The “Social History of Tibet” programme for this 2019-2023 five-year period is a direct extension of the former “Modern History of Tibetan Societies” programme (for the 2014-2018 period), namely through its first research theme, entitled “Social History of Tibetan Societies (XVIIe-XXe centuries)”. The former five-year program was based mainly on two successive ANR-DFG projects on the Social History of Tibet: the “Social History of Tibetan Societies (SHTS)” project (2012-2016), and its sequel project “Social Status in the Tibetan World” (2016-2020). These two ANR-DFG projects were partly based on archives, as a source for social history, and partly on other types of sources (oral and published written materials). The detailed description of these programs are available on a dedicated website (http://www.tibetanhistory.net/).
TibStat, the second ANR-DFG project, reached its conclusion at the end of 2020, but research in the domain of the Social History of Tibet continues as one of the core programs of the Tibet team.
The program is thus organized around two main research themes:
A. Social status in the Tibetan world
This research theme is based on the bilateral Franco-German project (ANR/DFG), directed by Charles Ramble and Peter Schwieger and entitled “Social Status in the Tibetan World” (TibStat, 2016-2020). The aim is to focus the historical analysis of Social History (initiated in the previous ANR-DFG project, the SHTS) solely on the issue of social status in the Tibetan world. Research on this theme is based on several corpora of sources from different areas of the Tibetan world. The scientific notion of social status, which is heavily indebted to Max Weber’s pioneering work, has the advantage of being more inclusive than other models of stratification and hierarchy: on the one hand, it is not limited to the study of caste societies, in which status is largely determined by birth, and on the other, it does not necessarily reduce status to economic factors, as in the Marxist understanding of class, where the social groups oppose each other in a dialectic way. The scope of this category gives it a considerable analytic value for the study of societies that are on a continuum from hierarchical determinism, as in the case of the most rigid cast societies where status is hereditary, to a much greater fluidity in the so-called “meritocracies” at the other end of the spectrum. Although considerable variations exist from one Tibetan region to another, all the societies examined within this theme are situated in between the two extremes of social determinism and self-realisation.
The geographical focus of Charles Ramble’s research is provided by the three borderland enclaves of of Mustang and Dolpo, in Nepal, and Porong, previously a semi-autonomous principality in southern Tibet. His research considers local laws and governance, civil society, resource management, taxes, social hierarchy and other aspects of social history. Alice Travers continues to pursue her former research activities on the aristocracy of Central Tibet, on the basis of documents relating to the nobility between the 17th and 20th centuries and kept in exile in different public and private archival collections.
Archives as a source for the social history of the Tibetan cultural area
Although historians working on other cultural areas treat archives as a research priority, the existence and importance of archives for the history of the Tibetan world has sometimes been underestimated. This is mainly because the archives of the Tibet Autonomous Region are difficult or even impossible to access, and also because these documents, when they are available, are difficult to analyse. Consequently, work on Tibet’s history has been based primarily on literary sources. Yet, there are numerous Tibetan documents scattered in various museums and institutions throughout the world, as well as important local archival collections in regions surrounding the Tibetan cultural area. A substantial part of the available archives still remains under-exploited. Some collections have been or are the object of extensive research, like the one currently being investigated at Bonn University, where researchers have adapted tools for critical analysis taken from the field of diplomatics and applied them to the chancery archives; or again archives from Mustang, Dolpo and Porong, that are the focus of Charles Ramble’s research. Innovative works have recently revealed how valuable a codicological approach can be for studying these documents (Helman-Ważny and Ramble 2017), by analysing the handwriting as well as the use of seals and all other validation marks—this is an approach that was recently applied to the study of Tibetan manuscripts, but not yet to the study of archives: our program intends to fill this gap in scholarship by developing a new methodology in collaboration with Agnieszka Helman-Ważny (Centre for the Study of Manuscript Cultures, Hamburg).
This program will thus focus specifically on the role of Tibetan archives as a source for the social history of Tibet by attempting to draw up an inventory of the different relevant archive collections in the world and determining their individual characteristics and diversity according to the regions of the Tibetan world. It combines the study of the content of these archives with diplomatic and codicological analysis.
The main platform for the output of this research program is the website that was created for the two ANR-DFG projects (SHTS and TibStat) (www.tibetanhistory.net). Among other things, the website contains a searchable database of over 200 Tibetan documents from Mustang, fully translated and annotated, and further material will continue to be added as work proceeds. The site also provides a full list of the completed and forthcoming publications of the projects, as well as of studies in Tibetan social history undertaken outside these.
Dr Christoph Cüppers
(Lumbini International Research University, TibStat 2016-2020)
MA Jeannine Bischoff (Bonn University, Allemagne, TibStat 2016-2020)
Pr. Fernanda Pirie (Oxford University, GB, TibStat 2016-2020)
Dr Kalsang Norbu Gurung (Bonn University, Allemagne, TibStat 2016-2020)
Dr. Hildegard Diemberger (Cambridge University, GB, TibStat 2016-2020)
Dr Agneszka Helman-Ważny (Centre for the Study of Manuscript Cultures, Hamburg)