Tibetan Social History

G. M. Trevelyan, one of the pioneers of Social History, described the emerging field as “history with the politics left out”. A more charitable characterisation of the discipline has been proposed by Mary Fulbrook, who defended it as “history with the people put back in”. The aim of SHTS, a Franco-German research project jointly funded by the ANR (French National Research Agency) and the DFG (German Research Council) is to carry out fundamental research on the social history of Tibetan societies, from the mid-17th to the mid-20th centuries – a period corresponding to the duration of the so-called Ganden Phodrang government in Tibet. The region under consideration is “ethnographic Tibet” (i.e. ethnically Tibetan areas in the PRC and adjacent countries, especially Nepal and India). The main source materials will be the large archival collections already photographed by members of both the French and German research teams in Tibet, Nepal and India.

Those documents that have not already been digitised (in the case of collections photographed with 35mm film) will be scanned, catalogued, transliterated and paraphrased or translated, and the entirety of the material made available as a resource for the international scholarly community in printed volumes and/or on searchable websites.

The team will use these materials, in combination with published Tibetan sources, British Foreign Office archives, Nepali and Chinese documents and fieldwork-based investigations, to address issues that have never been satisfactorily treated by scholars: the nature of legal, fiscal and administrative relations among the various centres and peripheries in the region; the adequacy of characterising Tibet as a feudal society; the social role of clerics and nobles, farmers, nomads, craftsmen and traders; the organisation of civil society; strategies of dispute resolution and the numerous legal systems that prevailed in different areas. In addition to creating the largest available resource for the further study of Tibetan social history, members of the project will also produce monographs and articles focusing on selected geographical areas, on particular social groups, and on broader thematic issues.