Monday, September 30, 2013

Free Public Lecture: Mapping the Silk Road

Friday 1 November, 18.30–20.00
The British Library Conference Centre
Free entry

Just over forty years ago, the World Heritage Convention was conceived to protect sites of 'outstanding universal value' to humanity. Today, almost a thousand sites are World Heritage listed and millions of people travel each year to experience these unique cultural and natural assets. In recent years a team of experts at UNESCO, ICOMOS, the State Parties, and University College London (UCL) have conducted research into the Silk Road's sites and routes as part of the Silk Roads World Heritage Serial and Transnational Nomination in Central Asia project. Their thematic study explored the problems of mapping the diverse routes and sites of the Silk Road, with their wide geographic and chronological expanse and considered the development of a 'corridor' based approach to identifying areas and sites to be included in the nomination strategy.

Tim Williams, archaeologist at University College London (UCL) and leader of the UCL Ancient Merv Project, has been working on this project for several years. In this illustrated lecture, he will discuss the considerable challenges of mapping the the Silk Roads and their sites.

This lecture marks the start of IDP's 20th anniversary celebrations. Further events will be announced here and and on the IDP home page.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Sergey Oldenburg and the Russian Academy

Kira Samosyuk presenting a paper in the Reading Room of the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts, St Petersburg, September 2013.

From St Petersburg, where the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) and the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts (IOM) are honouring the great scholar and explorer, S. F. Oldenburg (1863-1934), with an international conference. Noon here and the daily canon fire from the Peter and Paul Fortress has just punctuated proceedings in the wonderful reading room of the IOM — although given the situation with the proposed reform of the Academy, it is not clear where the IOM and its extensive Central Asian manuscript collection will be next time we come.

Oldenburg was part of a generation of pan-European scholars of Central Asia, the treaties between Russian and Britain enabling exploration and archaeology. The results were shared at the regular International of Congress of Orientalists, which had its inaugural meeting in Paris in 1873. The 1899 Congress in Rome was instrumental in bringing Central Asian explorations and scholarship to the centre of the agenda and Oldenburg was confirmed as a member of the International Preparatory Committee on Central Asian exploration. M. Aurel Stein (1862-1943) was also at this Congress, although it is probable that he and Oldenburg had met previously when they were both in Britain in 1885-6: Oldenburg's name appears in the address book Stein started using in 1884.

Much as the scholars of this earlier time might have tried to transcend its concerns, politics was never out of the picture in the story of the exploration and study of Chinese Central Asia. Some, such as Stein and Oldenburg, managed to avoid letting political competition taint their scholarly collaboration. Theirs was a relationship of respect. This respect is clearly shown in their correspondence, held at the Bodleian Library, Oxford and the Archives of the Russian Academy of Sciences, here in St Petersburg. Professor Wang Jiqing of Lanzhou University has researched the Oxford correspondence and we are currently preparing a joint paper for publication.

There are twenty five letters extant, although this is not a complete record. The first is from 1903 but most date from 1923 onwards. In 1923 Oldenburg is staying with Sylvain Lévi in Paris and Stein writes from his Kashmiri mountain camp expressing the hope that Oldenburg will publish the results of his explorations in Dunhuang:

‘I am greatly pleased to learn of the abundant results which our visit to Tun-huang has bourne and shall look forward with keenest interest to their publication. I have long ago learned to appreciate fully the unfailing thoroughness of all your investigations and know how much room there was left for them at many a site.’

This is a hope was not realized at the time: one of the six volumes of typescript prepared by Oldenburg on Dunhuang is currently on display at an Oldenburg exhibition at the Hermitage, curated by Maria Menshikova. However, the volumes remained unpublished for a century: a Chinese translation appeared recently. We are now discussing publication of the original Russian edition and a English translation.

After this time Stein’s letters start show a subtle concern for Oldenburg’s professional position at the Academy. For example, in March 1925:

‘It is truly comforting & encouraging for all fellow students to know you still occupying that leading position in the Academy, which has enabled you in times past to do so much for the studies we have at heart. May it become easy for you to exercise the same beneficient influence also thereafter.’

Oldenburg’s position in the Academy was not secure: he lost his position there in 1929 but continued his work at the then Asiatic Museum, a division of the Academy. This was to become the Institute for Oriental Studies and Oldenburg appointed its Director in May 1930.

IOM has been a collaborating member of IDP for many years and we hope that its valuable work in conserving, curating and researching the Central Asian manuscripts will long continue.

Friday, September 13, 2013

IDP Researcher: Rebecca Fu

At Mori Tim Stupa near Kashgar.

I am a fourth year PhD student at the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Pennsylvania majoring in medieval Chinese literature and history, with a special interest in women’s social life and cultural activities in the Tang dynasty (618–907). Currently I am working on my dissertation exploring the literary practices of women in late medieval China (600–1000), a time when their social circumstances were increasingly connected to the written word.

During my visit to IDP in July and August 2013, I studied Dunhuang contracts, letters, wills and Buddhist sutras with colophons in which women were involved, as well as examining in detail the physical features of selected manuscripts. These documents reveal that, despite the fact that most of the women in the study were not literate, they successfully negotiated with written texts and responded dynamically to the challenges of a text-based society.

A detail from Or.8210/S.527.

For example, in both Or.8210/S.527 (a lay-association contract from 959) and Or.8210/S.5871 (a grain loan contract from 782), each woman involved made a unique mark under her name listed in the contract where her signature was supposed to be given. Or.8210/S.526 is a letter to a certain monk by Lady Yin of Wuwei prefecture, in which rich details of Yin’s private life are given. One may guess that an elite woman in that period should be educated and therefore literate. This is perhaps the case for Lady Yin, who was obviously the wife of a high-rank elite in the Dunhuang area. However, her literacy is by no means to be revealed by this letter. Like those female commoners in Or.8210/S.527 and Or.8210/S.5871, Lady Yin did not sign her name but gave a seal mark instead at the end of this letter. Also, like many other documents made by scribes in the Dunhuang collection, the date of this letter was left blank. These details show that it was written by a scribe rather than the sender.

A detail from Or.8210/S.526.

I also found that local residents in Dunhuang employed scribes in a wide range of occasions to compose texts for practical purposes, such as copying Buddhist sutras for prayer (Or.8210/S.736), composing elegiac essays for deceased relatives (Or.8210/S.381v) and making wills (Or.8210/S.2199) etc.

Rebecca Fu

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

International Dunhuang Project: 20th Anniversary

As part of its 20th anniversary celebrations, IDP will be arranging a series of events over autumn 2013 to spring 2014. These will include an exhibition of photographs, a conservation show and tell, an afternoon of lectures and a reception, a selection of twenty favourite items from IDP’s patrons, partners, supporters and users, and a special edition of the newsletter. Further details will be announced shortly and will also be publicised on the IDP home page.

Our launch event will be a lecture given by Tim Williams (UCL). ’Mapping the Silk Road’ will take place at the British Library Conference Centre (map) on November 1 2013 at 6.30pm. Entrance is free and all are welcome.

Online Booking

Monday, September 9, 2013

IDP France back online

IDP France is now back online. Thank you for your patience.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

IDP France server maintenance

The IDP France server will be down for a few days for scheduled maintenance. Images from the French collections will be unavailable for the duration. We apologise for any inconvenience.