Tibetan Studies Introductory Research Guide: Primary Resources

A basic research guide for the study of Tibetan societies and cultures across the Himalayan region, with a focus on western-language sources. For a more advanced guide that also includes Chinese and Tibetan resources, see bottom-left links below.

Oral Histories

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. It includes a large collection of interviews from common folk, monks, and Tibetan and Chinese officials speaking about their lives and modern Tibetan society and history. The first installment, available now, includes 94 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 who lived in Drepung Monastery before 1959. 

Oral History Archive

Initiated by Trace Foundation’s 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 -- be sure to see pages 2, 3, 4, etc. of the featured recordings. Scholars may also consult the interviews onsite at the Trace Foundation's Latse Library.

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.

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 for more information and the archived histories. total hours of interviews: 27 hours 20 minutes; transcripts: 670 pages.  


Library of Tibetan Works and Archives

The Oral History Department of the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives in Dharamsala, India, has published some 30 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.  LTWA provides an English summary of these histories and the topics covered (e.g. religious life and retreat, the Ganden Phodrang administration, geography and family lineage, artisanship, 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.

Archival Materials at Columbia

Columbia University Libraries owns several archival and special collections with interesting materials for original research.  These include holdings at the Rare Book and Manuscript Library, the Tharchin Collection (primarily English-language resources), digital verison of the Tibet Mirror, and the Tibet Information Network (TIN) Archive.  

Contact the Tibetan Studies Librarian for more information and access, lh2112@columbia.edu.

Archival Materials at Trace Foundation's Latse Library

For more information on the Geshe Nornang Collection, the Taktser Rinpoche Collection, and more, see http://trace.org/latse-library/special-collections.