Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Helping Students Understand the Idea of Building Canons

I've spent decades thinking about how we make a canon--which texts get in and which are kept out?

I was intrigued to see this post about the same topic although in a theological context, not the literary contexts where I've usually considered the question.  The question arose in a Bible study group as to which letters were saved and which were not:

"When my class eventually turned its attention to this topic, I gave them a discussion topic I typically use in my classes at Butler University. I asked them to imagine that a new letter of Paul’s had been discovered, and to discuss whether it ought to be added to the New Testament.

Inevitably such discussions cover the same ground that the ancient church did, such as matters of authenticity, apostolicity, catholicity, and orthodoxy. But this time, there were some additional interesting twists – such as the question of how the canon – and the church – might have been different if more women authors had been included, and more women’s voices had been considered in the assembly of the canon."

I loved the game that is designed to help people think about how canonical texts like the Bible are formed:

"I also mentioned an idea I had for a canon-making card-game (yes, inspired by Gen Con). It could have cards representing books which you and your community use. You need to make the case for their inclusion. Other players have different cards. You need to try to get as many of the texts represented by the cards in your own hand into the canon. Some cards will be very common, some will be rare. You can simply discard a card and draw another two – whether because you have a duplicate and that will cost you points at the end, or because you have one that you cannot persuade others to embrace. But there is no guarantee that the new cards you draw will be better.

You then use information on the cards – and online research as well, perhaps? – to try to argue for your canon, forging allegiances with others, but also hoping that in the end your hand of cards will be match the final canon list more closely than anyone else’s.

I could see a game like this helping to convey the extent to which politics, compromise, and consensus-building were major factors in the development of the canon."

I could so see this being adapted for a literature class, especially a survey class.  What texts should we study?  If we include something new, do we need to leave something out?  I think it would be especially wonderful to play this game with the writers of the British Romantic age, but that's my time period, so of course I would think that.

I bet that this idea could be adapted in other ways too--which is why I wanted to save it here.

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