This website presents more than 4400 handwritten Tibetan legal documents with about 18800 images as results of two former research projects. I carried out these projects together with various colleagues between 1999 to 2005.
In the first project, supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ), we had labors carried out on a project dealing with legal documents originally stored at Kundeling Monastery in Lhasa in collaboration with the Archives of Tibet Autonomous Region, Lhasa. During two years, in 1999 and 2000, more than 2700 documents of various formats, from very small to very large, including paper sheets with a length of several meters and book formats with many pages, were digitally recorded and are presented here as digital copies. The shooting of such a large number of images by the specially trained staff within the time available to us was made possible by the establishment of a digitization workshop and a standardized procedure. The technical equipment at that time already guaranteed a high resolution, which allows sufficient image details and enlargements for many investigations afterwards, including paleographic studies. However, the standardized procedure based on a fixed camera position and focal distance did not allow for time-consuming close-ups. Most of the documents were recorded with a Leica S1 Pro, a scanner camera for stationary use with a resolution of 26 megapixels. The scanning time for a full scan was 185 seconds. To speed up the work towards the end of the project, a second camera, a Nikon Coolpix with a resolution of 3.34 megapixels, was installed. It was used exclusively for small formats. A great portion of the digitized material has been transliterated in a Tibetan dBu-can based typed form in text files. This was done by members of the archives in Lhasa. The archives provided us with up to nine local staff members who were then paid by the project, including personnel for the technical maintenance of the equipment. Two German project members, Gregor Verhufen and Joachim Karsten, as well as myself were repeatedly on site for longer stays to carry out various tasks such as material procurement, hardware and software installation, maintenance work, technical inspection of the new computers, setting up the database, training of the staff, adaptation of the software, etc. Joachim Karsten also acted as German-Chinese translator when dealing with authorities and Chinese colleagues. At Bonn university, the German project staff was busy entering short descriptions of the documents into the database. This work still went on in 2001 after the cooperation in Lhasa had come to an end. At that time, Namgyal Nyima and Gregor Verhufen were working for the project at Bonn University. Gregor Verhufen did all programming work based on HTML code as well as the design presentation of the original website. Moreover, he extracted all seals stamps so that they could be viewed separately and accessed through a separate database. All other programming work to structure the website, including the implementation of the search options for the annotated information, the full-text search in the Tibetan texts and the conversion of the Tibetan texts from the proprietary Word format to Unicode, was done by Jan Ischebeck.
Between 2002 and 2005 another project on Tibetan Legal Documents, supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, was initiated to digitize various collections, foremost the holding of the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives (LTWA) in Dharamsala, India. In addition, several German collections have been digitized: the private collection of the philatelist Kurt H. Dahnke † that contains correspondence between Nepal and Tibet mainly from the 19th century, the private collection of Andre Alexander (1965-2012) that contains private documents from Lhasa town, and documents of the Staatsbibliothek Preußischer Kulturbesitz in Berlin, which have been described in detail by Hanna Schneider (Verzeichnis der Orientalischen Handschriften in Deutschland 11, part 16‒17: Tibetischsprachige Urkunden aus Südwesttibet (Spo-rong, Ding-ri und Shel-dkar). Stuttgart: Franz Steiner, 2012). In sum, through this project almost 1800 documents became easily accessible.
Several people contributed to the project. Saadet Arslan sifted through the documents and did the actual digitizing using a scan camera. Afterwards she did the graphical processing, numbering, labelling, corrections and so on. Namgyel Nyima extracted the essential information of the documents and transferred them to a database. Further he did some examinations on the terminology and the proverbs contained in the documents. Gregor Verhufen installed the digitization workshop, created the original design of the websites, looked for the technical equipment and extracted the seals imprinted on the documents for the separate database. Blo bzang skal bzang, Klu sgrub mang thos, and bsTan ’dzin bzod pa from the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives in Dharamsala transliterated the Tibetan handwriting into the Tibetan dBu-can script to make the documents searchable.
The time and financial budget available and the personnel capacity of both projects did not allow the texts to be transliterated twice and independently by two different groups in order to keep the error rate as low as possible. It is therefore the responsibility of each user to critically review the transliteration and compare it with the document images. The same applies to the entries in the separate database, which contains a short description of the respective document.
For many years the database was used by colleagues all over the world. It always operated smoothly without problems. Nevertheless, the programming of a database must be updated after some time. It was not easy to obtain funding for this. But it was even more difficult to find someone who was able and willing to do the job. The only thing that could be done was to regularly back up the raw data. Towards the end of 2018, a security gap in the database was identified during a large-scale scan of university websites, which led to the University Computer Centre of the University of Bonn taking the server with the database offline. The attempt to solve the problem by awarding a contract failed. Therefore, I am very grateful to my sons Robert and Sebastian for taking on the task this year. Without their great commitment and extensive programming knowledge the database could not be put online now. Instead of trying to close the vulnerability, they reprogrammed the database from scratch. Not only was the structure of the database changed and brought up to date. They also unified and merged different tables and linked them to the rest of the database. A unified search was added. The text search now also works with Tibetan characters and is cross-collection. Furthermore, the option to edit both, documents and seals, was implemented, as well as the possibility to add new documents to the database. To allow for future changes and additions, a user-system was created that assigns individual writing permissions to users. Finally, I want to thank Elin Kanstinger for creating the background image of the website. During the next years the content of the database has to be checked carefully and many corrections and supplements have to be made. It is my great hope that this can now happen step by step. Moreover, I plan to edit selected documents and publish them in book form.
Königswinter, March 2020
This websites contains the documents from the following archives:
Collection of Kurt H. Dahnke (KHD)
Staatsbibliothek Berlin (SBB)
Collection of André Alexander (AA)
Collection of Dagmar and Heinz Czerny (DHC)
Collection of Wolfgang Bertsch (WB)
Library of Tibetan Works and Archives (LTWA)
Abbreviations and Clarifications of Terms:
In order to understand all abbreviations and commentaries made in the Database files, please consider the following list:
AN: Additional note that might be tagged with the document at a later period or might be written at the same time. Any term of the document name found exclusively in the main document is categorised here under AN.
DC: Main document.
TAL: Tibetan Archives Lhasa.
TAL remark: Each document has a small piece of paper with notes, provided by TAL.
Document types: Defining the document type is made in several stages. As first preference we provided according to the "fixed terms" contained in the document, then TAL remark. If DC and (AN) TAL have different descriptions, then we provided each one, but slight variations have not been recorded. For instance DC zhu-yig zin-bris and TAL zhu-yig 'bul-zin, in this case we took only the prior one.
+ indicates the combination of two close words which are interrupted by other words between viz. rten-chas kyang gnang-tsham yod-pa'i chad-'dzin = rten-chas + chad-'dzin.
++ indicates the combination of two words in distances, for instance zhu-yig ++ dper-brjod inventory no. 012 1-1/#/5/4/4 is combined from two separate pages.
Senders and recipients: In some cases there are more than two names are mentioned, we always write down the prior mentioned names.
Except date, rest anything written in brackets () are our own created terms than rather found in texts.
C = Cursive refers to Tibetan 'khyug-yig handwriting.
CS = Chancellor Script including Tibetan 'bru-tsha and tshugs-thung as well as sug-thung handwriting.
BS = Book Script. This can be dpe-bris / dpe-tshugs , 'bam-yig, as well as dbu-can handwriting.
!!!> This sign was added by us as an indication that the final number of documents belonging to the same group does not match with the numbering given in the final small TAL-paper that is usually attached to the last document of each group.