Elizabeth Joy Reynolds F'19

Elizabeth Joy Reynolds
Doctoral Candidate
East Asian Languages and Cultures
Columbia University

Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships 2019
Doctoral Candidate
East Asian Languages and Cultures
Columbia University
Economies of the High Plateau: Monasteries, Merchants, and Ulak Transportation in Tibet, 1904-1959

This dissertation explores Tibetan economic institutions and transportation infrastructures during the twentieth century. During this period, Tibetan institutions and actors negotiated their position vis-à-vis Britain and China by asserting economic agency through ulak: a transportation-cum-taxation system that facilitated transport, trade, and communications in Tibet. As opposed to the earlier literature that portrayed ulak as the primary reason for Tibetan economic backwardness, this project demonstrates that ulak was in fact a complex system uniquely suited to a region like Tibet, which was rich in land but poor in labor. Furthermore, due to its highly decentralized and flexible structure, ulak was particularly effective in times of uncertainty and change. Focusing on ulak and the socio-economic world around it, this dissertation examines Tibetan monasteries, merchants, and transnational companies that participated in global economic transformations.