You are here

Attending IATS 2010

From August 15-21, 2010, over four hundred people converged on the beautiful campus of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver for the 12th Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies (IATS). This August gathering meets every three to four years and is the convergence of scholars and individuals involved in Tibetan Studies from all over the world and across a wide range of disciplines for a week-long conference. Trace Foundation was both a sponsor of and active participant in the conference.

The day was sweltering, registering as the hottest day in Vancouver on record. Despite the heat, scholars from all over the world gathered to participate in this open forum of ideas. Academics from around the world lounged on the beautiful lawn of the university campus, enjoying the cooling breeze that drifted in from the Vancouver Sound. This casual and gregarious atmosphere of scholars mingling under shady pine trees was the ideal setting for this important conference on developments in Tibetan Studies.

Building our commitment to developing knowledge about Tibetan areas and language, Trace Foundation has been an ardent supporter of IATS since 1998. Our primary focus has been to support young scholars who would otherwise be unable to present their research in such a prestigious international forum. We provide not only financial support, but also assistance on the ground, including with their arrival and check-in at the conference, and translation throughout, ensuring their attendance is as meaningful as possible.

In past years Trace supported scholars have presented on topics as diverse as the spirit mediums of Repgong, classical Tibetan mathematics, and the editing of Tibetan manuscripts. In 2010, we supported ten young scholars to present their papers at IATS. They presented on topics in anthropology, history, literature, architecture and more. Through this initial exposure to the international community, several of these scholars have found new opportunities to lecture abroad.

In addition to this regular support, in 2010 Trace Foundation provided general support to the conveners of the conference. Staff also participated in and convened panels vital to the work of the Foundation.

Trace Foundation’s Research Office, together with the Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation, convened and chaired a panel entitled “Applied Scholarship in Tibet.” In order to explore the intersection of scholarship and development work, the panel brought together professional academics who participate in applied scholarship, scholarship that contributes to real benefit in the communities that are the subject and/or location of research. The panel addressed three main concerns: the need for moral clarity in research, the distribution of knowledge, and the relationship between engaged scholarship and research.

Thubten Phuntsok, of the Central Nationalities University in Beijing, provided an example of ethics in his pioneering work with his organization, Tibetan Aids Prevention Association (TAPA). When the first HIV case was discovered in Kardze Prefecture in 2000, Thubten Phuntsok recognized the urgent need for AIDS prevention. Recognizing that if initiatives to address this issue were not undertaken immediately, the Tibetan Plateau could be faced with a health crisis within a short period of time, he founded the organization to educate rural populations about HIV/AIDS prevention.

There is a similar need to provide people with access to textual materials. Dr. Mark Turin from the University of Cambridge and Director of the World Oral Literature Project is engaged in this task. His project, Digital Himalaya, is dedicated to the dual tasks of preserving archival anthropological materials from the Himalayas and making them accessible to a broad array of users. He discussed the challenges of transferring archival media to various digital formats, particularly finding the right balance between formats that would ensure longevity with formats that ensure accessibility.

On the topic of collaborative and local knowledge, Professor Sienna Craig of Dartmouth College and co-founder of Drokpa discussed her efforts with several different medical projects in Nepal and Tibet. She has helped clinics that offer traditional medical practices incorporate methods of record keeping and administration that are preferred by both state and international organizations and practitioners, thus garnering these clinics additional support.

Lastly, the panel discussed the relationship of engaged scholarship to research. Professor David Germano, of the University of Virginia and Director of the Tibetan and Himalayan Library, highlighted the need to rethink the common conception of how knowledge is created and disseminated. In particular, he advocated reconsidering how knowledge is disseminated within the academy, and offered examples of potential alternative systems. For scholars interested in engaged scholarship, a common issue is that it is often not compatible with a career in academia. Applied scholarship research is often relegated to the area of “service,” which is marginalized in relation to the areas of research that are vital to career advancement in academia. Professor Germano concluded by reiterating the importance of the need for those within academia to think of service as equal to teaching and research.

Trace Foundation’s Latse Library Director Pema Bhum and Librarian Kristina Dy-Liacco participated in the panel “Tibetological Library and Archive Resources: State of the Field and a Fielding of Needs.” Susan Meinheit of the Library of Congress, and Lauran Hartley, the Tibetan Studies Librarian at Columbia University, convened the discussion. They examined recent developments and long-standing challenges related to traditional and digital library resources. Also discussed was the need for library professionals and other stewards of Tibetan Studies collections to engage the broader academic community. The panelists agreed that fellow scholars could offer effective solutions to challenges and issues regarding access and use of Tibetan materials and resources.

Latse staff also participated in the afternoon panel, “Databases and Special Collections,” which focused on specialized collections and online databases of six different organizations. Latse Library opened the panel with a presentation on our special and rare collections. Jeff Wallman, Executive Director of the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center, provided an overview of their projects as well as ongoing research on optical character recognition software. Panelists encouraged the audience to voice any issues and challenges they had with access to and navigation of institutional databases and metadata systems, in the hopes of increasing access to and use of these Tibetological resources.

As the conference came to a close, small groups of participants wandered together to local restaurants and bars, where discussions continued long into the night. After meeting and discussing work and challenges with colleagues and members of the academic community, participants came away with a greater sense of camaraderie and understanding of the disciplinary relationships in Tibetan Studies. Moreover, there was a renewed energy—as well as a sense of urgency—to return to work armed with new ideas and clearer goals.