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Full Access The Younghusband-Waddell Collection and Its People: the Social Life of Tibetan Books Gathered in a Late-colonial Enterprise

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The Younghusband-Waddell Collection and Its People: the Social Life of Tibetan Books Gathered in a Late-colonial Enterprise

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In this paper I follow the social life of the Tibetan books belonging to the Younghusband-Waddell collection. I show how books as literary artefacts can transform from ritual objects into loot, into commodities and into academic treasures and how books can have agency over people, creating networks and shaping identities. Exploring connections between books and people, I look at colonial collecting, Orientalist scholarship and imperial visions from an unusual perspective in which the social life and cultural biography of people and things intertwine and mutually define each other. By following the trajectory of these literary artefacts, I show how their traces left in letters, minutes and acquisition documents give insight into the functioning of academic institutions and their relationship to imperial governing structures and individual aspirations. In particular, I outline the lives of a group of scholars who were involved with this collection in different capacities and whose deeds are unevenly known. This adds a new perspective to the study of this period, which has so far been largely focused on the deeds of key individuals and the political and military setting in which they operated. Finally, I show how the books of this collection have continued to exercise their attraction and moral pressure on twenty-first-century scholars, both Tibetan and international, linking them through digital technology and cyberspace.


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