Zone of Peace
Luce Foundation to Fund Tibetan and Himalayan Historical GIS
News Source: Research News
University of Virginia - Charlottesville,VA,USA
Jan. 23, 2007 -- A recent $325,000 grant from the Henry Luce Foundation will
assist David Germano, associate professor of Tibetan and Buddhist studies,
with an unprecedented undertaking-a comprehensive, historical mapping of
Tibet and the Himalayas.
The Tibetan & Himalayan Historical Geographic Information Systems (GIS)
project is an offshoot of the Tibetan & Himalayan Digital Library (THDL)-an
extensive and esteemed online collection of information concerning this
region-based at the University of Virginia.
Germano founded and directs THDL, and is constantly seeking ways to expand
its breadth. The three-year, Luce Foundation award will allow him to
greatly augment the mapping aspect of the digital collection. The main
goals of the project involve mapping not only the spatial dimensions of
political organizations of the region over time, but also looking closely at
monasteries, since they have historically been influential in shaping
politics, economy, and education in Tibet and the Himalayas.
Creating a historical GIS of the Tibetan Plateau is a huge challenge.
"Contemporary research involving GIS is characterized by clarity, precision,
and comprehensiveness," notes Germano. But historical GIS involves mapping
over time, and in this instance, designing visual ways to suggest boundaries
that may be ambiguous. "There are so many vagaries in terms of our
knowledge of these places," says Germano. In addition, since there is not
the time or funding to be able to travel to these remote areas and use
global positioning system in the mapping, the project will rely on satellite
images, cartographical sources, and text to create the maps. Some sources
may include local gazetteers or even hand-drawn maps.
The uncertain character of geographical and political boundaries in this
area over time necessitates creativity in design of the maps. Germano
explains that rather than having a concrete boundary, the maps may feature a
series of determined points with fading colors to indicate approximate
The project involves extensive interdisciplinary collaboration among
religious scholars, anthropologists, historians, geographers, and
technologists from around the world. This integrated team of scholars will
be responsible for researching, processing, editing, styling, and finally
delivering the information. The Luce Foundation funding will provide modest
stipends for involved faculty.
This original, historical GIS of Tibet and the Himalayas will be
user-friendly, and the maps will feature easy to read introductions and
other relevant contextual information. Users will be able to click on areas
of a map to interactively explore a particular area. In addition, maps will
be linked to THDL to enable users to access all resources about a particular
region including images, audio-video recordings of site lectures, reprints
of scholarship, and more.
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