Transforming Technologies and Buddhist Book Culture: The Introduction of Printing and Digital Text Reproduction in Tibetan Societies

Lead Research Organisation: University of Cambridge
Department Name: Social Anthropology

Abstract

This project will explore the relationship between Buddhist culture and technological transformations by looking at 'the book' as artifact, medium for communication, symbol of political authority, and ritual object in the context of Tibetan Buddhism. By using a team from previous AHRC-funded projects (with members from Cambridge University, the British Library and Tibetan research institutions) it will ensure a firm knowledge base and good value for money. It will have world-wide multidisciplinary appeal for a broad range of academics and indigenous scholars engaged in the preservation of Tibetan cultural heritage and for all scholars involved in the rapidly growing international field of the history of the book.

Tibetan book culture reflects Buddhist ideas that texts are relics and that their distribution is an act of merit. These ideas had a significant bearing on the invention of printing in 7th century China and on its later spread throughout East Asia and the Mongolian empire, including Tibet. Inspired by the notion that books are embodiments of the words of the Buddha, Tibetans treat them as persons worthy of respect who can bestow blessings and act on people. These ideas and attitudes led to the adoption of printing technologies in Tibet and the development of a unique and unrivalled culture of books reaching far beyond the Tibetan plateau.

The project will investigate two core issues: the introduction of block printing into Tibet, and the current use of digital technologies in the preservation of Tibetan collections. A preliminary survey of 15th-16th century Tibetan block prints showed that printing technologies promoted specialised craftsmanship and led to distinctive ways of mobilising people and resources. A Buddhist morality of the book propelled the development of networks of patronage involving rulers and members of lay and monastic communities, both within Tibet and beyond, in support of printing projects. Frequent political upheavals in the Tibetan areas resulted not in the destruction of Buddhist book culture, but in more sustained efforts to recover and preserve texts. Similarly after the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) networks of monks, nuns and lay scholars emerged to search for lost collections, re-order monastic archives and recover texts; an effort now being assisted by the adoption of digital technologies.

The project builds on two previous AHRC-funded projects: one brought to light some remarkable examples of early Tibetan printing kept in the UK (especially in the Younghusband Collection) and the other published the biography of a 15th century princess who played a seminal role in the introduction of printing in the Gungthang region of Tibet where ancient libraries are still in existence. A comprehensive survey of colophons of early prints, biographies and the living tradition in this region will provide the basis for a broader exploration of the introduction of printing technologies into Tibet with their social and cultural ramifications. In addition, the project will conduct an ethnographic investigation of the hitherto undocumented process of recovery and cataloguing of texts carried out by grass-root networks of monastic and lay scholars with the help of digital technologies.

This pioneering study of cultural practices surrounding Tibetan books and printing will illuminate unexplored aspects of Tibetan Buddhist culture while providing valuable materials for comparative studies of the book. It will produce a database, a website, several academic publications, a network of world-leading scholars, a dedicated conference, and exhibitions at the British Library and in Cambridge. It will therefore provide visibility for AHRC-funded research at the academic and the popular level. It will also promote the transfer of knowledge and skills to junior scholars in the UK and Tibet and will encourage dialogue and cooperation in politically sensitive areas.
 
Title Buddha's Word: The life of books in Tibet and beyond 
Description An exhibition at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Cambridge which explores the book as artefact and as a ritual object in the Buddhist context. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2014 
Impact The exhibition was very popular and inspired a series of outreach activities for both adults and children. 
URL http://maa.cam.ac.uk/maa/buddhas-word-the-life-of-books-in-tibet-and-beyond/
 
Description This project has been exploring the relationship between Buddhist culture and technological transformations by looking at 'the book' as artefact, medium for communication, symbol of political authority, and ritual object in the context of Tibetan Buddhism. In particular it has focused on two moments of technological innovation: the introduction of printing and the introduction of digital text reproduction. Relying on a team from previous AHRC-funded projects (with members from Cambridge University, the British Library and Tibetan research institutions) it has made a number of substantial discoveries, including the earliest extant print from Tibet dating to 1407. The team has already published a number of papers, organised two exhibitions and has published a collective volume resulting from the conference "Printing as Agent of Change in Tibet and beyond" http://booksandjournals.brillonline.com/content/books/9789004316256 (Brill 2016) that was held at Pembroke College, Cambridge in November 2013. A volume on the use of digital media in Tibet is nearing completion.
Exploitation Route The project has had a world-wide multidisciplinary appeal for a broad range of academics and indigenous scholars engaged in the preservation of Tibetan cultural heritage and for all scholars involved in the rapidly growing international field of the history of the book. Through a wide range of outreach activities, from exhibitions to workshops in schools, the project has promoted the visibility of Cambridge collections, research and international collaboration in a substantial way.
Sectors Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL http://www.ttbbc.socanth.cam.ac.uk/
 
Description The research findings have been used by a range of both academic and non-academic communities (including local scholars and monasteries) and have contributed to a special exhibition at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Cambridge. A series of talks and outreach activities have been held at the museum within the framework of this exhibition. In addition the project has been digitally repatriating discovered materials to Tibetan monastic and lay communities A website and database have made rare early Tibetan prints accessible and searchable. This project has also been used as a springboard for new applications for research funding.
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

 
Description Marie Curie Intra European Fellowship
Amount £188,355 (GBP)
Funding ID PIEF-GA-2012- 328247 
Organisation European Research Council (ERC) 
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 05/2013 
End 04/2015
 
Description NORGLOBAL
Amount kr 9,955,000 (NOK)
Funding ID ES595511 
Organisation Research Council of Norway 
Sector Public
Country Norway
Start 04/2018 
End 03/2022
 
Title Tibetan Book project database 
Description This is an eXist database that provides access to 15th and 16th century prints from central Tibet which have been marked up with keywords, place names, peoples names and dates. It also provides access to biographies of masters involved in printing projects and local histories that have been marked up in the same way. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2015 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact This database is a valuable research tool for the understanding of the process of the introduction of printing technology into Tibet. 
URL http://www.ttbbc.socanth.cam.ac.uk/
 
Description Repatriation of texts 
Organisation Bodong Research Centre
Country India 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution The named monasteries and others benefited from the project through the repatriation of textual materials, believed lost, in digital form.
Collaborator Contribution The monasteries provided access to additional texts and printing blocks
Impact Digitisation of Buddhist texts and creation of open access online database has led to contribution to knowledge community.
Start Year 2010
 
Description Repatriation of texts 
Organisation Kathmandu University
Country Nepal 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution The named monasteries and others benefited from the project through the repatriation of textual materials, believed lost, in digital form.
Collaborator Contribution The monasteries provided access to additional texts and printing blocks
Impact Digitisation of Buddhist texts and creation of open access online database has led to contribution to knowledge community.
Start Year 2010
 
Description Repatriation of texts 
Organisation Trakar Taso Monastery
Country China 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution The named monasteries and others benefited from the project through the repatriation of textual materials, believed lost, in digital form.
Collaborator Contribution The monasteries provided access to additional texts and printing blocks
Impact Digitisation of Buddhist texts and creation of open access online database has led to contribution to knowledge community.
Start Year 2010
 
Description Childrens activities, printing workshop at Museum 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact A series of printing workshops were held arising from the project exhibition, Buddha's Word, and associated with the Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology public outreach events.Workshops were held both in the museum and across the city at outdoor venues during the summer holidays.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Exploring Tibetan Culture - Traditiona Printing and Papermaking 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Pilot exhibition displaying tools and technologies for printing in Tibet with examples of work. This was a pilot for the larger exhibition held in 2014 at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
 
Description Workshops in schools 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Printing workshop held in Meldreth Primary School and Melbourn Community College in 2011
Parkside sixth form college 2011, and Melbourn Primary School in 2012
Parkside community college 2013, and Melbourn Primary School in 2013
Parkside community college 2014
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011,2012,2013,2014