art Archive currently consist of around 115,000 black-and-white photographs (classified by period and region), site and museum indexes, and ca 4,000 color slides. (In addition, the University has a teaching collection of more than 15,000 South Asia slides, most of which are online at the Fine Arts Image Collection.) By agreement with the AIIS and the Smithsonian Foreign Currencies Program, which funds the Gurgaon Center, photographs added to the Gurgaon archive are added also the archive in Philadelphia, keeping it a current tool for research.
For more details on the engagement of the University of Pennsylvania with South Asia, visit the Penn Archives.