The Tibet Album website is the primary outcome from two and half years of research based at the Pitt Rivers Museum and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council of the United Kingdom. The grant we received was for 'Resource Enhancement', a type of funding which enables museums and other institutions to work on specific components of their collections in order to improve public access to them and to enhance their potential as tools for research. Without this funding a project such as ours would not be possible.
The University of Oxford also provided funding from their Research and Development fund which enabled us to create a pilot website (with only 400 images) and to trial our working methods. The pilot site has now been replaced by The Tibet Album website, the content and functionality of which has hugely exceeded our original intentions and expectations.
Elizabeth Edwards (Professor, University of the Arts, formerly head of Photograph Collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum),
Clare Harris (Reader in Visual Anthropology and Curator of Asian Collections, Pitt Rivers Museum),
Richard Blurton (Head of South Asia Section, British Museum).
Extracts from our proposal to the AHRC for the Tibet Visual History 1920-1950 Project:
The study of Tibetan culture and history has emerged as one of the most exciting areas of scholarship in recent times. Central to research initiatives has been the re-evaluation of the international impact of Tibet in the twentieth century political and cultural order. British colonial engagements, beginning with the 'opening up' of Tibet by the 1904 Younghusband Expedition, played a crucial role in determining the fate of the region and its communities. Colonial intervention produced a wealth of information about Tibet and its inhabitants, still the archival bedrock of the subject. However, little analytical attention has been paid to the enormous photographic resources generated during this period. Between 1920 and 1950 thousands of photographs were taken by members of the colonial elite during their postings to Tibet and Tibetan-speaking regions of the Himalayas. These representatives of the British government used photography as part of a diplomatic and scholarly engagement with the region. Their photographs were often published in books documenting their travels or used to illustrate their lectures at academic and governmental meetings. Many of those images have since become iconic, reflecting a particularly British way of viewing and thinking about Tibet and Tibetans and marking a period in Anglo-Tibetan relations that was crucial to both parties.
The Tibet Visual History project was devised in order to explore the complex visual histories embedded in thousands of these photographs held at the Pitt Rivers Museum (Oxford) and the British Museum (London). It aimed to provide unprecedented access to such material for all those interested in the history of Tibet in the twentieth century, in the objects, practices and processes of photography and in the ways in which Tibet has been represented and imagined by non-Tibetans. The project was also inspired by the idea that museum collections can play an active role in reconstructing Tibetan histories and identities in the present.
The Outcomes (in brief)
The Tibet Visual History project has substantially enhanced and reconfigured the significance of our photograph collections and its primary outcome The Tibet Album has activated their potential for all kinds of research Ð from investigating family histories to supporting teaching and scholarship about Tibet. Publications referring to the content and methodology of the project are underway and members of the team have given presentations about the Tibet Visual History project in a number of European countries. We plan to share the knowledge we have gained with other researchers and institutions and to circulate information about our procedures both here in website and in other formats.