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D19 Kalimpong

Kalimpong as a ‘contact zone’: encounters between Tibet and Western modernity in the early 20th century

Koordination: Birgit Kellner, Markus Viehbeck


A view of Kalimpong and the Himalayan panorama in the 1940s, Courtesy Kodak Store Kalimpong.

A view of Kalimpong and the Himalayan panorama in the 1940s, Courtesy Kodak Store Kalimpong.

(Project duration: Feb. 2013 - Jan. 2016)

The project had a major impact on stimulating new research on transcultural encounters in the Eastern Himalayan borderlands – a region whose presently marginal status is in sharp contrast to its importance for Great Game politics, European exploration, trade, and religious innovation at the end of the nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth centuries. As a focal point for such encounters, the project concentrated on the strategically important hill station of Kalimpong. Situated along the trade route from Lhasa to Kolkata, this town developed into a key centre for the exchange of Tibetan and Western commodities, and, as a base for British colonial officers, Scottish missionaries, European Tibetologists, and Tibetan aristocrats, politicians, and scholar-monks, enabled flows of knowledge between Tibet, the Himalayas, and the rest of the world in a general sense.

The project contributed to establishing an active international research network, using new theoretical perspectives related to transcultural and postcolonial studies, among them a critical re-evaluation of Mary Louise Pratt's crucial concept of a "contact zone," as a conceptual framework. More specifically, the project members conducted several case studies, focussing on the encounters between European and Tibetan scholars, their dynamic power relations (e.g., Tibetan scholars as "research assistants"), and the knowledge that was produced in their interactions (e.g., the emergence of modern Tibetan lexicography; a PhD thesis on the Tibetan newspaper Mélong as an interface between Tibet and Western Modernity).

The results of the project were disseminated in the form of numerous talks at different institutions, two collected volumes – one already published, another one forthcoming – as well as several articles by project members. Further, an important newspaper archive, providing open access to local information of the region was established. Please use the navigation menu on the left to see detailed results and activities of the project such as publications, developments in digital humanities, international cooperation, etc.

The highlight of the project was a larger international conference conducted in Kalimpong in March 2015, which triggered great interest, both locally and globally. For watching a video of the introduction and keynote speech of this conference, please click here.




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