A monk at Shalu Monastery with a photograph of an old statue now missing. (Photo by Sarah Richardson.)

This is a pilot project for a new approach to visualizing the movement of people and things around culturally significant places. Through this research a group of scholars active across multiple disciplines will take the historic Tibetan site of Shalu (Zhwa lu) Monastery as a case study for examining interactions between people, things and places through the creation of interactive, spatial-temporal maps. Focusing on the active and ongoing creation of “place” through material and social exchange, this project will map movements of people (founders, abbots, patrons and artisans) and things (building materials, precious metals, paintings and statues) that defined the character and history of Shalu through time. We propose that by visualizing history in this way, we may facilitate knowledge that is both particular and interactive, allowing us to see how particular histories, cultures and social exchanges are defined and created by and through particular people, things and places.

The interactive maps generated in this project will reflect carefully prepared underlying databases of geocoded data that incorporate approaches the from diverse fields of study (art history, material culture studies, history of religions, literary studies, anthropology, sociology, cultural and historical geography as well as digital humanities and digital history). The utility of these interactive maps will lie in permitting researchers to fix, and comprehend, data that is normally too fragmentary in a single moment, and too volatile over time and space, for historical analysis. The interactive nature of the maps will permit users to understand the ongoing material exchange, and by extension the development and negotiation of economic, political, and cultural systems in Tibet and throughout Asia. These maps will allow users to visualize and analyze interactions between Shalu and its multiple contexts of exchange.

Shalu had a well-articulated and important place in the larger world throughout its history. The material objects now at Shalu provide concrete evidence of the interaction of Chinese, Nepalese and Tibetan objects and agents, mirroring religious, political and social interactions of these geographic and cultural entities at the site. Further, Shalu and its histories provide detailed information about the movements of people and things in medieval Tibet, permitting the team to develop strategies of data collecting, data coding, and dynamic map-making that can support the development of new research questions and plot directions for further analysis.

Funded by a SSHRC Research Development Initiative Grant (2010-2012)

Primary Investigators: Frances Garrett and Jennifer Purtle

Student Collaborators: Ben Wood and Sarah Richardson