Saturday, January 10, 2015

An UnTextbook for Indian Epics: January Update

This post will be something of a brain-dump: I need to get caught up IN WRITING to where I am with my Indian Epics UnTextbook project. I've been working on that over the break after having the amazing "eureka!" moment back in early December when I realized that it really would be possible to create like an UnTextbook for Indian Epics just as I have done for Myth-Folklore (Myth-Folklore UnTextbook here).

So, in no particular order, here are the things that are on my mind right now... and since my mind is about to get absorbed by the Spring semester starting officially on Monday, I better write these things down so I don't forget!

1. BASIC PLAN. Basic plan from earlier post still seems VERY good to me: find two-week long versions of the Ramayana (right now that is the Narayan book) and two-week long versions of the Mahabharata (right now that is also Narayan) to use as "anchors" for the two halves of the class. Spending two weeks on either epic is enough to get an overview (although, admittedly, it is harder with Mahabharata). Then, follow that with two weeks of reading related to the epics, a wide variety of stuff that people can choose to read focused on specific scenes/themes/sources that will build on what they learned about the epics in their overview weeks. Then, follow those two two-week sessions with the option of two more weeks of epic reading OR two weeks of reading in other Indian storytelling traditions (using materials from the Myth-Folklore UnTextbook + similar).

2. EVOLUTION. The current incarnation of the class with the three/four books can carry on as before; I don't have to get rid of it since it does work just fine. So, for students who want to keep on using books (they are not expensive) and/or students who want to read only epics and are not interested in the other storytelling traditions, no problem! That's something I really like, in fact, about this redesign of the class: it's kind of like building a big addition on to a house... an addition that is bigger than the house was to start with ... but with the old house still habitable.

3. STUDENT FEEDBACK. Starting in Week 6 of the semester, I've promised students that an extra credit option is coming up where I will ask them to help me evaluate the books that I am looking at as possible candidates, both for the epics and also for the collections of folktales, fairy tales, jatakas, etc. So, I don't really have to get that ready until Week 6 but some students are eagerly working ahead, so it would be good to get that ready by Week 4 or Week 5 at the latest. I'm thinking it needs to be something REALLY structured since obviously I cannot ask students for a lot of time here, so I need to start pondering this pretty soon, figuring out what good activities I can dream up over that ten-week period so that the students will be getting some real benefit while I will also be getting useful feedback!

4. FREE EBOOKS. Free public domain books. I've scoured Gutenberg, Internet Archive, and Hathi Trust looking for possible books to use. The results are here: Indian Online Books Library. In rough numbers, I started with 14 folklore books used in the UnTextbook already, plus 1 epic book used in the UnTextbook already. Here is what I have accomplished so far:
Folklore Books: 32 books indexed (over 2000 stories!), plus another 15 books to possibly include
Epic Books: 79 books for me to review and ponder... LOTS of works here, but exciting!

5. EBOOKS I BOUGHT. Yes, for Christmas I bought myself a lot (yes, A LOT) of ebooks, thinking that for the student who don't mind paying five or ten dollars for a book, I could offer them those options as well, writing up Reading Guides for those books just as I have written up Reading Guides for the paperback books that are the epic reading for the class right now. In particular, I really want students to be able to read Ashwin Singh if they wan: he is the Dan Brown of Indian literature, and I think it would be so much fun as a last thing to read for the class if students looked as his Rozabal Line for two weeks and saw how much of it they could connect to thanks to the readings in this class! That's obviously a long-term project, something I might not even really start in earnest until next winter break, but I love the idea that my own interest in reading these books could end up benefiting my students. And the combination of ebooks with Reading Guides written by me is very feasible. They could even read some Amar Chitra Katha comic books for one week's reading!

6. OCEAN OF STORIES. I started a blog where I am publishing a story from India every day, either one that is already digitized (so I mostly just copy-and-paste) or else one that I am transcribing from a page image. This is fun, and it's a good way to keep me busy doing something related to this project every day. Here's the blog: Ocean of Stories. I'm sharing those with my students via Twitter (#IndiaStory) and via a Pinterest Board (the Twitter stream and Pinterest also include stories I am re-posting from the MythFolklore UnTextbook).

7. FRAMETALES. The Ocean of Stories blog is one I can also use for figuring out how to make good use of the three important nested-story collections that I want to share with my classes: Panchatantra, Hitopadesha, and Kathasaritsagara. I think I finally found a really good way to use the blog format in order to let the stories stand on their own while also letting students explore the frame too. This is something I have always wanted to do, so I am really excited about it!

8. JATAKAS. The time has finally come for me to cross-reference all the editions of the jatakas in public domain editions, starting with the monumental Cowell edition but also grabbing the other editions too, including the ones for children like Babbitt and Rouse. A giant Google spreadsheet should do the trick!


9. EPICS V. STORIES. For the Myth-Folklore UnTextbook, the focus was (mostly) on individual stories, so it made sense for me to create an actual "book" of my own (blog) with each story on a page of its own. This will allow me to create mix-and-match anthologies of stories based on theme, etc. In the Indian Epics class, though, the reading does not lend itself to this kind of chunking. Instead, I need to focus on creating Reading Guides for online books, just as I have created Reading Guides for the paperback books that we use in class now.

10. EPIC PRIORITIES. There are so many possible epic books I have found that I could use, and some of them are huge, of course (like the Ganguli translation of the Mahabharata), so I'll need to prioritize as I make my way through those materials. I'll focus first on the Ramayana and Mahabharata retellings, and only afterwards branch out to see what I can find the puranas, in classical drama, etc. Realistically, this is going to be a two-summer project rather than just one... but luckily the way that this is evolving side by side with my current class means that letting it happen over time is actually just fine.

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