Tibetan Street Songs
(Under Construction)

Our understanding of the social and political history of Tibet during the second half of the Twentieth Century has been distorted by politically driven polemics and a lack of firsthand data based on fieldwork with Tibetans in Tibet . The Tibet Oral History and Archive Project (TOHAP) was conceived to fill this gap by undertaking to collect a large corpus of oral histories from everyday Tibetans.

There is an urgency to this undertaking because the cohort of individuals who were adults in 1959 at the end of the traditional era is dwindling. We are, therefore, on the verge of losing a crucial dimension of the history of the Tibetan people- the voices of ordinary Tibetans -and with it the ability to understand the diversity of life as it was lived in Tibet as well as the way the salient historical events played out among the different strata of society. The TOHAP project is sponsored by the Henry Luce Foundation, with supplementary support from the National Endowment for the Humanities (RZ-20585-00).

  Professor Goldstein conducting an oral history interview with H.H. the Dalai Lama, in Dharamsala, India, 2004.

The Tibet Oral History and Archive Project (TOHAP) is part of the research and education program of The Center for Research on Tibet (CROT) in the Department of Anthropology. This Center was created in 1987 to generate and disseminate new knowledge about Tibetan culture, society and history and was the academic pioneer in opening Tibet to in-depth anthropological and historical research. The Tibet Oral History and Archive Project is a continuation of a series of fieldwork-based studies that have examined the adaptation of Tibetans to high altitude, and the changes that have occurred Tibet 's incorporation into the People's Republic of China in 1951.

 

The Tibet Oral History and Archive Project (TOHAP) has two primary goals.

 

1. DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS

 

To record the voices of a large and diverse corpus of ordinary Tibetans. At present, about 500 older rural and urban Tibetans have been interviewed (and in some cases re-interviewed) on audiotape about their life experiences. This corpus of interviews comprises approximately 1,000 hours.

 

TOHAP is translating and analyzing these data to produce oral histories of four important periods in modern Tibetan history:

  • the traditional society (up to March 1959)
  • the March 1959 Tibetan Uprising that led to the Dalai Lama's flight into exile
  • the initial period of "Democratic Reforms" when new socialist institutions were installed and class struggle begun (March 1959-1966)
  •   the period of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76).

 

2. PRESERVATION AND DISSEMINATION

 

To create a Tibetan Oral History WebArchive that will allow these and two other oral history interview collections to be accessible on-line to other scholars and students anywhere in the world. Users will be able to search for topics and keywords and then listen to the relevant interviews in Tibetan and/or read the translations in English. The final host of the TOHAP will be the Library of Congress' Asia Division which will preserve the materials and maintain the on-line web archive in perpetuity.

 

The WEBArchive will contain three oral history collections        

Common Folk Interviews
  Government official Interviews
Drepung Monastery Interviews


  • The Common Folk Oral History Collection


The TOHAP has interviewed over 500 Tibetans from all walks of life in Tibet and has recorded on audiotape roughly 1,500 hours of interviews. Each of these interviews is being digitalized and translated at CWRU for inclusion in the archive. These interviews and archival work were conducted with support from the Henry Luce Foundation.


  • The Tibetan Government official collection

 

The political history section of the archive will include a corpus of invaluable historical interviews that Professor Goldstein conducted as part of past projects on Tibetan history/society. These interviews were conducted with former Tibetan government officials who played important roles in Tibet 's history, including, for example, the Dalai Lama. They cover the traditional period before Tibet was incorporated into the People's Republic of China (1913-1951) and the subsequent period up to the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976. Together they comprise a unique oral history primary data set. There are roughly 550 hours of such interviews all of which will be digitalized and translated. These interviews were conducted with support from the National Endowment of Humanities.

 

  • The Drepung Monastery collection

 

The Tibetan monastery section of the archive will include 350 hours of taped interviews that were conducted by Professor Goldstein with roughly 100 monks who were members of Drepung monastery in the traditional era. Drepung monastery is located 5 miles outside of Lhasa and was Tibet 's largest monastery. It was a virtual city housing about 10,000 celibate monks in 1959 at the end of the traditional era. No study of life in Tibet 's great monastic centers like Drepung was ever conducted and this corpus is unique in providing the only in-depth window into large-scale monasticism in traditional Tibetan society. These interviews were conducted with support from the National Endowment of Humanities and the National Geographic Society and are currently being digitalized and translated at CWRU.