Skip to content

Posts from the ‘American Anthropological Association’ Category

Wedding Clothes and the Osage Community Recognized with Book Prizes

The annual business meeting of the Council for Museum Anthropology (CMA) was held today and one of its key moments was the bestowal of the annual CMA Book Award. I am very happy to note that Wedding Clothes and the Osage Community: A Giving Heritage by Daniel Swan and Jim Cooley, a title in the Material Vernaculars series that I edit for the Indiana University Press, was recognized with the award. The following text is taken from a CMA Facebook post. It announces the award and also discusses an honorable mention title, Solen Roth’s book Incorporating Culture: How Indigenous People are Reshaping the Northwest Coast Art Industry.

It is our pleasure to award the 2020 CMA book award to Daniel Swan and Jim Cooley for their 2019 book, “Wedding Clothes and the Osage Community” (Indiana University Press), and to give an honorable mention to Solen Roth for her 2018 book “Incorporating Culture” (UBC Press). Both books exemplify the range of work that the Council of Museum Anthropology promotes.

Swan, D. and Cooley, J. 2019. “Wedding Clothes and the Osage Community: A Giving Heritage.” Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

It is with great pleasure that we award the CMA book award to Daniel Swan and Jim Cooley. “Wedding Clothes and the Osage Community” is an exemplar of what museum anthropology can and should be. The book is the result of long-term collaborative work with the Osage Nation, and uses archival, ethnographic and ethnohistorical methods to reanimate museum collections of Osage heritage. Doing so, the book is a highly accessible multi-media examination of change and continuity in Osage wedding traditions and clothing. Through its attention to material culture the book demonstrates not only the rich vibrancy of the Osage wedding traditions but also demonstrates the sort of work that can only be done through what Ray Silverman termed “slow museology”, which is work built on mutual respect, collaboration, and trust. This is a book that transcends its subject matter and helps us all see the possibilities of museum anthropology.

Roth, S. 2018. “Incorporating Culture: How Indigenous People are Reshaping the Northwest Coast Art Industry.” Vancouver: UBC Press.

We are delighted to award honorable mention for the CMA book award to Solen Roth. “Incorporating Culture” is a unique ethnography of the “artware” industry. Solen coins the term artware to describe commodities decorated with Pacific Northwest coast images that circulate inside and outside of Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. The book examines the array of values these objects accumulate as they transition between these sites. It is a sophisticated historical and multi-sited ethnographic look at the intercultural phenomena of the artware industry, which is an example of what she terms ‘culturally modified capitalism.’ The book helps shed light on a compelling and important feature and dynamic of the intercultural object-world and economy in the North West Coast.

In addition to the CMA Book Award, I am also happy to note that Wedding Clothes and the Osage Community: A Giving Heritage was recently recognized during the annual meeting of the American Folklore Society’s Folklore and History section, which bestows the annual Wayland D. Hand Prize given for the best book combining historical and folkloristic methods and materials. The biennial prize honors the eminent folklorist Wayland D. Hand (1907-1986). Wedding Clothes was given the honorable mention in the 2020 Hand Prize competition. The prize itself went to Forgetful Remembrance: Social Forgetting and Vernacular Historiography of a Rebellion in Ulster (Oxford University Press, 2018) by Guy Beiner. As reprinted on a Facebook post, the Hand Prize committee said the following about Wedding Clothes.

The beautifully illustrated volume explores through history and folklife research the ways that gift exchange, motivated by the values of generosity and hospitality serves as a critical component in the preservation and perpetuation of Osage society.

Congratulations to all of the Osage Nation citizens who worked on the larger Osage Weddings Project (which included a major traveling exhibition) and to Dan and Jim as authors. Special thanks go to the Indiana University Press for investing tremendous care in the making of an extraordinary book.

Native American and First Nations Studies in the Work of the American Folklore Society During the 1920s

This is a seventh post in a series on the presence and absence of Native American and First Nations studies within the life of the American Folklore Society (AFS). So far, the series is as follows.

First, a post considered the presence and absence of Native American and First Nations studies within the AFS conference programs of the 1950s.

Second, I moved back a to the AFS conference reports for the 1940s.

Third, I considered the distribution of interest and work among the original group of AFS Fellows at the moment of the Fellows beginning in 1960, a moment that represented a kind of capstone for the state of things at the end of the 1950s.

Fourth, I moved forward to consider the annual meetings of the 1960s.

Fifth, I went back and assessed Native American and First Nations Studies at the American Folklore Society Meetings During the 1930s

Sixth, I dug deeper for the 1930s, looking at the content of the Journal of American Folklore (JAF) for that decade.

Here in a combined post, I look at Annual Meetings and the JAF for the 1920s.

While the published AFS Annual Reports for the 1920s have the same format and style as those crated and published in the 1930s, for the 1920s there is, for each year, an accounting of the papers presented at the Society’s annual meeting. There are indicators that the AFS was then meeting with the AAA and other organizations, but the picture in the 1920s is one of autonomy and in each instance there are is a small but clear and substantive group of papers presented at the annual meeting. The data on these presentations is given below. For the tracking of presentations relative to Native North American and First Nations topics, 1924 will look a anomalous, especially in the context of the decade. In addition to two papers presented on other topics, there was that year a round table event on European tales taken up by Native North American peoples. Below the table I touch on a highlight and assess the data.

YearPresentations on Non-Native American TopicsPresentations on Native American TopicsPercentage on Native American Topics
192420* (Roundtable)0%
Presentations on Non-Native American- and Native American-Related Topics at the Annual Meetings of the American Folklore Society During the 1920s

For me the highlight is seeing, in the program for the 1926 meeting held at the University of Pennsylvania, Gladys Tantaquidgeon (Mohegan). Born in 1899, she would have been 27 years old at the time of the AFS meetings. The annual reporting tells us that her presentation was “Notes on Mohegan Folklore.” Based on my knowledge of the people involved, she was the only Native North American person presenting during the 1920s. If you know me to be in error on this point, please correct me.

Before turning to the JAF in the 1920s, I can say that the picture that the 1920s presents is pretty consistent. Editorial matters are a dominant concern of the society. To achieve its publishing goals, financial and membership issues were very prominent. Franz Boas was a very active presence in the life of the society in the 1920s and his students were central to its work, but well-known literary folklorists maintain their place in the society and Stith Thompson in particular can be seen rising through the ranks throughout the 1920s. The other key leaders among the non-anthropologists included Louise Pound, Phillips Barry, Frank Doby, Aurelio Espinosa. I tend not to enumerate them, but nearly everyone in ethnology/anthropological folklore studies generally associated with Franz Boas is present among the anthropological folklorists of AFS, with Ruth Benedict, Gladys A. Reichard, and Ruth L. Bunzel consistently playing key roles. I should have mentioned this previously, but throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Elsie Clews Parsons (herself a student of Native American topics) really was the patron saint of the AFS, consistently providing major donations to advance large projects and to patch holes in the society’s finances during difficult moments.

The meetings were small but those who gathered at them and served as officers, including as councilors, were major figures in the field. As I discuss below, the picture from JAF is much larger. Here is the basic count for the 1920s.

YearPublished Papers and Notes on Non-Native American TopicsPublished Papers and Notes on Native American TopicsPercentage on Native American Topics
JAF Publications on Non-Native North American- and Native North American-Related Topics at During the 1920s

As in the 1930s, review of the content published in the JAF during the 1920s presents a more balanced perspective on the field, both in terms of literary vis-a-vis anthropological folklore studies and in terms of Native North American and First Nations studies vis-a-vis the study of other peoples and traditions.

Key to contextualizing the JAF data is remembering, as in the 1930s, that the journal regularly published huge text collections from various peoples of the world (particularly of the Western hemisphere). While these were sometimes collections related to Native North American and First Nations peoples, there were also frequently devoted to other groups that were prominent in the concerns of the broader membership–European American settler populations in rural North America, European immigrant populations in cities, African American populations in the U.S. and elsewhere in the Americas, French Canadian groups. As in the 1930s, a there is non-trivial amounts of work published related to Africa and Asia (particularly Chinese) and a significant amount of material related to both Indigenous groups and settler populations in the Spanish-speaking Americas. (A lot of work on the Spanish-speaking Americas is present in JAF during the 1920s. Put another way, the diversity of the field is much clearer in the pages of JAF than it is in the meeting halls where AFS leaders gathered for a business meeting and a small group of papers.

[Before moving on, a comment here on the studies of the Spanish-speaking Americas. Many people contributed to this work, including even Boas himself. But the central figure is Aurelio Macedonio Espinosa, Sr. He is clearly the star figure in this corner of the field and it is evident that he was greatly respected overall. He served as AFS President in 1924 and was reelected for 1925. His role, and that of other folklorists who might be identified as Latinx today is important in its own terms, but it is also important to keep this other thread in mind as we search the annals of the society for Indigenous and Black scholars.]

As noted previously, an assessment by pages published rather than by itemized articles and notes would generate a different picture. While very large articles are devoted to all groups (and the 1920s saw a huge amount of text material published on Puerto Rico), a page approach would shift perceptions of Native American studies in the AFS. As in the 1930s, JAF as a key location for the publication of Native North American text collections. 1929, for instance, looks different on the table above than it does on the tables of contents in JAF. Among the three Native North America-related publications for that year is a huge Hopi text collection.

Noting Gladys Tantaquidgeon, above, at the 1926 meeting was a relief in the face of the absence of Indigenous scholars at the decades and decades of meetings already surveyed. As noted in an earlier post, the 1920s also feature a paper in the JAF by Ella Deloria (Yankton Dakota), her “The Sun Dance of the Oglala Sioux” published in number 166 in 1929. (She was age 40 at the time.) While both Tantaquidgeon and Deloria did research with other Indigenous peoples it is perhaps relevant to note that their 1920s AFS contributions were reflections on studies undertaken among their own peoples.

What provisional patterns stick out from the 1920s survey, here combining JAF and the annual meeting in one post? If a scholar were interested in Native American expressive culture, particularly verbal art, in the 1920s, JAF would be essential reading. If such a scholar had the means and ability to travel to the (usually Northeast US) cities where the AFS met during this decade, they would find fellow scholars with which to converse and from which to learn. But the AFS was not at all reducible to the annual meeting. The journal represented and presented a bigger and more complicated scholarly world. Separate from Native North American studies concerns, it is strange to note that the difference between the 1920s and the 2020 on this point is basically an inversion. In 1920, the JAF involved more people and a more diverse set of concerns. In 2019 and even in virtual COVID-19 reshaped 2020, the annual meetings are simply bigger and more diverse than the content of the JAF. It has been thus for a long time. JAF is great, but it is a a very partial slice of the AFS today, whereas in 1920, the annual meeting was a tiny slice of the membership and of the journal as a community.

It is painful to contemplate that the 1920s might have been more inclusive than many later decades in terms of the involvement of women scholars and also of BIPOC scholars. I am not combing through this data just for kicks, although it is good to learn more about my fields. I am trying to get a better handle on just such painful questions as this one. I have not surveyed all of the data yet. There are later decades (ex: 1970s, 1980s, etc.) to consider as well as earlier ones (ex: 1900s, 1910s, etc.) to look at. But the patterns are starting to emerge more sharply.

Native American and First Nations Studies at the American Folklore Society Meetings During the 1930s

This is a fifth post in a series on the presence and absence of Native American and First Nations studies within the life of the American Folklore Society (AFS). So far, the series is as follows.

First, a post considered the presence and absence of Native American and First Nations studies within the AFS conference programs of the 1950s.

Second, I moved back a to the AFS conference reports for the 1940s.

Third, I considered the distribution of interest and work among the original group of AFS Fellows at the moment of the Fellows beginning in 1960, a moment that represented a kind of capstone for the state of things at the end of the 1950s.

Fourth, I moved forward to consider the annual meetings of the 1960s.

In this post, I go back and consider the 1930s. In the post on the 1940s, I noted how that decade began with a report and recommendations aimed at re-balancing emphasis between literary and anthropological folklorists in a situation in which the AFS had, the report suggested, marginalized literary folklorists and become dominated by anthropological ones. Looking at the 1930s helps make this clearer while also speaking to the focus of this series on the place of Native American and First Nations studies within the society.

In the first, second, and fourth posts, I presented a table showing the numbers of conference papers devoted to Native North American and non-Native North American topics. That is not really possible for the 1930s for reasons that are related to the resolution to change AFS processes reported on in 1940. It would be possible to study the conference programs and archival materials related to the American Anthropological Association (AAA), Modern Language Association (MLA), and the AFS to sort out the details at issue, but the annual reports of the AFS do not alone provide all of the information that would be required.

As implied in the 1940 report, the meetings of the AFS seem to mainly have happened on the sidelines of the meetings of the AAA. While the AFS reports are full of rich details on budgets and (extensive) publication activities and while they contain much that is of human interest, including the birth of the Hoosier Folklore Society, the death of specific members, and the strains caused by the Great Depression and the war in Europe, they usually do not present an AFS meeting program in the way that was true for the reports of the 1940s. Readers of the 1936 AFS report were, for example, sent to the pages of the American Anthropologist where they could find a listing of the AAA conference program, with the AFS report treating that AAA program as equal to the AFS one. There were leading non-anthropological folklorists (Archer Taylor, Stith Thompson, Aurelio Espinosa, etc.) involved actively in this period, including as officers. It is easy to see where this dynamic, unfolding in the final decade of Franz Boas’ life, would have been, to a greater or lesser degree, irritating to them.

In this period, it is particularly clear that AFS membership, JAF authors and readers, and AFS meeting attendees represented quite different communities. The AFS in this period had a membership in the lower hundreds and a very active publishing program that included both the Journal of American Folklore and many monographs. A all-star cast was involved in a large range of leadership roles. There were key roles filled by the leading literary folklorists of this era, but they were outnumbered by Boasian anthropologists for whom the AFS was a key node in a larger network of organizations. Even if I had fuller information on papers presenting, the information that I have would have been hard to parse because the main differences that show up in the 1940s and 1950s are not as relevant here. Because of anthropology-centrism, AFS meetings, such as they were, might parse more easily into anthropological folklore work with Native North American peoples and anthropological folklore work with other non-European peoples of the world. The journal will surely show the presence of the literary folklorists concerned with other peoples of the United States and Canada (and the world, especially Europe)–the business of the society shows their importance–but the AAA-meeting-centrism problem makes the meeting program-as-data a different kind of thing.

For my inquiry, the following points can be made about the meetings of the 1930s. A scholar interested in Native American expressive culture would have found plenty of (non-Native) scholars of the topic to talk to at an AFS (business) meeting. With the exception of Stith Thompson, they would be anthropologists and they would be numerous and they would be European and European American settlers.

Ella Delora (Yankton Dakota) published in the Journal of American Folklore in 1929 and I took up study of the 1930 AFS reports hoping to find evidence of her attending meetings in the 1930s. She very well may have attended AFS meetings in this time, but I did not see her named (even though many of her close associates within anthropology are named) in the reports for the decade. She published in the International Journal of American Linguistics (with Boas) in 1933, and in the Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society in 1944, and again in the International Journal of American Linguistics in 1954. I note this to suggest that she COULD have published again in JAF during the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. I certainly wish that she had and I wish that there was more easy-to-access data to suggest that she attended AFS meetings. That is a mater for deeper study than is underpinning these blog posts.

As with Ella Deloria’s paper in 1929, study of the pages of JAF for each of the decades will complexify the picture provided by the meetings. Gladys Tantaquidgeon (Mohegan), for instance, published in JAF in 1932 and again in 1941. Full consideration of this matter will have to wait, but it is foreshadowed here. Anthropological folklorists who were members of Native American Nations that were, or would become Federally recognized, were part of the community of folklorists in the first half of the 20th century. When the time comes, the story of William Jones (Sauk) will push this story back to the turn of the 20th century. The presence and then the absence of Native Americans individuals who were (anthropological) folklorists is the fundamental tragedy of the story that I am working out bit by bit in these posts.

(Note: I should have been clear in my earlier posts that I was limiting inclusion to the Indigenous peoples of the colonized United States and Canada when parsing earlier meeting programs. Thus the occasional paper presented on Indigenous peoples in so-called Latin America were categorized, artificially for sure, with those dealing with Non-Native American peoples. This mechanical step was only done to allow for a focus on scholarship related to Indigenous peoples in the settler states of Canada and the United States. My reasoning for this relates to the underlying purpose of this series, which is to sort out what happened to both Native North American studies and Native North American folklorists within the AFS and the field. The presence of Native American and Indigenous scholars and scholarship on a hemispheric basis is a very important consideration and deserves careful study.)

Native American and First Nations Studies at the American Folklore Society Meetings During the 1960s

In a fourth series post on the presence and absence of Native American and First Nations studies within the life of the American Folklore Society, I pick up with the meetings of the 1960s. The first post focused meeting presentations during the 1950s. The second post focused on meeting presentations during the 1940s. The third post considered the founding cohort of AFS Fellows and their relative placement among anthropological and literary folklore studies and their relationships to Native American studies.

For AFS members of my own generation, the 1960s is the period in which the present state of the society and of the field as it has been practiced in recent decades in present-day “North America” starts to look familiar. After discussing my narrower by primary interest in the presence and absence of Native American and First Nations work, I will make some general comments arising from study of the conference programs of the 1960s.

I can get the reoccurring observation out of the way at the start. None of the ten (out of 397) presenters sharing studies related to Native North America at the meetings of the 1960s are known to me to have been citizens of Native American or Canadian First Nations. If you know me to be wrong about this, please let me know. (Joann Kealiinohomoku [née Wheeler] is among the presenters in this group of ten, but my understanding is that the [Hawaiian] last name by which she was widely known was a married name.)

Relative to the main topic, I make some observations sequentially and then in a more summary mode. The decade began not only with the start of the Fellows of the American Folklore Society, as noted previously, but with the presidency of William N. Fenton. At the 1960 meeting, there were nineteen regular papers, all on topics outside of Native American studies. The exception was Fenton’s presidential address, which considered Haudenosaunee cosmology and that was published in the Journal of American Folklore (JAF) afterwards. The key thing is that, while he continued to be active as a scholar for many decades to come, he does not again appear on the meeting programs of the 1960s. It is my impression that, like fellow President Erminie Wheeler-Voegelin, he shifted his attention to the American Society for Ethnohistory meetings. (I met him once at the 1993 ASE meetings in Bloomington.)

Gertrude Kurath, who was a regular presenter on Native American-related topics in the 1950s returned to the program in 1963 and two key figures who would remain associated with folklore studies, inclusive of Native American studies, appear for the first time on the programs of the 1960s. Dell Hymes presented once on Native American narrative in 1965 and once on the contributions of folklore studies to sociolinguistics in 1969. Both of these presentations went on to become widely discussed publications. Also emerging in the 1960s is Barre Toelken, who presented variously on non-Native topics and who gave a paper related to Navajo narrative in 1967–the only paper on a Native North American studies topic (out of 57) at that transformational meeting. A fourth leading figure in this cluster is Alan Dundes, who presented one Native North America-related paper in 1964.

There continued to be scholars at the meetings of the 1960s whose work, outside their program participation, sometimes touched on Native American studies topics and who clearly kept up with the field in a general way. Examples include Fred Kniffen, Richard Bauman, and Weston LaBarre.

A noteworthy story for this investigation is the case of (very anthropological) Melvile Jacobs and the 1964 meeting in New York. His presidential address is listed on the program without a title. I could not remember the specifics of it and I looked it up in JAF, presuming that he would have incorporated some of his ethnographic work within it. While he devoted a great proportion of his career to Native North American studies, his presidential paper (unlike Fenton’s) does not touch on this. It is a theoretical assessment of verbal art studies in general, inclusive of, but not limited to, those of folklorists. It will not venture a summary of it, but I think that it can be characterized as quite critical of the field and very anthropological in orientation. It feels like a another key marker in a story of transition to something else. It feels like the end of an era in a way that I cannot put my finger on.

Almost every history of the discipline as practiced in the present-day United States locates key shifts–intellectual and organizational–in the 1960s. I think that that reading is true in general. As related to Native American studies, the 1960s represents a special case. As a concern of members-at-large as represented on meeting programs (and I think also in general) Native American studies topics continued to wane. The 1960s show explosive growth in program participation (concurrent sessions were born in Toronto in 1967), but this sector continues its decline, both proportionally and in terms of total papers. I will leave the Native American and First Nations studies story there, but below the table, I touch on some of the general trends revealed in the programs. These general trends shape the specific ones that I have just noted.

YearPresentations on Non-Native American TopicsPresentations on Native American TopicsPercentage on Native American Topics
1963 (Emancipation Centennial)2714%
1963 Special Summer Meeting at Utah State (The West)2129%
1964 Special Spring Meeting at Duke 3100%
Presentations on Non-Native American- and Native American-Related Topics at the Annual Meetings of the American Folklore Society During the 1960s

The preserved program available in IUScholarWorks show two bonus meetings during the 1960s, one held in the spring at Duke University in 1964 and one held at Utah State University in the summer of 1963. Those two meetings were large by the standards of the 1950s and early 1960s and they were a prelude to the growth that becomes obvious in the second half of the 1960s. As noted above, this is when the concurrent panel era opened up. There were two concurrent sessions for most of the meetings of 1967 (Toronto) and 1968 (Bloomington) and 1969 (Atlanta) saw the move to three concurrent sessions.

The 1960s saw other developments. Thematic panels focused on material culture (not just individual papers) become normal in the 1960s. Panel discussions also become common in this decade. (Where panelists had a set title for their assigned discussion topic, I treated these as papers. When a group of names were gathered together under an theme, but without a specific assignment, I did not count them in the totals above.) Students-as-students appear in the 1960s in panels concerned with student topics, although it is clear that students presented classic papers at an earlier point. Perhaps this was not just an outgrowth of the growth of folklore graduate programs but of the student movements of the later 1960s.

For anyone involved in AFS now, the 1960s programs produce a host of debuts for people central to the field in recent decades. For example, Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Richard Bauman, Michael Owen Jones, and Henry Glassie are among those who begin appearing in the 1960s. Others, such as Américo Paredes, move from presence in the 1950s to prominence in this decade.

The old AAA/MLA dynamic seems to fully disappear in this decade, although, as today, clearly there were AAA and MLA attendees among those also gathering at AFS meetings. In is place is the stronger and growing presence of people trained in folklore programs who lacked an identities as something other than as a folklorist. The programs of the 1960s are also full of people with complicated and plural professional identities to be sure, but increasingly these diversities were being shaped by complex alignments with fields and interdisciplinary areas such as history, geography, American Studies, sociolinguistics, and semiotics and they were not a clean inheritance of the literature/anthropology binary of the founding decades. In the later 1960s, the AFS meetings (from my point of view) got a lot more interesting but at the same time, and for interconnected reasons, they got a lot less relevant for those whose studies were concerned with the Indigenous societies of the colonized U.S. and Canada.

For the broader issue of actual involvement in the field by Native American and First Nations scholars, the 1960s continued the dismal record already underway in the 1940s and 1950s. As Native American studies went from small to smaller as an AFS concern, the prospects of attracting the interests of those Indigenous scholars in the humanities and social sciences who would, or could have, become folklore scholars and public humanists in the 1970s also shrank.

Emerging folklore studies stars such as Dell Hymes and Barre Toelken may have done particularly prominent work in Native American studies and, in doing so, kept the concern within the canon, but there was no longer a critical mass of scholars involved in such work. I will be considering this lack of critical mass–and its effects–in later posts. Here it is enough to reflect that an AFS meeting in the 1960s, while more lively than one of the 1940s or 1950s, was not likely to offer much to an Indigenous scholar eager to connect with at least some other scholars (Native or not) also working in Native American studies.

Native American and First Nations Studies in the American Folklore Society: The Founding AFS Fellows

As I noted in the previous post in this series on the presence and absence of Native American and First Nations studies work within the American Folklore Society, the 1940s began with a political intervention aimed at resolving tensions within the AFS between anthropological folklorists and humanistic, particularly, literature-oriented, folklorists. That moment of crisis is of focused interest here because those folklorists most consistently concerned with Native American and First Nations issues were anthropological in orientation. Most were concurrently active in the American Anthropological Association and, unlike the more literary folklorists, were unlikely to be involved in the Modern Language Association. The broader take away in the second post, which reflected meetings organized in the wake of this anthropology/literary studies intervention, was that in the 1940s, AFS meetings were, in general, very small and that Native American and First Nations-focused scholarship was regularly, but not consistently, present as a small slice a among a collection of small slices within a small field characterized by relatively small meetings even in relationship to the size of the community of folklorists then active in settler colonized North America.

The first post saw similar trends continue into the 1950s–small meetings featuring a small amount of work in Native American and First Nations content. It will be necessary to study other documents beyond the 1950s meeting programs to determine if the pattern seen in the 1940s–of a sizable number of anthropological folklorists working in, and sometimes with, First Nations and Native American communities continuing as a background phenomena to a greater extent that modest program participation would suggest.

One point of data available for the end of the 1950s is the story of the Fellows of the American Folklore Society, which was founded in 1960 (thus, effectively reflecting the state of affairs at the end of the decade. Information of the AFS Fellows can be found on the current AFS website, where all Fellows, past and present, are noted by name. Those who are deceased are so noted and, most relevantly for this project, those who were founding fellows are so noted. If one pulls the names of these first fellows out of the larger list, one can assess the orientation and work focus of this group of disciplinary leaders on colonized Turtle Island at the end of the 1950s. Rather than presenting the names is alphabetical order, I present them here in series of groupings. (For those interested in gender inbalance, I mark men and women in different colors. I also note the gender parity found among the anthropological folklorists.*

The first grouping represents scholars whose primary scholarly involvements concerned Native North America. This first cluster is comprised of two men and two women. In each case, there is nuance that can be added. Each of these four worked fully or significantly in Native American studies as anthropological folklorists. Anna Gayton also did work with Azorean Portuguese immigrants in California. Morris Olpler was also involved in work with Japanese Americans disgracefully interned during WWII and pursued work in East Asian studies also.

  • William Fenton (Ph.D. in Anthropology, 1937)
  • Anna H. Gayton (Ph.D. in Anthropology, 1928)
  • Morris E. Opler (Ph.D. in Anthropology, 1933)
  • Erminie Wheeler-Voegelin (Ph.D. in Anthropology, 1939)

Two other anthropological folklorists can be found in the initial Fellows, one man and one woman. Melville Herskovits was trained in, and worked in, the Americanist anthropological milieu, but was himself a student of African and African American societies. Katherine Luomala had research experience among Native American peoples and was involved, like Morris Opler, in applied work with interned Japanese Americans, but her primary work was set in Hawaii and the Pacific more generally. From the perspective of present-day work in Native American and Indigenous Studies, her involvements in Hawaii would readily move her to the first group.

  • Melville Herskovits (Ph.D. in Anthropology, 1923)
  • Katherine Luomala (Ph.D. in Anthropology, 1936)

Standing somewhat alone as the singular individual that he was, is Thomas Sebeok. Trained in Oriental languages he engaged with anthropology, linguistics, and folklore and was a pioneer in semiotics. His work related to a boundless range of topics, but included Uralic and Altaic languages.

  • Thomas Sebeok (Ph.D. in Oriental Languages, 1945)

The final group is comprised of scholars primarily focusing on European and European American expressive cultures. Most did so on the basis of training in English or another European language, but I note that Halpert held an M.A. in anthropology. Stith Thompson bridged Native and European tale traditions in his dissertation on European tales found among Native American peoples. George Korson rose to a position of prominence on the bases of his research and writings without a university degree. Thelma James held the M.A. degree but did not complete her doctoral studies, although she accomplished much within the discipline. Warren Roberts, from whom I took a class, earned the first Ph.D. in folklore in the United States, at Indiana. He would go on to pursue material culture research in the folklife/European ethnology tradition, but he was trained in the English language studies-informed mode of his mentor and fellow fellow Stith Thompson, as was Herbert Halpert.

  • Tristram P. Coffin (Ph.D. in English, 1949)
  • Herbert Halpert (Ph.D. in English, 1947)
  • Wayland Hand (Ph.D. in Germanic Languages, 1936)
  • Arthur Palmer Hudson (Ph.D. in English, 1930)
  • George Korson
  • Thelma G. James (M.A. in English, 1923)
  • W. Edson Richmond (Ph.D. in English, 1947)
  • Warren Roberts (Ph.D. in Folklore, 1953)
  • Stith Thompson (Ph.D. in English, 1914)
  • Francis Lee Utley (Ph.D. in English, 1936)
  • D.K. Wilgus (Ph.D. in English, 1954)

If we divide the group in to those affiliated with anthropology (including Sebeok), there are seven on this side of the binary divide and eleven on the other side. Of the eighteen founding fellows, four are generally understood as engaged participants in Native American studies, with Stith Thompson maintaining an interest in the field going back to his dissertation and non-trivial ongoing relationships with anthropologists.

How to read this data? I know that the matter is more complex than the following, but by 1960, I think that the days of parity of engagement between literary and anthropological folklore studies were over and that anthropological engagement was significantly diminishing as a growing sense of autonomy for folklore studies as an independent discipline in colonized North America had taken root. There would be re-connections to come (with the influence, for instance, of Dell Hymes and a broader re-connection under the auspices of the ethnography of speaking), but the old relationships of the pre-war era and the Boasian Americanist tradition mainly existed in individualized commitments (Ex. Fenton’s this period, my own in the current one) not as a wholesale collective enterprise in which AFS involvement was simply normative for anthropological ethnographers. As for Native American studies work in folklore, key individuals would come on the scene and do noteworthy work–Barre Toelken provides a clear example–but again, the field was about to grow both in numbers of participants and in diversity of interests and Native American studies would, I anticipate, continue to become a smaller and smaller part of the whole. Study of the meeting programs and JAF for the 1960s may prove me wrong in this anticipation.

* Beyond throwing shade, which I totally am, there are real reasons, both biographical and structural, in the history of American anthropology and the history of American literary studies for this gender difference.

No founding member of the AFS Fellows is known to me to have been a citizen of a Native American Nation. Please correct me if you know me to be in error on this point.

Native American and First Nations Studies at the American Folklore Society Meetings During the 1940s

Here is a second quick post on the presence and absence of Native American and First Nations studies at the American Folklore Society Meetings. Here the focus in on the 1940s. For most current members of the society, the surprise and interest in my report will not actually have much, if anything, to do with my specific topic. Likely to be of greater interest is simply the tiny number of presentations given at AFS meetings in this earlier era. To take the densest year for which I have data–1948–there were sixteen “regular” papers given at the annual meeting. On Friday, October 18, 2019, between 8 am and 10 am, thirty-seven classic papers were delivered. This number does not include more informal panel discussions and other special events that are now very common at AFS meetings. Thus, through the rise of concurrent sessions and especially the tremendous expansion of the field and society, we do more than twice in a single session block than was done at an entire large meeting in the 1940s. For 1941, I record a total of six presentations all together. This is the equivalent of one and a half or two present-day AFS panels. This is a dramatic change and when younger members of the society are exposed (endlessly) to elders droning on with declensionist post-golden age, narratives of disciplinary contraction and woe, consider treating their stories not as history but as a kind of sacred narrative doing a different work–for good or for ill–than descriptive history in a documentary mode. The American Folklore Society today is a juggernaut compared to seventy-five years ago.

As noted in the first post in this series, to know about the meetings in the 1940s, the easiest source to access are the reports of the meetings then-published in the Journal of American Folklore. Past AFS Executive Director Tim Lloyd, working with the librarians at the Indiana University Libraries, worked to make these reports available in IUScholarWorks and everyone can access them there. For 1948 and before, we have these post-meeting reports rather than the kinds of printed programs available for 1949-present.

An upside of the reports is that one gets a much richer sense of the society and its meetings outside of the presentations. The data in my first post should be considered in light of this lesson. Where we have reports of the meetings in the 1940s, one can learn about who presented what talk, by title. But the 1940s reports in JAF (available in the journal itself and excerpted in IUSW) also make clear that many active members were attending these meetings but not presenting lectures. The 1940s reports show that the expectation that a person would formally present at the meetings as a normal outgrowth of attending those meetings was absolutely not in effect, in sharp contrast to present-day norms in which presentation by attendees is very (I would say excessively) common. There are structural as well as ethos reasons for this and I do not foresee any likely change on this point, even in a post-COVID world.

Percentages are ratios and thus are only instructive in relation to the data on which they are based. (One paper on a given topic can represent 50% of the content at a meeting comprised of two papers…) With this caveat in mind, the picture for Native American and First Nations studies work at the meetings during the 1940s does not look much different than during the 1950s. For those with an interest in this field, a full program would boil down to two papers among a overall group of fourteen to sixteen presentations (ex: 1945, 1948). For at least two years (the data is incomplete at present, with gaps for 1940, 1942, and 1943) there were no papers related to Native American and First Nations studies work. As in the 1950s, none of the presenters working in this field are known to me to have been members of Indigenous Nations encompassed by the present-day settler states of Canada or the United States. Please correct me if you know this statement to be wrong.

Illustrating the way that presentation is a very incomplete measure of engagement and presence, I can note that the 1940s was the crucial decade for Erminie Wheeler-Voegelin, whom I mentioned in my previous post. She was editor of the Journal of American Folklore for much of this decade and she was AFS President at the end of the period. As I noted previously, her work was fully engaged with Native American studies and in the 1950s she would be central to not only the founding of the American Society for Ethnohistory and founding and editing its journal, Ethnohistory, she was central to the land claims work arising from the Indian Claims Commission in the United States. Another key scholar present at the meetings and on the program in this period was Gertrude Kurath, known for her extensive studies of dance throughout the Americas among both Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.

Looking to the reports beyond the meeting, it becomes clear that in the 1940s a large number of anthropological folklorists working in (sometimes also with) Native American communities were active presences within the society and its activities. Continuing from an earlier period, the publishing work of the society was clearly one key aspect of this. The society published monographs alongside the journal. Illustrating this nexus is anthropological folklorist Gladys A. Reichard. She served as AFS President in 1943 and the Society published her monograph An Analysis of Coeur D’Alene Indian Myths in the Memoirs of the American Folklore Society in 1947. A. Irving Hallowell, Frank G. Speck, and Morris Opler were among the the anthropological folklorists working in Native American studies (still) active in the 1940s.

Returning to the experience of the meetings from the perspective of the what one might hear in the lecture hall, reality is complicated. The range of topics under discussion in general in the 1940s was extremely narrow if judged by the standards of an AFS meeting held in the 21st century. Native American expressive culture was included in that narrow band. AFS members in that time clearly deemed work on Native American and First Nations topics (especially verbal art, but including dance) to be relevant. The attendance of a significant number of members working in this area implies that the value of attendance lay in informal discussion rather than formal presentation. Attendees today know this value too, but in relationship to the present state of Native American and First Nations studies in folklore studies, the question then becomes how large of a critical mass of attendees with shared interests are enough to sustain community of scholars.

For three years, the set of annual reports published in JAF seem to lack meeting data. If I can fill in the holes in the following, I will do an update later.

YearPresentations on Non-Native American TopicsPresentations on Native American TopicsPercentage on Native American Topics
Totals for Available Data6968%
Presentations on Non-Native American- and Native American-Related Topics at the Annual Meetings of the American Folklore Society During the 1940s

As in the 1950s, the joint meeting arrangements remained varied and in flux. The society met alone as well as with partners. Those partners included the American Anthropological Association (and those other societies who also met with it) and also the Modern Language Association.

If I can recommend any document from the 1940s set, it is the crucial report from 1940. That document reports on work and proposals trying to resolve critical tensions between the “humanities” (MLA-minded) and anthropological (AAA-minded) AFS members. Because of the different disciplinary roots, research foci, and community engagements at play in this contest, the conflict directly links to my interest in the presence and absence of Native Studies in folklore studies. The larger colonial, racialized, and nationalist contexts at a deeper level relate to the adjacent issue of the absence of Native American and First Nations AFS members/participants. Here is the evocation preceding the structural reforms intended to re-balance relations between the two interest blocks:

It is clear that the major difficulty facing the Society arises from a fail- ure to assess the importance of the fact that, by its very nature, the Society and its Journal are peripheral to two major concerns-those of anthropolo- gists and those of persons in the humanities. It is the opinion of the Com- mittee that in the future the Society should recognize more explicitly than in the past the importance of this fact, attempting by active encourage- ment to underscore those points at which fields of interest converge. On the basis of this fundamental assumption, the following proposals are put forward to implement this position:

Native American and First Nations Studies at the American Folklore Society Meetings During the 1950s

Update: The post below has been updated to include the previously missing 1951 program. I use strikeout and underline to show the changes. Special thanks to Tim Lloyd for both finding a 1951 program and for his earlier labors getting the corpus of programs into IUScholarWorks. [Later in the day of the original post, October 16, 2020]

I anticipate doing a series of posts on the topic of Native American and First Nations studies within the field of folklore studies. The American Folklore Society is currently meeting (virtually) and I became interested in probing my assumptions about when, within the history of the field (in so-called, North America) began to lose participants involved in studies of Native American-related topics. To begin to get at this with more than preconceptions, I started by looking at the programs from the annual meetings of the AFS. For the period before 1949, we have meeting reports published in the Journal of American Folklore. For most years, 1949 to present, we have printed programs that are available in IUScholarWorks.


Here is a picture of Native American studies works presented during the 1950s. No presenters during this decade are known to me to have been themselves members of Native American Nations from the colonized territories presently known as the United States or from First Nations of present-day Canada. [Please correct me if you know that I am wrong about this.]

The program for 1951 is not present in IUScholarWorks and thus data for that year is presently lacking.

YearPresentations on Non-Native American TopicsPresentations on Native American TopicsPercentage on Native American Topics
1951? 15? 0? 0%
Totals171 186127% 6%
Presentations on Non-Native American- and Native American-Related Topics at the Annual Meetings of the American Folklore Society During the 1950s

During this period, the AFS regularly met jointly with other organizations, but this was not always the case. Oral history of the matter suggests that the AFS used to meet in alternation between the Modern Language Association and American Anthropological Association, but the actual pattern in the 1950s is more complicated. [The meeting for 1951, for which I did not have a program when I first wrote this post, was joint with the MLA.] Unless it happened in 1951, the AFS did not meet with the MLA in this period. It did meet more than once with a coterie of anthropological (and one sociological) societies, including the AAA, during this decade, but joint meetings were also held with the Texas Folklore Society (in Texas), with the New York Folklore Society (in New York), and the Folklore (Summer) Institute (at Indiana University). The Society for Ethnomusicology was part of a joint meeting that included AAA and other anthropology groups in 1957. Thankfully, it was possible during this decade to identify the AFS panels papers within the larger mix of papers given at the joint meetings with anthropology societies. In the case of joint meetings with the folklore studies groups, there was no differentiation and such meetings are treated here as AFS meetings organized in partnership with the local societies and institute.

The data for 1951 is missing, but if we set that year aside, the average for the decade was 7% of the presented papers being on Native American and First Nations. [With the 1951 data, the decade average is 6%.] If the categorization related to Indigenous studies more broadly, the percentage would be somewhat higher depending on how one might include or not-include various peoples outside the continent presently known as North America. At three meetings (perhaps four in the case of 1951) [At four meetings] there were no presentations related to Native American or First Nations studies.

This surprised me to a degree, as I had perceived that an older, pre-WWII, pattern of involvement by Americanist anthropological folklorists had persisted more strongly into the 1950s. I had anticipated this because I had, wrongly, I think, associated their departure from active AFS participation with the rise of autonomous folklore studies (and programs) in the Richard Dorson-mode, but the 1950s programs show that the trend was already present prior to Dorson’s consolidation. I also read too much, I think, into William Fenton’s role in AFS during the 1950s, serving then as an officer and then as president (1959-1960). The meeting programs suggest that by the 1950s, his involvement was a survival of the older norm no longer widely practiced. He did what his mentors–Frank G. Speck (AFS President in 1921-1922), Edward Sapir (AFS President in 1929-1930), and John Swanton (AFS President in 1909)–did, but by the time that he did it, he was really an outlier enacting a practice from another age in the life of the society.

I note in this regard that my earlier perceptions were shaped also by the role of Erminie Wheeler-Voegelin, who was AFS President in 1948. In multiple ways, I am a lesser heir to Wheeler-Voegelin’s legacy as an anthropological folklorist and ethnohistorian working on Native North American topics on the faculty at Indiana University. The programs from the 1950s do not show her remaining particularly involved in the annual meetings of AFS. Her work, after her AFS presidency, closely relates, in my view, to the further sundering of Native American and First Nations Studies from the scholarly community gathered within the American Folklore Society. In the 1950s, she was the key person in the rise of the field of ethnohistory, She had edited the Journal of American Folklore between 1941 and 1946 but in the 1950s, she founded the American Society for Ethnohistory and started its journal, Ethnohistory, which she edited into the 1960s. In these years, the American Society for Ethnohistory became a key hub for interdisciplinary work in Native American and First Nations studies. She carried her folklore studies background into that new realm, but, like Dorson, she was an institution builder and the things that she created reshaped the landscape in which the American Folklore Society, and folklore studies on Turtle Island, operated.

Non-Native Studies (Blue) and Native Studies (Orange) Presentations at the AFS Meetings During the 1950s

Editors of scholarly journals published by societies are well aware of the gap that is common between the community gathered in the meetings of their society and that represented in the pages of the society’s journal. Review of JAF content during the 1950s will likely add nuance to the pictures presented by the meeting programs. To be continued….

#AnthroDay with the Department of Anthropology at the Mathers Museum of World Cultures


Please stop by the Mathers Museum of World Cultures during the 12-2 pm window tomorrow for our #AnthroDay celebration with the IU Department of Anthropology. We want to celebrate with you! Everyone is welcome. Treats! Anthropology! Swag! Bring your friends! Come alone and make a connection! See the exhibits! Discover a class! Impress a professor with your new gear!


Looking Ahead: University Anthropology Museums Matter

With notices going out from the Program Committee this week, the American Anthropological Association’s annual meeting (November 29-December 3, 2017) is coming into focus. Notes that I am seeing on Facebook and Twitter suggest that the program will feature a lot to like. I am pleased to note that a Executive Session that colleagues and I have organized has been accepted and scheduled. If you are interested in museum anthropology or the future of university museums, I invite you to hold the day and time. We would love to see you there. Here are the details.

Looking Ahead: University Anthropology Museums Matter
Friday, December 1, 2017
8:00 AM – 9:45 AM

Session Abstract: University-based museums of anthropology, including campus museums of natural history, history, and art with anthropological programs, play a vital role not just as hubs for the work of museum anthropology but for the research, teaching, professional training, and public outreach agendas of the field as a whole. While the historical contributions of university-based museum anthropology are decisive and worthy of continued investigation, this panel aims to characterize present work viewed in institutional terms and to anticipate new developments and emerging needs in the field more broadly. Numerous campus anthropology museums have experienced leadership changes in recent years. This collective shift, as well as dramatic changes happening in the publics with which campus museums engage, suggests that now is a particularly good moment to undertake an environmental scan and in which to consider a collective agenda that is cognizant of the vexing challenges—from anthropogenic climate change to rising inequality; from resurgent xenophobia to the transformation of higher education—that anthropology museums are positioned to address. As the leaders of six key university anthropology museums, the speakers will characterize the present work and emerging goals of their institutions. Considering the changing contexts—intellectual, economic, political, technological, educational, ethical—within which museum anthropology, and anthropology more generally, is being pursued, they will also propose topics and tactics for collective work in the period ahead. While rooting their reflections in the work of their institutions, the presenters will directly address the conference theme Anthropology Matters from the distinctive vantage point of campus anthropology museums in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

Thanks go to all who supported or endorsed the session proposal, including our sponsor, the Council for Museum Anthropology. See you in Washington.


CFP: Museum Anthropology Futures

On behalf of the Council for Museum Anthropology, I am happy to pass along the call for proposals for the Museum Anthropology Futures conference in Montreal this May. Find details below. (Quoted material follows, contact the organizers with questions or concerns.)

Call for Session Proposals: “Museum Anthropology Futures” Conference (due March 1)
Council for Museum Anthropology Inaugural Conference

May 25-27, 2017 at Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

The Council for Museum Anthropology is seeking submissions for its inaugural conference taking place in Montreal from May 25-27, 2017. This will not be your traditional conference experience! “Museum Anthropology Futures” seeks to spark critical reflection and discussion on (1) the state of museum anthropology as an academic discipline; (2) innovative methods for the use of collections; (3) exhibition experiments that engage with anthropological research; and (4) museums as significant sites for grappling with pressing social concerns such as immigration, inequality, racism, colonial legacies, heritage preservation, cultural identities, representation, and creativity as productive responses to these.

The conference will have several sessions each day that all participants will attend, as well as one period each day with breakout sessions like workshops and formats that would benefit from a more intimate setting for dialogue and collaboration.
We are seeking session proposals that are different than the usual call for papers – see session descriptions below. Feel free to email us with questions at

Updates available at our Facebook page,

Email your session proposal to by March 1, 2017

Please provide the following information in your email text, no attachment:

1) Your name, title, home institution (if applicable), and email address
2) Your proposed session format (see below)
3) The title of your session
4) Additional session participants if a group submission (title and email address)
5) A description of your session (max 150 words) Specific requirements for each format below.
6) What you hope to achieve in presenting/participating in this session (1-3 sentences)
7) What you believe this session can contribute to museum futures (1-3 sentences)
***Please note: Some Workshops and Pre-circulated Paper sessions will be by registration only due to limited capacity. All other sessions are open to all conference participants. For example, Roundtable or PechaKucha sessions will have several presenters who discuss their work, and the audience attending the session is invited to listen and ask questions or give feedback.***

Read more

%d bloggers like this: