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Behind the Scenes of Himalayan Collections at Yale

Himalayan Collections at Yale: An experimental course to explore and uncover Yale's unique collections of Himalayan materials.

In one assigned reading, "Defending and Lamenting History," we learned of leading German historian of the nineteenth century Leopold von Ranke who wanted to be able to write about history wie es eigentlich gewesen, as it actually happened (Clark 9). Ranke urged other scholars, professional and amateur, to dig through archives to find primary documents that would reveal history.

Yale is a place that holds many primary documents in its many libraries, archives and museums and would be an ideal place for Ranke to research.

Today, many historians do not believe that all of history can be determined from the limited documents remaining from the past. Twentieth century historian Michael Oakeshott said that history cannot be considered "what actually happened," but "what the evidence obliges us to believe," (Clark 19).

The inferences we make as scholars are affected by the fact that we are in the present, not in the past we are studying and by our backgrounds, what kind of perspective we bring to the table. We can also only make discoveries with the materials we have available.

Yale is one of the premier research institutions in the world, which means many researchers will come here to conduct research. Yale is in a powerful position in that history will be written based on the inferences made from the resources that we have available. Stories can only be told using the story elements that the people of Yale have deemed worthy.

Here at Yale we have a great amount of resources, yet they are still limited. Not every artifact from the past can be saved. It is people at Yale who make decisions about what to buy at auction, what to preserve and what to display. Their decisions shape future experiences with these collections. We should be grateful for what we have, but aware that the collections are far from complete.

This exhibit looks to further explore the places where these collections are stored, comparing and contrasting how each cultures and conserves their collections. How is each being shared? How does Yale present us with history? What are we getting? What are we missing? The answer is different in each location, but all of them work together as parts of Yale University to preserve priceless artifacts for the scholars of today and tomorrow.

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Resources from Yale University, Yale University Art Gallery, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale Divinity School, and Sterling Memorial Library.


Elizabeth Tokarz