Creating a virtual Tibet to preserve cultural heritage

[From The Oxford Press in Oxford, Ohio; more details are available here]

[Image: A screenshot of the virtual reality mandala created by AIMS students working on projects to help preserve Tibetan culture]

Miami students work on digital archives for Tibet

By Caitlin Kluener
Contributing Writer
September 13, 2010

OXFORD — Students and faculty alike are anxiously awaiting the arrival of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama at Miami University for his public lecture Oct. 21.

A group of students headed by Glenn Platt and the Armstrong Institute for Interactive Media Studies, however, has other plans for him.

They plan on asking His Holiness to ever so kindly don a pair of 3-D glasses and take a tour through their virtual reality model of a sacred mandala, a sort of spiritual road map commonly used by Tibetans in meditative practices.

The virtual mandala is just one part of what Platt, a professor of marketing and the C. Michael Armstrong Chair of Interactive Media Studies at Miami University, hopes to be the “creation of a virtual presence that helps preserve the cultural heritage of Tibet.”

Along with the mandala, an online version of the Tibetan government’s cultural archives and possibly a Tibetan language tool are being developed.

“Tibetans are being spread all throughout the world, so it would be ideal to create a digital way for them to be connected to their culture,” Platt said.

In October 2009, Platt traveled to the Tibetan government-in-exile (located in Dharamsala, India) on behalf of the provost of Miami University to aid in forming an agreement with the Institute of Buddhist Dialects in Dharamsala, India to establish a student partnership to help with the digital preservation of Tibetan culture. While Platt was there, he was shown archives, ancient texts and artifacts that were being kept in a damp brick-walled room, where they wouldn’t keep well.

The university there had a large scanner to start the digitizing process to preserve these ancient texts, but needed help doing so correctly.

While abroad, Platt identified three large projects to help the Tibetan cause additionally.

First, Platt and his students would aid in the digitization project by figuring out how to go about it efficiently. The Institute of Buddhist Dialects has only one large scanner, so help is needed with the workload and also with compression and the saving of metadata. The archiving of texts could thus be done faster if Miami students and faculty were to aid in the project by using their knowledge of the technology.

The second major project would then be to create an online Tibetan language tool. As the Institute does not have access to an online source, this would not only aid the students and faculty there, but would also provide a learning device for any estranged Tibetan seeking to learn the language of their ancestors.

The third major undertaking would be to create the virtual reality model of a mandala, as students in Dharamsala have just 2-D drawings to help them visualize the structure of what Buddhist monks believe is something to be not just seen but experienced, according to Platt.

Work on these projects was started during spring semester 2010 and over the summer.

The AIMS Capstone class completed a set of recommendations of formatted ways to preserve the archives this past spring. They developed a working relationship with Google Library, which helped them set things up and connect with the Tibetan library. Google is to host the library, and will help set up as it progresses.

“It’s a great opportunity for the students,” Platt said. “It’s a way for them to be connected to another culture.”

The virtual mandala is also underway.

The future of the online language tool, among other smaller projects, will depend on time and funding. Plans for the creation of a Center for Tibetan Studies at Miami University, where further digital projects would occur, are in the works, but will not be acted upon until a donor is found who could financially support it. Platt would like to have the center up and running as soon as possible.

ISPR Presence News

Search ISPR Presence News: