Sincerely Yours: The Origin Story of Folklore at IUB

For a vast majority of the world, 1942 was a year to remember.  However, history wasn’t just being made overseas fighting in World War II; it was also being made right here at Indiana University Bloomington.  During the summer of 1942, Indiana University was host to what would be the first of many Folklore Institutes. The Institute was created by Professor Stith Thompson, who had long-held the dream of bringing together like-minds from all over, both faculty and student, to meet and discuss the field of folklore; both folklore itself and the future of the field.  This eight-week gathering was so successful that they continued to meet every summer.

This edition of ‘Sincerely Yours’ showcases correspondence with Herman B Wells  following the conclusion of the first Institute in 1942.  The first piece of correspondence comes from Jacob A. Evanson, Special Supervisor of Vocal Music for Pittsburgh Public Schools.  His letter describes the success of the first Institute as “historic” and notes it as a cultural progression.  This letter provides a perspective of the importance and impact of the Folklore Institute outside of Indiana University.

Stith Thompson, May 1955, Archives Image no.
P0021913

The main correspondence is from Stith Thompson to Herman B Wells.  The correspondence opens with a list of resolutions from the members of the first Institute.  These resolutions include the declaration of a “permanent” Folklore Institute of America, and that the Journal of American Folklore be declared the official channel of news distribution.  Also included is the Institute’s purpose statement: to  bring together faculty, students, and fellow workers to create a “professionally-minded group” for study and consult not included in ordinary curricula.

This letter also contains an impassioned speech by Thompson in which he reflects on the experience of the Institute.  Additionally, Thompson briefly discusses the issues at present within the field of folklore, and plans for the future of folklore in terms of professional organization, public relations, and academic development .   He talks about the need for researchers to cease their reclusive ways and come together in circles like the Institute to help the field prosper through internal collaborative efforts and understanding, and by forming relations with the public.  Also discussed is the implementation of proper techniques surrounding the  collection and classification of folklore, from the individual collector to the establishment of a fully functional national archive.

Thompson’s description of the impact of folklore from a local to a national stage, and even a global one is captivating.  He states that the support of local folklore organizations can help to further the development of larger, national folklore directives by organizations.Also addressed is the presence of folklore in the academic field.  Thompson states that the presentation of folklore by universities should be done in such a way that will “infect” students and whether they be teacher, doctor, lawyer, etc., they should show interest in the traditions of their community.

Thompson closes his letter by reaffirming the purpose of the Institute by saying that research rather than teaching is the main goal, and that its value lies in its existence as the only place (at the time) to foster collaborative and individual research,and the overall growth of the folklore field.

The best part of this correspondence lies in its last few pages in the form of a poem.  Nearing the closure of their time together, this group of scholars pooled their creativity to construct a retelling of events of events that they could carry with them in memory.  The result of their collaborative efforts was a poem reminiscent of famous epics of the past such as the Odyssey and Aeneid.  This goes to show that even heavy scholars have a humorous side, even if it may be a little high-brow.

From C213 President’s Office records – Herman B Wells, Folklore Institute 1941-42 folder. 

The Folklore Institute would go on to meet yearly until the early 1960’s. It was at this time, and through the endeavors of professors Richard Dorson and Stith Thompson, that the Folklore Institute became an established department at Indiana University under the same name of the Folklore Institute.  Though not in the same manner as its origin, the Folklore Institute is still present at IU Bloomington and is known by scholars throughout the world.  To learn more about the Folklore Institute from its beginnings to today, visit the IU Archives in Wells Library to see the current exhibit, ‘Collecting Folklore: The History of the Folklore Institute at Indiana University.‘  This exhibit will be up until January 26th, 2018.

 

 

Cattle Punching on a Jack Rabbit: The Frank de Caro and Rosan A. Jordan papers

The Frank de Caro and Rosan Jordan Papers contain the personal papers and research of Frank de Caro and his wife Rosan Augusta Jordan.  De Caro, an IU alum and professor emeritus of English at Louisiana State University, has authored several books on Louisiana folklore.  He has also served as editor for several folklore journals such as Louisiana Sojourns: Travelers’ Tales and Literary Journeys. The collection includes research, correspondence, and manuscripts for his publications, as well the teaching materials and Day of the Dead research of his wife Rosan Jordan.  Jordan studied folklore at Indiana University and taught at Louisiana State University until the early 2000s.  

What really caught my interest, however, is the plethora of postcards the pair compiled over the years.  

Folklore is more than legends and myths from the distant past, but something that is constantly expanding and surrounds us all the time; popping up in odd places and through unexpected forms. One form that many may not consider a purveyor of folklore would be that of a postcard. Postcards can be a way to capture bits of information to tell stories. Whether it’s a text description of the lore surrounding the dogwood tree, or a photograph depicting the day-to-day life of pottery making, the ability to appreciate lore and practices from multiple cultures can be found in postcards.  

Since the mid-1800s, postcards have been a way for people to send written messages along with a unique image to give it a little something extra. Postcards come in many shapes, sizes and materials; some can be very detailed, with elaborate images incorporating cloth, metals, and other things attached, others can be as simple as a reproduction of a famous piece of art.  Postcards can contain images of faraway places we want to visit, inspire us with art or motivational slogans, educate us with historical facts, or provide comedic relief.  

The postcards in this collection provide excellent examples of the seamless ways in which folklore finds its way into everyday life through a variety of subject matter.  While there are the typical postcards with depictions of beautiful landscapes and historic buildings, there are many peculiar postcards. Several cards take the classic American expression “Everything’s Bigger In Texas!” and pair it with humorous illustrations such as those below.

You’ve probably never heard of the Jackalope, or knew the significance of the armadillo to the state of Texas; but if you’d like to know, this is where you’ll find the answer! Continue to scroll through for few more examples and contact the IU Archives to see more from the Frank de Caro and Rosan Jordan papers

 

The Folklore Paper Collection: A Cabinet of Curiosities

Musei_Wormiani_Historia
“Musei Wormiani Historia”, the frontispiece from the Museum Wormianum depicting Ole Worm’s cabinet of curiosities. From: commons.wikipedia.org

You never know what you will find when you dive into a box of Folklore papers. Much like a Cabinet of Curiosities from the Renaissance and Victorian periods (see left) these boxes are stuffed full of papers and items that will spark one’s curiosity, wet one’s intellectual appetite, and engage the mind in cultural history.

The University Archives recently processed a collection of papers written by students taking material culture courses in the Folklore Institute between 1960 and the early 1980s. These papers are written on a wide variety of subjects within material culture including architecture, crafts, tombstones & epitaphs, quilting, furniture, instrument making, family traditions and recipes, fashion, and food ways.

Many of these papers consist of interviews with artisans and craftsmen, family members, or owners of the locations being researched. One such paper includes an account by the owner of a house near Elizabethtown, Indiana which was part of the Underground Railroad used by runaway slaves fleeing north to Canada during the Civil War. A number of the locations and craftsmen discussed in these papers are local or in close proximity to Bloomington, including a paper on the Rose Well House which is a popular fixture of legend in IU campus lore.

Postcard Set Postcard Duo

For those more interested in religious studies there are also papers centered around religion. One such paper describes the folkways surrounding food, feasting, and religious practices of the Russian Orthodox Church during the week of Easter and recounts how the low number of parishioners at Bloomington’s Russian Orthodox Church affected the Bloomington orthodox community in the 60s and 70s. The paper even includes a set of colorful feast-themed Eastern Orthodox postcards for the reader to examine (see here). I would be curious to see if the church survived or not but I couldn’t find it through any direct means…perhaps that is an answer in it of itself.

Sometimes going through papers from various years allows the researcher to see trends.  Apple doll making and water witching seem to have been popular subjects in the 60s and 70s. There are also a fair number of papers written on local tombstones and instrument makers in this collection.

Most of these papers will include samples, HeroI012photographs, or other items related to the paper’s subject. One such paper written on the Kennedy family, who built covered bridges in Indiana, has a beautiful set of covered bridge illustrations and diagrams as well as old advertisements for tools used to construct these bridges.

Other papers involving quilt making either have quilting pattern diagrams,
Quilt Samples
magazine pictures, samples, or hand drawn patterns to help explain the types of patterns being  discussed (see here).

Slightly more odd items are included with these papers too. One paper on soap-making had a bag of lye stapled to one of the pages (you definitely don’t want to touch that with your bare hands. It’s highly caustic and can burn your skin!).  Another had a seemingly random top of a wood spool of sowing thread with no explanation as to its significance within the greater context of the paper other than the fact that the paper was on quilt-making.  As I continued to go through the collection I briefly wondered if I would encounter a paper on Thanksgiving that included a wishbone taped to the backside of one of the papers…but alas the wishbone did not reveal itself…

For more on these papers and other Folklore-related items contact the IU Archives.

 

Missed it by that much – The Folklore Institute Ventriloquism Project

The archive of an unfunded project is a strange thing to behold. It recounts a set of best-laid plans that never quite came to fruition. Proposals and correspondence describe the viability of an enterprise, and organizers explain themselves with eloquently written prose and carefully curated documentation. In the present, we review these files knowing the inevitable outcome. Although many people worked hard trying to bring their idea to life, it did not succeed in the way it was envisioned.

A case in point here is the Ventriloquism Project, a proposed collaboration of the Indiana University Folklore Institute and Radio and Television Services. For much of 1988, a small but committed core of researchers sought funding for a documentary that would have explored the contemporary practice of ventriloquism in the United States.

In the end, the project was not of interest to the many sources who received an appeal for funding. The Folk Arts Media sector of the National Endowment for the Arts said no. The Walt Disney Company’s educational films division said no. Jim Henson said no through a personal assistant, who explained that ventriloquism is not the same thing as puppetry (or in this case, Muppetry), which forms the basis of “Jim’s interest and experience.”

Ventriloquism ad
A page in the 1984-85 catalog from One Way Street, a Colorado-based puppetry and ventriloquism resource center

Notwithstanding, those who supported the Ventriloquism Project—folklorists Gail Matthews, Inta Carpenter, and Sandra Dolby, as well as filmmakers John Bishop and John Winninger—produced a significant body of work in their attempts to acquire funding. University Archives and Records Management makes this material available now. The archive of the Ventriloquism Project comprises a rich review of ventriloquial art in the United States in the twentieth century. The files included here could serve as a springboard for anyone researching ventriloquism, whether for a documentary, journalistic article, or academic publication.

At issue in many of these papers is the nature of ventriloquism as a folk art. Researchers argued that its decline in popularity in the early twentieth century marked a transition from popular culture to folklore. Their interpretation of this process is nicely summarized in a proposal to the NEA. They write: “The lay person may think that ventriloquism died out with the arrival of television, when in fact, it merely faded from popular media visibility. Over the years, ventriloquists have constituted a small but solid and growing community of interest.”

The archive’s ephemera provide extensive evidence of this community as it existed in the late 1980s. Gathered materials include advertising literature from Vent Haven, a ventriloquism museum in Kentucky; and correspondence with One Way Street, a puppetry and ventriloquism resource center in Colorado. Additional pamphlets, letters, and business cards from a variety of sources suggest the breadth of the proposed project. Had it gone forward, film crews would have captured footage in Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, South Carolina, and elsewhere.

The documentary was not meant to be, however, and the Ventriloquism Project was shelved until further notice. That notice is now, as it were. The preparatory work that researchers did has been made public after a dark age of about 25 years. Interested parties are invited to view this archive, which, even though it was not funded, provides a valuable resource for aficionados of ventriloquism.

To view this material, and to access the finding aid that indexes it, visit http://libraries.iub.edu/archives, or call (812) 855-1127.

 

The Rust Belt knows how to remember

The writer David Giffels suggests that living in the postindustrial Midwest means making peace with loss. This idea is so important to him that he titled his 2014 book after it. The Hard Way on Purpose: Essays and Dispatches from the Rust Belt chronicles the plight of finding steady work and personal satisfaction in his native Akron, Ohio, a place known as The Rubber City despite having lost its manufacturing base almost totally over the past three decades.

In conditions like this, Giffels explains, it is easy to lose hope. Yet the residents of Akron and cities like it (for example, Toledo of the glass, Pittsburgh of the steel, and Detroit of the automobile) trudge forward where a less hardy breed might have given up long ago. Giffels describes their stick-to-itiveness as a sense of abiding confidence; “something that allows us to coolly intone, ‘It’s a Rust Belt thing. You wouldn’t understand.'”

barbara_yant
Barbara Yant speaks to an IU film crew at the Auburn, Cord, Duesenberg Festival in Auburn, Indiana.

One way of holding on to optimism in hard times is to pull the greatness of the past into some form of public display in the present. The people of Auburn, Indiana, are masters at this. Their Auburn, Cord, Duesenberg Festival is an annual celebration of local automotive history, and it is a benchmark on the civic calendar. Every August, crowds in the hundreds of thousands travel to Auburn to admire the classic cars–the Cord, the Duesenberg, and the namesake Auburn–that were manufactured there in the early twentieth century. Though the factories are gone now, their sleek products remain the showpieces of the festival’s parade and car shows.

A new collection from University Archives and Records Management focuses on the Auburn, Cord, Duesenberg Festival. These materials include photographs, publicity materials, and a copy of the 1982 documentary Classics Come Home: Auburn, Cord, Duesenberg, which was a collaboration of the Indiana University Folklore Institute and Radio and Television Services.

wtiu_viewing_guide
“Classics Come Home: Auburn, Cord Duesenberg” aired on WTIU Bloomington in 1982.

While this is somewhat standard fare overall, it is unique among the folklore resources made available by the Archives so far this year. Previous collections have been international in scope, as with the study focusing on Hungarians in the United States, or the investigation of Spanish folk poetry in South America. The project at hand does not wander so far afield. The city of Auburn, just north of Fort Wayne, is in the Folklore Institute’s back yard. It is not exotic to those of us who grew up in the Midwest. To the rest of the world, however, Auburn’s celebration of automotive heritage illustrates the unique local devotion to a revered past. By alluding to a common history, the Auburn, Cord, Duesenberg Festival helps to establish a sense of community identity when factory work no longer defines what most people do with their everyday lives. This is precisely what folklorists mean when they use the word heritage. It is the commemoration of yesterday through exhibition, re-enactment, or pageantry today.

I understand the desire of the people of Auburn. Growing up in a town not far from Akron, I watched each year as a group of festival organizers erected and lit a 18-foot, gas-fueled kitchen match on the town square. The effigy, kept burning for one week every June, commemorated the local match factory whose early-twentieth-century heyday gave our town its cultural emblem. (Do you happen to remember Ohio Blue Tip Matches? That was us!)

My tongue is only partly in cheek as I share these memories. I see how easy it might be to take potshots at Midwesterners. With the economy being what it is, we would sanctify a distributor cap if it gave us a reason to feel good about where we’re from. “Give us something to root for,” Giffels writes. “We’ll take anything.”

At the same time, I value any attempt to connect with locality. To inhabit a place, perhaps, is to have a dwelling, a commute, and a social network. Yet to live in a place–a much more nourishing proposition–is to have a home, a handful of shortcuts, and dear friends. Annual festivals are handy tools for framing and encouraging community life of this kind. Such forms of heritage make us feel like we belong somewhere. They colorfully articulate our shared culture, and they remind us to pay attention to what is local, lest we miss out on the common ground beneath our feet.

The finding aid for the Auburn, Cord, Duesenberg Festival project records is now online. For access to the collection, call or email the Archives at (812) 855-1127 or archives@indiana.edu.