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Digital “resurrection” of lost Lao Ramayana murals

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A groundbreaking project with the aim to digitally replicate the lost Phralak-Phralam (Lao version of the Ramayana) murals at Vat Oub Mong in Vientiane has been under way for several years. The project is being carried out by the Digital Conservation Facility, Laos (DCFL); affiliated since 2003 with the Center for Southeast Asian Studies (CSEAS) at Northern Illinois University. DCFL founder Alan Potkin has recently been developing interactive visualization and virtual reality technologies in ecological and cultural conservation for applications in impact assessment, heritage management, museological and site interpretive materials, public participation; and accessible institutional memory for corporations, government agencies, and NGOs.

The historical temple hall at Vat Oub Mong that contained the original murals had been demolished in the year 2000. However, prior to the demolition, photographs were taken of the murals which had been created in 1938. Thanks to this initiative and newly emerging technologies, digital replication of the lost cultural heritage is now possible.
But digital replication is not the only goal of the project – equally important is the replication at Vat Oub Mong (Vientiane) of the demolished Phralak-Phralam murals which was completed in 2011. In addition to this, the original 2,100-page palm leaf manuscript containing the Pralak-Pralam text in Lao tham script has been digitised and is currently being transliterated into modern Lao by the monks at Vat Oub Mong.
Alan Potkin gave talks about this project and its progress at several conferences in the recent years.

An abridged translation of the Phalak-Phralam text together with some photographs of the original murals from the demolished temple can be found on the homepage of the Center for SEA Studies at Northern Illinois University.

Latest news from the project can be found on the Theravada Buddhist Civilizations website.

An English translation of a Phralak-Phralam text found in a manuscript at the Royal Palace in Luang Prabang, together with photographs of the murals at Vat Oub Mong are in Sachchidanand Sahai’s book “Ramayana in Laos. A study in the Gvay Dvorahbi” (published in 1976 by B.R. Publishing corporation, Delhi).

Asian bookbinding traditions

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Asian bookbinding traditions which can be found in the Southeast Asian manuscript cultures as well are the subject of a research paper by Colin Chinnery and Li Yi (International Dunhuang Project).

This research paper combines textual descriptions together with diagrams illustrating binding techniques and photographs of a selection of objects. The aim of the paper is to give a comprehensive introduction to the different kinds of Chinese bookbinding contained in the Dunhuang collections. Included are details about butterfly binding, stitched binding, palm-leaf binding (pothi), whirlwind binding, concertina binding, and wrapped-back binding.

Bookbinding methods found in the Dunhuang collections. Diagram by Li Yi and Colin Chinnery (British Library)

Bookbinding methods found in the Dunhuang collections. Diagram by Li Yi and Colin Chinnery (British Library)

The International Dunhuang Project is a ground-breaking international collaboration to make information and images of all manuscripts, paintings, textiles and artefacts from Dunhuang and archaeological sites of the Eastern Silk Road freely available on the Internet and to encourage their use through educational and research programmes.

The IDP has partner institutions in Beijing, St Petersburg, Kyoto, Berlin, Dunhuang, Paris and Seoul which provide data for and act as hosts to the multilingual website and database.

Much of IDP’s early work focused on conservation and cataloguing, both of which remain core activities. These have been supplemented in the past few years with digitisation, education and research. IDP started digitising the manuscripts in 1997 with the aim of bringing together the collections in virtual space. Its web site went online in October 1998 and allows free access to the IDP DATABASE with high-quality images of the manuscripts and other material, with cataloguing and contextual information. In this way, Silk Road material is becoming increasingly available to academic and general users alike.

Conservation of panoramic photographs of Hong Kong

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Six spectacular photographic panoramas of Hong Kong, taken c. 1900, were  painstakingly conserved by Nicholas Burnett and colleagues at Museum Conservation Services at Duxford, Cambridge, along with one panorama of Macau, one of Canton, and one of Medicine Hat, Alberta, taken in 1913.

The panoramas form part of the impressive photographic collection of the Royal Commonwealth Society Library in Cambridge.

The conservation process was quite complicated and took 21 months. A short report of the project together with photographs taken during the conservation works can be found on the Cambridge University Library Special Collections blog.