Cliff Notes presents a new interdisciplinary approach to the study of sacred sites via select themes represented digitally. It is based upon the Buddhist site of Baodingshan, a half-mile long cliff face carved with over 6000 sculptures among which are intermingled both sacred and secular inscribed texts. Baodingshan is located in Dazu County, near Chongqing, in what was historically Sichuan Province; main construction at the site dates to the Southern Song dynasty [1127-1279 CE], but you will also find here inscriptions dating from the 12th through to the 20th century.
The goal of my research has always been to answer questions: Why was that made? Who made it? How was it made? For what purpose? As an educator, I know that my primary role is to take these smaller questions and wrap them in more complex theoretical constructs. Yet while the questions are limitless, the answers are finite. Historical evidence of a textual or material sort simply does not exist to supply them. I have reached the end of my digging on questions related to Baodingshan even though undoubtedly more answers may yet be found.
To that end, I am sharing here my entire body of work related to the site. Begun in 1993, this encompasses 20 years of research, writing, and presenting on Baodingshan. Texts – my Masters thesis, PhD dissertation, and assorted published and unpublished articles – are here made available along with Powerpoints, podcasts, images arranged by tableau, and an integrated interactive text and image virtual tour that puts the many images into a coherent whole, and includes Chinese transcribed texts from within the site as well as my English translations. My rationale for posting it all here is that it may prove useful to both those simply interested as well as those highly knowledgeable.
The art historical canon gets taught over and over again oftentimes because images and related materials are conveniently available. Cliff Notes allows for no excuses: Baodingshan comes pre-packaged. Choose one image to discuss style, choose the whole site to talk about history or social structure. Talk about religion – or don’t. Use the whole site to study color, or ignore the images altogether and talk only about the later inscribed literati texts. Look, read, discuss, disagree with – all are acceptable and indeed desirable.
I hope this site proves useful and sets a new standard for how the academy engages with the worldwide web. Please feel free to contact me with questions.
Karil Kucera, PhD