The NFN: what it is, what it does

The NFN “The Cultural History of the Western Himalaya from the 8th Century” concentrates on the westernmost zone of the region: Northern and Eastern Afghanistan, Northern India, Northern Pakistan, Northwest Nepal, and West and Southwest Tibet, including the neighbouring regions in Central Asia. This project follows in part the path traced by the successful Austrian Science Fund (FWF) financed Forschungsschwerpunkt (FSP) of a similar name (2001-2006), bringing to fruition the many years of experience and assembled scholarly resources as well as long-standing international partnerships resulting from earlier FWF projects. 
It continues research in the areas of major innovation already defined in the FSP as, for instance, the definition of an independent western Tibetan canonical tradition; Tibetan literature as preserved (usually in unique forms) in wall texts; the independent Indo-Tibetan artistic tradition – for which the historical and cultural contexts can be defined on the basis of the newly discovered evidence from manuscripts colophons, wall and stone inscriptions among other sources. At the same time, the NFN expands its horizontal and transdisciplinary character, especially by means of new sub-projects, that have emerged out of the existing research interests of the FSP projects: Numismatics (crucial for the cultural history of pre-Islamic Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kashmir, and Northwest India), and Philosophy with emphasis on the Kashmiri intellectual tradition of the 10th-12th centuries, Sanskrit manuscripts’ research and codicology.
The purpose of this expanded scientific network is to document, archive, and interpret within a unitary project a great mass of previously unknown primary documents: e.g., manuscripts, coins, inscriptions, and art objects that are daily discovered, mainly in Afghanistan and at a lesser degree in nearby regions.

 

Interactive resources

The interconnected databases begun in the FSP are the basis for the Cultural History Information Systems (CHIS) Project. It revolves around two main projects, that are obviously related with each other, i.e. the archive of visual documentation (WHAV) and the computerised mapping. The aim of this latter is to establish and correlate, on the basis of field work, the spatial distribution of the various categories of artefacts (sites and artefacts, physical elements, etc.) in a computerised “geo-cultural” map. An initial and primary goal of great importance is the definition of ancient trade and pilgrimage routes. The final and general goal is a high quality cartographic output based on a digital/analogue concept which allows the viewer to derive a holistic view of the entire data produced through the different sub-projects of the NFN in a regional, cultural, and historical context.

 

The institutional aspects of the NFN

The NFN is closely associated with the Research Platform (Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Documentation of Inner and South Asia = CIRDIS) at the University of Vienna. As an important innovation of the newly structured University, CIRDIS is seen as a mechanism to provide an institutional basis for research at the highest international standard which also connects to the University’s other programs and long-term goals. Through co-financing with the University (CIRDIS) and third-party donations, the NFN augments the existing Austrian research facilities and provides academic support for promising young scholars, thus complementing the standing faculty positions and teaching activities within the University.

 

Human resources and expertises

The NFN includes scholars at all stages of their career – from doctoral students to senior scholars – and combines research projects at all stages of development, from the initial eploratory phase of problem definition and documentation to the production of research results. The in-depth examination of individual themes as pursued by each researcher will be the basis for explanatory models that are the goal of this collaborative study.
Collaboration with partner institutions in the research countries (Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and China/Tibet) and the exchange with them of the archived documentation remains a core feature of the NFN, providing the possibility for a unique synergy of scholars and resources.
Apart from the internal members of the various sub-projects, an important impulse is given by the cooperation with external consultants and by a regular calendar of workshops and lectures by invited scholars that constantly update and enlarge the research perspectives.