South Asia

Organized Panel Session

2 - Developing a History of Bhutanese Literature

Friday, March 23
10:30 AM - 12:30 PM
Location: Marriott Balcony B, Mezzanine Level

Little theoretical or methodological work has been done on the history of Bhutanese literature prior to the late twentieth century. Questions of definition, scope, or periodization are rarely posed. Scholarship to date has been hampered by lack of access to sources; most work has been carried out based on a handful of works made available through the US PL480 program to North American libraries. Yet today we have access to an unprecedented number of works thanks to the digital preservation efforts of programs such as the Endangered Archives Programme (EAP). Now is therefore ideal moment to raise questions about the shape and scope of Bhutanese literature. What is the relationship between “Tibetan literature” and “Bhutanese literature”? What might a useful periodization of works produced in Bhutan look like? What regions and institutions of Bhutan were important for the development of the literature? This paper poses three models for researching these and other basic questions in the literary history of Bhutan.  A synthesis of these three types of historical data calls for a methodologically synthetic approach, one that integrates literary analysis, philology and bibliography, and social history. In broader terms, a comprehensive use of newly available works to investigate broad patterns in place, chronology, and style will, ideally, better enable us to speak more confidently about the history of literature, which remains one of the least known yet richest aspects of Bhutanese culture.

Kurtis Schaeffer

University of Virginia, Virginia

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