New College of the Humanities

The Last Shangri La

Francis Robinson explores new educational and cultural advances in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan.

Two years ago the University of London was asked to help in the development of undergraduate education in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan. The main duties involved participating in course development and in forms of external examination; it was also clear that these duties could not be performed successfully without visiting the country.

History was one of the subjects to which much attention was being given, and so for the historian there were two seductive prospects: there was the opportunity to participate in the development of a history curriculum for a society with very little experience of the subject at university level; there was also the opportunity to savour a world that is still in many ways medieval – where a money economy exists uneasily atop a flourishing barter economy, where archery is the national sport practised at butts in every village, and where the regional administrative centres are the local equivalent of castles, fortified Dzongs, huge buildings with tapering walls that lour over the river valleys.

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