Drugs Across Asia

Technical Methods, Collaborators, and Process

Drugs Across Asia produced digital tools and explored new methodologies for the historical study of materia medica and related medical practices from digital texts. It investigated the circulation of materia medica across sectarian and genre divisions in early imperial China, using a corpus of nearly the entire extant Buddhist, Daoist, and medical texts dating between 400 BCE and 589 CE.  We developed a suite of analytical tools (1) to search for large sets of terms across these diverse canons; and (2) to visualize the search results and their distribution across time, intellectual and sectarian genres, and geographic space. These tools are part of DOCUSKY, a digital research platform for analyzing uploaded digital text corpora. The digital texts we produced, with over 3,000 chapters of Buddhist, Daoist, and medical texts that are searchable and enriched with historical metadata, are now accessible in a DOCUSKY database. Among these, two hundred chapters (juan 卷) of texts are marked with materia medica terms, properties, and geographic locations, which are freely accessible HERE.

A number of publications are forthcoming. For more on the project, see HERE.

This pilot research project was a collaboration among Department III: “Artefacts, Action, and Knowledge” of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science (MPIWG), the Research Center for Digital Humanities (RCDH) at the National Taiwan University (NTU), and the Dharma Drum Institute of Liberal Arts (DILA). While scholars of medical history at MPIWG drove the project with critical research questions, digital humanities specialists and tool developers at NTU loaded the digital texts onto DocuSky and developed useful statistical, mapping, and analytical tools to help answer scholars’ research questions. DILA then drew on its expertise with tagging Buddhist canons with personal and place names to help tag the texts with drug and other medical terms.

The suite of tools was built to generalize a new and broader digital research methodology. Accordingly, it

  • allows scholars to create their own databases from collections of text files as well as marked texts, with biographical and geographical data from other online databases (e.g., MARKUS outputs) attached;
  • can attach complex metadata to those texts, allowing for sophisticated sorting of search results;
  • produce tabular data to show the distribution of large sets of terms within texts;
  • visualizes GIS data points from marked texts, layered over historical dynastic maps; and
  • supports intuitive visualizations that show the proximity or distance between texts (in PALLADIO).

DocuSky database includes:

  • Over 200 juan of marked-up Buddhist, Daoist, and medical texts.
  • A mark-up of the entire 6th century materia medica (Bencao jing zjihu 本草經集注), including geographic locations based on this geographic DICTIONARY.
  • Many others have contributed primary source materials, such as transcribed paleographic texts, term indices, vocabulary lists, and scholarly insight. Therefore, we specially thank:
    • Gene Anderson
    • Miranda Brown
    • Paul Buell
    • Chen Jian 陳劍
    • Chen Ming 陳明
    • Catherine Despeux
    • Mikael Ikkivesi
    • Pierce Salguero
    • Christopher Wittern (KANRIPO)

New and notable project findings:

  • Reveal which were the most prominent drug texts in the Six Dynasties period in each major SECT .
  • Enable visualization of the similarity and difference between different texts
  • Allow identification of core drug vocabulary within each genre or sect
  • Show the geographic distribution of where each text considered the materia medica to come from.

Funding and rights:

This project involved resource-intensive tasks, including text typing for Bencaojing Jizhu, text mark-ups, and the development of DocuSky tools. Dagmar Schaefer, Director of Department III of MPIWG, generously provided funding for these tasks. On the NTU side, funding for DocuSky was supported by the Ministry of Science and Technology of Taiwan and the University, while technical support was  rovided by Leiden University (Prof. Hilde de Weerdt) in the Netherlands. Department III of MPIWG and Michael Stanley-Baker, founder, jointly hold the rights to the marked-up dataset. NTU, as its developer, holds the rights to DocuSky. The research data are available for access under Creative Commons ATTRIBUTION-NONCOMMERCIAL-SHAREALIKE 4.0 INTERNATIONAL license.    DocuSky is an OPEN ACCESS  platform.

Primary researchers involved:

Max Planck Institute for the History of Science

  • Principal Investigator: Michael Stanley-Baker
  • Project Architect: Chen Shih-pei
  • MARKUS Developer: Brent Hou-ieong Ho

National Taiwan University

Dharma Drum Institute for Liberal Arts

  • Principal Investigator: Joey Hung 洪振洲
  • Text Markup: Zhang Tuan 張端
  • Daoist Text Markup: Chang Chao-jan 張超然

Special thanks:

The project used open-access primary source materials from CBETAKANRIPOCTEXT, and geographic name authority databases at CHINA HISTORICAL GIS and DHARMA DRUM PLACE AUTHORITY DATABASE. We have benefitted greatly from working with the developers of MARKUS at the Communication and Empire project at Leiden University.