Collection Overview

As of 2011, the UW Libraries have over 100,000 cataloged titles dealing with Southeast Asian studies. The SEA Collection reflects the teaching and research strengths of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies. Books, journals, music, discs, videos, and more, plus online resources, in all languages and disciplines are available about the entire region, with emphasis on Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, and the Hmong.


The SEA Collection contains materials in at least 30 Southeast Asian languages or language groups. As of 2009, the Library had over 60,000 items in Southeast Asian languages, with the largest vernacular tallies being Indonesian (over 35,000 items) and Thai (over 12,000 items).

The UW Libraries also currently subscribe to numerous periodicals from and about Southeast Asia, covering a wide range of subjects — from current events and governmental information, to research reports and association proceedings, to scholarly journals. The Libraries continue to maintain and develop a nationally recognized collection of, currently, visual materials (SouthEast Asian Images & Texts or SEAiT) related to Southeast Asia.


Through an active collection development program, the Southeast Asian Studies librarian continues to enhance the resources to meet the teaching and research needs of current and future scholars and users. As such, the collection also includes publications from the Center for Southeast Asian Studies and the SEA Studies faculty and staff. Resources documenting contemporary development issues and social and political movements, including labor, student, and women’s movements, e.g., are collected. Efforts in this area have resulted in numerous newsletters and pamphlets from nongovernmental organizations in and/or about Thailand and the Philippines in particular.

Students, faculty, and staff at UW-Madison also have access to the resources of Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC) libraries through WorldCat and the holdings of the Southeast Asia Microforms Project (SEAM) housed at the Center for Research Libraries (CRL), for example.



Though the UW Libraries began collecting Southeast Asian material early in the twentieth century, the SEA Collection was not developed as such until the early to mid-1960s, thanks in large part to the Public Law 480 (PL 480) program. This national program provided participating libraries in the United States with materials from around the world, including Southeast Asia, at a very nominal cost. While the funding for this program ended in the 1990s, the idea behind it helped to bring about the Library of Congress Cooperative Acquisitions Program (LCCAP).

The UW Libraries still currently obtain many resources through collective purchasing programs, like the LCCAP for Southeast Asia, headquartered in Jakarta, Indonesia, called the Cooperative Acquisitions Program for Southeast Asia (CAP-SEA). Although books comprise the bulk of the SEA Collection, the Libraries actively add to a growing electronic resources collection through electronic journals, online reference tools, full-text databases, and, increasingly, e-books.


The UW Libraries also participate in the HathiTrust mass digitization project. Accordingly, the UW provides large quantities of books to Google Books for digitization, subsequently archiving these titles in HathiTrust.


The SEA Collection incorporates a wide range of rare and unusual items throughout the UW Libraries. More than thirty-five special and rare book collections in campus libraries attract scholars and users from around the world. The largest and most significant collection of rare books and manuscripts is held by the Department of Special Collections, located on the ninth floor of Memorial Library.


The Tank Collection consists of 4,812 volumes and 374 pamphlets from the seventeenth and eighteenth century collected by Reinhard Jan van der Meulen. Many of the works of travel, exploration, and commerce deal with Southeast Asia, particularly Indonesia. A large proportion of these are vellum-bound folios, copiously illustrated with maps and plates.

The Department of Special Collections also owns a number of important volumes by early European travelers to Southeast Asia. These include titles such as Carl Bock’s The Head-hunters of Borneo (published in 1881) and Enrique Abella y Casariego’s Descripcion Fisica, Geologica y Minera en Bosquejo de la Isla de Panay (1890), to rarer imprints such as John Clark’sObservations on the Diseases which Prevail in Long Voyages to Hot Countries: Particularly on Those in the East Indies… (1775), Auguste Alphonse Etienne-Gallois’ L’ambassade de Siam au XVIIe Siecle: Le Royaume Thai… (1862), and the 1908 Directorio Biografico Filipino.


A number of photographic images have more recently been added to the SEA Collection. These include those in the SEAiT project, as well as a small, uniquely held set of images in the Communist Propaganda from North Vietnam Collection.

Vital to a university research collection are the generous donations of benefactors, from scholars and collectors to community members. In recent years, the SEA Collection has appreciatively benefitted from, for example, John Smail, Mr. and Mrs. Charles O. Houston, Jr., Lin Neumann, and Joel Halpern, who donated their private collections and papers, as well as smaller gifts from a variety of individuals and organizations.