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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

Miami students work on digital archives for Tibet

September 15, 2010

By Caitlin Kluener, Contributing Writer
Oxford Press
September 14, 2010

OXFORD -- Students and faculty alike are
anxiously awaiting the arrival of His Holiness
the 14th Dalai Lama at Miami University for his public lecture Oct. 21.

A group of students headed by Glenn Platt and the
Armstrong Institute for Interactive Media
Studies, however, has other plans for him.

They plan on asking His Holiness to ever so
kindly don a pair of 3-D glasses and take a tour
through their virtual reality model of a sacred
mandala, a sort of spiritual road map commonly
used by Tibetans in meditative practices.

The virtual mandala is just one part of what
Platt, a professor of marketing and the C.
Michael Armstrong Chair of Interactive Media
Studies at Miami University, hopes to be the
“creation of a virtual presence that helps
preserve the cultural heritage of Tibet.”

Along with the mandala, an online version of the
Tibetan government’s cultural archives and
possibly a Tibetan language tool are being developed.

"Tibetans are being spread all throughout the
world, so it would be ideal to create a digital
way for them to be connected to their culture,” Platt said.

In October 2009, Platt traveled to the Tibetan
government-in-exile (located in Dharamsala,
India) on behalf of the provost of Miami
University to aid in forming an agreement with
the Institute of Buddhist Dialects in Dharamsala,
India to establish a student partnership to help
with the digital preservation of Tibetan culture.
While Platt was there, he was shown archives,
ancient texts and artifacts that were being kept
in a damp brick-walled room, where they wouldn’t keep well.

The university there had a large scanner to start
the digitizing process to preserve these ancient
texts, but needed help doing so correctly.

While abroad, Platt identified three large
projects to help the Tibetan cause additionally.

First, Platt and his students would aid in the
digitization project by figuring out how to go
about it efficiently. The Institute of Buddhist
Dialects has only one large scanner, so help is
needed with the workload and also with
compression and the saving of metadata. The
archiving of texts could thus be done faster if
Miami students and faculty were to aid in the
project by using their knowledge of the technology.

The second major project would then be to create
an online Tibetan language tool. As the Institute
does not have access to an online source, this
would not only aid the students and faculty
there, but would also provide a learning device
for any estranged Tibetan seeking to learn the language of their ancestors.

The third major undertaking would be to create
the virtual reality model of a mandala, as
students in Dharamsala have just 2-D drawings to
help them visualize the structure of what
Buddhist monks believe is something to be not
just seen but experienced, according to Platt.

Work on these projects was started during spring
semester 2010 and over the summer.

The AIMS Capstone class completed a set of
recommendations of formatted ways to preserve the
archives this past spring. They developed a
working relationship with Google Library, which
helped them set things up and connect with the
Tibetan library. Google is to host the library,
and will help set up as it progresses.

"It’s a great opportunity for the students,"
Platt said. "It’s a way for them to be connected to another culture.”

The virtual mandala is also underway.

The future of the online language tool, among
other smaller projects, will depend on time and
funding. Plans for the creation of a Center for
Tibetan Studies at Miami University, where
further digital projects would occur, are in the
works, but will not be acted upon until a donor
is found who could financially support it. Platt
would like to have the center up and running as soon as possible.
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