Thursday, September 22, 2011

A database of scholars?

As it is often the case, offer and demand do not meet in Sanskrit studies.
While considering where to write my PhD dissertation, I did not know about Jim Benson's work on Mīmāṃsā. When I spent some time with him last Spring, he said he had at that time no student to supervise —and would not have minded having one. Years after, I started thinking of a critical edition of Sucarita's commentary on Kumārila, until someone informed me that there was already someone else working on it. Now, I am working on Vedānta Deśika and cannot get really in touch with the many serious scholars working on him (if you google "vedānta deśika" you will get instead hundreds of devotional websites —which are fine, except that I am looking for something else).
Usually, this shortcomings due to lack of mutual contact and information can be avoided because the community of Sanskrit scholars is relatively small. But this is not always the case, especially if one works at its outskirts (geographically, culturally or linguistically). Nor can one just count on one's personal acquaintances.
Hence, how to fix the problem? I think that a nice solution would be to create a database of Sanskrit scholars, searchable through various keywords (such as "key interests"), unlike the rare "Who's who in Sanskrit Studies" by Klaus Karttunen. Prospective students would in this way find suitable tutors. Scholars would be able to know whether someone else is working on a topic they are also working on. They could in this way share information and avoid useless efforts (such as doing the same thing at the same time).

On offer and demand in Indology, see this post.


Jayarava said...

Have you tried Google Scholar search?

Surely your university has electronic indexes?

None of these will help with unpublished work of course. We all know the experience of working on something for a long time, only to discover someone else has done it already.

A database is only as good as the data in it. What you suggest would require constant updating and I doubt people would be motivated to supply you with information (judging by similar projects I've been involved as librarian and afterwards). It's not that they would obstruct you, but sending you information would always be a low priority and you'd get a low participation rate. It's a good idea, but even if someone maintained it on a full time basis, it would not solve your problem I think.

What might work is a Sanskrit scholarship forum - there probably is one or more already. Here you'd get the word of mouth effect and even if not everyone actively participated, the ones who did would probably provide critical mass and make it effective.

elisa freschi said...

Thanks Jayarava, those are really good (and sensible) advices (I always tend to overestimate other colleagues' desire to cooperate). I did not know you used to work as a librarian, by the way.

I am not sure "Indology" or similar scholar forums will work smoothly, though, since (just like conferences) they are crowded and one always feels observed (hence, Graduate Students would hardly dare looking for a tutor and Prospective Tutors would not admit they lack students).

VS said...

Thats a good thought. I wonder if this link provides you with any lead.

VS said...

Heres an extension to the link:

elisa freschi said...

Thanks for the interesting link, VS, but I have been unable to find any database in it. Could you direct me more precisely?

VS said...

Elisa, I thought it would be a lead for you to get in touch and find about more as required. They offer expertise on various topics, which would sound more familiar to you :o)

Vidya Jayaraman said...

Very true. I have often perceived this need for good and well-categorized databases in indic studies (including and not limited to sanskritic studies). University databases, citeseekers have some limited content but there isn't an exhaustive list and the lack of specific and relevant taxonomy is frustrating. I know that the Bulletin of Indian Universities publishes accepted theses and I have seen such lists in the field of Indian usicology.I wonder if there is an equivalent publication in NA or Europe?

Vidya Jayaraman said...

In my previous comment..
That was musicology not usicology..

elisa freschi said...

Thanks VS and Vidya Jayaraman.
I know only about partial lists (e.g.: theses on Sanskrit or Buddhist Studies submitted at the university of Vienna are announced together with a summary in the WZKS). I am not aware of any way to access all European or North American theses. But I would be glad if someone could point to a link I am unaware of.

Dominik Wujastyk said...

There are often posts to the INDOLOGY list asking for this kind of "who's working on X?" information, or about publications or citations, or asking for a photocopy of a difficult-to-get article, etc. INDOLOGY last week had a query from an artist doing a mural who needed some research help with Sanskrit words. He got three or four excellent responses within a few days. I recommend INDOLOGY ( for general queries about who is doing what. It's very much what the forum exists for.

Doing a database of who is active and what they're doing is an INCREDIBLY laborious and unending task that would suck up one or two people's full time work indefinitely. And still have holes.

The INDOLOGY forum, Google searching, and attendance at conferences are the best ways of knowing what's what in the field.


elisa freschi said...

Thanks Dominik, as with Jayarava, I really appreciate people who explain me that I have been going too far with my day-dreaming;-)
I am a great fan of Indology, but it is a mailing list and it cannot serve as a database. I, for one, would not like to pester all the world's best Sanskrit scholars just because I am curious to know who is working at present on the Śrautasūtra, or on the Cāndravyākaraṇa. In other words: I would only post a question if this is directly relevant and I really need to know the answer. I heard similar answers whenever I suggested to a colleague or student to post the question they were asking me (and which I was unable to answer) on Indology.
Further, I wonder whether a mailing list is not somehow like a (normal) conference, with people who are socially talented having fun and shy, or young scholars not daring to ask any question.
Finally, I look forward for the answer you will get through Indology!

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