EBTI After 15 and CBETA after 10 Years: Joint International Conference on Digital Buddhist Studies (February 15-17, 2008): Chair's Report
Table of Contents
|1.||Causes and Conditions|
|2.||General State of the EBTI Projects|
|3.||The Next Step: Interoperability|
1. Causes and Conditions
On February 15-19, 2008 a conference was held at Dharma Drum Buddhist College in Jinshan, Taiwan, in commemoration of the tenth year of activity of the Chinese Buddhist Electronic Text Association (CBETA) and the fifteenth year of the Electronic Buddhist Text Initiative (EBTI).
This conference marked the first major gathering of the member groups of the EBTI since they met at Dongguk University (Seoul) in 2001. This gathering was initiated on the occasion of the tenth year anniversary of the the CBETA project, which has proved itself as the standard-bearer in the work of the digitization and delivery of canonical texts written in classical Chinese. Having achieved the complete digitization of the Chinese portion of the Taishō shinshū daizōkyō and Zokuzōkyō, along with a rich array of tools by which scholars can search and analyze these texts, CBETA's host institution, Dharma Drum Buddhist College, thoughtfully combined the occasion of the celebration of their current state of achievement with a bit of a "reunion" of many of the original EBTI projects for reports of their progress and present activities. There were also several new projects, as well as presentations that offered reactions from end users. The headline event for the conference was a demonstration of the newly-released CBETA 2008 CD, which comes equipped with all kinds of new gadgets for text researchers.
Since there was virtual adherence to the content and order of the presentations as provided in the conference web page (which contains all of the abstracts), it is not necessary to report here on the content of the individual presentations here. Therefore I will limit myself to offering some general comments on the character of the presentations, and some of the overall trends that could be discerned.
2. General State of the EBTI Projects
With most of the older projects now having a 10-15 year history of development, it was quite satisfying to see so many of them at a relative state of maturity. Most of the major canons, including Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Tibetan, and Pali have seen the completion of input for a some time now, and thanks to the combined efforts of the University of the West and the Nāgārjuna Institute, the extant Sanskrit canon is now becoming available to us. The SAT Taishō Daizōkyō Database has been fully renewed and placed online in an integrated format with the Digital Dictionary of Buddhism, and the EBTI expects that this new format will be widely used by researchers around the world. In addition ancillary reference works, such as those contained in the Tibetan Buddhism Resource Center and the Digital Dictionary of Buddhism, have attained to a level of extensive coverage of materials, such that they, along with the digital canons, are rapidly becoming the most basic sources for those in our field who conduct text-related research. At the same time, we were privileged to be able to witness presentations that included a variety of new resources, as well as new tools, and new ideas and visions of the ways that we can look at and work with texts.
3. The Next Step: Interoperability
There was a strong congruence between the suggested theme of the conference and the actual content of the discourse that ensued. Now that so many digital projects have achieved a central place in the research work of our colleagues, the next logical stage of development is that of attempting to make these tools and resources begin to function in concert with one another in a smooth and rational fashion. In other words, the end users of the digital texts and reference works should not have to jump from web site to web site, separately searching for information on the same concept. Rather, they should be able to find the gamut of information that they need from a few central locations.
It was David Germano who articulated this point for us most graphically, when he explained in his presentation how he has begun to move away from envisioning the variety of resources contained in the TBRC as comprising a "web site" — rather, he is beginning to think of the work of he and his collaborators as the creation of an array of services, which will work with each other, as well as with external resources. He used the metaphor of web sites as separate and distinct "pyramids," which now are reaching their limit as a model for web activity. Upon reflection, one may observe that other projects within the EBTI have also begun to make moves in this kind of direction.
Having already begun to perceive a need to respond to the call for interoperability, two of the conference's primary organizers, Ven. Huimin and Christian Wittern, proposed the formation of a working group to explore the possibility of creating the above-described integrated array of digital Buddhist Studies resources and services. This has been tentatively entitled the Integrated Buddhist Archives [IBA]. At the session that was held discussing the creation of the IBA, various initial steps were taken toward exploring this newly unfolding approach to digital-aided Buddhist Studies research.
The promises for the future are immense.
A business meeting was held to chart the continued progress of EBTI, the main contents of which are as follows: