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Title: An exploration of the potential for collaborative management of palm leaf manuscripts as Lanna cultural material in northern Thailand
Author: Jarusawat, Piyapat
ISNI:       0000 0004 7225 2776
Awarding Body: University of Sheffield
Current Institution: University of Sheffield
Date of Award: 2017
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The cultural heritage of the Lanna region of upper northern Thailand is unique. One of its distinctive features is palm leaf manuscripts (“Khamphi Bailan”), which are viewed simultaneously as examples of sacred writing, means of transferring cultural knowledge, religious symbols, artefacts of beauty, products of a particular cultural tradition, and fragile historical documents. The aim of this study is to develop a model of community-based collection management for palm leaf manuscripts by exploring the views of community members and experts. Four models of community involvement provide possible guidelines for the management of these manuscripts. The first model is that of community-focused information services (Becvar & Srinivasan, 2009), taken from librarianship studies. The second and third are from archival science: participatory archiving (Shilton & Srinivasan, 2007) and community archiving (Flinn, 2007, 2010). The last model is that of indigenous curation (Kreps, 2005, 2008), which is influenced by the new museology. All of them are based on community engagement with cultural collections. The research method was interview-based and qualitative. Semi-structured interviews, participant observation and a photographic inventory (Collier & Collier, 1986) were used as the methods of data collection. The two groups of participants within the main study comprised 11 community members and 12 experts. Thematic analysis was used to analyse the data. The results of the study revealed that the community members and experts had similar ideas about the knowledge contained in PLMs, seeing their value in terms of Buddhism, herbal medicine, history, language and literature, and academic study and research. However, certain emphases were different. For example, although both groups regarded the teaching of Buddhist concepts as the most important content of PLMs, community members had more belief in the value being primarily sacred; the manuscripts, to them, allowed the making of religious merit. Further, the results demonstrated that the two sets of participants held slightly different views about how PLMs should be managed. In this respect, the experts thought that custodians should be the owners of PLMs because it was they who were directly responsible for the manuscripts; community members, in contrast, felt that the community itself should be recognised as possessing ownership. In terms of the classification of PLMs, the community group held the opinion that manuscripts should be classified by age and value; the experts showed a preference for using the content of PLMs to separate them into subject categories. Moreover, the experts opted for practicality and appearance in accessible storage methods to keep PLMs, but the community wanted to see the manuscripts stored in traditional ways, with new designs created in order to display the PLMs to the public. With regard to PLM preservation, it emerged that community members wished to maintain traditional approaches, particularly in the way that PLMs were kept but also in community events and community involvement, for example through following religious traditions and producing copies of the manuscripts. The experts tended to focus more on knowledge preservation, employing such methods as digitisation and protection of intellectual property rights. All four prior models of community involvement considered in this study concern communities which possess a level of control over their archives. This is not entirely the case for PLMs as Lanna communities are unable to read their own ancient script and thus rely on experts who can. It is these experts who manage the manuscripts. Moreover, PLMs are not used in daily life due to their being ancient material. Therefore, communities often tend to be unaware of their PLMs. Therefore, none of the existing models can be applied exactly to PLMs. For example, Srinivasan is mostly concerned with orally-transmitted knowledge. Flinn (2007, 2010) concentrates on how people might gather material of their own choice, but in the Lanna case the monasteries already hold their collections. The model proposed by Kreps (2005, 2008) is the most relevant here, focusing as it does on how, within existing social practices, people might develop their own ways of collecting, preserving and displaying objects. Given, then, that these existing theories do not deal adequately with PLMs, it became necessary to develop a model suitable to the context. The model proposed in this study contains two stages, where the initial process involves preparing the community to participate in the management of PLMs by having knowledgeable local people or experts supply information and education. The subsequent process concerns the creation of a form of sustainable community engagement, one in which the concept of PLM ownership emerges within the community, thus enabling a community-based management of the manuscripts which allows the making of merit.
Supervisor: Cox, Andrew ; Bates, Jo Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available