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Name: Luke Butler

PhD: Physics - Spectral Imaging and AI

Thesis: Southeast Asian Illuminated Manuscripts : A Study of the Maritime Silk Road Using Scientific Imaging and AI

Thesis Overview
Maritime Southeast Asia possesses a culturally rich history. From early interactions with mainland Southeast Asia and China, to later commerce with European nations, it is home to many thousands of important manuscripts, mostly dating from the 17th to early 20th centuries, which include languages, materials and art styles from a variety of different cultures – many of which are beautifully illustrated or ornamented.
The main aims of this project are to perform a multimodal non-invasive analysis of the collection of maritime South East Asian illuminated manuscripts at the British Library and to develop AI algorithms to automatically process the data.

Addressing the Challenge
Currently there are almost no published scientific studies that analyse the artistic materials used in maritime Southeast Asia. Therefore there is a profound need for baseline research using scientific imaging so that fundamental questions about the history of Southeast Asia can be answered. This research would allow for further detailed comparative studies, allowing for greater understanding of the movement, transfer, adoption and evolution of artistic materials and techniques used throughout the maritime Silk Road.

Making A Difference
Non-invasive imaging techniques, such as spectral imaging, X-ray fluorescence mapping, and Raman Mapping have become powerful tools for studying manuscripts and can be used to discover hidden or faded texts, underdrawings and identification of pigments, binding media and substrates. While non-invasive imaging makes it possible to analyse large collection of manuscripts, it also implies an unprecedented amount of data collection that requires not only automation in the data collection, but also the application of AI techniques for automated data analysis and extraction of information.

Supervisors and Institution(s): 

  • Professor Haida Liang (Nottingham Trent University)
  • Dr Natasha Hodgson (Nottingham Trent University)
  • Dr Annabel Teh Gallop (The British Library)


  • Acknowledged in Manuscript Cultures 10, p101-128. Article: Fakes or Fancies? some ‘Problematic’ Islamic Manuscripts from south east Asia. By Annabel Teh Gallop.

Scholarly / Public Engagement Activities:

  • May 2018 - NTU Global Heritage Showcase:
    • Presented a poster covering the results of my M.Sci Physics research project - "From Macroscopic to Microscopic Spectral Imaging of Illuminated Manuscripts"
  • (Upcoming) March 2019 - E-RIHS Science & Heritage Interdisciplinary Research Training Workshop
    • Giving a joint talk with Dr. Annabel Teh Gallop (The British Library) covering the authentication of Southeast Asian Qur'anic Manuscripts

Other Research Interests:

  • History
  • Mathematics
  • Conservation




University Email:

LinkedIn URL:

Twitter: @LukeButlerNTU

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