Recapturing the Tibetans who escaped the historian’s net, Bonn, 27–28 May 2013
The second conference of our ANR-DFG project, entitled “Recapturing the Tibetans who Escaped the Historian’s Net”, took place on the 27 and 28 May 2013 in Bonn at the Gustav-Stresemann-Institute.
A PDF of the conference programme can be downloaded here
The conference resulted in the first collective work of the project. Entitled Tibetans who Escaped the Historian’s Net: Studies in the Social History of Tibetan Societies, the book was published in November 2013 by Vajra Publications, Kathmandu. The aims of the conference and its proceedings are set out in the introduction:
While a great deal of research remains to be done in all areas of Tibetan civilisation, certain domains have naturally received more attention than others. It requires the most cursory examination of any of the standard dictionaries to see that entries related to Buddhism, for example, vastly outnumber those belonging to such fields as divination, farming, law and administration. And yet it is surely the case that these activities have exercised the great majority of the Tibetan population far more than the arcana of high religion. Subjects such as these have by no means been completely ignored by scholarship, but the number of researchers who have engaged with them—notwithstanding the considerable importance of some of their publications—remains very small indeed. This is the case with the field with which we are particularly concerned here: social history. Although that designation itself has featured in very few works related to Tibetan societies, there are nevertheless a number of landmark studies on aspects of this discipline that provide a foundation of prior research on which we can build, and that feature repeatedly in the bibliographies of the contributions in this volume; the door is already open, and the purpose of this collection is to push it further ajar. The social study of Tibetan-speaking communities has traditionally been the province of anthropologists, rather than historians. Where a diachronic perspective is adopted, it is usually based on oral tradition, or on the type of quasi-historical written accounts that are themselves substantially indebted to legend. As in the case of similar studies in other parts of the world, a social history of Tibetan regions must necessarily make use of local archival material or other documents. Scholarly research on this genre of Tibetan literature is still in its infancy. The importance of documents, where they have been accessible, for understanding how national institutions operated at a local level is illustrated by, say, Schuh’s landmark study of monastic recruitment and revenues in Kyirong (Schuh 1988). Among other things, cases of this sort give an idea of the considerable local variation that existed in the operation of systems too often regarded as homogeneous. Contemporary documentary literature has also proved invaluable in shedding light on the local manifestations of the Tibetan empire (7th to 9th centuries) in its northern hinterland, as the work of Takeuchi, Uebach and Uray, among others, has shown. Nevertheless, it is also true that these studies are primarily concerned with political and economic institutions, and the people who wielded power in relatively small arenas; many social groups—ordinary villagers, for example, as well as substantial sections of the Central Tibetan elite—have still not found a voice and a place of their own in histories of Tibetan-speaking people.
The full text of the introduction, as well as the cover image and table of contents of the book, can be found on the Project Publications page of this website. Click here to visit the page.