South Asia

Organized Panel Session

4 - The Impact of Digital Humanities Archives on Art Historical Studies in Bhutan

Friday, March 23
10:30 AM - 12:30 PM
Location: Marriott Balcony B, Mezzanine Level


Having been neither conquered nor colonized, Bhutan’s material record is remarkably intact, with significant numbers of murals, paintings and sculptures that date from the nation’s consolidation under Drukpa Kagyu Buddhist authority in the early 17th century. As a less commonly studied Asian nation, access to Bhutan-related resources has historically been scarce. However, there is a rapidly growing body of Bhutan-related resources available through previous visits by scholars and ongoing digital humanities documentation efforts.


This paper presents recent findings in the nascent field of Bhutanese art history, drawing from a number of these newly available archival resources and augmented by substantial first hand study. Among these resources are otherwise unavailable images from a range of key sites in Bhutanese history and art history; for example, Ronald Bernier’s early photos of murals and temples in the famed cliffside Taktsang Monastery, which was later gutted by fire in 1998. Similarly, Felicity and Brian Shaw’s images from the 1980s of tashi gomang filled with sculpted images provide crucial data for iconographic study of these portable shrines. Drawing on these and other examples, this paper contextualizes the usefulness of newly available archival and documentary resources by demonstrating how they directly contribute to new research in Himalayan art history, specifically, the distinctive aesthetic and compositional qualities of Bhutanese art. Further, this paper will provide scholars of all disciplines whose work touches on the Himalayas awareness of new, open-access, Bhutan-specific resources now available for comparative or topical studies.

Ariana Maki

University of Virginia, Virginia

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