THL Toolbox > Places & Geography > THL Place Encyclopedia Extensions > Historical Polities Database
Contributor(s): David Germano, Jann Ronis.
While in the twenty first century our thinking of political structures is dominated by the modern nation states with their clear cut boundaries and administration, historically human culture has been dominated by a complex array of different types of political formations all the way from vast empires to local self-contained polities limited to a single valley. Tibet and the Himalayas was no exception, and in fact the high altitude mountainous terrain with its significant barriers to easy centralization entailed an unusual degree of diversity and decentralization on the political front.
The present manual offers guidelines for how to document a historic polity in Tibet and the Himalayas for publication by THL.
For a discussion of workflow processes - whether and when to use spreadsheets, word processing documents, online editorial interfaces, or some combination, see Contributing to THL Offline
The beginning point, for a given time period, or a given region, the first step is to make an exhaustive list of polities. Then do the following, to the extent you can, for each polity:
1. Names: ascertain the proper Tibetan spelling, as well as the names in any other relevant language. For the Tibetan, if you understand the etymology, document it and its significance. In this regards, you should review the THL Place Dictionary and its editorial manual, and do your best to fill out those fields.
2. Type: using the THL Feature Thesaurus under "Polities", determine which type of polity this is.
2. Duration: Ascertain the duration - stop and start time - as precisely as possible for a given polity.
3. Timeline: Create a timeline of major events, especially reigns, major battles, founding of major institutions.
4. Location: Document its location as you best you can -lat/long, identifying on maps, narrative comments about its boundaries, etc.
5. Sources: Compile a bibliography of relevant primary and secondary resources.
6. Administrative Units: identify the internal administrative units of the polity, including proper names in Tibetan and relevant languages, including etymologies. Obviously administrative units change over time for the same polity, so please make sure that this information is timed and sourced properly. Also pay close attention to your sources, since they often contain invaluable and very structured information about each administrative unit. These should be recorded if possible in a spreadsheet.
7. Features: identify important geographical features (mountains, battle sites, villages, temples, etc.) in the polity, including proper names in Tibetan and relevant languages, including etymologies, and feature type.
- Identify its political seat(s) of power
- Council Meeting Sites
8. Related Polities: identify other polities to which this polity is related - whether as allies, enemies, subordinates, etc.
9. Description: write a one line summary of the polity, and then a one page overview.
10. Encyclopedia Template: review the Structured Polities Encyclopedia Template given below, which offers a complex template for fully documenting a polity's cultural life, natural landscape, etc., and consider filling in some portion of this. In doing so, assess what structured data might be available to you in the sources which would make sense to record - whether or not there is a clear item for it in the instructions/template below.
At present, work can just be done in a word processing file, with h2 headers marking off each of the below sections. It is essential to use only Unicode fonts, to put Tibetan in Unicode Tibetan, and to use THL Extended Wylie for romanization of Tibetan. As we proceed, we will try to create several versions of Excel spreadsheets to use as well. However this can get rather complex, since each piece of information has to clearly indicate its source(s), as well as the time duration for which it is valid information. The ultimate destination is the Place Dictionary, which will offer an integrated interface for filling in the basic information common to all place records, as well as the more extensive information specific to the polity records.
For Tibetan terms (this needs to be verified):
- use THL Extended Wylie
- maintain a THL Glossary Table following those separate instructions for all Tibetan terms – people’s names, place names, technical terms, text titles, alternative names.
- use THL styles, including headers for various sections and subsections
Citations of sources within text:
- format needs to be specified
Bibliographies of sources
- format needs to be specified
Please consult the various THL standard typologies and either utilize or provide suggested revisions:
- cultural regions
- religious sects
- feature thesaurus
- Tibetan dialects
This is a template to be used to create documentation of historical polities on the Tibetan plateau and southern Himalayan regions– kingdoms, principalities, and so forth. Scholars should consult the template, and then structure their documentation according to it. Scholars are welcome to create very detailed entries for various sections, including overall titles and titled subsections. If anyone has suggestions for revisions of the template per se, please contact THL.
Once completed, documentation of a polity should be submitted for peer review as a publication within the THL Polities Encyclopedia. Once Published, it will be accessible from multiple routes in THL. Firstly, it will be published as one of the polities within the THL Polities Encyclopedia. Secondly, it will be listed within the Place Dictionary for any one searching it. Thirdly, we will present historical maps of the Tibetan plateau which include representations of the polity during different time periods, and the polity’s name will be directly linked to the presentation of the polity. Fourthly, wherever the polity’s name occurs in any THL-published web sites, it will be directly linked to this documentation.
At present, we are offering only the present text template. Eventually, we plan to create an extension of the Place Dictionary to provide online editing features to create a Polity Description. A “polity” is also documented in the Place Dictionary, which documents features’ names, location, type, relationships, and short descriptions. The Polity Template provides a far more extensive template that is tailor made to the specific characteristics of polities. Ultimately, the online editing template will combine the data necessary for the Place Dictionary and the Polity Encyclopedia Entry, and automatically store the relevant data to each .
In short, fill out the standard list of items belonging to a standard place entry in the THL Place Dictionary. Some of the highlights are as follows.
Names of polity: relying upon the Place Dictionary (document language, alternative spellings, etymology, duration, type).
A one sentence summary.
A one paragraph summary.
Typology (specify one, or specify multiple types with time durations for each): all of these are type = “polity”, with the following sub-types:
- kingdom (rgyal khab)
A timeline should be created that documents significant events in the history of the polity – founding date, reign dates, wars, and so forth. For guidelines, see the THL Timeline instructions. At present, the THL timeline tool is not functional, so timelines should just be prepared as textual lists which list each event on a separate line. In addition, sources should be cited for details.
This should be a lengthy essay. It should be given a title, even if simply “The History of Polity X”, and individual sections can be titles as the author desires. Our only expectation is that it include an opening essay on the founding of the polity (which can include prehistory) and an closing section on the dissolution of the polity.
Founding of polity, including earlier history of broader region and prehistory of the founders.
Later history and periods of development of polity, including reference to spatial considerations in relationship to how the polity expands and contracts over time.
The final days of the polity and the circumstances of its final dissolution.
Important festivals and rituals.
- Knowledge Map Tibetan Rituals
Dates when the palace would shift location (winter to summer, etc.), and so forth.
This section documents how the polity’s extent in general relates to contemporary current administrative units, and also details how the polity survives in Tibetan memories and sense of identity in contemporary writings and oral statements
For each polity, we need to do as much as possible to identify core features, and document their location by whatever means we can so that spatial representation and analysis is possible (ranging from lat/long values, to literary references that vaguely located sites in relationship to other sites. Core polity features include:
- chief settlements
Any comments that can be made about the population, including even if it is only relative to the population of other polities contemporary with it.
This documents any and all information on the location the extent/boundaries of the polity at various periods. This may take the shape of point data for capital(s), and features in general that allow us in a fuzzy way to represent its extent. It may also reflect information on discursive descriptions of its boundaries, such as a natural boundary, or relationship with other polities and regions, and so forth. Of course all this information must be keyed to time.
Villages, towns, nomadic areas, monasteries.
Monasteries, pilgrimage sites, major Buddhist sacred mountains (gnas ri).
Trading routes, transportation routes, pilgrimage routes, hiking trails; yaks, horseback, motor roads, railroads, etc.
This details how the polity was administrated, as well as how the administration of the polity was represented internally by the polity. It also details key institutions such as great families (clans), monasteries, and military/militia.
This provides a hierarchical representation of internal administrative divisions exhaustively with information on their respective spatial locations.
Traditions of the polity that concern political figures, activities, traditions, and so forth.
Relationships with other polities – Tibetan and non-Tibetan. Allies, enemies and important neighbors:
Farming, pastoralism, and trading.
- Knowledge Map "Occupations"
Natural resources, products, goods traded.
- Knowledge Map "Material Objects"
Any information on monetary systems.
Documentation of the tax system.
Ethnicities and dialects in the region.
- Place Dictionary "Cultures" perspective
- Knowledge Map "Language Tree" and "Tibetan Dialects"
The types of sects dominant in the area, famous religious figures, etc.
- Knowledge Map "Religious Sect".
- Knowledge Map "Artisan and Craft Tradition"
Marriage, songs, dress, etc.
Rivers, mountains, mountain passes, famed natural areas, river valleys, glaciers, lakes.
- Place Dictionary
Description of physical features of the terrain – ranges, geology, terrain.
Discuss climate according to region, if the place classification is relatively broad with different climate categories, precipitation levels, etc.
- Knowledge Map "Climate Type"
Vegetation (rtsi shing):
- Knowledge Map "Plant Type"
Animal life (srog chags):
- Knowledge Map "Animal Type"
Everything up to and including to 1959. This includes details on specific passages of note.
Everything from 1960 onwards.