DSAL’s Digital Jewel

Among the lesser-known jewels for the study of South Asia available in the Digital South Asia Library is the American Institute of Indian Studies Center for Art and Archaeology Photo Archive. Founded in 1961, the American Institute of Indian Studies (AIIS) is a consortium of U.S. universities and colleges engaged in research in South Asia. Among its numerous activities in support of scholarship, the AIIS maintains research centers and facilities in South Asia and is a member of the Council of American Overseas Research Centers (CAORC). At its Center for Art and Archaeology in Gurgaon, India the AIIS houses an archive of more than 120,000 photographs and color slides documenting Indian art and archaeology. This renowned collection formed the basis of the monumental multivolume Encyclopaedia of Indian Temple Architecture.

In collaboration with AIIS, DSAL has mounted more than 50,000 of these discrete images in its digital archive to date, and will eventually provide digital delivery of the entire collection. The archive is intended to provide the most extensive and easily accessible resource for the study of Indian art through a comprehensive documentation of India’s monuments. Each monument has been carefully photographed. In addition, plans of temple complexes are included. All of the images include a rich variety of metadata providing key details such as location, historical period, style, and religious affiliation of the monuments. The DSAL presentation includes metadata not only for the images that are already available but for the entire collection as well.

The database of art from Indian monuments will, it is hoped, not only inform existing scholarship but also foster new approaches to understanding Indian art and architecture. Presenting scholars with a large corpus of Indian art and architecture to consider and compare, will stimulate analysis of the wider contexts of production and meaning.

Among the most fascinating recent uses of the AIIS photo archive involves a project, led by a team of scientists at the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich (ETH Zurich) in Switzerland, to restore a pair of colossal, 5th century Buddha statues in Afghanistan that were destroyed in 2001 by the Taliban. The ETH Zurich team used photographs from the AIIS Center for Art and Archaeology Photo Archive to help create a computer reconstruction of the Great Buddha that can serve as an exact model for the eventual restoration of the monument.1 In this way, the AIIS collection is contributing to the stewardship of the cultural heritage of South Asia