Accepted paper:

'I became in large measure Tibetanised': collecting and knowing Tibet in the Anglo-Tibetan borderlands


Emma Martin (University of Manchester)

Paper short abstract:

Charles Bell not only built a collection of Tibetan curios, but a lasting reputation as a Tibetan scholar. This paper will examine how he collected objects and knowledge, focusing on an elite group of Himalayan men who taught Bell how to know Tibet.

Paper long abstract:

Charles Bell (1870-1945), the diplomat, Tibetologist and collector, was one of the most recognizable names in Anglo-Tibetan relations. As a result there are now Charles Bell collections in many of the leading museum and archival collections in the UK. He was known not only as the friend of the thirteenth Dalai Lama, but as the author of some of the most well referenced books on Tibetan religion and culture. Taking one of Bell's most well known comments on the transformative effect his postings to the Himalaya had on his life I will discuss how Charles Bell become 'Tibetanised'. I will do so using the post-colonial discourse that surrounds imperial travel writing and in particular the writings of Mary Louise Pratt and her seminal work, 'Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation', taking her borrowed anthropological term, I will read Bell's 'Tibetanisation' as a form of transculturation. Specifically, this paper will map out Bell's Himalayan frames of reference, outlining the methods available to him for collecting and cataloguing Tibetan knowledge. What types of knowledge and how Bell accumulated it depended heavily on the men he tied himself to; the pre-existing and constantly evolving networks that operated across the Himalaya and the Tibetan plateau, what Pratt describes as a 'contact zone'. In this paper we will meet several highly cultured and educated men who were part of these Himalayan networks and by focusing on object connoisseurship and literary scholarship we will see for ourselves how and what Bell learned from these men.

panel P58
The enlightening museum: anthropology, collecting, encounters