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Posts from the ‘Fieldwork’ Category

Fieldwork: Highlights from the Textile Group

This post in the recent series on December 2017 research and travel in Guangxi, China was written by Carrie Hertz, who also provided the photographs.

In this post, I complement Jason’s series of field reports (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9) on our December 2017 trip to China with some highlights from the research team focused on Baiku (White Trouser) Yao textiles.

The textiles most visible in daily life are traditional baby carriers and women’s dress. December 15, 2017.

Textile making traditions are extraordinarily strong in Huaili village. In most households you can find a floor loom, an indigo dye pot, and a cache of tiny silkworm eggs. Because of the damp climate, most families hang their laundry out to dry. Strung out like banners across rooftops, balconies, pathways, and side yards, the clotheslines offer a visual inventory of typical wardrobes.

Daily dress combines traditionally made and mass-produced garments. Most women have several sets of indigo-dyed skirts, aprons, jackets, and tunics in regular rotation, the finest serving as festival dress when new, and as daily wear when faded. With age, the natural red dyes of embroidered skirt hems bleed, creating a beautiful ombre effect, and the appliqued silk felt disintegrates, taking on a feathery appearance.

A beautifully aged skirt hung out to dry. December 17, 2017.

Each garment represents countless hours of skilled labor, spread out throughout the year. Winter, while fields lie untended, is a busy time for textile production. Throughout the village, small groups of women huddle around fires on their front stoops, busy with embroidery or winding spools of cotton.

Lu Xiao Mei works on her embroidery while visiting with Li Xiu Ying and Wang Lian Mei holding her baby. December 15, 2017.

Winter is also a good time for warping looms. Women help each other, taking over the village courtyard. It takes the better part of a day to set up warp poles and wind the approximately 80 meters of thread in a spiral pattern around them.

The tree sap used to draw intricate resist patterns on clothing is harvested in winter. The bark is scarred and glistening where people have gouged it with their knife blades.

December 14, 2017.

We had the great fortune to spend two days with a recognized master textile artist, He Jinxiu. She is considered the most skilled and knowledgeable needleworker in Huaili village and teaches embroidery and resist dyeing to all of the girls attending the local primary school. At her home, she brought out stacks of textiles that she was currently working on as part of a yearly cycle of production. Together we inventoried these materials, along with the tools, techniques, and terminology important to their creation. We diagrammed garment patterns. We filled notebooks with the local names for various motifs and their significance.

The home production of textiles is supplemented with supplies and finished goods purchased in the Lihu Town market. Alongside the many stalls stuffed with factory clothes and accessories, vendors sell silk embroidery thread, stylus for batik, and bolts of undecorated, hand woven cloth. A large area is devoted to selling indigo. One half kilogram costs about 6 RMB. In addition to being an important venue for textile sellers and makers, market days are for dressing up, for looking and being seen.

 

We also had opportunity to interview Li Xiu Ying, the primary textile producer in her family. For most of her life, her mother made her clothes, but now she makes clothes for her mother, using the skills her mother imparted.

Li Xiu Ying wears a handmade needle case hanging from her belt. Her nail beds are ringed with blue from indigo dye. December 15, 2017.

With Mrs. Li, the textile team examined a traditional burial cloth, part of the ecomuseum’s permanent collection. Every household hopes to always have a few of these on hand. When villagers die, the cloth is laid over the body and a series of smaller cloths, thirteen layers for men and fourteen for women, cover the face.

A woman’s burial face cloth made by He Jinxiu is now in the collections of the Museum of International Folk Art.

 

He Jinxiu holding up a woman’s burial face cloth that she made, now in the collections of the Museum of International Folk Art. December 17, 2017.

The textile research team feels incredibly grateful to those who shared their time and knowledge with us. These brief highlights merely touch upon what we learned and experienced during our visit.

Carrie Hertz is Curator of Textiles and Dress at the Museum of International Folk Art and a participant in the China-US Folklore and Intangible Cultural Heritage Project.

Fieldwork: Highlights from the Basketry and Architecture Group

I have been delayed in finishing up the series on the December 2017 trip to China that colleagues and I undertook. I am happy to return to the series here. Earlier posts described sites visited in Beijing (1, 2, 3, 4, 5), partnership activities in Nanning (6, 7) and the contexts of our fieldwork in Nandan County (8). In this post I quickly highlight some of the particularly exciting moments in the fieldwork of the research team that was focused on local Baiku (White Trouser) Yao basketry and vernacular architecture. (More on the textile group later.)

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A portion of Manjiang village, a Baiku Yao community, viewed from above. December 14, 2017. Photograph by Jason Baird Jackson.

Undoubtedly, we will always remember our time with Li Guicai in Huaili village. We spent two days with him as he made an elaborate and beautiful bamboo basket for sticky rice. We video recorded nearly every moment of the making of this basket over the course of two work days in which Mr. Li worked nearly continuously. His skill and industriousness left of speechless. After the basket was complete, he offered us an rich interview on his life and the history of his work as a maker of baskets. Generously, he sold us the basket that we documented with him and it is now in the collections of the Mathers Museum of World Cultures. For my friends who know about the river cane basketry of the Southern United States, Mr. Li’s basket was made with the same basic double weave techniques found in the baskets of the Cherokee and other indigenous groups.

With Mr. Li, we began to learn about how baskets are made among the Baiku Yao. In the households of two of his neighbors, we learned something of how baskets are used. Two families permitted us to spend time in their homes and inventory all of the baskets owned and used in their households. Inventorying and photographing all of these baskets, we were then able to ask questions about the names of these basket types as well as learn the range of uses to which they were put. This process helped us learn about widely used basket types but also extremely specialized basket forms that we did not previously knew existed. For instance, we documented a type of basket used as a body form for pressing pleats into a newly made women’s skirt. The diversity of baskets in use in this community is remarkable and we are very appreciative of the families who generously welcomed us for this strange but instructive exercise.

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Removing the straps that have tied a new pleated skirt in Baiku Yao style around a bamboo pleating basket in a Huaili village household. December 17, 2017. Photograph by Jason Baird Jackson

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In course of a household basketry inventory, Lijun Zhang poses with the slip of paper used in photographs of the 66th basket documented. December 17, 2017. Photograph by Jason Baird Jackson

Having learned about basket making and basket use, we also sought to better understand the contemporary economics of basketry. A highlight of this inquiry was time spent with Mr. Li Guozhong. This younger Mr. Li is a basket trader from a family of Baiku Yao basket makers. While he buys and sells locally made baskets, most of those that he sells at his stall in the Lihu town market on market day are purchased instead from middlemen in Guizhou province and transported back across the provincial border by Mr. Li to Lihu for sale to Baiku Yao and other buyers in the local market. Despite our interfering with his sales, we were able to spend the morning on market day with him at his market stand. We inventoried every type he had on offer, recording the local name for the basket type, the price, its basic use, and its local or Guizhou origins. At the conclusion of our discussions with him, I purchased a full set of these baskets for the Mathers Museum of World Cultures. A full account of the collection will come in our research writings later, but for now I note a few of the particularly unusual types that we purchased. One such item is a bamboo basket woven around a ceramic pot that hot coals can be placed and carried in. Such a basket is used as a brazier to keep an individual or small group warm while seated around it. We saw just such a basket in use elsewhere in the Lihu market. Similarly noteworthy are a pair of baskets used by a weaver to hold a shuttle (on one side of the loom) and spent spools (on the other side) while weaving. Such baskets are attached to the loom on both sides of the weaver’s seat. We saw such baskets on the household looms encountered throughout the Baiku Yao villages.

On the architecture front we documented basketry woven gates, house screens, and two types of above ground (on stilts) granaries used by Baiku Yao people. One of these—round in shape—features heavy bamboo basketry walls.

These highlights evoke just a portion of the rich experiences that the basketry and architecture team had during our time among the Baiku Yao people. My colleagues and I feel tremendous appreciation for everyone who hosted and helped us during our visit. Our admiration for the Baiku Yao people and their way of life is very heartfelt.

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The sticky rice basket made by Mr. Li Guicai, documented by the research team, and added to the collections of the Mathers Museum of World Cultures. December 16, 2017. Photograph by Jason Baird Jackson.

Fieldwork: Introduction (12/13-18)

Skip ahead six paragraphs (bypass those marked with an hash mark #) if you want to go straight to the start of the fieldwork stories. If you would like to know why my colleagues and I were in China doing fieldwork, start here at the beginning. (After this post, I will do one or two more with some fieldwork highlights.)

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Manjiang village, a community within the Nandan Baiku Yao Ecomuseum. December 14, 2017. Photograph by Jason Baird Jackson.

# The China-US Folklore and Intangible Cultural Heritage Project is a binational collaboration linking the China Folklore Society and the American Folklore Society. It has been underway formally since 2007 and has included multiple project phases and, in these phases, various sub-projects. A wide range of funders have supported the project and its work and a great number of Chinese and American scholars and practitioners have participated in its activities. Among U.S. participants, special attention is often given to the Henry Luce Foundation, which has been particularly generous in supporting several phases of the project (Lloyd 2017).

# Two sub-projects occurring in two different phases of the project have a specific museum focus. Between 2013 and 2016, a sub-project titled “Intangible Cultural Heritage and Ethnographic Museum Practice” brought together six museums of ethnography—three from the United States and three from Southwest China. These museum partners organized two “Forum on China-US Folklore and Intangible Cultural Heritage” events, pursued professional exchanges of staff members, traveled together to visit local communities in the home regions of each museum, and undertook a joint exhibition and catalogue project. The resulting exhibition—Quilts of Southwest China has been touring the United States. The bilingual catalogue is distributed in the United States by Indiana University Press. These are just the formal highlights of the project. A wide range of spin-off projects and collaborative relationships also arose from this joint work (Dewhurst 2017; Du 2017; Indiana University 2013; Lloyd 2017; MacDowell 2017; MacDowell and Zhang 2016; Zhang 2017).

# A new phase of the larger project began in 2017 and it also includes a museum-focused sub-project. The new project builds on relationships and experiences arising in the preceding effort. Between 2017 and 2019, the “Collaborative Work in Museum Folklore and Heritage Studies” sub-project is bringing together researchers from the three U.S. museums (Mathers Museum of World Cultures, Michigan State University Museum, Museum of International Folk Art) with colleagues affiliated with the Anthropological Museum of Guangxi (AMGX), as well as that museum’s partners in two local ecomuseums: the Nandan Baiku (White Trousers) Yao Ecomuseum and the Sanjiang Dong Ecomuseum.

# The workshop (discussed in posts 6 and 7) was another formal part of the project, but the most crucial activity is ethnographic fieldwork in two communities—those associated with the two ecomuseums in Nandan and Sanjiang counties in Northern Guangxi. The December 2017 trip was for the first of four fieldwork efforts. On this trip, our local hosts and partners were the staff at the Nandan Baiku Yao Ecomuseum.

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A pet bird in a basketry cage in Huaili village. December 14, 2017. Photograph by Jason Baird Jackson.

# In a Chinese context, an ecomuseum is a local museum framework that encompasses a community or group of communities, often associated with a single ethnic group or “nationality.” In Nandan County, the Nandan Baiku Yao Ecomuseum is embraces three contiguous villages near the town of Lihu. These three villages are situated within a wider area where “White Trouser Yao” people reside. White Trouser Yao is a designation for a particular group of Yao people distinguished by the white knicker-style pants worn as part of local men’s dress. Ecomuseums are somewhat hard to explain in a North American context because they are not limited to a fixed museum building (although they often include gallery spaces and other buildings used for museum functions). In formal terms at least, an ecomuseum is a way of characterizing an entire community or group of communities. The ecomuseum framework then becomes a organizational strategy for cultural heritage activities, including documentary work, cultural preservation activities, and perhaps also cultural tourism. The closest analog in the U.S. would be the situation found in some Native American communities where a “tribal museum” may have a museum building but may also facilitate a range of cultural preservation activities throughout the community. Wikipedia characterizes ecomuseums as follows:

An ecomuseum is a museum focused on the identity of a place, largely based on local participation and aiming to enhance the welfare and development of local communities. Ecomuseums originated in France, the concept being developed by Georges Henri Rivière and Hugues de Varine, who coined the term ‘ecomusée’ in 1971.[1] The term “éco” is a shortened form for “écologie”, but it refers especially to a new idea of holistic interpretation of cultural heritage, in opposition to the focus on specific items and objects, performed by traditional museums.

The nature and potential of ecomuseums is a key research concern of our partners at the Anthropological Museum of Guangxi (more on that later).

In a few final post or two, I will offer some highlights of our fieldwork experience. Here I explain our topic and circumstances.

While in Nandan County, the project participants stayed in rooms connected to the offices of the Nandan Baiku Yao Ecomuseum. This offered our group the opportunity to reside in the village cluster where the museum is centered without necessitating staying spread among various host families. The simple guest rooms at the museum were created with this sort of visiting research use in mind. The arrangement meant that visitors and locals could interact meaningfully from early in the morning to late in the evening without being a burden to local families nor introducing the disruption and social separation that would have accompanied staying in a hotel distant from the communities at the center of the research. He Jinxiu, a Baiku Yao woman who is active in the work of the museum, a civic leader in the community, and a noted textile artist, was engaged to cook for the visitors with the help of a younger woman in her family and another younger woman Li Xiuying who is also a noted local textile artist. This arrangement was very appropriate to local norms and was generously arranged for by the local museum staff and supported by the AMGX. I know that the other American participants join me in expressing deep appreciation for the generous hospitality extended to us by all of our partners in the project and by the members of the contiguous villages of Huatu, Manjiang, and Huaili in which the ethnographic investigations were undertaken.

Over the course of the research visit, the participants broke into three teams. Two of these teams focused on the nexus of textile arts and cultural heritage practices that are at the center of the project. These two research teams were made up of researchers from the American museums, from the AMGX, and from the Baiku Yao ecomuseum. Work by these teams was pursued in a mixture of English, provincial Mandarin, and the local Baiku Yao language.

One of these two teams focused on fabric arts; the other focused on bamboo basketry and the related practice of incorporating woven bamboo into architectural structures such as wall screens, fences, and basketry-walled granaries. The fabric arts group documented weaving practices, indigo dying, embroidery, the making and use of clothing, and silk production. The basketry group was able to document the making of an elaborate basket from start to finish (in photographs, video, notes, interviews), inventory baskets found in two households, and document over fifty basketry types in active use. This group also interviewed a basket trader, recording the full range of types in his inventory with names, prices, uses, and other data.

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Bamboo harvested and stored for use in basket making at the home of Li Guicai in Huaili village. December 14, 2017. Photograph by Jason Baird Jackson.

The third project team, comprised of members of the AMGX staff with assistance from the Baiku Yao ecomuseum staff focused on documenting the work of the project as a whole, with the goal of being in a position to produce articles and documentary video chronicling the work of the international partnership. The three American museums also each made collections during the course of this work.

Much was learned and many questions for future research have been identified. The research concluded with travel to Nanning and, for the Americans, home to the US beginning on the 18th. In final post(s) I will share a richer glimpse of Baiku Yao cultural life and the people whom we we met.

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Jon Kay (R) and Li Guicai (L) at Mr. Li’s home in Huaili village. December 14, 2017. Photograph by Jason Baird Jackson.

References Cited

Dewhurst, C. Kurt. 2017. “Building Connectivity: China-US Folklife Collaborations.” In Metafolklore: Stories of Sino-US Folkloristic Communication, edited by Juwen Zhang and Junhua Song, 189-98. Guangzhou: Sun Yat-sen University Press.

Du, Yunhong. 2017. “Ten Years: China-US Museum Collaborations in Retrospect.” In Metafolklore: Stories of Sino-US Folkloristic Communication, edited by Juwen Zhang and Junhua Song, 214-18. Guangzhou: Sun Yat-sen University Press.

Indiana University. 2013. “IU’s Mathers Museum One of Three U.S. Institutions to Collaborate with Chinese Museums.” Accessed January 16. 2018. http://archive.news.indiana.edu/releases/iu/2013/11/mathers-museum-collaboration.shtml

Lloyd, Tim. 2017. “The Inside Story of the AFS China-US Project.” AFS News. June 12, 2017. http://www.afsnet.org/news/349609/The-Inside-Story-of-the-AFS-China-US-Project.htm

MacDowell, Marsha. 2017. “Reflections on Collaborations: The Quilts of Southwest China Project.” In Metafolklore: Stories of Sino-US Folkloristic Communication, edited by Juwen Zhang and Junhua Song, 199-207. Guangzhou: Sun Yat-sen University Press.

——— and Lijun Zhang, eds.The Quilts of Southwest China. Nanning: Guangxi Museum of Nationalities and Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Xie, Mohua. 2017. “My Two Stories.” In Metafolklore: Stories of Sino-US Folkloristic Communication, edited by Juwen Zhang and Junhua Song, 208-13. Guangzhou: Sun Yat-sen University Press.

Zhang, Lijun. 2017. “My Involvement in the Museum Exchange Projects.” In Metafolklore: Stories of Sino-US Folkloristic Communication, edited by Juwen Zhang and Junhua Song, 221-27. Guangzhou: Sun Yat-sen University Press.

After the Workshop, Before the Fieldwork (12/12)

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A photograph of the project team and special guests on the steps of the Anthropological Museum of Guangxi in Nanning. December 12, 2017. Photograph courtesy of the Anthropological Museum of Guangxi.

This is the seventh in my series of posts reporting on collaborative work and travel in China during December 2017. The first five posts (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) dealt with preliminary activities in Beijing, while the last (6) post focused on the Workshop on Ethnographic Methods in Museum Folklore and Ethnology held in Nanning at the Anthropological Museum of Guangxi (AMGX) on December 11-12, 2017.

As I noted previously, the workshop together with fieldwork (discussion forthcoming) in Nandan County, were the primary activities for this trip. When the workshop concluded, two small events took place before our departure for Nandan the next day. As I noted previously, the research team met in a smaller group format to discuss plans for the work. Those discussions involved participants from the AMGX, the Mathers Museum of World Cultures, the Museum of International Folk Art, the Michigan State University Museum and most-importantly, from our hosts in Nandan County, the Baiku Yao Eco-Museum.

Prior to these practical discussions, a small ceremony featuring remarks by Director Wang Wei of the AMGX and by American Folklore Society Executive Director Tim Lloyd (whose own trip intersected for the afternoon with ours). At this gathering, successful past projects were evoked and enthusiasm for the new projects that we were then beginning was conveyed. The three U.S. museums also bestowed gifts of handmade objects from New Mexico, Michigan, and Indiana upon the AMGX and received wonderful Zhuang brocade textiles from Guangxi to add to their own collections. The exchange of such gifts has become a meaningful moment in each gathering linking the American and Chinese partner museums since 2013.

As is also customary, a group photograph was taken. For the wider contexts for our work in China within the American Folklore Society and the China Folklore Society, see this overview story on the AFS website.

Workshop on Ethnographic Methods in Museum Folklore and Ethnology

This post is the next in my series of reports on the trip to China that American museum colleagues and I took in December 2017. The Beijing posts (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) were about the time that we spent in transit to Nanning, where the core of our work on the trip would begin. This is the first post to share a bit of what the trip was about, explaining what we were up to in Guangxi.

Central to the story of our time in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region is our friend and colleague Zhang Lijun. Lijun is researcher on the staff of the Anthropological Museum of Guangxi (广西民族博物馆) and she is also a research associate of the Mathers Museum of World Cultures. She is essential to the museum ethnography sub-project within the China-US Folklore and Intangible Cultural Heritage Project that has linked the China Folklore Society and the American Folklore Society for over ten years of exchanges and joint projects. As she notes in her recent contribution to Metafolklore: Stories of Sino-US Folkloristic Cooperation | 文化对话:中美非物质文化遗产论坛. (Guangzhou: Sun Yat-sen University Press, 2017), she served as a translator for the founding discussions between AFS and CFS while a masters student at Beijing Normal University. A decade later, and with a Ph.D. from Indiana behind her, she is now helping lead a key project in this flourishing partnership. (For an overview of these broader efforts, see this essay by AFS Executive Director Tim Lloyd.)

Our work in Guangxi is the reason for the trip and Lijun was crucial to the planning and the doing of both parts of that work. As called for in our proposal to the Henry Luce Foundation and planned for in our partnership discussions with the Anthropological Museum of Guangxi, this trip (the first of four during the current phase of our work) had two parts–a training workshop at the museum in Nanning and then a period of jointly pursued fieldwork in Nandan County among the Baiku (White Trouser) Yao people. This post is about the training workshop, an event for which Lijun’s bilingual skills and bi-national scholarly background were essential ingredients.

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Zhang Lijun facilitating discussion during the first day of the Workshop on Ethnographic Methods in Museum Folklore and Ethnology held at the Anthropological Museum of Guangxi, Nanning. December 11, 2017. Photograph by Jason Baird Jackson.

Wang Wei, the Director of the Anthropological Museum of Guangxi, is an leading scholar in paleoarchaeology with a deep history of participating in high-level international research collaborations and a strong record of publishing in international science journals. This experience has shaped his goals for the museum’s research staff. He is eager for them to also have international research experiences and opportunities to work jointly on publication as well as exhibition projects. Those goals are part of what we are up to in the current phase of cooperative research. They also motivate his providing generous support for our joint work. Those of us connected to the American museums share these aspirations.

Because the entire research and collections staff of the Anthropological Museum of Guangxi is too large to participate in the fieldwork phase of the project, the December 2017 workshop was developed as a means of broadening the professional development opportunities that the larger project offers. The workshop was held on December 11-12 and its focus was “Ethnographic Methods in Museum Folklore and Ethnology.”

During this event, American and Chinese participants, drawn from the partner museums, gave bilingual presentations on fieldwork methods as these pertain to work of museums of ethnography. About sixty attendees attended the workshop. Some were students affiliated with universities in the city of Nanning and, as initially anticipated, quite a few were members of the Anthropological Museum of Guangxi’s research and collections staff. There were also working ethnographers from various agencies in the city. A fourth group of attendees were staff members drawn from the ten local eco-museums with which the Anthropological Museum of Guangxi partners in its 1+10 eco-museum collaboration. These eco-museum representatives are members of the local minority groups that their institutions serve and they are active with impressive cultural documentation work in their home communities. The workshop sessions, which all took place at the museum, were well-attended and well-received.

The workshop program was comprised of seven presentations interspersed with questions and discussion. All were illustrated with bilingual slides and all were translated into the language (English or Mandarin) not spoken by the presenter. I presented an overview of ethnographic methods in the contexts of research design and the goals of museum work. My presentation introduced and connected the topics to be addressed by the other presentations. I was followed by Marsha MacDowell (Michigan State University Museum), whose presentation focused on interview methods. Jon Kay (Mathers Museum of World Cultures) focused on survey methods as well as on video documentation techniques. Carrie Hertz (Museum of International Folk Art) explored the uses of still photography in research, exhibitions, publication, and other museum activities. Kurt Dewhurst (Michigan State University Museum) presented on the use of existing collections in new field research and on the role that new ethnographic work can play in re-contextualizing such collections. Gong Shiyang (Anthropological Museum of Guangxi) presented on the role of eco-museums as research centers and on the partnership linking AMGX and its 10 partners in Guangxi. Fan Miao Miao (Anthropological Museum of Guangxi) presented on strategies for ethnographic research on dress and adornment practices.

At the conclusion of the workshop on December 12, research participants from the three U.S. partner museums, from the AMGX and from the Baiku Yao Eco-Museum in Nandan met to discuss the research plan for the joint fieldwork that would follow.

Here are some pictures from the first day of the workshop.

Here are some images from the second day of the workshop.

One of the temporary exhibitions on display at the museum is an exhibition produced in partnership with the Museum of Women and Children in Beijing (the museum we visited earlier in our trip). This exhibition is interesting because it deals with a classic ethnographic topic (“Brocade Made by Minority Nationalities in China”) in a kid-friendly way. Here are some pictures.

Artworks Features IU Folklorists Kate Horigan (on Urban Legends) and Jon Kay (on TAI)

The latest episode of WFIU’s program Artworks does a great job of introducing the work of two of my IU Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology colleagues. Kate Horigan discusses so-called urban legends, the subject of one of her current courses. On the occasion of Traditional Arts Indiana being recognized with a Governor’s Arts Award, Jon Kay describes its many projects around the state of Indiana. No point of my writing about it, when the great show is there ready for you to listen to. Find it here:

http://indianapublicmedia.org/artworks/tais-governors-arts-award-urban-legends-late-john-thom/

Appreciation for those Working on Protection of Human Subjects Reform

Here are two sentences of appreciation for those working hard to educate policy makers at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services about the complexities of human subjects protections policies vis-a-vis ethnography and other humanities and social science methods. I very much appreciate the important work of the American Anthropological Association and the American Folklore Society in this area. Find the recent AAA statement here and the new AFS one here.

Sukkot=Time to Check Out Gabrielle Berlinger’s Beautiful Photographs of People, Buildings, and Food

It is Sukkot time again and I urge everyone to check out Gabrielle Berlinger’s beautiful photographs. She is at the end of her current fieldwork period in Tel Aviv where she has been studying many interlocking topics, with Sukkot at the center of things. Her reporting and her photographs are beautiful. Don’t miss out.

An Ethnographer Among the Protesters (in Tel Aviv)

A wonderful, talented doctoral researcher in my circle has been in Tel Aviv over the past year pursuing dissertation research and also blogging beautifully about life in her chosen corner of the city at White City Streets. It has been an eventful year for the city, for Israel, and for the region. Her most recent posts focus on the large-scale protests in Israel, developments that have been getting no attention in the U.S. as we have been held captive–distracted and immobilized–by the House of (not) Representatives. If you would like an ethnographic glimpse of what is happening on the streets and in the parks there now, check out the recent narratives, photos, and video posted by “folklorist” on White City Streets.

Anthropologist Robert Reeves Solenberger (1916-2006)

In a paper that I published in 2002, I drew upon unpublished ethnographic notes compiled in 1940-1941 by then University of Pennsylvania graduate student Robert R. Solenberger. Solenberger was a student of Frank G. Speck and others on the faculty at Penn. The notes that I drew upon in my paper are part of the Speck Papers at the American Philosophical Society. I have today been working on a new paper that draws upon the same unpublished manuscript by Solenberger. In 2000, when I was working on the paper mentioned above, I was able to track down Professor Solenberger in retirement in Tuscon, AZ and to speak with him on the phone about his graduate studies and the materials that I was then drawing upon.

Taking up work on a new project based on his notes, I went online tonight to see what more I could learn about Solenberger’s career. I learned that he passed away (in his 90s) a few years ago. I found various bits of information on his life, work, and history, but did not find a professional obituary. Based on the information that I pieced together tonight, I offer the following brief sketch.

Robert R. Solenberger (1916-2006) earned a M.A. in anthropology from the University of Pennsylvania in 1940 with a thesis on “An Interpretation of Material on the Anthropology of East Africa Based upon Mediaeval Arabic Writers.” and was on the faculty of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Bloomsburg State College (now Bloomsburg University). He published a prominent series of articles focused on the Marianas Islands, where he worked in the 1950s. (These appeared in Human Organization, Anthropological Linguistics, and Oceania, among other outlets.) During his graduate training, he participated in archaeological research at Clovis, New Mexico in 1937 (under the direction of John L. Cotter). He was a Quaker and a conscientious objector during World War II.

My sources include published works discoverable via Google Scholar and the Internet Archive, as well as the following Google discoveries:

http://www.biblerecords.com/solenberger.html
http://www.fum.org/QL/issues/0709/passages.htm
http://www.upenn.edu/gazette/0302/0302notes.html
http://www.upenn.edu/gazette/0707/obits.html

He appears on the AAA Honor Roll of Donors in the last years of his life, but I could find no professional obituary in a AAA publication or elsewhere. A Society of Friends memorial sketch is available.

It was an honor to speak with this anthropology elder early in 2000. I record here my thanks for his kindness and his interest in my work. I also express appreciation for his work, including the six pages of Southeastern Indian ethnography that he compiled in 1940 while on a road trip with  through Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida.

Rest in Peace.

(Additions and corrections to this sketch are very welcome.)

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