Digital Himalaya – An Online Archive

The Digital Himalaya Project is a collection, storage and dissemination portal for scholarly content and research findings about the Himalayan region. The project was established in December 2000 in the Department of Social Anthropology at the University of Cambridge with three objectives:

1. to preserve in a digital medium anthropological materials from the Himalayan region that were fast degenerating in their current form, including film, photographs, audio recordings, field notes, maps and rare publications;

2. to make these resources available over the web so that researchers and students might use them;

3. to make these resources available on DVD to the descendants of the people from whom the materials were collected.

Thanks to financial support secured in the United Kingdom and later in the United States, and through lasting partnerships with established digital library initiatives at the universities of Virginia and Cornell, we soon reached and then exceeded our initial goals. The Digital Himalaya website now connects a worldwide user community to a vast corpus of digital resources from or about India, Nepal, Bhutan and the Tibetan plateau for free and easy download—without payment, subscription or password.

From August 2011, the Digital Himalaya Project is co-located at Yale and Cambridge universities.

Successes: From Offset to Online

While Digital Himalaya began as a strategy for collecting and protecting the products of colonial-era ethnographic collections on the Himalayas—for posterity and for access by heritage communities—the project has now become a collaborative digital publishing environment, bringing a new collection online every month, with close to half a million web visitors since its establishment in 2000.

The website has grown from being a static homepage with occasional updates to a dynamic content delivery platform for over 40GB of archival census data, maps, films, audio recordings, photographs, journals and scanned books. We have also witnessed dramatic changes in the profile of visitors to our site: from (overwhelmingly) members of European and American universities in the early years, to a well networked, global and digitally literate user community, in particular from South and Inner Asia.

Almost all of our digitisation and scanning is now conducted in Nepal, dramatically reducing operating costs and increasingly productivity. At present, our funding no longer comes from national funding councils in the UK and USA, but through Web referrals and from individual or institutional donations around the world. We are now supported by people and organisations who recognise our work and want to contribute to it.

Improved Digital Access to Rare Collections: Overcoming the Digital Divide

There appear to be two reasons for the high number of web visitors that we have from South Asia:

(1) Many users in South Asia have leapfrogged in terms of their access to and the affordability of new technology, moving from dialup to broadband services in a just a few years. A generation of ‘born digital’ young Indians, Nepalis, Bhutanese and Tibetans are now downloading and using our content.

(2) A consequence of the poor state of university and public libraries in parts of Asia is that students and teachers often have limited access to print collections and catalogues—even of material that was published in their own country. Weather conditions detrimental to collections and under-resourced libraries combine to make free, online access particularly attractive to scholars based in South Asia.

These factors have helped Digital Himalaya become a core resource for researchers in, from or studying the Himalayan region.

‘JSTOR for the Himalayas’ and other Online Collections

Digital Himalaya is the online host (or co-host) for 40 journals, magazines and publications of Himalayan studies. Some publications are regular and peer-reviewed, others are occasional and poorly distributed, while a number are defunct or orphaned publications with a large number of back issues.

Along with over 300,000 pages of scanned and indexed print matter in PDF format, we host a searchable database of the Census of Nepal (2001); over 2,500 historical and contemporary maps of the region; hundreds of hours of film and video of Bhutan, Nepal, India and Tibet from the 1930s to the present; and a growing collection of contemporary audio recordings of Himalayan musical traditions. Many of these collections have come to the project because depositors, editors, publishers and members of indigenous communities have sought us out as their online home of choice. In April 2011, two new collections were offered to Digital Himalaya: Postal Himal (the Quarterly of the Nepal and Tibet Study Circle) and a unique archive of unpublished bird reports collected by Carol and Tim Inskipp, the foremost ornithologists working in Nepal. The project will require increased staff capacity and must augment its resources to accession such donations in an effective and timely manner.

Digital Himalaya at Yale

What began as an academic research project in 2000 has become a vast online portal for hosting and disseminating knowledge about the Himalayas to a demanding and fast-growing user base. At Yale, Digital Himalaya is extending and deepening its scanning of journals and publications; embeding the project in the structure of the university library by migrating all datasets to a digital repository for long-term sustainability; and working with IT professionals and designers to restructure the website to enhance the user experience and ensure that these unique resources continue to serve our diverse, global user community.

Please contact Mark Turin for more information about the project.

www.digitalhimalaya.org


Mark Turin

I am an anthropologist and linguist trained in the UK and the Netherlands. My scholarly focus is on the Himalayan region, in particular Nepal, northern India, Bhutan and cultural Tibet. I am a core member of the Yale Himalaya Initiative, and I teach at Cambridge and Yale universities, where I also direct two international research projects.

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