Sticking to the Dance Card: Student Socials and Dancing to the Music of Louis Armstrong and Hoagy Carmichael at IU

In the early to mid-twentieth century, students didn’t make friends on social media or find a date through an app.  They went to student sponsored socials and dances, with chaperones and live bands.  The women were asked to dance by a different male student for almost every song, and they needed cards to avoid scheduling one dance with two different boys. They knew how to have fun and even got to hear some great music! Who wouldn’t want to hear Hoagy Carmichael or Louis Armstrong?

Junior Prom with Count Basie Orchestra, Alumni Hall, 1946

The Myra Montgomery Arthur Dance Card Collection and the Indiana University Archives Dance Card Collection hold numerous examples of inventive miniature booklets once used by female students to schedule their dance partners when at a social event.  The two collections together contain over 50 different dance cards from dances and parties held at IU for students between 1900 and 1955.  The ‘cards’ are often about the size of a person’s hand or smaller, with several pages provided for listing names.  Some are in different shapes, such as a clover for a St. Patrick’s Day dance, or a football for the Foot-Ball Dance, held on the eve of the Syracuse-Indiana game in 1925.  Others are attractive metal or leather booklets with a ribbon or string for a young lady to loop around her wrist while dancing.  Parties and dances were sponsored by sororities, fraternities, and other student clubs and groups such as the Boosters Club, and there were always annual dances like the Annual Senior Siwash or the Junior Prom.  There were so many dances, sock hops, and events to attend, a student could not only have a full dance card each night, but also a full schedule for the week!

The “Jonquil Jump” held on April 14, 1928 was a dance sponsored by the AWS. Hoagie Carmichael performed.

Inside the inventive and colorful covers of a dance card was a lady’s promised dances, but also a list of chaperones, the name of the student organization sponsoring the dance, and who performed the live music. Many of the performers were local or college bands that played at IU often, but some were upcoming or established stars of the jazz and big band era! It turns out Hoagie Carmichael and Carmichael’s Collegians performed at a few of the student dances between 1924 and 1925 as his career was beginning.  The students who planned The 1939 Junior Prom even somehow found a way to book Louis Armstrong!

Carmichael's Collegians. This image scanned from page 117 of the 1924 Arbutus yearbook. (Clockwise starting at bottom with Carmichael at piano) Howard Hoagland "Hoagy" Carmichael, Unknown, Howard Warren "Wad" Allen, Unknown, Unknown, Unknown.
Carmichael’s Collegians. This image scanned from page 117 of the 1924 Arbutus yearbook.
(Clockwise starting at bottom with Carmichael at piano) Howard Hoagland “Hoagy” Carmichael, Unknown, Howard Warren “Wad” Allen, Unknown, Unknown, Unknown.

Hoagy Carmichael was a Bloomington native who, after graduating from IU with a bachelor’s degree and law degree in 1925 and 1926, went on to become one of the most significant composers and musicians of his time.  Famous for writing well known hits like “Georgia on My Mind” and “Stardust” among others, Carmichael is an icon of the jazz and big-band eras.  He worked with Johnny Mercer on a number of projects including collaborating with him on “Skylark” in 1942, and his songs were performed by many famous singers including Louis Armstrong.

This dance card from May 5, 1939 has a metal casing and shows Louis Armstrong performed at the dance sponsored by The 1939 Junior Class of IU.
The dance card for the Indiana University Junior Prom 1939, held on May 5, 1939, has a metal casing and a page at the end shows Louis Armstrong performed at the dance sponsored by The 1939 Junior Class of IU.

The young men and women who were lucky enough to attend a student dance where Hoagy Carmichael or Louis Armstrong were performing during the 1920s and 1930s not only had the chance to fill their dance cards, but also to see some of the era’s most famous musicians!

To learn more about the Myra Montgomery Arthur Dance Cards Collection or the Indiana University Archives Dance Card Collection, or see them for yourself, 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.

 

How to demystify Pentecostalism

It’s not that dropping to the floor in a spasm of joy upon receiving the Holy Spirit is wrong, exactly. It’s just that this doesn’t represent the entirety, or even the majority, of the Pentecostal faith. Such is the perspective of Joy Unspeakable, a documentary produced by the Indiana University Folklore Institute and Radio & Television Services in 1981. While the so-called holy rollers receive some attention in the film, the Pentecostal story is told mainly by members of the faith—many of whom wish to lift the perception of their religion as a collection of rural eccentrics. Describing the ecstatic state that some Pentecostals experience, one of the film’s subjects comments: “Some of them, maybe, did roll on the floor. And they called everybody, then, holy rollers. I didn’t like that.”

Through commentaries like this, Joy Unspeakable presents an insider’s portrait of a Pentecostal assembly in Bloomington, Indiana. The members of the church are collected, amiable people who seem to have little use for snakes and strychnine. Instead, they describe their religion as a series of daily joys experienced via shared worship in a tight-knit faith community. Women are a particular focus. The role of the female in church life is a major theme, and this is more often than not explained by female churchgoers themselves. The film is memorably bookended with commentary from an elderly woman who eloquently narrates her faith in an accent that captures the unique vocal cadence of southern Indiana.

joy_unspeakable
A still taken from Joy Unspeakable

University Archives and Records Management now makes available the administrative files for Joy Unspeakable. More than anything, these serve as something like DVD extras. Because the film is already available in full, for free, on the website Folkstreams, the papers of this collection are a chance to understand the filmmakers’ vision for the project. While it’s one thing to watch a movie, it’s another thing entirely to figure out how the producers want you to watch it.

The production techniques used for Joy Unspeakable are typical of ethnographic film, a genre in which the people onscreen determine the tone of the project as much as (or more than) the producers. Reading through the materials of this collection reveals that the filmmakers’ approach was rooted firmly in ethnographic soil. A remark in the project overview is illustrative: “The emphasis here is not on academics, but rather the community.” This bears out in the film, as voiceover is used only minimally, and members of the church take the lead on relating who they are and what it means to be part of their group.

After its release, the film became a touchstone for fostering public dialogue. Producers Elaine Lawless and Elizabeth “Betsy” Peterson arranged for local screenings before audiences of religious devotees and social service professionals. The latter group were invited to participate with the hope that an open discussion would allow them to better serve their Pentecostal clients. In a letter dated Sept. 18, 1980, Lawless and Peterson note that “our program has been designed with the aim of clarifying misconceptions and stereotypes about Pentecostals as well as providing a general overview of the religion.”

Both women were Folklore Institute graduate students when they completed Joy Unspeakable. In one way or another, their aims for the film—those of public outreach and community engagement—have carried forward into their careers. Lawless, an esteemed folklorist at the University of Missouri, recently completed an ethnographic film focusing on Pinhook, Missouri, where a federally-sanctioned flood displaced residents in 2011. Peterson, previously a consultant for folklife-related projects, is now the director of the American Folklife Center in Washington, D.C.

To access the archive of the Folklore Institute’s Joy Unspeakable project, visit the University Archives and Records Management website at http://libraries.iub.edu/archives, or call (812) 855-1127.

Dispatches from a remote wedding table

A few years ago, I was sitting at a wedding reception table that felt like it was a quarter mile from the bride and groom. Most receptions seem to have a few tables like this: co-workers, college roommates, and longtime babysitters who are special enough to have warranted an invitation, but who are probably seated too far away to tell whether the best man is having chicken or steak. The people at these tables often don’t know one another, making the conditions ideal for small talk. This was our case.

The guy next to me said he was an engineer. Dutifully, the rest of us asked about the details of his work. I forget what they were. What I remember, however, is this: When I later said I was a folklorist, the engineer went into hysterics. For a moment, I thought to be offended. Then I realized he was laughing because he had legitimately never heard the word before. He probably thought I was making it up. So I swallowed this particular grain of salt and ruminated for the umpteenth time on the smallness and relative obscurity of the discipline of folklore studies. (For the record, the word “engineer” isn’t exactly a model of linguistic normalcy. It’s pretty close to “mouseketeer,” as far as I’m concerned.)

The Brothers Grimm (Wilhelm, left, and Jacob)
The Brothers Grimm (Wilhelm, left, and Jacob)

If I had the engineer in front of me today, I would tell him that he probably knows the names of two famous folklorists, and that he has probably known them since childhood. “Who?” he would ask incredulously. And with particularly Germanic aplomb, I would answer: “Have you ever heard of Jacob und Wilhelm Grimm?” The conversation would proceed from there, as I explain that the Brothers Grimm provided a template for the sort of work that many folklorists still do today. They identified traditional art in their own culture, sought out its experts, and collected material directly from them.

The point of this anecdote is to highlight a new resource for explaining the history of folklore studies in the United States and Germany.  IU’s University Archives and Records Management now makes available the archive of the German American Conference, which is shorthand for Folklore and Social Transformation: A Dialogue of German and American Folklorists, held November 1-3, 1988, at Indiana University. Organized by the Folklore Institute, the conference was an attempt to build a connection between scholars in the United States, where academic folklore studies are comparatively young, and scholars from Germany, where the discipline’s roots are deeper.

The conference accomplished two things. First, as any academic meeting does, it gave scholars a chance to present new research. Second, and more importantly in this case, it provided a venue to discuss the international folklore studies community. When scholars from different countries come together to discuss what they’re up to every day, the vibrancy and visibility of a given discipline are likely to increase. A practical result of this sort of collaboration is a more globally conscious academic. When armed with an international perspective, scholars get better at explaining their work within the academy–to colleagues in other disciplines, for example–and outside of it–say, to engineers who think the word “folklorist” is the neologism of the year.

The archive of the German American Conference is a direct line into what German and U.S. folklorists thought of their discipline in the late 1980s. Their presentations addressed the nature of folklore studies in a variety of social contexts. Anthropologist and folklorist Christoph Daxelmüller traced the history of German-Jewish folklore studies in the decades leading to the rise of the Third Reich. Folklorist Marta Weigle explained the role of folklore in creating and marketing images of the Southwestern United States during the years of westward expansion. Folklorist Elliott Oring examined the implication of folk expression in journalism, where objectivity, not creativity, is the common standard of success.

For three days in 1988, folklorists from two nations gathered to discuss these ideas. Conference organizers, mindful that the event should be collaborative, organized cross-cultural respondents for each paper. U.S. presenters got respondents from Germany, and German presenters got respondents from the U.S. This was an ultimately successful bid to ensure that international discourse would drive the meeting. As IU folklorist Richard Bauman summed up in a later piece of correspondence, everyone involved had “done gut.”

In fairness to the engineer from the wedding reception, a single conference held at Indiana University in 1988 does not change the visibility of folklore studies in any way that he or most people can see. But events like this go a long way in developing academic community. And when communities crystallize, inter-community connections become easier to develop. In other words, before we attempt to explain ourselves to others, we must first take steps to understand ourselves alone. Who are we? Where do we fit? What histories do we inhabit? These are heady questions, but perhaps they’re necessary for the group that wishes to establish a sense of identity, either locally or internationally.

The finding aid can be found in Archives Online. To view the archive of the German American Conference, email or call us at (812) 855-1127. We would be happy to assist!

This is about to get personal

The archive of a long-term ethnographic study of Hungarian ethnic identity is now available for perusal at University Archives and Records Management. The study, facilitated by Indiana University’s Folklore Institute in the early 1980s, examined the ways that Hungarians in both Hungary and the American Midwest maintained senses of community through everyday customs. This project led to an academic conference, a special issue of the Journal of Folklore Research, and a rich collection of photographs and fieldwork reports. And that’s where the official story starts to get personal, at least for me.

Sorting through the papers of the Hungarian-American project over the past couple of weeks was an exercise in self-reflection. As the research team documented ethnic foodways and days of religious observance among Hungarian culture groups, I recalled my own encounters with similar sorts of traditions during my childhood. My mother’s side of the family has always held on to certain pieces of its Slovak heritage, from the practice of Roman Catholicism to the hearty peasant food that characterizes our communal meals. Sauerkraut, sausage, and the sign of the cross are comfortable bedfellows in my mind.

In fairness to the academic persona that I’ve spent the past five years cultivating, this kind of musing makes me recoil a bit. Though they are neighbors, Hungary and Slovakia are distinct nations with distinct cultures. From a scholarly standpoint, it does not do to lump them together so indiscriminately. On the other hand, the human in me gravitates toward what I recognize as a resounding articulation of home. The people I grew up with behaved like the people whose lives are documented in the Hungarian-American project archive. It was impossible for me, while browsing these papers, not to be reminded of grandparents, aunts, and uncles.

Mary Slota
Mary Slota

Here’s a case in point: My great-grandmother, Mary Slota, left Slovakia for northeast Ohio in the early twentieth century. One of my favorite family photos shows her in her kitchen, proudly displaying a ring of homemade hurka, or blood sausage, probably harvested from a hog that was raised on the small farm where she lived with my great-grandfather. One of the hundreds of photos in the Hungarian-American project archive shows a widow in the Hungarian village of Cserépfalu. Babushka tied around her head, she leans over a bowl while plucking a chicken, presumably in preparation for a meal. Captured in the photographic frame, both women illustrate the cultural moment they inhabit. They wear floral patterned aprons and work with ingredients that exemplify a farm-to-table attitude long before that phrase became trendy among the culinary elite. And while Mary Slota and the villager from Cserépfalu spoke different languages and lived in different places, their everyday lives were more like than unlike.

Cserépfalu villager
Villager from Cserépfalu, Hungary – from the Hungarian-American project archive

That the archival material of the Hungarian-American project speaks so insistently to my own experience is, in my opinion, an indication of its success. Project researchers mindfully collected images and words to produce a body of data that is greater than the sum of its parts. While the project’s focus was Hungarian ethnic identity, the amassed data recalls the larger experience of eastern and central Europeans in the twentieth century. One can come to this conclusion on a personal level, as I did with my photo comparison, but it is also possible to approach the issue conceptually. Apart from the photos, the Hungarian-American project archive contains many documents that attempt to analyze the immigrant experience. Here are some of the questions they pose: What does it mean to be “ethnic,” anyway? Are Hungarians only ethnic once they have left Hungary? Is culture something people inherit or something they create? What about tradition? Does it have to stay the same, or are we allowed to change it?

There isn’t enough space to describe the researchers’ conclusions here, but the good news is that six boxes of documents await anyone who wants to know more. To gain access, or to view the finding aid that indexes the Hungarian-American project archive, visit our website at http://libraries.iub.edu/archives, or call (812) 855-1127.