The folklorist’s progress at University Archives

The interview for this job wasn’t even an interview. Assistant archivist Carrie Schwier sat me down in a conference room and told me the position was mine if I wanted it. Even for part-time summer work, that’s a pretty smooth ride. I suppose that my academic background was convincing enough for the task at hand. I am a folklorist, and University Archives and Records Management has a backlog of folklore collections ready for processing. I had been referred by a colleague, also a folklorist, who attested that even though I have no library science training, I “know about folklore,” and am “smart.” Boy, what she doesn’t know.

Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology, Indiana University - Bloomington
Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology, Indiana University – Bloomington

Nonetheless, I’ve reaped the benefit of my colleague’s testimony for about a month now. Carrie hired me on, and I have spent my days elbow deep in the history of my home department, Folklore and Ethnomusicology. The bulk of my work has been with a series of special projects undertaken between the late 1970s and the early 1990s, a period of tremendous intellectual momentum. Having already distinguished itself by granting the first Folklore Ph.D. in the United States in 1953, and by graduating a number of respected folklorists who took faculty and professional positions across the country and abroad, the department went on to become a moneymaking machine. Tens of thousands of dollars in grant money funneled in for special projects. One of these focused on the uses of ethnicity among Hungarian-Americans in the Chicago Region. Another facilitated a Bloomington-based symposium bringing together U.S. and German folklorists to discuss contemporary issues in the field. Yet another encompassed a variety of ethnographic projects focusing on Hispanic folk poetry. It is personally thrilling that the latter project directly benefited my advisor, John Holmes McDowell, as he completed research that contributed to his 2000 book Poetry and Violence: The Ballad Tradition of Mexico’s Costa Chica, which explores the uses of narrative song in a region that has historically been saddled with patterns of social conflict.

As much as they are exciting, such thrills are simultaneously humble. While IU’s folklore doctoral program has been recognized as the best in its field, according to a 2010 report by the National Research Council, the discipline of folklore studies comprises a relatively small number of academic experts. Our gaze is global, but our numbers are few relative to, say, historians or sociologists.

Yet the benefit of working in a small discipline is the spike in familiarity that occurs almost immediately upon entering it. When folklorists are few relative to other sorts of scholars, it is possible to have direct contact with a greater proportion of the most successful figures among them. In this regard, sorting through these boxes sometimes feels like flipping through a family history. I know or have met many of the people whose activities are documented here. To read about the awards they earned in past decades feels different from simply reading their publications, which can be accessed far more easily. The archival materials are rarer, and they include professional correspondence, budget documents, and fieldwork reports, sometimes written in the scholar’s own hand. These bits of data remind me that even among the veterans of our field, every project grows from a group of people with a good idea and the inclination to try to make it real. This is heartening for a doctoral candidate like myself, as I begin to wade into the perennially challenging academic job market. If I can at least hold on to my good ideas, perhaps I will be in better shape.

These notes are my attempt to explain why University Archives and Records Management is a positive resource for folklorists, and for those who want to learn more about our small but tightly-knit discipline. As I have taken pleasure in tracing the activities of my mentors, I have wished the same for others. So, come check it out. Just, uh, give me a little more time to process these collections.

The folklorists are here, the folklorists are here!

Warren E. Roberts, 1967.

If you hadn’t heard, the American Folklore Society is meeting in Bloomington this week! Everyone is very excited about it – Shannon, our graduate assistant working on the Remak papers, helped install an exhibit in the Wells Library lobby; if you stop by the Lincoln Room in the Lilly Library, you can view “Tell Me a Story: Folklore and Folkloristics at the Lilly Library”; and Wednesday morning, we hosted a small group of attendees in our reading room to discuss some of our folklore-related holdings!

Weren’t able to make it? That’s okay, I’ll point out some of the highlights for you!

In addition to the records relating to folklore and the development of the program that can be found within the administrative records in our collection, we have a rich collection of papers from folklorists who have either spent or began their academic careers at Indiana University. Several years ago, the University Archives worked with the Folklore Institute to transfer its holdings to our care. What a rich collection is has proven to be!

Select folklore holdings in the University Archives

    Warren E. Roberts papers: In 1953, Warren Everett Roberts became the first person to earn a PhD in Folklore in the United States. He taught at Indiana University from 1949-1994 and was one of the founders of the study of American “folklife” and material culture. The collection represents Roberts’ research of vernacular architecture and regional survey of material culture and craftsmanship, particularly in southern Indiana. Collection consists of research files, teaching files, photographs, photographic negatives and slides, publications, and correspondence.
    Richard Dorson papers: Dr. Richard Dorson is often cited as the father of American folklore. Over his lifetime he published a large collection of books and articles dealing with how folklore and culture are tied together. Dorson founded the Indiana University Folklore Institute in 1963, and became the first director and Chairman of the Folklore Department in 1978. This collection consists of Dr. Dorson’s published articles, correspondence, and research connected to the Gary Project which resulted in the book Land of the Millrats.
    IU Folklore Students’ Association records: The Folklore Students’ Association (FSA) is a student run organization supported by the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology and Indiana University. The collection consists of correspondence, newsletters, meeting minutes and reports.
    Felix J. Oinas papers: Felix Oinas, a world renowned scholar in the areas of Slavic linguistics, Finno-Ugric language, literature, and folklore, was a professor of Uralic and Altaic Studies and Slavic Languages and Literatures at Indiana University from 1950 until his retirement in 1981. The collection consists of Oinas’ correspondence, publications, and research on Balto-Finnic and Slavic folklore, the relation of Balto-Finnic folklore as compared to Baltic (Lithuanian and Latvian) folklore, the Estonian epic Kalevipoeg, mythology (including the study of spirits, ghosts, devils, and vampires), and the study of Slavic and Finnish etymologies.
    Richard A. Reuss papers: Richard Reuss was an Indiana University alumnus and professor of folklore and also a distinguished scholar of folksong revival. Collection includes photographs, books, artwork, clippings, song books and sheets, correspondence, interview transcripts, notes, teaching materials, and publications.
    Richard Bauman papers: Richard Bauman taught in the Indiana University Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology from 1986 until his retirement in 2008. The Bauman papers consist of his teaching materials, awards, publications, conference contributions, research projects, fieldwork materials, correspondence, and student recommendations.
    Ronald Richard Smith papers: Ronald Richard Smith was a member of the Folklore faculty at Indiana University from 1978-1997. His research centered around traditional music, festivals, movement and dance, and religion within the African Diaspora, with a focus on Caribbean peoples. In addition to his teaching responsibilities at IU, Smith also served as associate dean of the Office of Research and University Graduate School from 1988-1996, headed the IU Ethnomusicology Program, and spent one year as director of the Archives of Traditional Music. This collection consists of Smith’s papers and lectures, dissertations of some of his students, correspondence, committee files, and some classroom materials. Prominent in the papers are Smith’s files on the Folklore Institute and department, such as teaching files, meeting minutes, and curriculum reviews.
    Student papers: If you went through the Folklore program at IU, chances are we have one of your papers. Spanning over 50 years, the Folklore archive holds student papers on every conceivable topic! Work is ongoing to enter the descriptions into a database, so if you are interested in these, contact us!

We also have the papers of Inta Carpenter, Mary Ellen Brown, George H. List, and Henry H. Glassie, who happened to deliver the opening keynote address at AFS this year! Also in our holdings, but currently undescribed, are a number of collections from Folklore alumni who have gone on to have prominent careers as folklorists, including Dan Ben-Amos, Elliott Oring, and Margaret Read MacDonald.

As always, let us know if you have questions about any of these materials! AFS attendees, enjoy the beautiful campus!

The Dream of an Indiana University Outdoor Museum of Early Indiana Life

Many readers are likely familiar with open air and living history museums. Here in Indiana, for example, school groups and the general public visit attractions such as Conner Prairie, Historic Prophetstown, and the Pioneer Village at Spring Mill State Park to learn about lifeways and folk traditions of the past in recreated farmsteads, towns, or villages. However, did you know that Indiana University once had ambitious plans to erect its own open air museum near the Bloomington campus? Here at the Indiana University Archives, you are welcome to stop by and dig through the Warren E. Roberts papers, fully processed in 2010, to learn more about Roberts’ proposed “Outdoor Museum of Early Indiana Life” or “Pioneer Village.”

"Indiana University Outdoor Museum of Early Indiana Life," interior of publicity pamphlet created during the late planning stages for Warren E. Robert's intended museum, undated, circa 1976

Warren E. Roberts, born in Maine in 1924, first came to Indiana University in 1948 to study for his M.A. in English, which he received in 1950. After redefining his academic interests, Roberts next chose to work towards his PhD in Folklore and finished in 1953, which made him the first individual in the United States to earn a PhD in this field of study. Over the next several decades, Roberts immersed himself in his studies and effectively helped to found the study of folklore and material culture as it exists in the United States. His research interests and accomplishments far exceed the limits of this blog post, though it is worth focusing on one of his most influential efforts in terms of Indiana University’s history–his research concerning traditional Indiana culture.

Exterior view of the Waggoner Farm House, a building intended for inclusion in the Indiana University Outdoor Museum, 1966

During his time spent studying in Norway courtesy of a Fulbright Award, Roberts developed an interest in open air museums, first conceived in Norway in the late 1880s, which feature vernacular architecture and material culture to educate museum-goers on past lifeways. Upon his return to the United States, Roberts sought to evoke a similar experience with the goal of preserving and enlivening traditional lifeways of nineteenth century Indiana settlers, thus educating modern locals and visitors on “the old traditional way of life.”

Interior view of Albert Hickey House prior to dismantling, anticipated to be included in the Indiana University Outdoor Museum, 1968-1969

Roberts surveyed south central Indiana in search of buildings which embodied the rural architectural traditions of the region, with the hope of finding structures to include in an eventual museum. With support of Indiana University administration, he visited, photographed, and took notes on over 700 log buildings to learn traditional aesthetics. Over the course of his survey, he acquired a number buildings through donations or at a low cost, which were deconstructed and stored awaiting funding to bring the Museum’s plans to fruition. Modest log village homes, a church, a doctor’s office, a general country store, and farm buildings–all furnished with period pieces and tools–were planned for the museum, as was a general visitor’s center. Unfortunately for Roberts, widespread enthusiasm for the project waned by the mid-1970s, and with it the chance for sufficient financial support.

Detailed architectural drawing to ensure appropriate reconstruction of building dismantled and planned for reassembly within proposed Outdoor Museum, Albert Hickey House, 1968-1969

Now in 2011, only the memory of Robert’s Museum of Early Indiana Life remains, along with his various photographs, notes, pamphlets, architectural drawings, and correspondence preserved at the IU Archives. Through Robert’s papers, one may explore his local Indiana research in support of the Museum, most of which he pursued in the 1960s-1970s. Extensive records on covered bridges and log cabin buildings, as well as materials documenting interactions with open air museums established throughout the United States and Europe, make it possible to envision the reaches of Robert’s aspirations. Furthermore, the Indiana University Department of Folklore & Ethnomusicology maintains a website where users can explore a virtual version of Warren Roberts’ Museum of Early Indiana Life through photographs, drawings, and historic summaries. It certainly doesn’t create the enveloping experience of Roberts’ dreams, but it does lend an insightful perspective for a rainy day.