Dear visitors,

please note that the Doctoral College (Initiativkolleg): “Cultural Transfers and Cross-Contacts in the Himalayan Borderlands” has ended and our website will no longer be updated.

For information on our ongoing research, events and activities please refer to the website of our Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Documentation of Inner and South Asian Cultural History (CIRDIS).

Art History

Univ. Prof. Dr. Deborah Klimburg-Salter
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Because of the unique and extensive resources assembled in Vienna, including the Western Himalya Archive Vienna (WHAV), the University of Vienna has become a major center in the world for the study of this historically crucial region where Indian, Chinese and Iranian cultures meet. It has long been known that the mountainous regions and high plateaus of the region extending from the Hindukush to Tibet form a continuous cultural zone. The largest body of primary evidence for the study of the material culture in this region from the seventh/eighth century to the present is art historical and archaeological in nature. The network of trade and pilgrimage routes traversing the Himalayan borderlands facilitated the transfer of cultural phenomena, artistic concepts and motives, and iconographic models. It also enabled a dynamic discourse among diverse ethnic, linguistic and religious groups. Out of this dialectic emerged the distinctive artistic traditions that form the focus of the art historical contribution to the IK.

The importance of this large region as an extended zone of cultural contact and transfer is confirmed in the Tibetan literary tradition that considers Tibetan art from ca. the fourteenth/fifteenth century to have developed out of the artistic traditions of Greater Kashmir, Northeast India, China and Central Asia (Khotan). Greater Kashmir is clearly the cultural hub of this extended region and the expanding power of Tibetan religious institutions is a central political theme. But also the diffusion of Chinese influence, as yet an underestimated and only recently explored element, is a recurring leitmotif. Due to its complexity, the region’s visual history can only be interpreted through interdisciplinary research endeavours. In order to effectively understand the cultural processes at work, an interdisciplinary methodology must be applied to the analysis of the structure, function and development of the visual media landscape in specific geographic and socio-cultural settings. The IK provides funds for field research in order to facilitate primary research will serve as the basis for doctoral research.

In recent years (and aided by the establishment of CIRDIS and the NFN), the art historical research has been expanded in chronological scope to include the period from the eighth century and in terms of geography to encompass the Himalayan borderlands and in particular Afghanistan. A close association with the National Museum, the Kabul Museum, facilitates research on the cultural heritage of Afghanistan.

The art historical program of the IK will consider various explanatory models that support a comparative analysis of the visual cultures along the extent of the vast network of trade routes. Investigations that take into consideration dynamic evidence for cultural transfer and cultural mobility are better positioned to evaluate and interpret the changing meanings and functions of images and imagery as these were imported, exported and transformed within this extended zone of cultural contact.

Due to the broad geographic extent of the IK there is a wide range of possible dissertation topics.