Oral Histories

Tibetan Oral History Project

The Tibetan Oral History Archive Project, developed by Case Western University and the Library of Congress, is a digital archive of oral history interviews with accompanying written transcripts (translated into English) documenting the social and political history of modern Tibet. The first installment, available now, makes available 60 interviews conducted in the 1980s and 1990s with Tibetan aristocratic family members from Central Tibet and religious teachers. Future releases will include interviews with "common folk" and monks, especially those living in Drepung Monastery before 1959.

This archive, the largest of its type in the world, contains three collections: the Common Folk Oral History collection, the Political Collection and the Drepung Monastery Collection. With interviews of almost 700 Tibetans (and a few Chinese) living in the Tibet Autonomous Region of China and in exile in India and the West, the entirety is being published in a series of installments over the next few years.  

Oral History Archive

The Oral History Archive was initiated by the Latse Library in 2006. The first phase of the project focused on the older generation of Tibetans living in exile in India and the Himalayan region and from all walks of life: from ex-Tibetan cabinet ministers to musicians, discussing pre- and post-1959 history of Tibet, local and personal stories, specific events, folk literature and traditions, as well as life in refugee settlements. The second phase includes 150 hours of video from Amdo documenting cultural events, festivals, and everyday life and customs, and interviews with visitors to the Foundation and elder Tibetans living in the United States. A small number of videorecordings, with English sub-titles, are now available here. Scholars may also consult the interviews onsite at the Latse Library.

Tibet Oral History Project

The Tibet Oral History Project, produced by a non-profit organization based in Moraga, California, offers nearly 200 videotaped interviews recorded in 2007 and 2010 with primarily eldertly Tibetan refugees living in Bylakuppe, Mundgod, and Dharmsala, India.  The interviewees discuss their experiences of daily life in Tibet, the impact of Chinese Communist rule, and life in exile.  The full set of interviews, together with (searchable) English transcripts, is available for loan through the C.V. Starr East Asian Library. For holdings information about the DVDs, and the print and digitized transcripts, see CLIO. A limited selection of the videos are also available online through the Project's website.

Library of Tibetan Works and Archives

The Oral History Department of the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives in Dharamsala, India, has published more than 40 volumes of oral histories and recounted by a range of Tibetans with first-hand experience of Tibetan society and life in the mid-twentieth century.  The series title is "Ngag rgyun lo rgyus deb phreng" and the many first-hand accounts cover a vast range of topics: religious life and retreat, the Ganden Phodrang administration, geography and family lineage, artisanship, trade, excape into exile, militia, local history, imprisonment, etc.) In North America, the volumes are available for circulation at Columbia and other university libraries.

World oral literature project

The World Oral Literature Project hosts Online Collections of materials collected by grantees, as well as other heritage recordings.  Among these are several Tibetan-related collections, especially from the Amdo region.

  • Arnold von Bohlen und Halbach: Tibetan Death Rites, 1979
  • Dorji (Rdo rje don 'grub): Tewo County Collection, 2011
  • G.yung 'brug: Danba Tibetan Culture Collection, 2008-2010
  • Katey Blumenthal and Andrea Clearfield: The Folk Music of Lo Monthang, 2008-2009
  • Kha Bum: Xunhua Tibetan Folk Culture Video Collection, 2008-2010
  • Molly Loomis: Himalayan Sherpa Collection, 2011
  • Plateau Culture Heritage Protection Group: Collections from the Tibetan Plateau, 2006-2012
  • Rdo rje don 'grub: Rka phug Tibetan Village Cultural Materials, 2010
  • Robert Mayer: Bon po Phur pa Rites at Triten Norbutse, 2010
  • Yangdon Dhondup: Tantric practitioners from Reb kong, Amdo, Tibet, 2010
  • .... and more

The Bridge Fund Oral Traditions Archive

The Bridge Fund has supported the collecting and archiving of nineteen oral tradition collections, comprising a total of nearly 400 audio and video files, from areas including Namuyi, Minyag, Larung, Naxi, Xunhua, Tianzhu, Chentsa, Aba, etc. These include local song traditions, but also interviews, local history, and folk traditions. A summary list is provided on the Bridge Fund site, with access available through the World Oral Literature Project.

Minnesota Tibetan Oral History Project

This project, started in 2005, make available oral history interviews with 22 members of the Tibetan population living in Minnesota, including youth and elders. See the website and related report for more information and the archived histories. Total hours of interviews: 27 hours 20 minutes; transcripts: 670 pages. 

related links

Melvyn Goldstein & David Germano discuss Oral History Digitization project (2008)

This project became the source material for the Library of Congress project, as explained by Prof. Goldstein here. He also mentions that LOC has digitized Tibetan newspapers since the 1950s.