News from the Himalayas
19 December 2014
The “Himalayan Times” newspaper published in Kalimpong, India, represents a major historical source for research into the political and social developments in the Himalayas after World War II. Nearly every issue from 1949 to 1963 is now available online in a new database set up by Heidelberg University’s Cluster of Excellence “Asia and Europe in a Global Context” in cooperation with the Heidelberg University Library. According to the project’s initiators, the leading articles and news reports in particular provide insight into how the people in the regions of northern India bordering Tibet, Nepal, and Bhutan lived – as well as their views of Europe and the West.
The database was developed as part of the research project “Kalimpong as a ‘contact zone’: encounters between Tibet and Western modernity in the early 20th century”, directed by Prof. Dr. Birgit Kellner of the Cluster of Excellence “Asia and Europe”. As a consequence of trade agreements with Tibet imposed by British troops in 1904, the border town of Kalimpong grew to become a major centre of exchange for Tibetan and Western commodities. The significance of this city as a focal point in encounters between East and West is reflected in the reports in the “Himalayan Times”, which was published from 1947 onward. “The newspaper reflects the local and global interrelations that shaped both the impressions of the Himalayas as well as of the West,” explains Dr. Markus Viehbeck of the Cluster of Excellence. A travel report published in the paper by Archibald Steele, one of the first Western journalists permitted to travel to Tibet in 1951, is particularly revealing. “The American was especially taken with the cosmopolitan character of Kalimpong. Here, Christian missionaries, Tibetan aristocrats, British colonial officers, Tibetologists and other enthusiasts from all over the world converged. Steele was amazed that Hollywood had not discovered the place yet,” says Dr. Viehbeck.
The “Himalayan Times” database is based to a large extent on a collection of historian Dr. Isrun Engelhardt, who assembled the issues still available at various places and institutions, such as the New York Public Library. Doctoral candidate Anna Sawerthal and Sarah Ewald assisted in setting up the database. Sandip Jain, the grandson of the newspaper’s founder, also supported the project. The digital archive in Heidelberg now provides online access to more than 90 percent of the issues of the newspaper from 1949 and 1963. Individual pages can be viewed in various file formats, and the system also features a full text search in all available issues.