On November 17th and 18th, 2017, the TibArmy project participated in the 8th New Researchers’ conference organised by the British Commission for Military History, entitled “The Many Faces of War – Changing Perspectives on Armed Conflict”. The conference took place at the University of Cambridge, in St. John’s College, and saw the participation of over eighty panelists and 140 attendees. The panels explored a wide variety of subjects both thematically and chronologically, and comprised topics as varied as classical warfare, medieval and early modern military organization, training and performance-monitoring during the world wars, and insurgency, counterinsurgency and intelligence in modern and contemporary scenarios. The conference especially illustrated the vibrancy of the field of military studies, which is not merely restricted to analyses of battle formations, probes of strategic plans, and reviews of tactical decisions. On the contrary, it expands towards wider horizons that consider elements as varied as the reverberations of war and the military toward societies at large; the personal and professional experiences of soldiers as gathered through letters, diaries, muster rolls and the records of military colleges; the reciprocal reverberations of war and the military on the economy; propaganda and the media; and the role of women.
While the great majority of the papers presented focused on western history, several of the topics discussed were relatable to the military situation of Tibet during the period of the Ganden Phodrang. In particular, a paper by Ryan Crimmins (University of Oxford) illustrated sources on religious activities performed among the troops during the Thirty Years War. These comprise accounts written by the clergy accompanying troops, including personal diaries and correspondance; as well as pocket-size devotional tracts relating passages about biblical warfare and refutations of pacifism. The clergy accompanying the armies also performed liturgical and ministerial functions, which included the care of the sick and wounded, the performance of rites for the dead, and the giving of sermons before the battle. These duties are not only comparable to the tasks that seem to have been performed by Tibetan lamas following the troops (see Federica Venturi in “To Protect and to Serve: The Military in Tibet During the Reign of the V Dalai Lama”, presented at the TibArmy Symposium in July 2017), but also open new lines of enquiry for the study of the Tibetan army. Other possible research fields exemplified by the conference are those that investigate the administrative documents produced by armies, such as muster rolls, performance tables, technical manuals, and inventories of arms and supplies. We know, for example, that some documents of this kind were created in the first half of the 20th c., during the time of the XIII Dalai Lama (see Venturi, 2014, “The Thirteenth Dalai Lama on Warfare, Weapons and the Right to Self-Defense”), but the existence of any such records for the preceding centuries is yet to be verified.
At the conference, Federica Venturi presented a paper entitled “The Tibet-Ladakh-Mughal War (1679-1683) as a Political Solution to the Question of Buddhist Spheres of Influence in the Himalayas”, which offered a general discussion of the main aspects of the war between Ladakh and the Ganden Phodrang, including its causes and evolvement, on the basis of the biography of the commanding general of the Ganden Phodrang, dGa’ ldan tshe dbang (found in the Mi dbang rtogs brjod), and of the notations mentioning this war in the V Dalai Lama’s Du ku la’i gos bzang.
View the full programme of the conference.