Digitisation of northern Thai manuscripts (Thailand)

Thanks to the digitisation of northern Thai manuscripts as part of the Cultural Preservation Programme of the Federal Foreign Office, valuable historical documents have been preserved and made available to the public via the internet.

 

The cultural and literary traditions of northern Thailand have made an essential contribution to the development of related cultures throughout the region. However, northern Thailand’s rich manuscript collections have remained severely under-researched due to a lack of accessibility. The database of northern Thai literature is therefore an important milestone in efforts to preserve Thailand’s cultural heritage. The texts, which span more than 500 years, address cultural and local traditions, astrology, mythology, legal interpretations, social relations and everyday life; they are not only part of the country’s cultural heritage, but also strengthen the Thai people’s cultural identity.

The Federal Foreign Office already between 1987 and 1992 supported the creation of a microfilm record of northern Thai manuscripts. This microfilm collection was later digitised with funds from the Cultural Preservation Programme. Since March 2016 it is publicly available on the internet, free of charge. In 2017, selected manuscripts from 22 temples in Lamphun, Lampang, Phayao and Chiang Rai were directly digitised, thereby completing the online collection.

The manuscripts are being digitised in northern Thailand by a photographer and a handwriting expert. Their work is supported by local volunteers and supervised by the project leader and the technical coordinator. All work is performed directly at each temple, in coordination with the local abbot. Once the digitisation is completed, each manuscript is carefully wrapped in its piece of cloth and returned to where it was originally stored.

Historic palm leaf manuscripts at Wat Pa Sak Noi Temple in Chiang Mai Province, northern Thailand | © David Wharton
 

Just prior to being photographed, each manuscript is cleaned and examined. Some leaves are wiped with high-grade alcohol to make them more easily readable. The project staff and local monks involved in the project are offered training to show them how to properly clean and arrange the individual palm leaves.

A digital single-lens reflex camera is highly portable and takes high-quality photos that can be archived and viewed on the internet. The photos are later added to the Digital Library of Northern Thai Manuscripts, along with the respective inventory data in English and Thai.

To round out the manuscript website, photos are uploaded of temples, libraries, manuscript boxes, scribes and the direct digitisation process.

 

Image: A manuscript at Wat Pa Sak Noi Temple | © 2015 David Wharton, Digital Library of Northern Thai Manuscripts

Promoted by: Cultural Preservation Programme of The Federal Foreign Office

Source: Ed. Federal Foreign Office

 

 

 

 

 

The Nuri Mosque in Hama and water wheels.

Syrian Heritage Archive Project

The civil war in Syria poses an acute threat to the country’s cultural heritage. Thoughtless and wilful destruction and robberies are documented daily, and it is not rare for World Heritage sites to be affected. The Syrian Heritage Archive Project is designed to counter the loss of these unique historical treasures.                                             

Syria has an outstanding, millennia-old cultural heritage. The country’s social fabric is still characterised by extraordinary ethnic and religious diversity. The cultural archive of collective memory is of vital importance not only for Syria but for the whole of humanity. This is precisely why cultural sites in Syria were among the first to be recognised by UNESCO as World Heritage sites. To counter the risk of losing for ever entire cultural landscapes with their archaeological and historic monuments, the Syrian Heritage Archive Project was launched in 2013 with funding from the Cultural Preservation Programme of the Federal Foreign Office. Two German academic institutions with many years of experience of research in and into Syria – the German Archaeological Institute (DAI) and the Museum of Islamic Art in Berlin – are playing their part in the internationally coordinated efforts to preserve Syria’s cultural heritage.

Many institutions around the world hold comprehensive analogue documentation on Syria’s archaeological and historic sites and monuments generated over decades of joint research activity in Syria. However, there is as yet no adequate digital record of this information, which is why the project seeks to compile a digital record of the archaeological research data available in Germany. These include a host of texts, plans and images relating to almost all the country’s major ruins and historic old towns. The aim is to create a solid database for a digital register of cultural sites which will, for instance, be the basis for monitoring with regard to the illegal trade in antiquities, and which will be crucial for the post-war reconstruction of destroyed archaeological sites and historic monuments. Around 127,000 data sets of country-specific material were collated in the 2013 and 2014 project phases. This enormous source of information from very different media is being archived using various iDAI. welt data processing systems, collated in a structured form as a treasure trove of information on Syria’s cultural heritage and prepared for later use.

Project: Dr. Karin Bartl, Dr. Franziska Bloch, German Archaeological Institute (DAI), Orient Department. In cooperation with the Museum of Islamic Art, Berlin

Promoted byCultural Preservation Programme of The Federal Foreign Office

Source: Worlds of Culture, Ed. Federal Foreign Office

Golden Letter with hamsa bird and ruby clasp.

The Golden Letter (Myanmar)

On 7 May 1756, King Alaungphaya of Myanmar ordered a letter to be written to the British King (and Hanoverian Elector) George II proposing the establishment of a trading colony in his territory. Alaungphaya was the founder of the Konbaung dynasty, which ruled in Myanmar until 1886. Following a long period of war and division, he united the country, returning it to a position of power in the region.

The letter is engraved on a sheet of pure gold measuring 55 x 12 cm and is adorned with 24 precious rubies. It was contained in the hollow tusk of an Indian elephant. The materials used in and the care taken with its production are a visible demonstration of the importance the author of the letter attached to it.

The Golden Letter.
The Golden Letter. © GWLB

 

Alaungphaya's offer was of global significance, as it could have helped Britain in her colonial competition with France. However, after a two year journey to London, the letter was never answered. King George II, tied up with the wars in Europe, sent it home to his library in Hanover. As a result of his offer falling on deaf ears, Alaungphaya had Britain’s only trade settlement in his country destroyed, and relations between the two countries were broken off for centuries.

For 250 years the original letter was believed lost. Although the Golden Letter had always been regarded as a particularly valuable document in the library, little was known of its importance in world history. In 2007, Jacques Leider, carrying out research on behalf of the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Library, shed light on the matter. The first public displays of the Golden Letter in Hanover in 2011 attracted tens of thousands of visitors and sparked global media interest.  

The letter was contained in the hollow tusk of an Asian elephant.
The letter was contained in the hollow tusk of an Asian elephant. © GWLB

 

On behalf of the Federal Foreign Office and with support from the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Library, the company Scanbull Software GmbH digitised the Golden Letter in 3D so that with the available data it can be presented in various ways: 3D projections of the digital model in mid air, on a screen, in glass showcases or as facsimiles or print-outs. The valuable data enable the model to be presented in virtually every analogue and digital format, allowing it to be reproduced in freely selected media – from a print-out of a particular detail to a media installation. On the basis of this digitised version, the Government of Myanmar is being provided with a 3D film of the Golden Letter and a 3D monitor for the exhibit in the new national museum in Nay Pyi Taw.

Project: Dr. Georg Ruppelt, Director of the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Library

Promoted byCultural Preservation Programme of The Federal Foreign Office

SourceWorlds of Culture, Ed. Federal Foreign Office