Peter K. Austin
Department of Linguistics, SOAS
9 July 2009
The website of a new project called World Oral Literature Project: Voices of Vanishing Worlds has just gone live at the University of Cambridge. The project kicked off early this year under the leadership of Mark Turin, an anthropological linguist whose major research area is Nepal (his PhD thesis was a grammar of Thangmi, a hitherto undescribed Tibeto-Burman language spoken in eastern Nepal). The project is supported by private donors and "has been established to support local communities and committed fieldworkers engaged in the collection and preservation of oral literature by providing funding for original research, alongside training in fieldwork and digital archiving methods". Small research grants are available (follow the link for details of the application process), and a two-day workshop on oral literature with a focus on collections from the Asia-Pacific will take place at Cambridge 15-16 December this year. People interested in contributing papers to the workshop should contact Mark directly (I plan to present a talk on documentation of lontar reading performances in Lombok, eastern Indonesia).
Mark is also involved with the Digital Himalaya Project that began in 2000 with the aim of archiving and making available ethnographic materials from the Himalayan region (via the web and on DVD). The currently available collections include films, scanned copies of rare books and manuscripts, maps, an interactive tool to access 2001 census data for Nepal, dictionaries, fieldnotes, folktales and music, and Thangmi songs. It is an incredibly rich collection of data and analysis that has an interface that is both beautiful and easy to navigate and use. As fellow blogger Jeremy Hammond has recently pointed out, publishing materials on the internet is a good way to make both data and analyses available to a wide range of users. The Digital Himalaya Project is an excellent model of how to do this in a highly appealing and usable fashion.