Tibet before 1950: Digital Photo Archives

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The Tibet Album: British Photography in Central Tibet 1920-1950


This collection of 4000+ photographs is from the Pitt Rivers Museum and the British Museum. It is by far the most extensive digital resource I found on this subject, and part of a collection that holds 125,000 images in total. The site is content-rich, beautifully designed and glitch-free. My hat is off to them for a superb job. Not only have they amassed an exemplary collection, but they have used their storytelling abilities to weave it together into multiple, interactive narrative tracks, thus creating a deeply immersive environment.

Joseph F. Rock Photo Collection


This collection comprises several hundred photographs by American Explorer Joseph Rock from western China and eastern Tibet in 1925-26. The original digitization was done by Harvard University, but I found the best interface from this Buddhist site hosted in Australia. Rock wrote extensively for National Geographic magazine. These are some of the photos that didn’t make it into the magazine. This site would be more useful for a Silk Road project than a Tibet project, based on what I saw.

Digital Himalaya


This site seems to focus more on Nepal and Central Asia. No photos popped up at first, but it is such a large site with so many links that I will go back to it to explore further.

Heinrich Harrer Portfolio


Harrer is the author of the book, “Seven Years in Tibet.” He was an Austrian POW in India during WWII, who escaped into Tibet, lived there for seven years, and became a close personal friend to HH the Dalai Lama. He was granted extraordinary access to Tibetan society and took thousands of pictures. I haven’t found a source for his entire archive, but this slim link at least gives some sense of his work and how to contact him, since he is still alive (and still friends with HH the Dalai Lama!).

Himalayan Art Resources


This site is, as the name implies, mostly about paintings, sculpture and architectural ornamentation. However, it contains several paintings of pre-photographic historical figures of interest to me.

Kern Institute Special Collections


This portal leads to a vast array of resources from Universiteit Leiden in the Netherlands. I’m not sure how much has been digitized, but it deserves extensive investigation.

Buddhist Art News


This blog-roll was not of immediate interest to me but, like all things on the web that link to something that links to something else that links to what you really want, it could lead to magical realms for someone willing to wander through random doors.

The International Dunhaung Project


This scholarly site is not directly related to my current project, but is about a project I have in an earlier stage of development. It features more than 150,000 Silk Road images online and a host of great links.

The Huntington Archive of Buddhist and Related Art


This site features 30,000+ b/w photos and some very well-put-together displays. A key-word search for “Tibet” yielded 1014 hits. The image resolution is excellent.

The Library of Tibetan Works and Archives


This screen grab from the government of Tibet in exile website describes their photo archives as holding 6000+ photos, along with hundreds of thousands of other items. Nothing is digitized, but it is probably catalogued. One would assume they would help in any way they could. Wish I could help them.

Tibet, from the collections of the American Geographical Society Library


This site from the University of Wisconsin in Milwaulkee has a number of interesting collections including an Old Tibet Photo Archive and a pretty good interface.

Tibetan Review


This magazine’s contents back to 1967 are posted online. It features occasional historical articles worth serious consideration. As such, it’s a valuable research tool to get to deeper resources. I found leafing through copies in Robarts to be tedious and haphazard. This looks like a more efficient way to find what I’m looking for (e.g. I found a great article on Tibetan proverbs from the past; I’ve got a book of Chinese proverbs published in 1888 but I’d never seen any for Tibet.)

Who Was Who in Tibet? Officials from Tibet through British Eyes


This plug for a forthcoming book (2008) from a German company features 600+ biographical entries culled from previously-restricted British government sources for the period 1907-1950. The book will include photos from the Pitt Rivers Museum. This definitely looks like a resource to check out!

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