workshop registration

The Himalayan Paper:
History, Identification and Trade

Centre for the Study of Manuscript Cultures, Hamburg
14 - 15 November 2016


A two-day workshop dedicated to Himalayan paper and papermaking will be hosted this November by the CSMC at the University of Hamburg. The high altitude of the Tibetan Plateau together with its dependent valleys and climate extremes make the local vegetation distinctive from all other areas of Asia. The specificity of Himalayan papermaking lies in the properties of these native plants, the living conditions of peoples dwelling on the world’s highest plateau, and aspects of their culture that together create a distinctive craft. In this workshop, we will look at properties of both the papermaking plants and paper made of them, distribution of local plants, methods of paper fiber identification and analysis, and papermaking technology will be the subject of our discussion in the context of book-making practices, paper trade, availability of raw materials and technological modes of production.

In the past paper was used as a support for manuscripts, printed books, paintings and other art and daily-use objects. The preserved artefacts themselves, and particularly the materials they consist of, can tell us more about the meaning and the use of the written word in past societies. Further, since books and other objects made of paper were in constant circulation, part of the complex networks of their producers and users raise questions concerning trade routes, trading posts and possible location of papermaking workshops.

The best chance of differentiating among papers in books and artworks is by the systematic study of the plants used for their production, along with other features useful for typology. The study of paper in books uncovers the story of the manuscript that critically supplements its content, revealing the untold details of its making. By paying careful attention to paper on a microscopic scale the methods of its production are revealed as well as which plants were used for its creation.

On a larger perspective, the history of paper has become recently popularized, even sentimentalized, given our current dependence upon instant communication via electronic devices. And it is a fascinating story—how the simple invention of two thousand years ago in China wrapped itself around our world. However, the roads of early dissemination of papermaking technology have never been finally delineated. It is obvious that the basic “know-how” of paper technology moved from China to both the East (Korea and Japan) and West (to Arab world and then Europe), and soon after technology spread to India via the Himalayas. There are still various concepts of this dissemination, however, that are not fully supported by scholarly evidence. Thus, from a historical perspective this workshop will also consider tracing the history of paper in various Himalayan countries, the innovation and transmission of papermaking in the Himalayas, and integrating an understanding of technologies with the historical development and transmission of social and cultural practices and possibilities of mapping the papermaking workshops and areas known for paper production. Thus among others subject we will discuss history, trade, modes of production, transfer of papermaking technologies and how tradition interacts with natural recourses, climate conditions and how the spread of paper is connected to trade in the region.

In this workshop will ponder the following questions (among many others):
How should we define Himalayan paper? Is it a consistent category or rather many types which share some features? Can fibre analysis indicate where and how paper was produced? What are the differences in papermaking technology in neighbouring Himalayan countries now and in the past? Is there a useful framework to judge the quality of paper based on paper as a material itself? By examining a paper artefact, can we detect specific traces of regional practices left by those who owned or used the archival documents and books? Do these human traces inform us about the role and the presence of written sources in particular cultural and historical contexts?

Workshop Info and Programme

Download the workshop programme (PDF)


The workshop will be held at the Centre for the Study of Manuscript Cultures, Warburgstraße 26, Hamburg, Germany. How to find us


Participation in the conference is free of charge and vistors are welcome.
You may find the Hamburg Tourismus site useful for finding a suitable accommodation.
For more information please contact us.