The project, directed by Univ.-Prof. Dr. Martin Gaenszle, will provide a valuable contribution to the preservation and utilization of the legacy of the Austrian Tibetologist and ethnographer René de Nebesky-Wojkowitz (1923-1959) and highlight the importance of his pioneering and influential work on Tibetan religion and culture. Scheduled for four years, the project concentrates on his three travels to South Asia (1950-1953, 1956-1957 and 1958-1959) and on his academic work in Europe, through which he brought the culture of Tibet and Nepal to the attention of a broader public at an early stage. His pioneering work and his innovative way of combining language skills, anthropological inquiries and an interest for the living religion, ritual practice and art, created a new method of what could be called “Ethno-Tibetology”, establishing a continuing academic tradition of Tibetan and Buddhist Studies in Austria and influencing the scientific perspective of subsequent scholars around the world.

Our research group (Martin Gaenszle, Uwe Niebuhr [principal investigator] and Verena Widorn) aims to compile, archive, analyse and make available the heterogeneous material of various ethnic cultures – consisting of monographs, articles, unpublished field notes, tape recordings, photographs and film material, Tibetan manuscripts and texts, as well as numerous ethnological and artistic artefacts. The largest part of these resources are now in the possession of the Weltmuseum Wien (former Museum für Völkerkunde); the rest are scattered in national and international archives. We will especially look into the geographical, political and socio-historical context of his journeys. The material, analysed from different perspectives and with the distinctive methods of each discipline involved in the project (art-history, anthropology, South Asian studies, Tibetology and religious studies), will be archived and disseminated through the database of CIRDIS, considering the need for long-term preservation and the possibility of Open Access.

We further plan to create a “Cultural Map”, which intends to digitally re-unite and locate the multitude of data Nebesky-Wojkowitz produced during his few but intensive years of academic research, and to illuminate his societal contacts and research network in Europe and the Eastern Himalayas. The reappraisal of his interests, his research strategies and methods should also contribute to a more comprehensive picture of the academic history of Asian Anthropology and Tibetology in Austria and beyond, highlighting the impact of his work on colleagues and successors. In addition, the project will emphasize the meaning and value of his extensive but yet scientifically neglected collection at the Weltmuseum Wien and contribute to the museum’s research programmes and particularly to its current reorganisation and future exhibition concepts.

Project Leader

Martin Gaenszle

Project Members

Uwe Niebuhr (principal investigator)
Verena Widorn

Cooperation with the Weltmuseum Wien

Christian Schicklgruber (director)
Manfred Kaufmann (photographic collection)
Ildikó Cazan-Simányi (archives)