Database on East Asia adds photos

A Yale University Library database containing photographs taken by Yale faculty and staff in East Asia roughly doubled in size last month.

The Silk Road Database, which has been available since the summer of 2010 and is funded by the U.S. Department of Education Title VI grant for the Council of East Asian Studies, recently acquired an additional 5,400 images to total over 11,000 photographs taken by Yale faculty and staff participating in faculty site seminars in East Asia. History of art professor Mimi Yiengpruksawan, who leads site seminars and initially amassed photos for the project, said roughly 20 professors have contacted her about using the images for their research, adding that many people “just like looking at the pictures.”

“These are images taken while traveling to remote areas, and I think there is a lot of information that can be helpful in our understanding of contemporary lifeways in China,” she said.

Carolyn Caizzi, an instructional design specialist in the Visual Resources Collection of the Yale Arts Library who oversees the database, said the update allows users to find images more relevant to their research.

She said she developed the idea for the project after she visited historic sites in China, such as caves with “amazing” paintings, and decided that she wanted her colleagues to be able to share her experiences. Yiengpruksawan, who said she took roughly 3,000 of the photographs herself, called the process of taking photos and building the database “one of the most intellectually stimulating” projects in her career.

Ingrid Yeung GRD ’15, who helps catalogue the additional images in the updated collection, said she thinks the enhanced collection will have a “significant impact” on researchers because of its unique content.

“There is nothing out there, printed or online, that provides this amount of high-quality material,” she said. “Nothing beats going there by yourself, but the photographs give you a close approximation of the experience.”

Unlike many of the library’s resources, the database can be accessed by anyone, as there is no log-in required. Yiengpruksawan said she emphasized “outreach” as one of her primary goals when she initially proposed the project; she said she wanted to make the photos available to the “academic community at large,” instead of only researchers at Yale.

Yiengpruksawan added that it is important for Yale researchers to have access to research materials that are not widely available, such as those from Xinjiang and Tibet.

“We forget, sometimes, that there are worlds of culture that have been eclipsed by various governments for political and other reasons,” she said. “We had a golden opportunity over the past decade to travel to places that prompt us to ask questions about our assumptions.”

The Yale Visual Resources Collection has a total of 300,000 images.

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