The institute aims to sponsor original and innovative research by researchers in such fields as History, Religious Studies, Art History, Linguistics, Anthropology, Archaeology, Architecture, Musicology, Sociology, Geography, and Ethnology. In sponsoring these research programs, the institute actively supports the participation of research trainees previously involved in the institute’s training and capacity building programs.

On-going research program

Documenting, Digitizing, and Preserving Shan-Palaung Buddhist Heritage

Initiated in 2016, the on-going research and preservation project is being developed at Pong Long Monastery in a Shan-Palaung village located in Northern Shan State. Led by experts in their respective fields, funded by the Gerda Henkel Foundation, and involving archival research, field research, documentation, and digitization, it seeks to introduce appropriate conservation practices and methodology that may be replicated at other sites in the Shan State. It also documents a significant part of the Shan-Palaung heritage that has been so far relatively preserved due to its remoteness but currently faces various threats (artifacts smuggling, insurgency, re-purposing of parts of the monastery, …).

The project will result in the following: a digital archive platform featuring the objects, manuscripts, and visual materials preserved at the monastery that can be accessed by Myanmar and International internet users and serve their research interests (platform currently under development with funding from the Krieble-Delmas Foundation); a travelling exhibition featuring the findings of the research project and hosted in mid-2020 at the Doe Library (U. California-Berkeley), at the Founders Memorial Library (Northern Illinois University), Yangon, Mandalay, and Hsipaw. 

This project in the Hsipaw region (Northern Shan State) is seen as the first step of a larger comparative research project expanding to the Kyaingtong and Nyaung-shwe regions. 

Completed research program

The institute was awarded a grant from the International Wood Culture Society (IWCS) in March 2014 for a socio-cultural survey on master carpenters and wood carvers in Mandalay. The one-year long survey was designed and conducted by a Mandalay-based junior researcher under the guidance of a senior advisor. The research findings were presented at the 3rd IWCS Conference held in Turkey on March 27-29, 2015.

Wood carving, one of Myanmar’s ten recognized traditional crafts, developed into an extremely elaborate art all along the nineteenth century and well into the first three decades of the twentieth century. Because Mandalay was the former seat of royal power and was created almost ex nihilo, royal patronage sustained an expansive building program benefiting various communities of craftsmen. Among them, master carpenters and wood carvers were in charge of building and decorating wooden buildings, including the royal palace and a multitude of monasteries. A hundred and fifty years after Mandalay was created, both communities now confront a radically different socio-economic context.

The project surveys the current socio-economic status of both communities, identifies obstacles and assets for further development, and examines how the two communities are structured and how their network is part of the local economy. It will also gauge the potential for training young promising individuals based on a curriculum that goes beyond the teaching of wood carving techniques and building techniques and emphasizes a comprehensive view of wood conservation.

The research project was proposed as a complementary yet separate initiative to the conservation project currently implemented at the Shwe-nandaw Monastery (see page on Heritage Conservation). It has been instrumental in identifying local carpenters and carvers that are now involved with the Shwe-nandaw Monastery conservation project.

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