Tibetan Resources: Some Observations

Those working in the field of Tibetan Studies typically encompass a wide variety of subjects. For example, leading American Tibetologist Professor Goldstein has published, in addition to numerous articles, major works which include a history of modern Tibet, a fieldwork-based anthropological study of Tibetan nomads, and an English-Tibetan dictionary. A knowledge of Tibet's Buddhist system is a basic entry-point to the field, but being a Tibetologist implies an ability to cross academic disciplines (while assuring non-specialists that, yes, you have read Heinrich Harrer's Seven Years in Tibet).

By Alex McKay

The freedom to range across topics remains an attractive aspect of Tibetology. Large areas of the field remain unexplored, or the preserve of a single scholar. This situation is a legacy of the historical circumstances in which a previous generation of scholars laboured. Pioneering Tibetologists such as Sir Charles Bell (1870-1945), who as Political Officer in Sikkim for most of the period from 1908-1920 was directly responsible for British relations with Tibet, set out to understand Tibet in its entirety. Both from personal interest and empathy, and as a part of his diplomatic duties, Bell was interested in all aspects of Tibet; he published books on the history, the religion, the language, and the culture of Tibet, as well as a biography of the 13th Dalai Lama. Hugh Richardson, the 'father of modern Tibetan Studies', and the last British representative in Lhasa, carried on this tradition, and continues to contribute erudite historical monographs, as well as more popular and politically-orientated articles on various aspects of Tibetan studies.
There are specialists in the variety of Tibetan religious experience, a specialization dictated by the time necessary to master both language and text, but, in general, a Tibetologists' work is often cross or multi-disciplinary. This, together with confusion over of which region Tibet is a part (South Asia? Central/Inner Asia? China?), means that their articles, and papers, are distributed widely across the ever-proliferating number of academic publications and conferences. To give a personal example, I am aware that few, if any, of my colleagues are liable to come across a recent article of mine in The International Journal of the History of Sport, unless I supply them with the reference. [The Other 'Great Game': Politics and Sport in Tibet, 1904-47'; Vol.11.3 1994.]
When we then consider that important articles exist in, or are liable to appear in, any of half a dozen European languages, as well as Chinese, Japanese, and of course Tibetan, it becomes even more difficult to keep abreast of the field, and many a worthy article may 'blush unseen'. As Nathan Katz pointed out in Tibetan Review in December 1991, even within the field of specialist publications relating to Tibet, there are too many journals for the enthusiast to keep up with, and the foci of these publications tends to overlap.
There are similar problems with conferences, and with resource centres which may be largely unknown to scholars. The problem is two-sided; often it may be difficult for centres to alert scholars to their resources. For example, The Institute of Oriental Philosophy, at Taplow Court in Berkshire (U.K.), a largely Buddhist resource library supported by the Nichiren Daishonin, in addition to acquiring the complete Kanjur and Tanjur, purchases new material other U.K. libraries currently have difficulty in affording. The Handbook of Tibetan Culture, compiled and edited by Graham Coleman [London 1993], which lists Tibet-orientated organizations world-wide, provides a useful starting point for locating such Tibet-related material, but such a resource rapidly becomes dated. It is now recognized that the collation of available resources in the field is an urgent task. The International Association of Tibetan Studies has begun a project to collate a bibliography of relevant articles on the subject which will be updated on a yearly basis. This is being collated and edited by Ramon Prats, and will be distributed by Professor Kvaerne from the University of Oslo.

The Internet
The Internet may be the best place for such information to be kept available, as it can be continually updated there. While a number of net sites already exist which disseminate information concerning Tibetan Studies (such as the Australian National University site), what is needed is a 'feeder' site directing inquiries to all available sources, and providing a focal point for miscellaneous information. This could direct inquiries concerning political matters, discussions, or requests for information to the relevant existing sites, while acting as a storehouse for purely academic matters such as bibliographies, notices of conference papers and upcoming conferences of interest to the field. To be effective this would need to be a truly world-wide information source - in other words, if possible, including resources or contacts within China and (Chinese) Tibet, as well as Europe, America, Australasia and the Indian sub- continent.
The problem of sources in a variety of languages might be tackled in a different manner, which, unfortunately, would require either funding, or voluntary input from individuals, which I recognize may be one additional commitment too many for active scholars. But what is required in the first instance is for native-speakers of various languages to suggest a brief bibliography - perhaps 4 or 5 items - of the most important Tibet-related articles written in their language. When these lists were finalized they would be in themselves a valuable research tool. The articles could then be translated into various other languages as required, either by generous scholars with time to spare, or through a funded project, and made available, either in published form or, copyright permitting, on the Internet. [The Amnye Machen Institute in Dharamsala already offers to translate works into Tibetan at a reasonable cost.] Given the necessary list of fundamental works, applications could be made to fund a translation project, either within individual countries, or as an overall project to translate all articles into English and Tibetan, and to publish them in a single volume, or series.
The possibility exists of using the international resources and contacts of the IIAS to further these projects, and I would welcome the views of interested scholars on these suggestions. In particular, ideas for important articles in non-English language form to be included would be of great interest, and enable some preliminary steps to be taken.

Dr Alex McKay is an Affiliated Fellow at the IIAS.


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