Agnieszka Helman-WaznyThe Archaeology of Tibetan Books

Brill, 2014

by Carla Nappi on March 21, 2015

Agnieszka Helman-Wazny

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Agnieszka Helman-Wazny’s new book is a fascinating contribution to both book history and Tibetan studies, bringing these fields together through careful attention to the physicality of print and manuscript materials. The Archaeology of Tibetan Books (Brill, 2014) explores a wide range of printed works and manuscripts in Tibetan, focusing especially on the nearly 50 Tibetan manuscripts from the Dunhuang “Library Cave,” early printed editions of Tibetan Kanjurs, and illuminated manuscripts from Western and Central Tibet. Based on deeply interdisciplinary research in libraries, museums, and private collections, along with interviews with Tibetan artisans and personal experience in “experimental manuscriptology,” Helman-Wazny’s book focuses on the material components of Tibetan books, including the fiber composition and molding of the paper, the preparation of leaves before writing/printing, the production of inks and pigments, and the format of the most important types of Tibetan books. The Archaeology of Tibetan Books also explores the relationship between manuscript and print culture in Tibet, and guides readers through the stages of production of massive projects like the Tibetan Buddhist Canon. A final chapter discusses the particular challenges posed to the conservation of Tibetan books due to the significance of these books as sacred and ritual objects, where “preserving” the object for one group of people may look like “destroying” it to another. This will reward the attention of anyone interested in the history of and with Tibetan books.

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