Kedah is the northernmost State on the west coast of Malaya. Kedah is a monarchy under a hereditary Sultan, which in the 18th century had became a tributary state to Siam. At the end of the 18th century, the British had occupied Penang, and at the beginning of the 19th century, Province Wellesley on the mainland coast opposite Penang Island: both areas were leased from the Sultan of Kedah. The Sultanate thereafter had to deal with the ever-growing British influence and its Siamese connection. In 1909, in the Treaty of Bangkok between Britain and Thailand, it was agreed that Kedah (with all the states to its south) would henceforth be British Protectorates, while all those states to the north of Kedah would belong to Thailand (included in the Thai area was Satun, historically part of Kedah).
The archives of the Sultanate date back to the period of 1882 to 1943, and illustrate very clearly this tense period of colonial expansion. These archives are beautifully prepared official letters and records of the Kedah Royal Palace comprising official letters written to the Kings and Governors of Siam and British residents, Royal Diary, proceedings of the State Council, the State Budget and many other documents, including copies of royal household expenditure accounts. Altogether there are 14 bound volumes of 2,591 documents written in Jawi script.
Being the only available written historical evidence of the Malay Sultanate prior to the advent of western-style colonialism, the collection is critically important to the history of Malaysia and it provides a unique insight into how a small state in the area tried to keep afloat as the great powers squabbled over it. This documentary heritage was inscribed on the International Memory of the World Register in 2001.