History of Project

The motivation for this project came from multiple sources beginning in 2001. The founder, Justin McDaniel, while finishing his PhD at Harvard University (received 2003), had the opportunity to meet with Dr. Jose Cabezon (Professor at UCSB and consultant on the present project) who had digitally mapped (using FEDORA and VRML) the Indian-Tibetan Sera Jae Monastery. Subsequent viewings of this project in 2004 and 2005 impressed McDaniel with the way the visitor to his website could walk through a 3-D virtual environment replete with links to text, video, sound, and historical detail, McDaniel gathered people to plan a similar project. Jose Cabezon is a collaborator on the THDL (Tibetan and Himalayan Digitally Library Project: www.thdl.org) with Dr. David Germano (University of Virginia). They have mapped dozens of Tibetan monasteries over the past six years and have advised McDaniel on the technological and logistical parameters of a Thai project. The usefulness of the THDL, not only for students and non-academic visitors, but also for scholars, has proven itself. Its multi-leveled content crossing various disciplines and types of media is user friendly. One the one hand, it allows visitors to simply tour a monastery, watch videos, listen to interviews (with simultaneous English translation) in multiple scripts and languages; on the other hand, if the visitor is involved in a serious research project, they can closely examine specific murals, images, manuscripts, as well as read the latest findings in historical, anthropological, linguistic, archaeological documentation. Therefore, it serves scholars in the fields of art history, literature, history, religious studies, anthropology, urban planning, etc.

Inspired in part by the THDL project, in 2006, McDaniel, along with Dr. Caverlee Cary (UC Berkeley), and Dr. M.R. Pattaratorn Chirapravati (California State University, Sacramento) won a PACRIM grant for 15,000 USD for a project titled: "The Map and the World in Buddhism." This grant has allowed us to plan two conferences (Riverside, CA and Bangkok, Thailand ) and sponsor a presentation on the use of GIS technology and interactive mapping at Asian Buddhist monastic centers. Speakers at these conferences include Jose Cabezon (UCSB), Patrice Ladwig (Cambridge), Nicolás Jiménez-Ortiz Corrales (University of Madrid), Bas Jarend Terwiel (University of Hamburg), Leedom Lefferts (Drew University), and many others in Thailand, Japan, South Korea, and the U.S. This planning for these conferences has generated a number of ideas for the use of new technologies in the digital mapping, especially in the use of geographically referenced information, the construction of various topology levels along appropriate scalar values, remote sensing, and digital representation of natural or constructed features, boundaries, and other spatial data. Multiple competing cultural and historical concepts of scared space, cosmology, symbol rich landscapes, and even gendered spaces within monasteries have enlivened the planning and implementation.

Creating a monastic digital library for Thailand involves interconnecting technology, field data, and a supportive community of experts and enthusiasts. We strongly adhere to the notion that exposing hidden and scattered data to a large multi-lingual international community of learners can generate new research initiatives, juxtapose previously disconnected concepts and discourses, and inspire new students in the fields of anthropology, history, art, linguistics, religious studies, literature, etc. The knowledge community that is generated out of virtual interactive environments can question stereotypes, reconfigure old epistemic structures, and postulate new notions of what it means to be both a modern global citizen and a traditional monastic student.

Working with OpenSource technology, as well as some multi-media software used by Ven. Phra Phanuthep Sutthithepthamrong we are developing interactive 3-D immersive virtual tours, 360 degree panoramic photographs, maps, recorded interviews, texts, chanting, etc. Besides working with these technologues, we are also dedicated to filing and audio recording in High Definition (HD) film and testing new technologies beyond what has been utilized at the THDL and the University of Virginia . This new technology will provide cleared images, crisper audio, and more seemless interactive GIS spatial environments. While filming in situ we will use High Definition format with a screen dimension ration of 16:9 which does not "interlace" the images. Therefore, each frame of the recording becomes a potential still image - ready for research use or dissemination in books, articles, web pages. This will allow us to transfer to film for archival purposes as the "aspect ratio" of HD video is much closer to that of 35mm motion picture film and is the standard of film editing for the conceivable future. This all promotes the longevity and flexibility of our recordings. Film experts in Thailand will help us film rituals and festivals and therefore pays a great deal of attention to ambient sound interference, multiple perspective needs, and the necessary accuracy and sensitivity of recording highly detailed sacred events. Mr. Matthew Wheeler, formerly research associate at RAND , fluent speaker of Thai, security consultant, and now a free lance journalist, will help train the students in effective methods for conducting video interviews, surveying populated environments, and immersive mapping.

The TDM team also will employ, field test, and train students in the use of:

Besides film and audio quality, the Thai Digital Monastery team wants to develop not only document, archive, and disseminate information about monasteries, but they want to provide raw data for linguists, art historians, and anthropologists. Therefore, in documenting each monastery, they seek to develop a "representative corpus" of texts and audio/video recordings. This seeks to produce a monitor corpus of data which builds a qualitative glossary that is open ended (meaning in future projects new digital texts, new images, new rituals, and new locutions can be added seamlessly). From there the corpus of texts, images, and recorded oral histories can be annotated according to material, location, age, performative setting/genre, ritual significance, and time/date. This annotation will allow future work on parallel corpora to trace regional and temporal differences and be able to add further annotation on images, murals, folktales, architectural forms, etc., as well additions to the GIS linguistic, cultural, archaeological, and historical maps. Our documentation will provide a wide-ranging sample of those infinite varieties. This representative corpus will be the foundation for understanding the way political, geographical, and economic factors have influenced these monastic practices and discourses overtime.

These integrative corpora will allow visitors to will be able to link to bibliographies, full text articles, manuscripts, and secondary sources that can be accessed separately or further link them to imbedded audio-recordings, expert commentary, ethnographic notes, comparative evidence, and historical background. Therefore, each source in the corpora is not simply a text or image, but a hyper-text anthology which can be commented on by the visitor (in a listserv and interactive "in-box"). A visitor can have a voice in the digital library, add notes, ask questions, and seamlessly propel themselves from a particular textual passage, ritual symbol, or art object in the library to its larger diachronic and synchronic environment. For example, if a visitor clicks onto an image of a building in the monastery, they can walk inside, investigate individual statues in the room, and further click onto them which will open up manuscripts that describe them, comparative images at other locales, scholarly articles on the particular image, oral commentary by a monk, historical documents, and rituals offerings to the image. In this way, interdisciplinary research projects are encouraged, instead of art historians only looking at the style of the image, they will have full access to the resources of textualists, linguists, political historians, ethnographers, and vice versa. Since, bibliographies, dictionaries, encyclopedias, concordances, chronicles, timelines, maps, photographs, and other reference material will be available in the site, the visitor does not have to cull and vet hundreds of sources spread worldwide in often difficult to access archives. They can link to HTML pages that are already connected to digital resources in existing libraries, as well as new resources being developed everyday, like Google Scholar, JSTOR, the Digital Pali Canon, on-line archives of manuscripts, newspapers, and documentary films, the Thai Monastic Digital Library will be on the crux of a constantly growing cyber knowledge consortium. McDaniel adheres to strict and consistent standards and practices to keep the technology viable and the access free from profit motives, political and sectarian grandstanding. To this end, we follow the guidelines and procedures of the National Endowment of the Humanities and the University of California .

Regulation of information communities can often be a double-edged sword. One the one hand too much regulation discourages participation and collaboration, on the other too little regulation leads to misinformation and excessive, arbitrary and facetious scholarly debate. This is an issue that can only be resolved in lengthy test periods. However, to avoid egregious abuses of the open community participation, the PI and his consultants will form an arbitration committee to regulate the addition of material, participation on listservs, and commentary, while at the same time encouraging scholarly review, traveler, student, scholar additions and suggestions. Access to the site will be completely free; however, to make comments, submit photographs, and add to the "history" of the site, a user can apply for a "user i.d." This "identification" will ensure that comments and additions will not be made capriciously. The issuing user identifications will not be based in anyway on educational background, geographical region, creed, native language, etc. However, user identifications will provide a good way to track the audience and serve their interests and questions better. Traditional museums have used these "user identifications" for decades in the form of paper "museum registers" in which visitors can comment, criticize, and post queries so that museums evolved from simple repositories to interactive knowledge communities. We hope to bring new technologies in service of a new type of digital library and virtual museum. In the future, the TDM team will request additional funding for a trained web monitor to "troll" the site and revert/reinstate text and images. These changes will be traced in digital "history flows" which will archive the organic evolution of the site.


The THDL and the PACRIM "Map and the World in Buddhism" project have been successful because it has built a consortium of technological and regional experts, McDaniel has done the same in Thailand . Below is a short description of the collaborators and PI on this project, as well as suggestions for the use of new technology to improve on the model THDL has provided.

The PI, McDaniel (see attached CV), is a textual anthropologist, who has over 13 years of experience working on the subject (over 4 years working in situ). He has assembled a group of experts for this project who in turn have decades of experience. McDaniel is also an advanced reader of Sanskrit and Pāli, and has near fluency in spoken and written Lao, Tai Lue, and Thai. He has published several articles beginning in 1999 on the subject of manuscripts and interpretative communities in the region, has held two workshops for training American graduate students on manuscript preservation. He has lived and worked in the region as a Fulbright and Social Science Research Council researcher and was also an ordained Buddhist monk. His first book on the history of monastic education and monastic life has been submitted for publication and he is writing his second book on the relationship between art and ritual in monasteries in modern Bangkok . His article on "Buddhism in Modern Thailand" (2006) is now used as required reading in courses at Harvard, the University of Chicago , and the University of Vermont . Being a former monk and longtime monastery resident, he has deep knowledge of the day-today workings of monastics.

McDaniel is working with a number of collaborators and consultants on this proposal. For example, Dr. Anil Sakya, a Buddhist monk and advisor to the Supreme Patriarch (Sangharaja) of the Senior Monastic Council (Mahatherasamakhom), is a professor of at Mahamakut Monastic University in Bangkok (which is located on the grounds of Wat Bovornivet Monastery, one of the oldest royally sponsored monasteries in the country). He received his PhD in anthropology from Cambridge University (UK) and now supervises a large staff and group of graduate students (nuns, monks, laity). He has worked with McDaniel over the past few years. He has been training several monks in the use of digital video cameras, interview techniques, and anthropological methods. He also helps archive the Wat Bovornivet Monastery collection of manuscripts and art. Dr. Sakya and his graduate students (both nuns and monks) will provide the main staff of the project.

Dr. M.R. Pattaratorn Chirapravati (PhD Cornell University , Art History) is also a longtime collaborator with McDaniel on several interrelated projects involving the documentation of art, inscriptions, and history at several of the oldest monasteries in the country. She is a member of the Thai royal family, has published a book (Oxford University Press, 1997) on the History of Votive Tablets in Southeast Asia , and is a former advisor to the National Museum of Thailand. She also organized and curated the largest overseas exhibition of Thai art in history at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco in 2005.

Dr. Caverlee Cary (PhD, Cornell University) is on the faculty of Geographic Information Systems (GIS), University of California (Berkeley). Besides being a collaborator and technological expert on the PACRIM "Map and the World in Buddhism" project, she has published widely on Buddhist technological advancements in Thailand and the use of remote sensing for archaeological research in ceramics, shipwrecks, and art in Southeast Asia. She was one of the organizers and speakers at the "Ancient Cultures, New Technologies: Exploring Cultural Heritage in the Digital Realm" at the Sirinthorn Anthropology Center in Bangkok in June 2006, where she worked closely with the Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy, the Silpakporn University Computer Center, the Asian Institute of Technology, and the Chinese Academy of Science.

Dr. Peter Skilling (PhD, University of Paris), is a member of the Ecole française d'Extrème Orient (EFEO), the founder of the Fragile Palm-Leaves Preservation Project, and visiting professor at Chulalongkorn University (Bangkok, Thailand). He has also been a visiting professor at Oxford , Harvard, and Berkeley . He has published over 100 scholarly articles on Buddhist history, Southeast Asian monastic history, archaeology, and epigraphy. He also published four volumes of catalogues of manuscripts in monasteries and archives in Thailand . He has catalogued manuscripts at Wat Borvornivet, Wat Pho, Wat Bechamamophit, and various other monastic libraries in Thailand .

Dr. Prapod Assavavirulhakarn (PhD, UC Berkeley) is a professor of Buddhist Studies and chair of the Department of Eastern Languages at Chulalongkorn University . He has published widely on Buddhist monastic history and ritual life. He is also the advisor to the royal family of Thailand on Buddhist ritual and texts.

Other technical assistants, consultants and staff include: Mr. Charles Carroll, Dr. Rujaya Abhakorn, Dr. Louis Gabaude, Mr. Kenneth Rosenberg, Dr. François Lagirarde, Dr. Venerable Sillapa, Maechi Bunchai Sriprem, Mr. Arthid Sheraverakul, Dr. James Lin, Dr. Steven Collins, Mr. Matthew Wheeler, Mrs. Ruang Sasithorn, Dr. Michael Montesano, Dr. Anake Nawigamune, and Dr. Chalong Soontravanich .


Since this is a start-up project, the "proof" or "deliverable product" will be a "work-in-progress." However, this work-in-progress will be launched on an interactive website (www.tdm.ucr.edu ) using Open Source software and providing a listserv for participants and visitors. This site is being prepared by James Lin. On this site there will be streaming video, immersive 3-D VRML spaces, multi-layered GIS maps, audio and video interviews, catalogues of texts, images, murals, and buildings, as well as links to bibliographies, reference works, scholarly commentary, dictionaries, and encyclopedias. This site will allow interaction and create information communities.

Practically, McDaniel is the chair of the Thai, Lao, Cambodian Studies Association of the Association of Asian Studies (the largest group of its kind in the world), and the designer of its website (tlc.ucr.edu). He was also the PI on a PacRim Grant to develop a GIS map and study the impact of political borders on Buddhist ritual practice (which brought together 24 speakers from six countries together for meetings in Bangkok and Riverside, CA ). He was also the organizer for a 12 person panel at the University of London in 2005 at the International Association of Buddhist Studies which featured speakers from France, Thailand , North America , Japan , and Burma . He has researched in manuscript archives in France , Thailand , Laos , Singapore , Denmark , England , and the United States. He is also editor of the Buddhism Compass Journal, executive committee member of the French journal Aséanie , and is a longtime member of the Siam Society, International Association of Buddhist Studies, and American Academy of Religion, the TDM will be able to disseminate its activities to groups outside of Thai and Buddhist Studies.

This cooperative work with a wide range of scholars on a wide range of materials in several interrelated fields will ensure that this project impacts intellectual discourse in a variety of venues. Since this project is a cooperative effort with junior and senior scholars and native speakers from Thailand , France , and the United States with funding for several graduate student assistants, local ethnographers, and librarians will be trained. This will certainly lead to future joint projects and mapping of other monasteries throughout the country. Several of the participants on this grant, including the three teams leaders have years of experience working on joint projects with UNESCO, Human Rights Watch, Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst, the Association of Asian Studies, the Asia Foundation, the Fulbright Foundation, the PacRim Program, the Toyota Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, l'Ecole Français d'Extrême-Orient, and the Mellon and Ford Foundations. Only with this cooperative spirit and interdisciplinary approach can large, international projects be successful and widely disseminated.

Finally, the Thai Monastic Digital Library team aims to develop a "visualizing languages and cultures" course. This course is based on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's model: http://ocw.mit.edu/ans7870/21f/21f.027j/menu/index.html). MIT's " Visualizing Cultures" provides access to a wide array of visual, audio, and textual material on-line. Each course is replete with extensive bibliographies, lesson plans, annotated slideshows, expert commentary, oral histories, and the like. This material can be enlarged and scrutinized in detail, and also downloaded for use in educational projects. The TDM would design a course "Text, Ritual, and Performance: Monastic Life in Bangkok " for use in undergraduate on-line courses at the ten campuses of the University of California (offered free on web to other universities).  Eventually, courses or course components can be developed for elementary and secondary school age children, as well as non-traditional home-schooled, adult, and special needs learners. This course would be first piloted by McDaniel at the University of California , Riverside in the Southeast Asia : Text, Ritual, Performance (SEATRiP) Program.


The University of California Pacific Rim Research program awarded Dr. McDaniel fund to convene conferences, at the University of California , Riverside and the National Museum of Thailand, Bangkok . These two conferences will bring together 28 speakers and a large audience of Thai and foreign scholars and students to deliver papers and discuss new technologies, methodologies, forge professional relationships, and discuss issues regarding sacred space, urban planning, monastic proprietary rights, GIS, traditional Buddhist cosmology, and other emerging topics.

The Southeast Studies Program at UCR won a $150,000 from the Luce Foundation to build a library collection of primary and secondary sources in Lao, Thai, and other Southeast Asian languages. McDaniel purchased over 25,000 of books in the Thai language in the summer of 2006. Many of these books focus on the art history and archaeology of Thailand . Many will be scanned in order to link in appropriate places to the imbedded links in the TDM website.

07/01/2007 – 08/31/2007 : During the first two months of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) award period, McDaniel will work with UCR staff to acquire the digital equipment (i.e. laptop computers, digital audio and video recorders, and other related supplies and software) required for the projects' training activities. During this time, McDaniel will also work with Dr. Cary training with the GIS programs from UC Berkeley's GIS Center . Beginning training on Open-Source free software, including FEDORA, FLASH, VRML, programs, will include initial field testing at Wat Thai Los Angeles with interviews of the abbot, monks, visitors and administrators, as well as filming of monastic grounds.

9/01/2007 – 11/30/2007 : During the fall quarter, McDaniel and other collaborators/trainers will travel to Bangkok to conduct the three-day training session to teach the monastic students how to digitally document, map and archive. The meeting and training sessions, conducted in Thai and English, will be lead by Ven. Dr. Anil Sakya (Phra Sugandha), Dr. Caverlee Cary , Dr. Peter Skilling, Dr. M.R. Pattaratorn Chirapravati, Dr. Justin McDaniel, and Mr. Matthew Wheeler at Mahämakut Monastic University on the grounds of the Wat Bovornivet Monastery.

Filming, photography, interviews, mapping will start at Wat Rakhang, Wat Indrawihan, Wat Sapthum, among other monasteries. Once buildings, images, rituals have been filmed, marked up and catalogued, the students will interview other monastic residents, visitors, patrons, etc. Simultaneously, McDaniel will translate the interviews, catalogue, and monastery history. Wat Indraviharn is the ritual center for Mahänikäya Sect and home to the tallest Buddha image in Thailand), Wat Ratcha-orot is an architecturally unique Chinese-Thai monastery built in 1853, Wat Rakhang Ghositaram is home of the oldest monastic library and reliquary in Bangkok, and Wat Sapathum is a Thammayut Monastery with unique architectural features, a new reliquary, and meditative grounds sandiwched in between highrtises in downtown Bangkok. These temples represent the two major sects of Thai Buddhism, are centers of both nuns and monks training, are textual repositories and meditation training centers, and are each architecturally and artistically unique diachronically and synchronically.

12/01/2007 – 07/30/2009 : During the second half of the project, Dr. McDaniel will supervise the following activities.