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Ghosts and Hells – An exhibition on the Underworld in Asian art at the Musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac

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On 10 April 2018 a new exhibition that focuses on perceptions and artistic expressions of the underworld in Asian art will open at the Musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac in Paris. Various art forms including literature, film, visual arts, performing arts, design, manuscript art have been chosen to showcase ideas of the underworld – hells, ghosts, spirits, horror and fantastic creatures – in the context of Asian cultures and imaginations.

The curator, Julien Rousseau, Head of the Asia Heritage Collections at the Musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac, sought advice from various museum and library curators across Europe while curating this very promising exhibition.

The museum’s announcement of the exhibition includes the following interesting outlook: “Ghosts and Hells – the underworld in Asian art explores their omnipresence not only in objects and documents but also in the performing arts, cinema and comics in an attempt to better understand how they work. After all, whilst Buddhism has played its part in the formation of this imagination – implying that souls are in waiting between two reincarnations –, it is indeed on the fringes of religion, in popular and secular art, that the representation of ghosts has truly come into its own.

A number of events have been organised around the exhibition, too. Apart from guided and narrated tours, there will be film screenings, talks with Julien Rousseau and guest speakers, a weekend-long festival “Enfers et fantômes d’Asie” and much more.

The exhibition will close on 18 July 2018. More detailed information and the programme of events can be found on the museum’s exhibition website.

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Exhibition poster

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Digital Humanities for Asian and African Texts – report from a workshop

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On 6 June, 2016, a one-day workshop dedicated to the theme “Digital Humanities for Asian and African Texts” took place at SOAS, London, which was attended by approximately 40 participants from a variety of UK and European institutions.

The first session focused on digitisation projects and the scholarly use of such projects for research and teaching. The first presenter, Erich Kesse (SOAS Library, with Christine Wise) spoke on “Current digital projects at SOAS and future plans for Asian and African texts” and gave an overview of a variety of digitisation projects carried out by SOAS Library, which by now have made approximately 18,000 items available online. He highlighted certain aspects of technical requirements, cataloguing and standards, metadata and coding, funding, commercial partnerships and co-operation with SOAS exhibitions.

Lars Lamaan (SOAS) and Fresco Sam-Sin (Leiden University) presented a paper on “Manchu online study and research environment: from scrum to crowd sourcing” and explained the importance of Manchu sources for historical research and the significance of transliteration, translation and annotation tools in digital manuscript/text collections. Fresco Sam-Sin also demonstrated his digital research and learning platform Manc.hu that is used as a collaborative online classroom for university students.

Almut Hintze (SOAS) followed with a talk on “The multimedia Yasna”, a project that deals with a Zoroastrian ritual of the Parsi community in India in which the oral tradition of memorising texts plays a more important role than the written tradition. The aim of the project is to learn more about the oral texts used in this ritual by recording the performance, editing the recording, transcription and transliteration of texts, creation of metadata and finally provision of online and print editions.

Dmitry Bondarev (SOAS/University of Hamburg) gave an introduction to “Old Kanembu Islamic manuscripts: digital collection, archive, database?”, a project that aims to enable more and better linguistic research into Kanembu Islamic manuscripts found in West Africa, particularly the comparison of different versions of texts.

Jody Butterworth (British Library) presented an overview of the British Library’s “The Endangered Archives Programme: digitising vulnerable material around the world”. The priority of this project is to preserve material that is under threat due to natural disasters or political conflicts – not only manuscripts, but also newspapers, photographs, audio-visual material, family archives etc. – and to make it available online for research. The project has worked with over 290 partners in 80 countries.

The second session emphasized concepts and methods of Digital Humanities for Asian and African Studies. The first speaker in this session, David Beavan (UCL) presented “A Beginners guide to Digital Humanities”, giving an overview of the general steps digitisation, transcription and analysis involved in digitisation projects for scholarly research. He gave advice on project planning, transcription softwares, as well as quantitative methods for analysis.

Nora McGregor (British Library) spoke about “Doing digital research at the British Library with Asian and African Collections” and her involvement in various initiatives of the library’s Digital Research Team which include Big Data creation, Crowdsourcing, PhD placements, Digital Scholarship, training programmes for library staff etc.

Finally, Chris Dillon (UCL) presented a paper on “Community sourcing and non-Latin scripts” in connection with his project Bridge to China, a free online grammar of Mandarin, that was created by community sourcing.

The workshop was a great opportunity to meet people working in various areas of Asian and African Studies who, at the same time, are also engaging with Digital Humanities. The presenters demonstrated how long-standing research traditions can be linked with newly emerging methods and technologies, new perspectives and research practices.