The Digital Library of Northern Thai ManuscriptsReturn to the Blog
Justin McDaniel (University of Pennsylvania) has recently won a generous grant from the Henry Luce Foundation to help fund the The Digital Library of Northern Thai Manuscripts project led by Harald Hundius, David Wharton, and Bounleut Thammachak. Working with the staff at the National Library of Laos and Chiang Mai University, this project will provide scholars with free internet access to about 7,000 primary sources from this historically important region. The original texts are mostly written on palm-leaf and are stored in the libraries of Buddhist monasteries as well as in private collections. In addition to local texts from the Theravada Buddhist tradition, they contain a wealth of indigenous literature and historical writings, as well as works pertaining to social relations, customary law, and everyday life.
The collection comprises a considerable number of exceptionally rare and important texts. It includes the oldest dated Pali manuscripts in the country and possibly in Southeast Asia, dating from the late 15th century CE when the Kingdom of Lan Na was a regional center for the study and dissemination of Buddhist literature. It includes texts in Northern Thai (Lan Na), Tai Khuen, Tai Lue, Lao, Tai Yai (Shan), Burmese, and Pali languages, written in a variety of scripts. Only a very limited number of textual studies have been possible to date due to the lack of digital access to important primary sources from a tradition which has made an essential contribution to the development of related cultures throughout the region.
The resulting Digital Library of Northern Thai Manuscripts will be the first major collection of manuscripts from Thailand to be made accessible via the Internet. Helena Kolenda of the Henry Luce Foundation and Symeon Braxton of the University of Pennsylvania were instrumental in helping this project come to fruition and continue the great work completed by Hundius, Thammachak, and Wharton, among others, digitizing a very large corpus of Lao manuscripts that can be seen at: http://www.laomanuscripts.net/