|MARK TURIN|| Haimendorf's Laptop
An Ethnographic Archive in the Digital Age
Digital Himalaya is a pilot project to develop digital collection,
archiving, and distribution strategies for multimedia anthropological
information from the Himalayan region. Based at the University of Cambridge
in the UK, the project commenced in December 2000. In the initial phase,
we are digitizing a set of existing ethnographic archives comprised of
photographs, films, sound recordings, field notes, and texts collected
by anthropologists and travellers in Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, and the Indian
Himalayas (including Sikkim) from the beginning of the twentieth century
to the present.
The project has three long-term objectives. The first is to preserve, in a digital medium, valuable ethnographic materials that are degenerating in their current forms. The second is to make these resources available in a searchable digital format to scholars and to the Himalayan communities from which the materials were collected. Lastly, we need to develop a template for collaborative digital cataloguing that will allow users to contribute documentation to existing collections and eventually link their own collections to the system, creating a dynamic tool for comparative research
a. the Williamson Photographic Archive: 1,700 photographs taken
between 1930 and 1935 by the British Political Officer Sir Frederick Williamson
in Tibet, Sikkim, and Bhutan. Williamson's collection is now held in the
Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Cambridge,
and includes a number of rare historic images.
TECHNOLOGIES & METHODOLOGIES
Digitizing the diverse moving and still images included within the Digital Himalaya collections -- the essential first step in preserving original materials -- presents substantial challenges and necessitates an array of technological approaches. Many of the 16mm films in the Fürer-Haimendorf collection are deteriorating and require immediate attention. Recently, a digitization system has been set up at Cambridge which allows efficient transfers of 16mm material on to digital master tapes. The Thak Collection films mostly originate on Hi-8, and videos from the 1980s have already suffered substantial quality loss. At present, over 50 hours of the Thak material has been transferred to digital master tapes. The Williamson photographs are preserved and mounted in original photo-albums and cannot be scanned with a normal flatbed scanner. Instead, they must be digitally re-photographed. A set of 16mm films shot by Williamson have also come to light, and we hope to include these in the project, using the same digitization techniques that are currently being used for the Haimendorf films.
Regarding data management and distribution, Digital Himalaya is exploring options for a comprehensive, end-user system that will allow portions of each collection to be accessed on the Internet, while making full compilations available on DVD. As a physical object, a DVD is a self-contained portable resource, which requires neither high-speed Internet access nor even a computer. With the advent of small battery-operated DVD-Video players, it is now possible to play DVDs in areas with no infrastructure or electricity supply. In the place of complicated keyboard and mouse controls, DVD players are controlled with simple TV-style buttons. A DVD-based archive may provide better access to non-literate users by offering limited interactivity and higher quality playable content making use of voice-overs in local languages instead of text.
Recently, new convergent strategies integrating the best of both Internet and DVD have emerged. With the advent of low-cost consumer DVD-burners and associated authoring software, searchable databases can be made available online along with low resolution film clips and photos, from which users would then order a custom DVD complete with relevant voice-overs. The film clips on the DVD will have embedded URLs, and when viewed on a computer will become active, enabling the user to link back to the relevant database information online. An online annotation feature will allow members of the communities from which the material originated, or scholars, or both, to add new or corrected information about individuals, rituals, or historical events, which could then be incorporated into the database documentation for that particular item. In areas where Internet access is unavailable, DVD-only versions of the archive could be compiled and installed, and comments sent by post.
Digital Himalaya is collaborating with many research partners to develop
and adopt the most appropriate set of software systems. By participating
in multi-partner projects like the Electronic Cultural Atlas Initiative
(University of California) and the Tibetan and Himalayan Digital Library
(University of Virginia), Digital Himalaya aims to provide a wide access
to Himalayan materials. It seeks to facilitate access for a broad range
of scholars and members of the general public, in addition to that for
community members in the areas where the materials originated. The time-depth
and geographical breadth of Digital Himalaya's collections is unique and
will be of great benefit to comparative researchers, local historians,
and students. *
Digital Himalaya is supported by the Anthropologists' Fund for Urgent Anthropological Research at the Royal Anthropological Institute, the Renaissance Trust, the Frederick Williamson Memorial Fund and the Crowther-Beynon Fund of the University of Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. The project is based at the Department of Social Anthropology at the University of Cambridge. An earlier version of this article was published in the European Bulletin of Himalayan Research, vol. 20-21, November 2001.
Sara Shneiderman MA is currently a PhD student in anthropology
at Cornell University. She served as project manager for Digital Himalaya
from fall 2000 to spring 2001, and continues to work on the Thangmi archive
as part of her PhD research, building upon original work done in Nepal
as a Fulbright scholar in Nepal in 1999-2000.
Mark Turin, MA is completing his grammar of the Thangmi language,
spoken in central eastern Nepal. He is currently affiliated to the Department
of Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge and working in the Digital