Twenty years ago, in December 2000, a group of four anthropologists and historians at the University of Cambridge embarked on a project to develop new methods for collecting, protecting, and connecting collections of cultural and intellectual material from the Himalayan region in ways that would widen access through emerging digital platforms.
Sarah Harrison, Alan Macfarlane, Sara Shneiderman and I named this pilot project ‘Digital Himalaya’. We began by digitising historical ethnographic collections held in universities and archives across Europe to protect them from obsolescence and decay, forward-migrate them to new platforms as standards changed, and share them back with their originating communities in the Himalayan region and online.
When we launched Digital Himalaya, we naively imagined that we were building a web portal primarily for users in the Global North who would have unfettered access to the internet through fast broadband networks and that communities in the Himalaya would be better served by DVDs and hard copies held at institutes, colleges, and universities across Asia. The project also aimed to provide such materials to our colleagues in the region.
1,000 weeks of Nepali Times, Mark Turin
Nepal’s recent history on pdf, Mark Turin
We turned out to be quite wrong. Of the more than 500,000 unique ‘sessions’ that Google Analytics has recorded, 19% have been from Nepal, 16% from the United States, 10% from India, and 8% from the United Kingdom. It is particularly satisfying that almost 100,000 web users in Nepal have accessed our content, offering a comprehensive challenge to our early assumption in 2000 that the ‘West’ would have the web and the ‘Rest’ would have hard discs and DVDs.
Of the 500,000 hits that the site has received since we started to track in 2005, only 9% have been from mobile devices and 2% from tablets, with the remainder being from desktop or laptop computers. However, the use of handheld devices to access Digital Himalaya content has increased dramatically over time. In the last year alone, mobile devices accounted for 25% of all visits, and given the increasing penetration of 3G mobile services across the Himalayan region, we can only expect this trend to continue.
Some of our heaviest users are downloading PDFs and films from our website using solar- or hydro-powered satellite broadband internet connections in Himalayan locations that would traditionally be described as remote, as they have no vehicular access and unstable access to the electricity grid.
Read also: A new look at Nepal’s history, Mark Turin
We are proud of our collection of newsprint from the Himalayan region, and in particular of the complete archive of the Nepali Times PDFs that we host. Aside from a few early issues that were scanned, the page spreads of the Nepali Times are ‘born digital’, meaning that the content can be comprehensively searched.
Thanks to a Python script written by my University of British Columbia colleague Sathish Gopalakrishnan, I can report that the full Nepali Times archive of 999 PDFs clocks in at 8GB and runs to 16,600 pages of text. This collection offers a unique snapshot of 20 years of English-language publishing in Nepal, not to mention a rich insight into the changing landscape of media advertising over the same period.
The Digital Himalaya team, Komintal Thami in Nepal and myself in Vancouver, uploads the newest Nepali Times pages on PDF every Saturday, as soon as we receive it from Sanubabu Tamang at Himalmedia.
Visit the Nepali Times archive on Digital Himalaya to download any or all issues.