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Anthropology (ANTH) 317, History of Art (HSAR) 479, South Asian Studies (SAST) 363, and East Asian Studies (EAST) 363


Himalayan Collections at Yale is the product of a hands-on, collaborative course at Yale University. Led by Dr. Mark Turin and made possible by the generous support of a McCredie Fellowship, the course uses technology to explore the links between Yale’s exceptional collections from and about the Himalayan region. Working with online tools and new digital media, students uncover the material histories and contexts of art objects, photographs and personal archives, and help to enrich the collections through collective cataloguing. Readings and resources are drawn from Yale’s many libraries and museums, and cover Nepal, Tibet and northern India.

Course Aim and Objectives

Yale’s holdings of Himalayan materials are rich and largely unexplored. Professor Turin enhances his course with technology to assist students in producing a crowdsourced open catalog, which will be folded back into Yale’s existing catalog holdings and made visible through ORBIS. Through the class, and through the use of appropriate technology, students create catalog entries and virtual collections of Yale’s holdings that are media-rich and populated with links and metadata, adding context to these little-documented Yale collections. 

The process is experimental and challenging for students who rarely have the pleasure of working with primary materials during their undergraduate careers, and requires them to evaluate different sources of information, weigh their values and legitimacies, and bear in mind the enduring residue of their coursework in the archive.

Structure of the Course

This seminar takes four major collections on and about the Himalayan region held at Yale as the primary course materials.

By engaging with these collections, students learn about the history, materiality, and context of how the collections came to Yale. Students also come to understand the specificities of each genre (art, photography, personal archive, missionary documents). 

Alongside this intellectual and analytical work, an important aspect of the class involves students working together to collaboratively catalogue part of a collection. In lieu of a textual final paper that is sent to the instructor and is simply graded, all students are expected to produce a media-rich, online finding aid to one subset of a collection, thereby enriching the understanding and appreciation of Yale’s holdings for others to come.


This course explores four principal collections at Yale:


(1) At the Yale University Art Gallery, we view and interpret Kevin Bubriski’s famous black and white photographs of Nepal. Each image is resonant and speaks to wider issues of culture and history. Each student is assigned one photograph to explore (context, content, composition and wider social history), and the photographer (who lives in Vermont) has agreed to come to speak to the class and engage with the student’s analysis of his work.


(2) The Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library is home to a world class and little known collection of 77 thangkas. These Buddhist scrolls or fabric temple banners serve as records of, and guides for, contemplative experiences and religious visualizations. Recently digitized and conserved, the thangkas are of considerable value and international interest. Through guest lectures, a film and discussion, each student will be assigned one thangka to study and contextualise.


(3) The Himalayan Mission Archive Collection at the Yale Divinity School dates to 2008 when the archives of four organizations and their umbrella associations were relocated to Yale from the Centre for the Study of World Christianity at the University of Edinburgh. Each student will be assigned one box and will be expected to dig deep into the collection, the history and content to understand what ‘holds’ a box together and then build a media rich catalogue to the contents that can be cross-linked in the final class to other boxes similarly explored by other students.


(4) Yale’s Manuscripts and Archives housed within the Sterling Memorial Library offer a rich and diverse collection of documents on the political history of Nepal. Each student will be assigned one or two boxes and will be expected to dig deep into the collection, and then build a media rich catalogue to the contents that can be cross-linked in the final class to other boxes similarly explored by other students.


Special aspects of the format and pedagogy of the course involve using digital tools to explore the affordances of teaching enhancement through the creative application of technology. The class will provide a lasting contribution to Yale’s rich Himalayan holdings by ensuring that student work is archived on a server, linked to catalogues and searchable.