The Sakya Research Centre is an open online platform set up by a network of Tibetan and academic contributors working in the field of historical research and digital text processing. Since its start in 2011, the project is designed as an open reference system for Tibetan historical research based on a digital text corpus embedded in an interlinked, relational database and web application.
The Sakya Research Centre is currently being evaluated and improved in a closed beta phase. Once it has reached a certain maturity level we will release it to the general public.
By now we have gathered a large body of historical texts in digital form, encoded to common standards and fully searchable. Our present text corpus holds most of the standard works of Tibetan historiography as well as genealogies, biographies and religious histories particularly related to the Sakya school of Tibetan Buddhism. The digital texts that will be openly accessible on the web were initially inputted (or converted) in Tibetan Unicode and brought into a compatible format following TEI (Text Encoding Initiative) standards, supplemented with our own specifications required for historical text analysis and digital editing.
While the system already supports research in Tibetan Studies we are currently evaluating additional methods for text markup as an approach to data extraction by which new forms of historical evidence are derived through further processing and organization of the extracted data. By processing and combining text-based data we are aiming to answer complex questions historians might want to ask from a wider perspective, going beyond individual case studies.
The possibilities of using relationally structured, semantic data sets derived from digital texts, which have been manually supplemented by editorial markup, are widely and largely unexplored in the field of information technology within Tibetan Studies. New ways of presenting or visualizing textual content can convey wider and indirect connections between historical entities and procedures. Gathering orthographic variants of historic toponyms or agents, contextualizing events or making religious networks visible are only some areas in which this newly derived information could be used.
Advantages of this text-based approach are certainly the transparency and traceability of the system: By adding markup to a text through a set of pre-defined tags (highlighting, for instance, indications of time, agency or geographic space) the text itself preserves its original wording and structure while meta information of the text can be fed into the relational database back-end for broader, intertextual analysis. For the user, both the database and the digital text input remain accessible for search and reference via an easy-to-use web application.
This project is being realized with the generous support of the Austrian Science Fund (FWF F4204-G18).