Asian and African studies blog

News from our curators and colleagues

08 April 2024

After three decades of pioneering research, the IDP launches a new and improved website

The International Dunhuang Programme (IDP) has launched a new website, where you can view over 150,000 Central and Eastern Asian collection items and explore the history and cultures of the Silk Roads through new and expanded learning resources. The launch also coincides with the 30th anniversary of the IDP.


What is the IDP?

The IDP partnership was established in 1994 as the International Dunhuang Project, with the aim of improving access to materials from the Central and Eastern Silk Roads and promoting a better understanding of one of the world’s most important trade networks of the ancient world. With the Secretariat based here at the Library, the IDP was the first of its kind in this area of research.

What you can access

Over its 30 years, this pioneering international collaboration has made the metadata and images of over 35 collaborating institutions around the world accessible on a digital platform and database.

The Programme also promotes a more in-depth understanding of the Silk Roads through learning resources that explore relevant themes such as Buddhism along the Silk Roads, Chinese astronomy, and ancient bookbinding techniques. Watch a lecture on Mapping the Sky in Ancient China, discover the process of conserving and digitising fragile items or read about collection highlights on the blog.

IDP partner institutions also organise projects to preserve and increase access to these materials, such as the Lotus Sutra Manuscripts Digitisation Project and the ‘New Shelfmark’ Digitisation Project.

Cave 17 Mogao caves photographed by Stein in 1907
A composite photograph of Cave 16, with the entrance to Cave 17 in the right corner (image from Sir Aurel Stein’s Serindia). Photo 392/56(82). Public domain

The website’s newly improved image viewer, depicting the Diamond Sutra. Or.8210/P.2. Public domain

What’s new on the website 

Described as ‘big progress in the field of digital archiving’ (Digital Orientalist), the new IDP website has enhanced many features used by experienced researchers and the general public alike, making it a beacon for new standards in user access and interoperability.

We’re most excited about the new search engine which offers improved accuracy and relevance of keyword search results, as well as the choice between two image viewers, both with the ability to deep zoom into high quality images of collection items.

Read the IDPs latest blog post for a thorough overview of the key features that have been introduced.

But you don’t have to be an expert to learn about the Silk Roads. As well as the collection images themselves, anyone can explore and enjoy our new content, including recorded lectures, learning resources and articles on various topics, with more to be released in the months ahead.

What’s next?

Over the past two years, the IDP website team has worked closely with developers Surface Impression and Knowledge Integration, through the generous support of The Polonsky Foundation. We will continue to roll out new features and tools that support further research with these materials.

Please note that not all content is currently available online, and the IDP will continue to upload metadata, images, and learning modules in the coming months. You can follow the IDP’s account on X for updates as new resources become available.

Elspeth Williams and Anastasia Pineschi, International Dunhuang Programme