Engaging Digital Tibet

Engaging Digital Tibet Partner(s): Gray Tuttle
East Asian Language and Cultures

Access: Released: May 2010

VIEW PROJECT

This project offers students the ability to work with Tibetan source materials and participate directly in Tibetan history scholarship in an online environment. CCNMTL developed this project in partnership with Gray Tuttle, an assistant professor of modern Tibetan studies in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, to allow students to examine the intersections of trade, craftsmanship, art, religion, and politics in Tibet.

The project consists of two pieces: a growing, curated, digital collection of Tibetan material objects that are integral to studying Tibetan culture, and CCNMTL's MediaThread application which supports deep exploration, close reading, personal organization, and individual or group analysis of web-based multimedia content. Students use MediaThread to annotate objects and parts of objects, share their work for collaboration or feedback, and synthesize their own analysis with archival material to eventually create "object biographies", essays detailing the life history of particular objects. These biographies tell the stories of past peoples and cultures in a uniquely grounded way: an object serves as a basis for developing a narrative about the time, place, and people who participated in the creation of culture. Student-created biographies are available to classmates, future students of Tibetan culture, and the public.

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Project Details

Engaging Digital Tibet—currently being developed in partnership with Gray Tuttle, Assistant Professor of Modern Tibetan Studies in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures—is defining innovative ways for students to work with source materials and participate directly in historical scholarship. The project will allow Tuttle's students to examine intersections of long-distant trade and local craftsmanship, artistic taste and politics, religious ideals and the most basic material realities of life in Tibet--in ways newly facilitated by digital technologies.

Activating rich collections

In Engaging Digital Tibet, undergraduates at Columbia will 'activate' Tibet-related digital collections, annotating them for classmates, future students of Tibet culture, and the public. This activation will be accomplished, specifically, with workspaces in which students synthesize archival material into 'object biographies.' Such biographies tell the stories of the lived experiences of past peoples and cultures in a uniquely grounded way: an object serves as a basis for developing a narrative about the time, place, and people who participated in the creation of culture.

Professor Tuttle's students will create object biographies of items in the Engaging Digital Tibet collection by directly annotating, interlinking, and mapping images. These capacities will provide engaging new ways to interact with digitized objects from Columbia University Libraries and project partners, such as the Rubin Museum of Art and the Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art.

A growing resource

Engaging Digital Tibet will grow to comprise: 1) student workspaces configured to facilitate the creation and linking of object biographies; 2) a publicly accessible digital library showcasing student work on the significance of material culture in Tibet; and 3) an online resource hub containing archival images of material artifacts, annotated bibliographies and out-of-copyright scanned texts, and customized mapping tools. After an initial pilot period, the project plans to open up its resources and tools to professors and students beyond Columbia University who are using material culture to teach and learn about history, anthropology, religion, or art history.

Engaging Digital Tibet will thus serve as a model for new modes of collaboration between professors, librarians, museum curators, and university students. Through an array of emerging online communication tools, digitized resources, resource sharing, and an innovative pedagogy building upon demonstrated classroom success, Engaging Digital Tibet will foster the creation of a common culture of academic exploration and collaboration--unlocking, in the process, greater potential within rich archives for serious academic study.