Norman Brown succeeded in building a broad collection that represents nearly all genres of traditional learning in South Asia – religious texts, courtly literature, poetics, philosophy, grammar, law, medicine, astronomy, and mathematics. More than 95% of the holdings are composed in Sanskrit, though Prakrit/Pali, Hindi, Marathi, and Bangla are well represented, and more than a dozen other languages are included.
Though spanning from the 16th century into the 20th, the majority of the collection is from the 18th and 19th centuries. A number of the manuscripts are composed on palm leaf, however most are on paper, with some examples retaining the pothi format. A significant number of the manuscripts contain illustration, much of it vividly colored and some illuminated with gold leaf.
In 2014, Penn Libraries was awarded a grant from the Division of Preservation and Access of the National Endowment for the Humanities, intended for digitization and new cataloging of the South Asian manuscripts. Nearly the entire collection is now openly available online at Penn in Hand. Additionally, Penn has collaborated on digitization projects with archives in South Asia, most notably the Rāmamālā Library in Comilla, Bangladesh. Nearly one hundred high resolution facsimiles from that project are now included in the digital collection. Our goal is to continue broadening manuscript access using this collaborative model.