Thailand Projects

The Diaries and Travel Writings of King Chulalongkorn of Siam

In October 2005, Ohio University Libraries purchased of the private library collection of the late Cornell University professor David K. Wyatt. The collection, consisting of roughly 15,000 volumes, about half of which are in Thai, includes most of the standard works on Thailand and Southeast Asia in general, a substantial number of Thai royal chronicles, the greater part of King Chulalongkorn's (1868-1910) diaries and letters, and an extensive array of monographs, memoirs and cremation volumes.

Thanks in large part to funds provided by the United States Department of Education TICFIA (Technological Innovation and Cooperation for Foreign Information Access) grant, Ohio University Libraries, in collaboration with Digital Initiatives, Lyrasis, the Internet Archive, and the Southeast Asia Digital Library, was able to digitize a selection of rare Thai-language materials from the David K. Wyatt Collection. The digital collection consists of King Chulalongkorn's 24-volume diary, spanning the years 1876 to 1887, and more than thirty volumes of travel writings, which chronicle the King's royal visits to India, Malaya, Singapore, Java, Western Europe, Russia, and the remote corners of Siam.

The importance of this digital project to Thai and Western scholars merits brief explanation. The reign of King Chulalongkorn, 1868 to 1910, was indeed a memorable one. It marked a critical watershed in Thai history. He ruled the Kingdom of Siam with an astuteness and foresight at a time of extraordinary danger and change. Many scholars credit Chulalongkorn with transforming Siam from a traditional Southeast Asian kingdom into a modern nation-state. Chulalongkorn's diary and travel writings, which constitute one of the single-most important collections of primary sources on the period, shed much light on the history of the fifth reign. A further reason Ohio University Libraries chose to digitize the writings of King Chulalongkorn at this time is that 2010 (October 2010, to be more specific) marks the 100th anniversary of his death.

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Palm-Leaf Manuscripts of Thailand

Palm leaf manuscripts are an ancient document form that comprises a significant documentary heritage of the Isan people of Northeastern Thailand. These materials contain a vast amount of knowledge that can be classified into eight categories: Buddhism, tradition and beliefs, customary law, economics, traditional medicine, science, liberal arts, and history. Seventy percent of the content recorded in these palm leaf manuscripts consist of Buddhist stories and doctrine; the other 30% record local wisdom in the form of folktales, diaries, poems, ethics, customary law, rites and rituals.

Northeastern Thai palm leaf manuscripts vary in size. A standard palm leaf manuscript is generally 5-6 cm. in width and 50-60 cm. in length with 48 pages (24 leaves written on both sides). Palm leaf manuscripts can be as short as 15 cm. or as long as 80 cm. and can vary as to the number of pages. The people of Isan used the various sizes in different ways: the longer palm leaf manuscripts are used as textbooks to record Buddhist stories and doctrine, while the shorter ones are used as notebooks to record local wisdom related to daily life. The languages used on the palm leaf manuscripts are either local or undergoing shift (Pali, ThaiIsan, Pali-ThaiIsan, Old Thai, and Khmer); in addition, manuscripts are written in four archaic orthographies (ThamIsan, ThaiNoi, Khmer, and Old Thai). Because the length of a palm leaf manuscript is determined by its physical dimensions rather than its content, a single manuscript may record many stories, or a single story may require more than one manuscript. Furthermore, one palm leaf manuscript may be inscribed in various scripts and languages. A one-story palm leaf manuscript might also be inscribed in many literary styles according to the manner in which the inscribers express the story (e.g. outstanding, fine, ordinary, etc.). The oldest palm leaf manuscript available at Khon Kaen University was inscribed in 1794 AD.

In order to preserve both knowledge and the manuscripts themselves, this project is exploring the most suitable method to digitize and organize the palm leaf manuscripts. In providing access to the collection through the web, it also promotes understanding of Isan culture. The Khon Kaen University Palm Leaf Digitization Project is a partnership between The Center for Research on Plurality in the Mekong Region (CERP), Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, and the Office of Culture, Khon Kaen University. This has been an ongoing project since 2004 with funding partly provided by the Southeast Asian Digital Library Project based at Northern Illinois University Libraries.

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Early Imprints from Southeast Asia

Western-style printing was introduced to most of Southeast Asia only about two centuries ago. These printed works were produced initially by Western missionaries and subsequently by locals as well. Most early printed works were therefore related to Christian religious teachings and activities, before spreading to other areas. In Burma the imprints included Buddhist texts. Some of the books include detailed illustrations, which add to their appeal.
The British Library holds unique collections of these early imprints from the region. In 2007 TICFIA demonstrated its willingness to give a grant to digitize these early printed works, but it was not until February 2009 that a contract to digitize parts of this valuable collection was signed between Northern Illinois University, as the representative of TICFIA, and the British Library. This collaboration has made possible wider public access to these historic and unique documents.

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Thai Buddhist Temple Murals

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Virtual Southeast Asia

The Virtual Southeast Asia project is an add-on to the Southeast Asia Digital Library that provides a mapping interface to many of the library’s assets, as opposed to the usual text based, menu driven access.  Using Google maps, the interface allows anyone to view the exact location where each image or other asset was created.  The mapping interface allows for viewing the library’s holdings on the macro level, to see where in Southeast Asia the library’s images were created, and, if desired, allows for drilling down to the micro level to view individual images of sites on the map.  While using the interface, you can also easily move beyond the SEADL to access similar images through Googles vast image holdings.  

The Google map viewer for this project is below:

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