About : The Project
Background to the World Oral Literature Project
From March 2013 the World Oral Literature Project will no longer be offering grants. We regret that from the end of March it will not be possible to accept collections or answer emails. However, online resources and archival material will continue to be available to the public through this website.
The World Oral Literature Project is an urgent global initiative to document and disseminate endangered oral literatures before they disappear without record. The Project supports local communities and committed fieldworkers engaged in the collection and preservation of all forms of oral literature by providing funding for original research, alongside training in fieldwork and digital archiving methods.
For many communities around the world, the transmission of oral literature from one generation to the next lies at the heart of cultural practice. Local languages act as vehicles for the transmission of unique cultural knowledge, but the oral traditions encoded within these languages become threatened when elders die and livelihoods are disrupted. These creative works are increasingly endangered as globalisation and rapid socio-economic change exert complex pressures on smaller communities, often eroding expressive diversity and transforming culture through assimilation to more dominant ways of life. Of the world’s living languages, currently numbering over 6,000, around half will cease to be spoken by the end of this century.
Established at the University of Cambridge in 2009 and co-located in Yale, US since 2011, the World Oral Literature Project collaborates with local communities to document their own oral narratives, and aspires to become a permanent centre for the appreciation and preservation of oral literature. The Project provides small grants to fund the collecting of oral literature, with a particular focus on the peoples of Asia and the Pacific, and on areas of cultural disturbance. In addition, the Project hosts training workshops for grant recipients and other engaged scholars. The World Oral Literature Project also publishes oral texts and occasional papers, and makes collections of oral traditions accessible through new media platforms. By stimulating the documentation of oral literature and by building a network for cooperation and collaboration, the World Oral Literature Project supports a community of committed scholars and indigenous researchers.
In many ways, the World Oral Literature Project grew out of the success of the Sabah Oral Literature Project, established in 1986 by Dr G.N. Appell and Laura W. R. Appell to collect, preserve and translate the oral literature of the various peoples of northern Sabah, Borneo.