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, librarians at the
university are making their unique archive accessible to a broader audience
on the Web.
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 University.
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.)
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.
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
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 its
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.
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 users.
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.
way we can reach the furthest corners of the earth without potential users'
having to travel," he says.