Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Introduction to ... a Brer Rabbit fanatic. :-)

Here we are: Fall 2019! My first semester at OU was back in the last century (back in the the last millennium!). Fall 1999 was when I first arrived on campus, teaching in the Classics department; that Fall semester I taught a course on Ancient Epics (Iliad and Mahabharata), and also a Latin prose course (we read Suetonius and watched I Claudius). Of course, that was a loooooong time ago, back when I was teaching in the classroom. Here I am 20 years later, happily teaching online, and I've actually been teaching online since 2002. That means I have many more years of teaching online than in the classroom! Pretty soon, I'll be able to say to new students that I've been teaching online since before they were born. THAT is going to be a very cool moment, ha ha. And every year brings me closer!

This semester in addition to teaching Myth-Folklore and Indian Epics, I'm also going to be a student in the Myth-Folklore class. I hope you don't find that too weird! With these online classes, there is no front of the classroom defining who is the teacher and who is the student (which is one of the reasons why I like teaching online... it's lonely up at the front of the classroom). Online, we are all just reading and writing and sharing together, which means I can be a student in the class just like everybody else, completing the same assignments in my blog, creating a class project, etc.

Last semester, I was in the Indian Epics class, and I did a Storybook project about Hanuman: Hanuman in the Ramakien: Tales of the Monkey Warrior.

(screenshot of my Storybook site)

This semester, I am going to be doing a Portfolio project instead, collecting stories about Brer Rabbit and comparing them to African folktales. That's actually what I worked on this past summer, and it was an amazing summer. Using Diigo as my bookmarking tool, I bookmarked literally thousands of African folktales online, along with thousands of Caribbean and African American folktales too. I also collected thousands of Native American stories;  there are some great Native American trickster traditions, plus there was back-and-forth borrowing between the African and Native American storytellers, especially in the southern United States.

And Brer Rabbit is my focus for all of that. The Brer Rabbit character that you may know from stories like "Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby" is actually a trickster hero from Africa. That's because the African slaves in the Americas brought their stories with them. Even though the slave owners did their best to wipe out every trace of the slaves' African cultures, forbidding the use of African languages, names, religions, and so on, they could not stop the telling of these stories. As a result there are hundreds of Brer Rabbit stories that have been told in the United States, and the majority of them are versions of folktales that were first told in Africa.

I started obsessing about this topic last December, and on the very first day of summer, I started reading and reading, and the more I read, the more I wanted to read. When August arrived, I was not ready for the summer to be over (because there is still so much more I want to read!) ... so I am really excited to be in the Myth-Folklore class this semester, sharing some of the fabulous stories that I discovered this summer.

I'm really lucky with this project because the key books I am relying on were all published before 1923, which means they are in the public domain and out of copyright. That also means the books are available online at public domain libraries such as Hathi Trust and the Internet Archive. There were a few books, however, that I could not find online, so I also spent time this summer looking for cheap used books published before 1923 that I could buy and then scan. For example, from a used bookseller in London, I bought an edition of Nights with Uncle Remus published in 1907; it only cost me $20 (isn't that incredible?), and I scanned the illustrations so that I could share them online with others; here they are in a Flickr album (album embedded below).

So, as someone who has been in love with books all my life, it is like a dream come true being able to find all these beautiful books online for free. I hope you will have fun exploring free online books and stories from around the world this semester. I am always excited at the start of the new school year... but this year, I am REALLY excited.

Let there be... RABBITS! :-)

~ ~ ~

Flickr slideshow of Nights with Uncle Remus illustrations by J. A. Shepherd (originally published in 1907):

Nights with Uncle Remus (Shepherd, ill.)


  1. Hey Laura, I'm so happy the randomizer picked your intro post! It's really cool that you're exclusively an online teacher! I can tell you're really passionate about mythology and folklore. I'm passionate about it too. Part of me wants to get a graduate degree in anthropology or humanities because stories are the lifeblood of the human experience. It's a pleasure to go through your course to see how you've curated it. I feel like if I were a teacher, I would approach it the exact same way. Can't wait to see more of you in class! Thanks for putting together a fun, unique course!

  2. Hello Laura! I must say I am truly inspired by your positivity and love for these stories. There is nothing better than a teacher/student that is so happy with their work. I have read some Brer Rabbit since I first read your introduction and I think they are so much fun to read. I love all of the stories I have read and there are so many to choose from! I adore reading just as you do. When I am reading a book I enjoy I just get so wrapped up in it. I feel like their lives are a part of mine, which is probably why I get so emotional when I finish a book. Thus far, the course has been so great! I feel so inspired by growth mindset, learning and a desire for fulfillment that I had not felt before. Thank you for being so great!

  3. Hello Laura!
    I am so glad that I have this opportunity to address you and your Intro post! I just wanted to say that with this first few weeks of class I am very pleased and impressed with this class structure! It is very easy to navigate through and I am very thankful for your intricate guidance throughout this course thus-far. Now when it comes to the Brer Rabbit stories I dont have much previous knowledge. But reading through your post I can see the enthusiasm you feel towards this story and it made me interested as well!

  4. Hi Laura! I think it's really awesome that you're doing the work in Mythology and Folklore as a student and directing us as a teacher. It's really nice to know that our teacher is doing everything alongside us. I can tell you're really passionate about Mythology and Folklore, and it really shows through in your teaching and in your stories. I'm excited to read more of your posts this semester!

  5. Hi Laura,

    I'm really happy that you are taking the time to be an instructor as well as a student in this course! I think it's important for teachers to have taken the class they are teaching and find new ways to help improve it if needed. I'm so happy that you were able to find a career that lets you do what you love and read books. I'm looking forward to your work this semester over Brer Rabbit, your first story I commented on was wonderful!

  6. Hi Laura!

    I haven't read very many of the Brer Rabbit stories, but I'm excited to see some of the ones you use in your stories and in your portfolio! I love how excited and passionate you are about this class and the stories in it - it makes me feel more excited about the stories I'm reading and writing, too! It's also really impressive to me that you've been teaching online for so long, especially considering the vast differences between what the internet looks like now and what it looked like even twenty years ago!

  7. Hey Laura!
    Yes it is a little strange commenting on my professor's post. You have been a great professor so far, it amazes me how you are able to give such detailed and personal advice/help despite having so many students. I see now that you are very experienced and you also seem like the type of person that always goes above and beyond.

  8. Hey Laura! I'm not going to lie, I read your Week 9 story before reading your introduction post, so I had no idea your entire semester was based on Brer Rabbit stories. I also didn't realize I was commenting on my professor's page. No pressure there... I think it's actually really interesting how invested you are in online teaching. What is it about this format that you prefer over classroom teaching? Hopefully I run into more of your stories as the semester goes on; I've already got some ideas on how to improve my stories just from reading yours!

  9. Hi Laura! I too read your week 9 story about Brer Rabbit and was pleased to see that it is a topic that you are passionate about writing about! How fun!! In my retelling, I talked about the Disney World ride called Splash Mountain that features a storyline about Brer Rabbit and his adventure to his Laughing Place. I am wondering if you have ever heard of or ridden this ride? If not, I think you should totally look it up! There are plenty of POV videos taken by people on the rides and I think you would really enjoy them!!

  10. Hi Laura!
    You are a rock star professor! This class is set up so well and has given me so much story knowledge and ammunition. I am ready at any moment to tell a story if I need to ha ha. I actually haven't read a Brer Rabbit story yet, so I will hurry up and do that before the semester ends so I am up to speed. Anyways, thank you so much and have a good one!

  11. Hi Laura!

    First, I want to say how much I've enjoyed this class and its structure! It's really neat that you've been teaching at OU for so long. I'm taking Latin right now, it would have been cool to have you as my Latin professor at some point! I think it's awesome that you're taking the time to be a student alongside your students this semester. I'm excited to read some Brer Rabbit stories!

  12. Hi Laura,

    I love the fact that you are also a student in the class. It's a reminder that you're a normal person just like the students. I think it's great, especially for the younger college students because you don't come off as an intimidating college professor.

    It blows my mind that you've been teaching online since 2002. I had no idea that online schooling was even a thing back then.

    I like all the widgets you have on you blogger profile. I'm curious as to what the countdown is for?

  13. Hello Professor,

    I think it is very cool that you are taking this class along side your students. It helps us realize how much you care about this class and the work we complete in it. I also believe that it is very cool that you get to make new stories every semester and sharpen your skills as a writer with each new class.

  14. Hi Laura!
    Nice to see you again!(I love all the widgets on your blog. It is so personalized!) I love that you used to teach in the classics department. You understand my references and interests! I love that you are taking the class again this semester. I have never had another teacher do that, but you. I am sure it helps keep the class functioning as efficient as possible.

  15. Hi Professor,

    Wow 17 years of online teaching is a long time! I didn't even know taking classes online was possible back then. You make a good point about how the teacher doesn't have to be at the front of the classroom in an online class. That's crazy that the Brer Rabbit stories survived longer than other aspects of African culture like languages and names. I just want to say thank you for being so engaging with us. I really appreciate getting your feedback and creative classroom style!


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