What is this project about?
he Oral History of Tibetan Studies records and collects oral memories of those who have contributed to the establishment of Tibetan and Himalayan Studies as a recognised independent academic discipline. Through interview recordings, we explore two aspects: the development of the discipline itself, and the distinctive life-stories of the individuals involved. We also take the material as an archive of valuable historical information which would not be recorded otherwise.
We collect oral memories of people of various roles and backgrounds who were influential in the spurring enthusiasm for Tibetan language, culture, and religion in the West, which then contributed to the emergence of Tibetan Studies.
We focus on scholars and academics, Tibetan teachers and traditional scholars, artists, photographers, book publishers, sponsors, and various enthusiasts supporting Tibet.
We capture them as unique personalities, show how and why they became interested in the region and culture, from which backgrounds they came, how they pursued their interests and studies, how their lives and careers developed, why they were attracted by certain themes and ideas, etc. Through these autobiographical stories and personal reflections, we hope to come to a fuller understanding of the people and the unique circumstances that helped to create “Tibetan Studies” as we know it today.
hours of archival material
The field of Tibetan Studies is relatively young. Although Tibet has been by limited avenues explored for several centuries, Western academic research has focused on Tibet mainly from the beginning of the 20th century, typically in search of Tibetan translations of Indian and Buddhist treatises. Tibetan Studies emerged as a unique academic discipline only during the 1960s and 1970s, when large numbers of Tibetans followed the Dalai Lama into exile.
This constellation brought scholars and many others into direct contact with Tibetans and Tibetan culture through the refugee communities in India and the new wave of Tibetan migration into western countries.
The development of Tibetan Studies has also been intertwined with Western trends such as the hippie culture, the growing popularity of Eastern religions, activities of Tibetan religious teachers in the West, and so on. Therefore, the history of Tibetan Studies is at the same time a panorama of Western society in these vibrant and colourful decades.
In Asia, Tibetan Studies has followed its own path, which we also aim to cover in this project. As the project originated in Europe, its focus has so far primarily been on Europe and the USA. We are trying our best to extend our scope to India, Japan, China, and Australia.
This project is run by a small group of volunteering PhD students in Europe and the USA, helped by friends all over the world. It all started with the humble thought of recording the wonderful stories and memories that our teachers have shared with us and which we have benefitted so much from. We hope to collect these memories in a format so that others in the future can have the opportunity to hear the life stories of all those who have come before us and paved the way.
The impetus to start was the sad passing of Elliot Sperling in January 2017, to whom the project is partly dedicated. The shocking incentive to continue was the passing of Tsering Dhundup Gonkatsang, our beloved teacher at Oxford, whom we lost in April 2018 only five days before a scheduled interview he was so passionate about. He is the second person to whom the project is dedicated.
Upon encouragement, interest, and support of others the initial thought expanded and materialised into thousands of kilometres travelled, dozens of interviews conducted, hundreds of hours of video and audio recordings, and a small collection of visual material. Learning on the way, being enthusiastic but not professionals, we apologise in advance for any shortcomings of our work.
We believe that proper appreciation of oral history and personal memories is gained by recording, preserving, and sharing. We take this project as a tribute to all teachers of the past, present, and future.
Meet the team
Thanks to the generous help of
and special thanks to
|All interviewees||Imola Atkins||Marie-Laure Aris|
|Yusuke Bessho||Martin Borýsek & Family||Cathy Cantwell|
|Michela Clemente||Viviane de Labriffe||Franz Xaver Erhard|
|Emanuella Garatti||Barbara Gerke||Paul Harrison|
|Theresia Hofer||Stephan Kloos||Seiji Kumagai|
|Rob Mayer||Charles Ramble||Ulrike Roesler|
|Jesko Schmoller & Family||Darig Thokmay||Dobis Kunbzang Tsering|
|Guido Vogliotti||Chandra Ehm||Gray Tuttle|
|Nadia Margolis||Ai Nishida||Kazushi Iwao|
|Shashi Bala||Gabriella Narancsik||Philippe de Saint Victor|
|Pema Bhum||Lauran Hartley||Lobsang Sumbha|
|Shoko Mekata||Michael Perrott||Pema Tso|
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