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Posts from the ‘Folklore Studies’ Category

Framing Sukkot: Tradition and Transformation in Jewish Vernacular Architecture

Just in time for the holiday that is at its center, I am happy to trumpet the publication of Framing Sukkot: Tradition and Transformation in Jewish Vernacular Architecture by Gabrielle Berlinger. Framing Sukkot is the third title in the Material Vernaculars series and it is appearing in the world just as the Jewish holiday of Sukkot is about to begin for 2017/5778!

Here is how Indiana University Press introduces Professor Berlinger’s new book:

The sukkah, the symbolic ritual home built during the annual Jewish holiday of Sukkot, commemorates the temporary structures that sheltered the Israelites as they journeyed across the desert after the exodus from Egypt. Despite the simple Biblical prescription for its design, the remarkable variety of creative expression in the construction, decoration, and use of the sukkah, in both times of peace and national upheaval, reveals the cultural traditions, political convictions, philosophical ideals, and individual aspirations that the sukkah communicates for its builders and users today.

In this ethnography of contemporary Sukkot observance, Gabrielle Anna Berlinger examines the powerful role of ritual and vernacular architecture in the formation of self and society in three sharply contrasting Jewish communities: Bloomington, Indiana; South Tel Aviv, Israel; and Brooklyn, New York. Through vivid description and in-depth interviews, she demonstrates how constructing and decorating sukkah and performing the weeklong holiday’s rituals of hospitality provide unique circumstances for creative expression, social interaction, and political struggle. Through an exploration of the intersections between the rituals of Sukkot and contemporary issues, such as the global Occupy movement, Berlinger finds that the sukkah becomes a tangible expression of the need for housing and economic justice, as well as a symbol of the longing for home.

As I noted in discussing the edited collection Material Vernaculars: Objects, Images, and Their Social Worlds last fall, it is my hope that many readers will purchase a beautiful paper or hardback edition of Framing Sukkot, thereby helping support the work of a great university press. One of the things that makes IU Press great is its commitment to building strategies for free and open access to scholarly writings. The Material Vernaculars series, co-published with the Mathers Museum of World Cultures, is part of that commitment. So, first let me note that you can buy copies of the book from a range of online booksellers, including Amazon and the IU Press itself. Secondly, let me show you where the free digital edition of the book lives. Hopefully by the time Sukkot ends, people around the world will be reading this great new book.

To access the free PDF version, click on the image below or go to this URL https://scholarworks.iu.edu/dspace/handle/2022/21232

Once you are there, click on the “View/Open” link as shown in the image. Clicking should enable you to download a copy of the book.

Dr. Berlinger is an Assistant Professor of American Studies and Folklore at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she is also the Babette S. and Bernard J. Tanenbaum Fellow in Jewish History and Culture within the Carolina Center for Jewish Studies. In addition to the new book, you can find a moving Sukkot-oriented post by Dr. Berlinger on the IU Press blog.

Check out Framing Sukkot!

Early Career Jobs for IU Folklore and Ethnomusicology Ph.D.s in 2014

In order to answer a question that was posed during the recent Future of American Folkloristics conference, I took a few moments recently to crunch some placement data for Ph.D. graduates in the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology at Indiana University. The data was collected for the department’s most recent external review. More could be done with it, but here is some simple and quick analysis.

At the time of the external review, the department gathered then-current employment circumstances for Ph.D. graduates for the period 2008 to 2014. That list of alumni comprises fifty-five colleagues in the fields of folklore studies and ethnomusicology.* I have not checked to see if there are Ph.D. graduates from 2008-2014 missing from this list (but I doubt there are). In the following discussion, I do not separate folklorists from ethnomusicologists. I acknowledge that this could be done with a bit more effort, but I was trying to do what I could do quickly.

PhD Placement

What came out in the work that I did do? I do not privilege academic jobs over those pursued away from university or college campuses, but I will begin here with those in academic roles. (My own biases would probably have me emphasize the museum workers…) The admirable diversity of roles filled by scholars in our fields means that different approaches to coding the same data are probably inevitable. While I do not describe my approach, it should be relatively transparent from the categories that I use below.

I do not support the regrettable professor-centrism of most research university faculties and deans, but I do worry a lot about precarity and contingency in the U.S. professoriate. I start then with those in the 2008-2014 cohort who were in tenure-track (TT) positions in 2014. Nineteen of fifty-five Ph.D. graduates were in such roles at the time of the snapshot (19/55 or 34%). I will comment more on skewing in this number below.

At the time of the snapshot, eight of fifty-five cohort members were in non-tenure track (NTT) roles (8/55 or 15%). As anyone in academe knows, this NTT category is itself heterogeneous, containing colleagues teaching by the course under very difficult conditions as well as those teaching relatively comfortably with full-time, multiyear contracts. I do not parse the list in a granular way to address this distinction. A more careful analysis would.

By my calculation, two more cohort members were in post-doctoral fellowships at the time of the snapshot. To the best of my knowledge, these were university-based and included teaching, thus I will gather them together with other university teaching roles (2/55 or 4%). Together, we can speculate that the NTT and Post-docs may have then aspired to be TT faculty. While I will do the math for this, I do not want to believe it categorically. A person could be in a NTT teaching role while busily seeking a research curatorship, an archivist role, or some other appropriate position. But, lumping the the TT, NTT, and post-docs together, we find 53% of the 2008-2014 cohort working in greater professordom as of 2014.

Twenty-six out of the fifty-five (26/55 or 47%) were then in some other academic support role, university-based researcher role, or public sector or applied job. Others would code the list differently, but my break down is as follows.

  • Academic support (not including librarians, but including academic advisors): N=7
  • Business roles: N=1
  • Librarians and archivists: N=2
  • Public folklorists and public ethnomusicologists (not including museum work): N=3
  • Museum roles: N=6
  • Independent research organization staff: N=1
  • Soft money (grant-funded) research posts: N=2
  • NGO work (outside the conventional public folklore/ethnomusicology sector): N=1
  • Scholarly publishing roles: N=2
  • K-12 education roles: N=1

If I slice this 47% (/non-faculty) group differently, sixteen work in college/university contexts and ten do not. Thus 82% (45/55) (including the citizens of professordom) of the Ph.D. cohort for 2008-2014 are working on campus and 18% of this particular group work off campus. This sort of surprises me, but as I think of it, it makes more sense. Our department trains a greater percentage of public and applied workers for off-campus roles but the analysis would have to add in M.A. graduates to more meaningfully capture this fact.

There are other complexities not addressed here, such as when public folklore jobs are based on university campuses or in museums or when an academic advisor role is based in a relevant academic department and includes an instructional component. The real world is more complex than any simple quantitative analysis can capture. With such caveats in mind, it is noteworthy to me that a significant number of Ph.D. graduates at the time of this snapshot were working as academic advisors. I do not think that this is a bad thing. More and more anecdotal evidence suggests to me that our training makes for excellent advising because we know academic structures, the diverse worlds from which students come, and the complex informal cultures of the university. I would also note that academic advising has proved, in at least one case that I know, to have provided a reasonable home base from which to mount a successful push for a TT professorship. In my observations at IU, an academic advisor role (in contrast to a vexing adjunct situation) would provide more of the much-needed spare time and job stability required to maintain or establish a publication program on the side and to pursue the hard work of applying to a range of professor positions.

While I have not parsed the data or done the math, it seems evident from the listing that the international scholars who secured tenure track jobs in their homelands skew the data for TT appointments in a more positive direction. For Americans seeking TT professorships in the United States, the task is simply harder than the aggregate 34% TT versus 15% NTT numbers would suggest.

Since I am the teacher of our graduate Curatorship class and the director of our campus museum of ethnography, I have a special interest in museum placements and I feel pretty good about the 11% represented here. This cohort, graduating between 2008 and 2014 was the first to benefit from expanded museum training opportunities. I expect our placements in this area to continue gaining strength.

I do not feel overwhelmingly good or bad about these numbers, even as I worry about the state of social science and humanities doctoral training overall. I think that they are a reasonable snapshot of the early career career paths of an impressive group of Ph.D.s in folklore studies and ethnomusicology. Reviewing 2014 data in 2017, I know that many of those represented here have moved on to even better (for them) roles. Post-docs, NTT professors, and academic support staff now hold TT posts, press editors have been promoted, museum people have migrated to jobs that they like even better…. But not everyone is employed as they aspire to be. As the higher education press makes clear every day, the career worlds inhabited by those holding the Ph.D. are not easy and excellent people can struggle under the weight of significant structural challenges. I believe that those challenges require us—especially those of us working in graduate degree granting programs—to try to study current realities and to communicate clearly with those who want to gather data on the graduate programs that they might join or that they are already a part of.

I hope that these notes are useful to someone.

*The set of lists that I am discussing here also include a separate listing of full-time placements among those then-still the Ph.D. program and a list of M.A. graduates for 2007-2014. I do not touch on either of these groups here.

 

The Free-to-Readers Edition of Material Vernaculars: Objects, Images, and Their Social Worlds

As I discussed in a previous post, works in the Material Vernaculars series are being made available in a free-to-readers PDF edition via IUScholarWorks. The eponymous edited collection Material Vernaculars: Objects, Images, and Their Social Worlds was posted today and you can find it here: http://hdl.handle.net/2022/20925

If you think that high quality open and/or free access editions of scholarly monographs are a good thing, and if you have the means to do so, I urge you to purchase copies of the companion print or ebook editions as a way of supporting the cause and subsidizing the access of others, including those who cannot otherwise afford to obtain the book. If you really want to make a difference, consider donating to the not-for-profit publishers and libraries behind such efforts. In our case, you can contribute to the Indiana University Press (co-publisher of the Material Vernaculars series with the Mathers Museum of World Cultures) here: http://www.iupress.indiana.edu/pages.php?CDpath=12

Here is a screen shot showing you where to click to download Material Vernaculars. The image should link to the page in IUScholarWorks where the book is found. (The link is given above as well.)

slide1Happy reading!

Material Vernaculars: Objects, Images, and Their Social Worlds (is out now)

I am happy to share this note to report that the edited collection Material Vernaculars: Objects, Images, and Their Social Worlds has now been published. I am the editor of this volume, which includes contributions to material culture studies from Dan Swan and Jim Cooley, Jon Kay, Michael Paul Jordan, Danille Elise Christensen, and Gabrielle Berlinger. I love the work that my colleagues contributed to the book. In addition to sharing their scholarship, the volume serves to launch the Material Vernaculars book series of which it is a part. Also appearing in the new series, is Jon Kay’s Folk Art and Aging: Life-Story Objects and Their Makers (it was published last month).

The new series is published by the Indiana University Press in cooperation with the Mathers Museum of World Cultures. IU Press is to be commended for its hard work bringing Material Vernaculars to press. Most of the papers in the volume were presented last fall at the 2015 Annual Meetings of the American Folklore Society. The papers were presented, revised, peer-reviewed, revised again, copy edited, typeset, proof-read, corrected and processed for final publication (etc.) in less than a year, a scenario that is simply unprecedented in the world of academic book publishing. And the results are great–a well-designed, well-edited book that is rich with color images. Its all first rate.

IU Press has a big sale going through tomorrow (October 30). Its a perfect time to check out their list and perhaps purchase this new title. Paperback and Hardback editions are now available. Electronic editions are on their way. (More on that asap.)

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Who Cares About Craft as Traditional Knowledge?

This fall has been a particularly busy season for research-based programs at the Mathers Museum of World Cultures. An an outgrowth of our Indiana Folk Arts: 200 Years of Tradition and Innovation exhibition and our participation in classes and programs for Themester, we will have hosted, by semester’s end, a very large number craftspeople or groups of craftspeople representative of a broad swath of vernacular making in Indiana. Because of our Themester mandate to focus on questions of Beauty in our engagements with these artist-craftspeople, our discussions with them have always had an aesthetic component. We have asked, for instance, questions like: “What characteristics do you associate with a beautiful weaving [or chair, or drum, or pottery bowl, or…]?” or “When producing for the marketplace, how do you balance functional use and aesthetic impact?” Art and aesthetics are a crucial part of the human experience and of what makes cultures distinctive and meaningful.

But the objects that we curate and interpret, and the makers of things with whom we engage, are not only about art. Even while many have both aesthetic and functional purposes, many others of our museum’s objects are not reasonably framed as art and some of our interlocutors are talented, knowledgeable makers and users of things, without being artists. Our work is bigger than art, as important as art is. Aesthetic values are part of larger cultural systems and those larger wholes are our focus. Whether in China or in Indiana, our work is about local knowledge, including traditional cultural knowledge. A big part of our engagements with makers focuses on the knowledge that goes into making–craft expertise along with local environmental and contextual knowledge concerned with uses, meanings, significances.

A detailed story in last Saturday’s Independent by Amalia Illgner is a good evocation of the kinds of concern we (particularly Traditional Arts Indiana, led ably by my colleague Jon Kay) try to bring to our work with craft objects, craft knowledge, and craftspeople. (I appreciate Matthew Bradley for sharing it with me.) Read the story (“Raiders of the Lost Crafts”) here. (I note here that, despite the declensionist hook and playful title, the author is not so obsessed with authenticity discourses that she disregards fruitful rediscovery of older craft knowledge through the study of museum collections and documentary materials. The story is a rare and rather sophisticated treatment of its subject.)

raiders-of-the-lost-crafts

Who cares about craft as traditional knowledge? My colleagues and I do. We also like art and we also love seeing where contemporary craftspeople, including studio craft, DIY craft, and many others, are taking their passions–but documenting what people know and have long known is important and helping foster environments where those who have traditional cultural knowledge are supported and encouraged is key part of our mission. If you care about such things, you still have lots of chances to engage your interests at the museum this year. This week we will host a wonderful group of African American quilters and a talented maker of African drums. In following weeks, we offer chances to connect with Indiana limestone carvers, a hoop-net maker, a rosemaler, a pysanky artist, a Native American potter, a Zapotec weaver, and an Orthodox iconographer. Learning from such craftspeople is something we intend to keep doing as along as we can.

Get Oriented to Themester 2016: Beauty

Reviewing the Mathers Museum of World Cultures events and exhibitions pages is probably the only way to get a full sense of all that we are doing for 2016 Themester, but for an overview of Themester as a whole and its focus on Beauty, I recommend checking out yesterday’s kickoff press release (Figure 1). In addition to the MMWC pages, it would also be great to see the Themester website. For MMWC, Themester boils down to three great classes [A400, E460, F360] taught at the museum, three great beauty-focused exhibitions [Costume, Hózhó, Siyazama], plus a lot of programming, including folk artists residencies throughout the semester, as well as films, lectures, and hands-on activities. Check out the full list here. Thanks go to the College of Arts and Sciences for including the museum in an impressive roster of Themester activities. Thanks too go to the students who are helping us organize our Themester activities and to the artists and tradition bearers whose work we are highlighting. Please join it this remarkable exploration of beauty around the world.

Themester.jpg
Figure 1: The Themester 2016 press release, which leads off with a photography b MMWC Consulting Curator Pravina Shukla, from her exhibition Costume.

Siyazama: Traditional Arts, Education, and AIDS in South Africa

Get all the details by checking out the new press release announcing the Mathers Museum of World Cultures’ programs and activities in support of the exhibition Siyazama: Traditional Arts, Education, and AIDS in South Africa. This wonderful exhibition is part of a great fall at the museum, now underway. I hope to see everyone at the opening at the museum right after the First Thursdays Festival. Thanks to Themester 2016 and the School of Public Health for supporting this exhibition and its programs and to the Michigan State University Museum for curating it.

Siyazama Release

Material Vernaculars: Institutional Role, Review, Authors, and Genres

The new Material Vernaculars series is co-published by the Mathers Museum of World Cultures with a huge amount of heavy lifting from our partner, the Indiana University Press. The first two volumes in the series are Folk Art and Aging by Jon Kay and the eponymous edited volume Material Vernaculars: Objects, Images, and Their Social Worlds. Jon Kay is the author of the first of these and I am the editor of the second. Jon and I are both on the IU faculty (in the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology) and in the MMWC, where Jon is Director of Traditional Arts Indiana and Curator of Folklife and Cultural Heritage and I am the museum’s director. As the new series becomes known, it is reasonable to ask—is it just a publishing venue for the museum and its associates and partners?

MW Website

The answer here is no, but as you might guess, the series is intended to be the go to place when the museum does have its own publishing projects. This answer prompts then a couple of more points needing to be made. Peer-review for the series is fully managed by the IU Press and editorial review is a joint matter, thus it is quite conceivable that a museum project might be passed on by the press either at the early editorial review stage or at the peer-review stage. (I note that the press has already passed on one possible project, to illustrate this point tangibly.) Thus the series will hopefully be the home for additional MMWC authors and projects, but this is not guaranteed—and should not be.

The other side of this is that the series will hopefully come to publish authors without ties to museum, including colleagues not yet known to me. As the series homepage presently notes, “Potential authors interested in the Material Vernaculars series should contact the series editor Jason Baird Jackson via mvseries [at] indiana.edu and Aquisitions Editor Janice Frisch at frischj [at] indiana.edu.” That phrase, and the series overview, are available here.

As noted there, a new series also poses genre questions. Here, my intentions as editor are broad. “The series accommodates a diversity of types of work, including catalogues and collections studies, monographs, edited volumes, and multimedia works.” To me, these are the key genres of relevance for research museum practice in ethnography, ethnology, and cultural history (our museum’s fields), but it could be that new, as yet not fully recognized genres could also find a home in the series. While the forthcoming edited volume is something of a sampler, future edited volumes will likely have a strong thematic focus. Stand alone essays will continue to find a home in the museum’s journal, Museum Anthropology Review.

I hope to hear from potential authors and editors interested in learning more about the series. Thanks to all who have supported this new effort.

 

Improving Access to Scholarship: Material Vernaculars as Milestone and Experiment

First the take away, then the story. While produced in very nice and reasonably priced hardback, paperback, and ebook editions, works in the new Material Vernaculars series are also being made available in free-to-the-reader PDF versions. This is a great thing and, if you agree with me about that, and can afford to do so, I really hope that you will purchase the edition of your choice, thereby signaling your support for making such works freely accessible to those who cannot afford to purchase them. If this seems strange to you, its a lot like community and public radio in the United States. Those who can support these services help make them accessible to those who cannot afford to make their own donations. We all gently nudge those who use them and could, but don’t, support them. (Called free riders.) Its not utopia, but its what we have and its better than the vast majority of people being locked out of non-commercial arts and education programming (and scholarly books). Now you can skip to the end for the link if you are in a rush.

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Those who know about my work know that I have been focused on promoting free and open access to scholarly work for a relatively long time. My advocacy efforts followed soon after I began work as a scholarly journal editor. At that time, I was drawn into a diverse range of problems, opportunities, and paradoxes that the transformation of scholarly communication was (and is still) engendering. Probably the best place to find the things that I have written on this theme is to look at the interview that I did with Ryan Anderson (published in Cultural Anthropology in 2014)

In 2015, my focus in this work shifted to books when I was a participant in a project funded by the Mellon Foundation. The results of that project were reported in: A Study of Direct Author Subvention for Publishing Humanities Books at Two Universities: A Report to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation by Indiana University and University of Michigan.

Concurrent with such advocacy work, I have tried to build real-world projects that could advance scholarship while testing strategies for increasing public access to research. Now in its tenth year, Museum Anthropology Review (now the journal of the Mathers Museum of World Cultures) is the best example of this. On the book side, there is now the Material Vernaculars series co-published by the museum and the Indiana University Press. In my previous post, I highlighted the series first title—Folk Art and Aging: Life-Story Objects and their Makers by Jon Kay and the series’ scholarly mandate. Here I am flagging the series’ relationship to free and open access movements.

Books cost a lot of money to make. In a peer-reviewed article, based on our humanities book research studying publishing work of the Indiana University Press and University of Michigan Press, my colleagues report that the zero copy cost for a typical humanities book is about $27,000. Efforts to increase access to scholarship have to find ways to confront these costs from all sides—finding ways to lower prices but also new ways of funding the professional work that it takes to make a quality book.

For me, for the museum, and especially for the IU Press, the Material Vernaculars series is an experiment. If we get past talking about it and actually begin doing it, what can we learn that will, we hope, help us learn to do it more and better? This is part of what is at stake for IU Press and for the whole world of university press humanities book publishing. I am thrilled to be a part of a new series that has a secondary role (beyond its primarily scholarly one) of finding ways to make scholarly books more widely and openly accessible.

So paradoxically, if you believe (for example) that the communities about whom ethnographers write should have access to what they write, then I call on you, paradoxically, to purchase a copy of Folk Art and Aging and the other other books that are in the pipeline. Your purchase helps support the goals of the series and it demonstrates that paid-for print editions or e-book editions are not mutually exclusive of free-to-readers electronic editions. If it helps, think of the print edition as a thank you gift for your donation to this cause rather than as a commodity that you are purchasing in the marketplace. You can feel particularly good about it if you purchase it directly from the Indiana University Press, thereby cutting out one or more commercial intermediaries.

It (PDF) won’t always be the file format of choice, but for now the free editions of Material Vernaculars titles will be circulated in PDF form via the IUScholarWorks Repository. When people download the books from IUScholarWorks, there is a download count, which helps us learn how many people, over what time period, showed interest in the book(s). (So, send your friends to the link rather than passing around the PDF…)

If you are wondering how to download the book, see the picture above for the place to click.

Here is the link. Two actually. The first is durable but enigmatic. The second is more human readable, but potentially less permanent.

http://hdl.handle.net/2022/20906
https://scholarworks.iu.edu/dspace/handle/2022/20906

Happy reading.

Open Access Book: Indiana Folk Arts

IFA CoverThis year is a big year for the Mathers Museum of World Cultures in a number of respects. Two of these weave together. Its the state bicentennial for Indiana and we are engaging with it in a big way through the exhibition Indiana Folk Arts: 200 Years of Tradition and Innovation. That exhibition is now traveling across Indiana along with with a deep roster of presenting artists and craftspeople. The exhibition and associated in-person demonstrations are happening at state parks and festivals around Indiana and the exhibition will also be presented at the Indiana State Fair, later this summer. The exhibition brings together more than a decade of research by Traditional Arts Indiana and was also an project worked on by the Laboratory in Public Folklore graduate course taught in the IU College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology. Working with TAI Director and MMWC Curator of Folklife and Cultural Heritage Jon Kay, a large number of students have been involved in all aspects of the exhibition and associated programs, products, and events.

2016 is also slated to be a big year for book publishing at MMWC. We have a number of books in the cue for fall. The first to become available is the catalogue for Indiana Folk Arts. Edited by Jon Kay with chapters authored by a large and talented group of graduate students, the volume enriches the exhibition while also standing alone as a contribution to scholarship on Indiana craft and art. At exhibition events and here at the MMWC, the book is being distributed for free in a beautiful full-color print edition. In keeping with our institutional commitment to increased and open access to scholarship, the volume is also available electronically and permanently via the IUScholarWorks Respository. Licensed under a CC-BY license, it can be found online here: https://scholarworks.iu.edu/dspace/handle/2022/20893. Its the first MMWC publication for which we obtained an ISBN number (two actually, one for the print edition and one for the PDF edition), which is also pretty neat.IFA Front Page

Congratulations to Jon Kay, the volume’s editor, to all of its contributors, and to the talented artists, craftspeople, and tradition bearers featured in the book. Welcome readers–72 beautiful pages await you, wherever in the world you live. If you like the book and support the work behind it, spread it widely. Tell your friends and colleagues so that they can enjoy it too.

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