Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 17, No. 166.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
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Date: Mon, 28 Jul 2003 06:41:52 +0100
From: "ATON" <email@example.com>
Subject: ATON (Archive of Turkish Oral Narrative) in the Chronicle
of Higher Education
ATON (Archive of Turkish Oral Narrative) in the Chronicle of Higher Education
The Chronicle of Higher Education
Thursday, July 24, 2003
A Collection of Ancient Folk Tales From Turkey Meets Modernity on the Internet
By BROCK READ
For more than four decades, researchers interested in folklore and oral
history have trekked to Lubbock, Tex., to use one of the world's most
comprehensive collections of indigenous tales: the Uysal-Walker Archive of
Turkish Oral Narrative at Texas Tech University. Now, through a
digitization project, <http://aton.ttu.edu/> librarians at the university
are making their unique archive accessible to a broader audience on the Web.
Texas Tech came upon its sizable collection "by sheer luck," according to
H.B. Paksoy, an adjunct professor of history at the institution who heads
the online project. In 1961, Warren Stanley Walker, a professor of English
at Iowa's Parson College, was teaching English in Turkey on a Fulbright
grant. There he met Ahmet Edip Uysal, a professor of liberal arts at Ankara
The pair shared an interest in Turkey's rich but largely unacknowledged
history of folk narratives, and spent parts of several years journeying to
small villages to document indigenous tales and traditions. When Walker
returned to the States and took a position at Texas Tech, Uysal continued
to send information collected from the field. The transcripts and
recordings that Walker accumulated became the basis of the university's
collection. (Uysal died in 1997, Walker in 2002. Walker is survived by his
wife, Barbara, who worked with the oral-narrative archive until this year.)
Online, the Archive of Turkish Oral Narrative makes available all of Walker
and Uysal's transcripts of Turkish epics, folk legends, and local stories.
The Web site's highlights include versions of the Dede Korkut, an oral
history of Central Asia that survived for almost a thousand years before it
was committed to paper in the 19th century. Samples of Uysal and Walker's
fieldwork include stories like "The Guessing Children" and "The Farmer and
the Bear," gathered from Turkey's Konya province.
Such narratives shed light not just on Turkish life, but on the central
role of folk tales in cultures throughout the world, according to Mr.
Paksoy. "These would be of great interest to anyone investigating
cross-cultural stories," he says. "A great volume of what we have online
applies to students of anything from Icelandic sagas to African narratives,
because it provides a context and a sense of what themes develop across
cultures and geographies."
In addition to the transcripts, the site includes a growing number of
multimedia elements. At present, Mr. Paksoy and his colleagues have
digitized a small collection of images of modern-day Turkey, audio of
indigenous-music performances, and many of Uysal and Walker's recordings of
epic tales as narrated by Turkish citizens. Mr. Paksoy says he is working
on placing recordings of key narratives alongside the transcripts so that
researchers can listen to a reading in a Turkish dialect while examining
Faculty members at a number of colleges offering courses in Turkish culture
and linguistics -- including Princeton and Indiana Universities and the
University of Pennsylvania -- have directed students to the site, Mr.
Paksoy says. Erika H. Gilson, a professor of Near Eastern studies at
Princeton University, is one such professor. Ms. Gilson and other
professors say that the site is a useful tool in part because it provides
students of Turkish with valuable exposure to the language as it is spoken.
The Web site presents its information in a smorgasbord of languages. Most
of the material is available in both Turkish and English, but many of the
narratives are recorded in some of the many dialects -- including Kazakh,
Turkmen, and Uzbek -- that appear in pockets throughout the nation. The
site's use of multiple languages has increased its appeal, Mr. Paksoy says,
noting that the project has attracted a strong contingent of international
And Mr. Paksoy says that the archive's home on the Web has made the
narratives available to an audience that would never have traveled to Texas
to use the originals. In the first three weeks of 2003, when the project
made its debut online, some 10,000 documents were viewed or downloaded --
more, according to Mr. Paksoy, than were read in the library's previous 41
years. The original collection can still be seen only by appointment.
"This way we can reach the furthest corners of the earth without potential
users' having to travel," he says.
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