The following is a guest post by AFC archivist Sara Ludewig.
Among the best parts of my job as a Processing Archivist are the interesting human connections that are unearthed during archival processing. I get to read other people’s mail, rummage through their notes, and examine their photo albums. By the time archival processing is finished, I feel like I know the collection’s creator. This was especially true for me when I recently made an exciting personal connection to the material I processed for the Linda LaMacchia collection.
Linda LaMacchia was a folklorist and ethnographer who documented the music and lives of Tibetan Buddhist nuns, or jomos, in the Kinnaur district of northwestern India between 1985 and 2017. LaMacchia conducted fieldwork in Kinnaur for a period of fifteen months in 1995 and 1996 for her dissertation, while pursuing a PhD in South Asian Studies from the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
During this period, she recorded the life stories, songs, and local religious practices of the jomos living in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh near the Tibetan border. These life stories represent three Buddhist sects: Drukpa Kagyu, Gelug, and Nyingma.
LaMacchia also made over 140 sound recordings of songs performed by the jomos, including Tibetan language songs (mgurma) and songs in the local Kinnauri language (githang). In addition to audio recordings, the collection also includes over 1,500 photographs of jomos, lamas (monks), Buddhist religious ritual, and the scenery of the Himalayan Mountains. Documentation also includes eleven of LaMacchia’s handwritten journals with detailed field notes documenting her fifteen months of dissertation research.
The LaMacchia collection is a rich resource on women’s religious expression and the role of women in adapting Buddhism to local traditions. Those wishing to learn more about the contributions of the jomos toward spreading Buddhism in Northwest India will certainly find much to explore in this collection. However, I had the most fun exploring the photos Linda LaMacchia took during her personal travels in India.
After graduating from Swarthmore College in 1965, LaMacchia frequently traveled to India to visit a college friend. It was during her personal travels in India that her interest in Indian culture grew and she began her research with the jomos living in Kinnaur near the Tibetan border. Her collection documents these travels and includes photographs from tourist sites, time spent with friends, and travels across the Indian subcontinent. I found these photographs particularly exciting because of my own experiences traveling in India.
In 2016, I spent six months living and studying in Hyderabad, India. At the time, I was a college student who had never lived anywhere besides my home state of Minnesota. While in India, I enrolled in classes in Hindi, History, and Anthropology at the University of Hyderabad and lived with a local family. In my spare time I traveled, eager to see as many places as I could. My travels took me from south-central Hyderabad to the northern state of Rajasthan to visit Ambar Fort in Jaipur, to the ghats along the Ganges River in Varanasi, and to the Buddhist pilgrimage site in Sarnath.
As I arranged and rehoused photographs for this collection, I discovered that Linda LaMacchia and I had traveled to many of the same places! See our photos of the Ambar Fort, below.
It was fun to relive my travels and see how places changed (or didn’t!) between the early 1990s and 2016. Here are some comparisons of photographs from the LaMacchia collection and from my own photo albums:
Linda LaMacchia traveled frequently to the Buddhist pilgrimage site at Sarnath in Uttar Pradesh, India. She also interviewed a few lamas and jomos at the Tibetan monastery located at Sarnath. The most notable landmark at Sarnath is the Dhamek Stupa, which marks the location where the Buddha preached his first discourse to his disciples, and which currently serves as a site for pilgrimage and meditation.
During her years of research in India, LaMacchia adopted a stray dog that she named Puppy Durga. Puppy Durga and other stray dogs featured in many of her photographs and journals, and at the time of her death she was writing a memoir about her travels with Puppy Durga. I also enjoyed taking photographs of stray dogs and my host brother and I even came up with names for the neighborhood strays.
The excitement I felt at seeing my own travels and experiences reflected in LaMacchia’s folklife documentation showed me that the archival collections at the American Folklife Center have something to offer all of us. These materials are not just for academic study, they also offer unexpected and unique opportunities to connect with people and places on a personal level.
The finding aid for the Linda LaMacchia collection is now available online–access it from the catalog record at this link. It is my hope that researchers will find much to connect with in this fascinating collection. Researchers wishing to consult the collection are welcome to visit the American Folklife Center Reading Room.