School class near Sagaing, Dec. 2008. (Photo: C. Emmrich.)

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Mother receiving instructions during the performance of her daughter’s ihi in Lalitpur, Feb. 2006. (Photo: C. Emmrich.)

Key to this project is to access three intersecting perspectives: that of the girl children themselves, to a lesser degree that of peer boys, and finally that of women and men. The sources provided by the girl children will be based on informal conversations will centre on ongoing and remembered religious events. The team will encourage the retelling and interpretation of Buddhist narratives by the girl children, familiar to them from reading in textbooks or children literature or from oral narratives presented by relatives and teachers. The team will also collaborate with both students and teachers in documenting and analyzing the oral and written assignments of the girl children produced in the various forms of training that shape their day-to-day lives. Data selection and analysis will focus on the girl child’s affective experience of key religious events, the processing and problematizing of religious stories, the role of the religious in the development of autobiographical narratives, the girl child’s self-reflexive elaboration on their own role within the family, the scholastic and the ritual process.

Work on sources produced by Burmese and Nepalese women and men between the 19th and 21st centuries will be conducted to understand adult agendas directed at and cultural products instrumental in directing and shaping girl children’s developments towards womanhood. In doing this the study will prioritize textbooks, ritual manuals, as well as historiographical and literary texts about and/or for girl children and young women, such as the fictionalized true story of a girl child who fled from Nepal to Burma and who came to be called Thudhammawati. 20th century textbooks will be analyzed primarily as normative tools regarding their political, didactical and doctrinal dimensions. This includes a literary, iconographical and disciplinary analysis of the narratives, images and prescriptions contained therein with an interest in the girl child-specific aspects of a Buddhist “ethics of virtue” as recently proposed by Yasmin Fischer for Sinhala textbooks. Finally, the novels, short stories, poems and chronicles call for a combination of literary criticism and historical source analysis that keeps in mind how girl child novices, princesses and female and male literati represented both girl children and themselves, by which publics they have been appropriated and how these texts, particularly the modernist ones, oscillate between the normative and the experimental.