Published on: April 28, 2023

President intends to establish the Institute of History, combining the museum, archives, archaeology, cultural triangle, & universities with the RASSL

During a discussion on the 178th Anniversary of the Royal Asiatic Society of Sri Lanka (RASSL) at the Mahaweli Centre yesterday (27), President Ranil Wickremesinghe shared his intentions to establish the Institute of History, with the aim of bringing together the museum, archives, archaeology, cultural triangle, and universities with the RASSL as the focal point. The President emphasized that this institute should not be in competition with RASSL or any other institute. Rather, it should work collaboratively with these institutions to enrich the process. Once the final draft of the Institute of History is ready, it will be discussed with the relevant parties such as the universities, Archaeology, and RASSL.

Additionally, President Wickremesinghe stressed the importance of protecting libraries and the need to collect various collections from museums, archives, and universities, including unpublished theses. He also highlighted the importance of funding projects and urged officials to prioritize them.

Regarding historical programs, the President emphasized the need to resolve funding issues related to the Postgraduate Institute of Archaeology, seeking assistance from the legal draftsman to finalize a copy, followed by the establishment of a committee to carry out the functions and appoint members.

President Wickremesinghe hopes that these efforts will give a better impetus to the study of history in the country, as many people do not study history. He further assured monetary assistance to establish air conditioning units to preserve library books and urged the organization of conferences that were postponed due to COVID.

During his visit to the RASSL Library, the President inspected the facility and took an official photograph with council members, as well as signed the Visitors Book.

During a discussion held at the Royal Asiatic Society of Sri Lanka (RASSL), the President of the RASSL, Dr. Malini Dias presented the 175th anniversary medal, two scholarly books, and a letter to President Ranil Wickremesinghe. Additionally, Dr. Bohingamuwa and Ms. Hasula Wickramasinghe presented RASSL journals, while Dr. Chandana Jayawardhena handed over Science and Technological volumes to the President. Past President of the RASSL, Archt. Ashley De Vos and other RASSL Council members were also in attendance.

The full statement of President Ranil Wickremesinghe made at the RAS is as Follows.

I must first thank you all for inviting me and also giving me some copies of the magazine of the Royal Asiatic Society (RAS). My mother’s collection of the originals which was given to me and a large number of history books, all were gone with the ‘Aragalaya’. So I can understand your fear of the ‘Aragalaya’.

The Royal Asiatic Society both here and your counterpart in Kolkata have done valuable service in recording the history of this subcontinent. On our part, I think people like Chief Justice Alexander Johnston, George Turner and many of the Englishmen in Kolkata of whom the most famous, I think precept, who did the work here which enabled the discovery not only of our history, but the ‘Mahawansa’ the history of India.

So India hasn’t got the recorded history that we have. So in our history, ‘Mahawansa’, is an interpretation and practice which has been followed up to the present day where different political commentators interpret history in the way that they want.

Nevertheless, history has a tradition, it has to be continued and we have to acknowledge the work that has been done here by the Royal Asiatic Society.

I have read some of the original magazines, where some of the leading people of Sri Lanka had contributed, such as James De Alwis and others who have been writing articles, many of them outstanding burgher gentlemen. People like Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan and Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam’s photographs are also here, a large number, those are really valuable works.

So what we are planning to do and what I am planning to do is to first start the Institute of History. You can discuss it before I am out of office. We will revise it. We are getting a final draft ready to discuss with the Universities, the Archaeology and the Royal Asiatic Society. And it is through this institution that we will start funding and government assistance to the program on history.

Firstly, we must look at saving the libraries and you have the RAS library here.

The Museum has a collection, there’s another collection in the archives, and then the public library as well as the University of Peradeniya, where my grandfather gave the Ferguson Collection. There are some others, Obesekara’s gave some collections which are there. So with that, then there are a lot of articles here which have to be collected. Then there are a number of universities that carry unpublished ‘theses’. Then places like Universities and other places have a large number of articles. So we’ve got to make a collection of all those.

So whether it is a university or RAS you have to decide what gets priority. We have also got to resolve one issue as to what the Postgraduate Institute of Archaeology is going to do and about the funding. That is one issue we have to resolve.

But hopefully, I’ve given a draft to the legal draftsman. So the final copy should come, and after this, we will discuss with you all, and set up a committee which can then look at how it starts, how it’s going to function and how we are going to have members. That I hope will give a better impetus to study history in this country.

A lot of people now don’t study history. And you have different, versions of history and worse than that the archaeology seems to have gone on a trip on its own, so we have to slowly get them back to do the work on history. But there is a lot more to be done.

You have your issues, one is air conditioning to preserve the library and we will give you the money that you require. Then for next year, you can go ahead with your conferences which were put off due to COVID and make the arrangements and will see how we can help.

But certainly, as far as the libraries are concerned, the money will be made available for the preservation of the books. Thereafter our funding goes on depending on how we work it out in the Institute of History.

This institute should not be an institute competing with you or anyone else but it is an institute which brings together the RAS together with the museum, archives, the archaeology and the cultural triangle and the universities. Bring them all together and that will be a focal point from which I think the interaction between the institutions will only further enrich this process.

We are not only focussing on the history of Sri Lanka, but we have to look at the culture, how far back it goes, and where the connection is. It is very interesting.

Finally, the history of this subcontinent can be resolved. Someone can decide. But in the meantime this work will carry on as you are getting help from the Ministry of Buddhist Affairs on religious sites and archaeological sites.


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