Since Saturday the first news came about the major earthquake that hit Nepal its sheer size and impact become slowly more visible. You can follow the international news coverage for example at the dedicated earthquake page of the Nepal Research portal. On Tuesday some Dutch people who had been in Nepal returned and told on television about their experience and the situation in particular regions and locations. On Wednesday it was announced that the Netherlands would be charged with coordinating the relief efforts. Because of the immense number of airplanes now coming to Kathmandu it is often not possible to land or to fly away from Kathmandu Airport. In this post I will try to create a succinct overview of major online resources for contemporary Nepal and resources concerning its history and culture. The damage done to historic buildings is just one of the things affecting the people of Nepal.
Last week I did by chance search for online resources for legal history in Asia. Slowly I became convinced that it is useful to give here such an overview, because it took me a lot of time to find information and resources. You might ask yourself what is the use of digital libraries and collections in dealing with the impact of an earthquake. One can point to the Virtual Disaster Library of the Pan-American Health Organization and the WHO Health Library for Disasters, to mention just two examples. The availability of resources, be they material goods or information in print or online, and the presence of trained people at the locations with the most casualties and the greatest damage will make a huge difference. You will notice, too, that I have included at some turns legal materials and materials related to Nepal’s legal history, because this subject serves at this blog as the starting point for any contribution.
Access to resources about and from Nepal
The Library of Congress has among its country studies a guide to Nepal, but unfortunately this study dates from almost twenty years ago. The study can also be found on the website for country studies. Luckily the Law Library of the Library of Congress has a selection of links to more up-to-date information about Nepal. The LoC’s Global Legal Monitor show current legal information. Globalex (New York University) has probably the most extensive overview of the contemporary legal system in Nepal, with some attention to the history of this country. The Asian Legal Information Institute offers online access to Nepali legal resources. The United Nations started in 2014 with an information center in Kathmandu.
Nepals legal history
In Nepal the Nepal Law Commission, too, has put legal materials on its website, including historical constitutions, laws, treaties, statutes, bylaws, rules and regulations, to be found under the heading Documents – Law Archives. However, this website has not been updated since 2011. In her selective bibliography at her blog South Asian Legal History Resources Mitra Sharafi (University of Wisconsin) mentions just two items concerning Nepal, both by Mara Malagodi, Constitutional Nationalism and Legal Exclusion: equality, identity, politics, and democracy in Nepal (1990-2007) (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2013) and an article, ‘Ivor Jennings’s Constitutional Legacy beyond the Occidental-Oriental Divide’, Journal of Law and Society 42/1 (2015) 102-26. Last year Sharafi published Law and Identity in Colonial South Asia: Parsi Legal Culture, 1772-1947 (Cambridge, etc., 2014). As for recent studies about Nepal it is good to mention John Whelpton, A History of Nepal (Cambridge, etc., 2005) and Sebastian von Einsiedel, David M. Malone and Suman Pradhan (eds.), Nepal in Transition. From People’s War to Fragile Peace (Cambridge, etc., 2012). It can do no harm to use the compact information about Nepal and its history compiled at WHKMLA, and you will find there a number of links, too. A good look at relevant Wikipedia articles can bring you much information, too.
Digitized books and open access
A number of websites in Europe and the United States give access to digitized books and documents dealing with Nepal. The section Ostasiatica of the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin has digitized some 50 works about Nepal. In the Hathi Trust Digital Library you have full access to some 70 books. A number of digitized items at Digital Himalaya deal with Nepal, in particular for maps, in the Rare Books section and the section for research journals. Among these journals is the very important Regmi Research Series, with translation of some Nepalese constitutions and other legal materials, and both an English-Nepali and a Nepali-English dictionary. You can also consult the 2001 census of Nepal, and last but not least benefit from the very substantial links collection crowning this digital portal. Cornell University, too, has digitized the volumes of the Regmi Research Series with documents in translation, and Cornell has also digitized a number of Nepali text books. At Cornell the department of Asian Studies has created its own selection of relevant links. Old Maps Online helps you to find without delay a great number of relevant historical and also more recent maps held in twenty libraries from many countries showing Nepal, Kathmandu and other locations and regions within Nepal.
At Southeast Asia Visions, yet another Cornell website, you can find 350 digitized Early Modern travel accounts concerning this region. As for scholarly journals from Nepal, you can access a number of open access journals for Nepal through DOAJ (Directory of Open Access Journals) or go directly to Nepal Journals Online. By the way, I did find nothing touching specifically on Nepal in a first quick search in the companion Directory of Open Access Books, but maybe other search terms will bring you more. In the OAPEN Library, another open access initiative, I could find at least some studies about natural disasters. When you use the forces of the advanced search mode at BASE (Bielefeld Academic Search Engine) you can find a substantial number of recent scholarly articles and books about and from Nepal, but also older works. BASE works with some 3,500 repositories all over the world. Only four of them are in Nepal, and only Nepal Journals Online is now up and running. The blog The Himalayas and Beyond, too, helps you to track current research.
The telling images
Images say more than thousand words, and in this respect one of the most important links at Digital Himalaya is to the Nepal Picture Library where you can find a number of photo collections. Digital Himalaya also mentions a project at Brown University, Providence, RI, with images of Buddhist mural paintings in three monasteries in Mustang in a Tibetan region of Northwestern Nepal. It is also useful to look at the resources of the Tibetan and Himalayan Digital Library, although naturally the focus is strongly on Tibet.
Not just one language
One of the problems in helping Nepal is the variety of languages. Nepali is the main language, but in a number of regions other languages are used. The French project Langues et Civilisations à Tradition Orale (CNRS, Paris) deals with eight languages in Nepal. In Leiden the International institute for Asian Studies, too, has shown interest in some languages spoken in Nepal. Another major research institution, the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London, supports the Endangered Language Archive. SOAS, too, has a useful selection of relevant links for South Asia. For Nepal one can find in this selection in particular the Hindi Script Tutor which helps you learning the Devanagari script used also for Nepali, and a link to Mountain Voices with texts and translations of interviews, amounting also to an important resource for oral history. The Digital South Asia Library (University of Chicago) is in particular helpful with its repertory of online dictionaries for languages in South Asia and the overview of bibliographies, with among them also Chicago’s South Asia Union Catalogue.
Manuscripts and documents in Nepal
The past days I have not succeeded in getting access to the website of the Nepal National Library in Kathmandu. The Kaiser Library in Kathmandu has considerable historical holdings. A number of collections in Nepal has been the subject of projects sponsored by the Endangered Archives Project (EAP) of the British Library, mainly in cooperation with the Madan Puraskar Pustakalaya (MPP) in Lalitpur. EAP aims at conserving, describing and digitizing fragile and threatened archival collections, documents and manuscripts. EAP 066 dealt with some 50 periodicals and 140 monographs. EAP 166 was a project concerning some 6,500 rare negatives and photographs in two collections at the MPP. In EAP 171 a pilot study was conducted at the SOAS for Nepali manuscripts from the eighteenth to the twentieth century. EAP 272 is another project at the MPP, this time for ephemera and manuscripts mainly from the past century, but it included also older manuscripts. The fifth EAP project (EAP 676) aimed at conserving and digitizing seventeen privately held collections in Lalitpur with Buddhist manuscripts written in Sanskrit. The 10000 images in this collection have been published online in January 2015. The EAP blog at the British Library brings you news about this project. The University of Hamburg, too, works on the preservation and cataloguing of Nepali manuscripts, supported by its own office in Kathmandu. There is an online catalogue of the microfilms created within this project.
Scattered around the world more digital collections with objects from Nepal can be found. The University of Washington has some twenty music instruments in its ethnomusical holdings. In the Huntington Archive of Ohio State University you can find at least 800 images concerning Nepal. In the past anthropologists have collected materials in Nepal. Brian Houghton Hodgson (1801-1894) is just an example. His papers are at the British Library, and you can consult an online inventory of these papers thanks to the efforts of Cambridge University. The Muktabodah Indological Research Institute in Emeryville, CA and New Delhi has not only digitized manuscripts, but also created searchable e-texts in its digital library. The Indology.info website is a portal to research initiatives and the various digital libraries with Vedic, Tibetan and Buddhist texts. The EAP projects for Nepal are not mentioned at this portal.
I would have loved to continue here with digital art collections, but their sheer number worldwide as represented at Himalayan Art has convinced me that there is no need to double its efforts.
The balance between quick reactions and completeness
Sometimes help is needed immediately. Those victims still alive but buried under the stones and concrete of collapsed buildings need help now, and the people suffering from wounds and diseases need basic treatment or even surgery at the spot. However, in order to achieve the most humanly possible some kind of overview, some measure of preparation is needed. Epidemic diseases might occur. Roads are still blocked in many regions, communication is often impossible or hampered severely, and you can reach many villages only by walking long paths.
While writing this post I often thought that I should not try to outdo myself in bringing this amount of online resources together. A number of considerations changed my view. First of all, a number of resources within Nepal cannot be reached at all. Secondly, yesterday I could not view one of the major online resources, the Tibetan and Himalayan Library. A third consideration came in a very late stage. I would dearly like to have discovered much earlier the Virtuelle Fachbibliothek Südasien at the University of Heidelberg, abbreviated with the acronym SaViFa. I did not spot this service quickly on other websites at Heidelberg, such as those of the Südasieninstitut and its Kathmandu office at Lalitpur, and I overlooked SaViFa at the overview of other relevant Asian research resources in Heidelberg. Hopefully others more versed in Asian matters will have reacted already more efficiently than I can do.
SaViFa with an interface in German and English gives you with a first simple search for Nepal some 200 links to all kinds of online resources. The SaViFa portal offers many possibilities of its companion virtual portals and the special subject collections in Germany to refine your searches for particular resource types, regions, subjects and periods. CrossAsia, a service of the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin and the other major German portal for research on Asia, focuses clearly on East and Southeast Asia.
Let’s not wait any longer, may this post go its way! I promise to create a PDF with a more helpful arrangement of the many resources presented here in a sometimes rambling way, and of course I will try to correct any grave omission and factual mistakes. In my experience it is most rewarding to get familiar with subjects and cases far outside your usual territory. I learned a lot from finding my way into Nepal, a country on the roof of the world. Hopefully the world will continue and renew its efforts, and arrive and preferably stay with adequate help to rescue and support the people and treasures of that collapsed roof.
Already while writing this post I was sure I would overlook some important resources. I would have liked to mention here much more, but alas it turns out to be rather difficult to find resources even at some universities with very promising holdings. However, the very least I can do is pointing you to a recent overview of digital resources for South Asian legal history created by Mitra Sharafi, a guest blogger at the inexhaustible Legal History Blog. I have seen some online library guides with either information already found elsewhere, very concise or lacking descriptions of resources, and this is a strong contrast with Digital Himalaya, a model of its kind among digital portals. It is a comfort to have Sharafi’s guidance and helpful comments about South Asian resources in these posts and at her own blog.