Prof. McDaniel Awarded Luce Grant

Justin McDaniel (Religious Studies, University of Pennsylvania) has recently won a very generous grant from the Henry Luce Foundation (410,000 dollars) to help fund the The Digital Library of Northern Thai Manuscripts project led by Harald Hundius, David Wharton, and Bounleut Thammachak. Working with the staff at the National Library of Laos and Chiang Mai University, this project will make approximately 7,000 primary sources from this historically important region freely available for study via the Internet, together with related resources. The original texts are mostly written on palm-leaf and are stored in the libraries of Buddhist monasteries as well as in private collections. In addition to local texts from the Theravada Buddhist tradition, they contain a wealth of indigenous literature and historical writings, as well as works pertaining to social relations, customary law, and everyday life. 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. It is known from previous research that there is a considerable number of 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 centre for the study and dissemination of Buddhist literature. However, only a very limited number of textual studies have been previously undertaken, due to the lack of availability of this abundance of primary sources from a tradition which has made an essential contribution to the development of related cultures throughout the region. The resulting Digital Library of Northern Thai Manuscripts will be the first major collection of manuscripts from Thailand to be made accessible via the Internet. Helena Kolenda of the Henry Luce Foundation and Symeon Braxton. John MacDermott, Susan Cerrone, Diane Boyle, and several key experts at the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books, and Manuscripts of the University of Pennsylvania were instrumental in helping this project come to fruition.