Justin McDaniel, associate professor and chair of the religious studies department at the University of Pennsylvania, has won a $410,000 grant from the Henry Luce Foundation to help fund the Digital Library of Northern Thai Manuscripts project.
Working with the staff at the National Library of Laos and Chiang Mai University, project organizers will make approximately 7,000 primary sources together with related resources from the region freely available for study via the Internet.
As principle investigator, McDaniel will serve as the liaison between Penn and the team in Thailand led by Harald Hundius, David Wharton and Bounleut Thammachak.
"I will examine the manuscripts to make sure they are clearly identified, digitized, and made available to students and will advise Penn Library colleagues how to make these manuscripts useful and accessible to Penn students and faculty," McDaniel said. He will visit Thailand to check in on the progress of the project and will also organize a series of talks at Penn about the manuscripts.
Only a limited number of textual studies have previously been done due to a lack of availability of primary sources. Most of these original texts are written on palm-leaf and stored in the libraries of Buddhist monasteries and in private collections.
In addition to local texts from the Theravada Buddhist tradition, there are a wealth of indigenous literature and historical writings, as well as works pertaining to social relations, customary law and everyday life among the texts. The collection includes texts in Northern Thai (Lan Na), Tai Khuen, Tai Lue, Lao, Tai Yai (Shan), Burmese and Pali languages, written in a variety of scripts.
There are exceptionally rare and important texts, including the oldest dated Pali manuscripts in the country and possibly in Southeast Asia, dating from the late 15th century CE when the Kingdom of Lan Na was a regional center for the study and dissemination of Buddhist literature.