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Posts from the ‘Folklore Studies’ Category

What is the Museum Anthropology Review Business (Labor) Model?

Alternate title: How to give away $99,000 worth of articles.

Although it has become normalized in open access/scholarly publication reform discussions to speak in this way, it often seems laughable to use the phrase ‘business model” in the context of many open access projects. Business model implies more modeling and more business that are often found in these efforts. When the eye-rolling or chuckling stops, the business school talk does remind prompt us to try to figure out what we are doing and how we are doing it. This is good even for tiny projects held together (often happily) with just a bit of used string and some tape. (Thank goodness that we do not all want to become the next oversized thing.)

I write the following as founding editor of Museum Anthropology Review, an open access journal supporting scholarly and public-facing work in museum anthropology, museum-based folklore studies, and material culture studies. In an immediate context of painful collective disciplinary assessment, debate, and reflection (#hautalk) on scholarly communication work (and labor practices, and power, and hierarchy, and practices of discrimination, etc.) in the ethnographic disciplines, I thought it might be useful to be more explicit about labor and funding underpinning MAR). While the journal has a complex origin story and has changed alongside other changes (in my career, at Indiana University, in the fields that it serves, etc.), the so-called business model has remained pretty consistent, making this small task easier. It is not the business school way, but it may be easiest and most contextually relevant in MAR and disciplinary context to track labor and money using participant roles. It is hard to do this in a way that will not seem either self-promoting or defensive, but it has to be done. I have stressed throughout my wider engagements with open access that projects such as MAR need to try to be intentional in their experimental work and in reporting back to the field for collective benefit. The need for more of this is more pressing now than ever and I have been relatively silent on open access issues since finishing what I thought of as capstone activities in two pieces written with colleague-collaborators (Jackson and Anderson 2014; Walters et al. 2015 [for this project, see also here]).

MAR Screenshot

Readers: The journal does have readers. I and others involved in the journal know this from digital statistics (like Google Analytics), citations to work published, and word of mouth. Accessing MAR requires internet access but does not cost readers anything. Everyone involved is pleased to know that the work is worth doing, so I say thank you to the readers who have spent their time and attention on MAR. (I invite you to sign up as a reader and get free tables of contents for MAR by email.)

Authors: The journal does have authors. Authors are not paid for their contributions to MAR, but they are also not charged author fees or article processing charges, as is common in some other kinds of open access projects. In MAR we have so-far published 33 peer-reviewed articles. Had the authors of those articles published them in Curator and paid to make them open via Wiley’s Online Open program, the total cost to authors would have been $2500 x 33 = $82,500. Author-pays open publication in Museum Anthropology would have cost $3000 x 33 = $99,000 (See Wiley-Journal-APCs-2018MAY24 (a spreadsheet) via https://authorservices.wiley.com/author-resources/Journal-Authors/licensing-open-access/open-access/onlineopen.html, accessed June 16, 2018). Those of us in other MAR other roles wish, of course, that authors were more aware of these taken-for-granted things. Hopefully this post will help a bit. I am proud that the MAR community has been able to make publication happen for these authors and their readers without ability-to-pay being a factor shaping the publication process. I also thank journal’s authors for sharing their valuable work widely through publication in MAR.

Peer-Reviewers:  The journal definitely has peer-reviewers. They are generous and thoughtful and they are essential. I thank them here for their contributions to MAR. MAR peer-reviewers are not paid for their contributions. This is the current scholarly publishing norm for journals. I track the debate on the ethics of this. We are in a bind. Peer-review is hard, important labor. My opposition to industrial scale commercial scholarly publishing is based in part on the relationship between free labor of some participants and the huge profits that these firms reap (sample rants here and here). If paying peer-reviewers were to become the norm, then small community-based journals such as MAR would not be able to do it and corporate run and co-published journals would have an even bigger slice of the scholarly publishing pie (the enclosure of anthropology was at issue here). It is a conundrum at the heart of scholarly communications reform. For now, know that MAR peer-reviewers are valued and unpaid. The cash/gift economy status of the other roles is probably relevant to their feelings about this. My hope is that one feels relatively less exploited about peer-reviewing for a journal that looks like the one that I am describing here.)

Editorial Board: As is normal, MAR has a valued editorial board. As is common, I have not turned to them for structural, business or governance issues as much as I might have. As in other journals, they often serve as a kind of meta- peer-reviewers. For instance, serving as a source of editorial advice when I need help figuring something out or as a source of recommendations for reviewers. Sometimes editorial board members are called upon to undertake peer-reviews themselves. As with all journals that I know (and this is relevant in the context of the current journal controversies in the ethnographic fields), they also lend their reputations to the journal as a project. This is not inherently bad and it has a function beyond the accumulation of symbolic capital. When a potential author considers making a submission to any journal, they can review the masthead and ask: “Does my work resonate with the work of some of the people identified here?” Editorial Board Members are not paid for their MAR service. I thank them for encouraging and supporting the journal and helping it go.

A special member of the editorial board during the initial years of MAR was Associate Editor Kimberly Christen. As reflected also in her important scholarship (example here) and her own large and innovative projects (example here), Kim was a key interlocutor for me on (then new) questions of open access, helping me make sense of the shifting terrain across which MAR would travel.

Editor: At the most, two people have worked in the editorial office. Quite often, one person works in the editorial office. If there is just one person, then that person has been me. MAR launched in 2007. The story of its birth and its transformation is a different story and I postpone telling it here. A large number of friends and colleagues have helped by occupying the roles that I have noted above and by offering a range of encouragements and words of appreciation. The duties that traditionally fall to an editor are the ones that I have pursued. In the MAR case, this also includes overseeing the journal’s reviews work (book, exhibitions, etc.). This is a smaller setup than is normal even in smaller journals, which typically have a book review editor and other separated roles. There is no doubt that a critic would say that this concatenation of roles represents a concentration of power. I hope that close independent analysis would suggest that no pronounced problems flowed from this fact. For better or worse, it was also a concentration of so-called “service” labor. Understanding the finances of the editorial office can help readers judge the risks and ethics.

The actual production of the journal is also done in the editorial office. Content does not get handed off to a publishing partner for formatting, metadata coding, assignment of DOI numbers, etc. That work happens in-house and it is the editor and (when existing) the editorial assistant that do that work. As described below, Indiana University has created an excellent open access publishing environment that makes this possible.

As I still do, I held a tenured professorship when MAR sprang up into existence. As reflected by my notes above (and the points remaining to be made below), no money comes into MAR and no money goes out of MAR. There is no direct financial benefit to me to work on MAR. I acknowledge that I am paid well by Indiana University in support of the range of teaching, research, and service activities in which I engage and that I am reviewed annually and in the context of promotion decisions. No pressure to stop doing MAR has ever arisen (although my colleagues may privately question my judgement vis-à-vis excess editorial activity) and no special reward for doing it has been provided. My departments are home to a lot of editorial activity and mine just conforms to this local norm. This is a longstanding tradition, with many journals previously edited in them (Museum Anthropology, International Journal of American Linguistics, American Ethnologist, etc.) and many founded in them (Ethnohistory, Anthropological Linguistics, Journal of Folklore Research, etc.). If I did not do work on MAR I would be working on other things and my salary would not, I think, be any different. [I am mindful of the luxuries of choice available to me in my position.) MAR keeps me connected to my scholarly community and has brought a huge range of valuable experiences and relationships into my life. But there is no money to follow. Before 2013, MAR had only a kind of informal social base. It was produced by me and my friends with help from the IUScholarWorks program at the Indiana University libraries (see below). After 2013, MAR became the journal of the the Mathers Museum of World Cultures (MMWC). This was a positive byproduct of my becoming the MMWC’s Director. When my Directorship ends, MAR will remain at the museum and will be the responsibility of its next Director to continue, expand, shrink, change, or shutter. (Note: If the journal were to end next month or next year or next decade, the robust preservation and continued public accessibility of its backfiles is one of the durable commitments that IU Libraries have made to the project. See IU ScholarWorks below).

Editorial Assistant: When I was help in the work of the Editorial Office, it was by a graduate student from the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology or Department of Anthropology at Indiana University holding an .5 FTE (half of fulltime) graduate assistantship. Whereas the College of Arts and Sciences at Indiana University specifically funded a .5 FTE graduate assistantship for the work of supporting my previous editorship (2005-2009) of Museum Anthropology (the journal of the Council for Museum of Anthropology), MAR was never directly supported in this way. During a year serving as a department chair (2009-2010), a graduate assistant was assigned to support me in my scholarly activities. Helping with MAR became this colleague’s key duty. Between becoming Director of the MMWC in 2013 and the end of Spring 2017, the primary duty of a graduate student similarly appointed has also been to help with the journal. During fall 2017 and spring 2018, the work of the MMWC Director’s Office graduate assistantship has broadened to other projects, but the incumbent did do some MAR work. When a graduate student was working primarily on the journal, they held the title Editorial Assistant and appeared thus on the MAR masthead.

When filled, this Editorial Assistant role was a 20 hour per week position held during the fall and spring semesters. Those holding it have had the same stipends as their classmates holding similar appointments in the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology. They also hold fee waivers that pay for a significant portion of their course work for the full year (including summer courses) and they have a university health insurance plan. I wish that all of the assistantships held by students in my home departments (Folklore and Ethnomusicology, Anthropology) were better paid and offered better benefits, but I am happy that those student colleagues who worked with me on MAR had as good of a deal as any of their classmates. They can speak for themselves, but I think that they appreciated the experiences that they had while working on the journal. The rich range of publishing opportunities provided to graduate students in my departments have, over time, made (what I perceive to be) a significant difference in the career outcomes of the graduate students with whom my faculty colleagues and I have thus worked.

The key thing to note here vis-à-vis broader debates in anthropology publishing right now is that MAR’s basic editorial office work (correspondence, copyediting, layout and formatting, social media stuff, etc.) was either done by me or by a graduate student being paid to work with me.* Given its small scale and lack of cash in and cash out practices, MAR could have been done with a wider pool of volunteer laborers. I actually support this model and have spoken up for it often, but in the actual doing, the mix of roles described here made sense to me for MAR. In part, this stemmed from MAR being an off-shoot of Museum Anthropology which, for a time, was run with as many variables as possible being held constant so as to provide a kind of natural experiment to contrast open access and conventional publishing in the sub-field that both journals served. The mode of editor (or pair of editors) plus assistant has been constant with Museum Anthropology from the time of my editorship and thus through the period of MAR’s history at issue here. Creating opportunities to support the work of graduate students interested in museum ethnography was always a key concern of mine in this work. It motivated my seeking the Museum Anthropology editorship in 2005 and it has remained a prominent goal throughout. I thank the College of Arts and Sciences and the Office of the Vice Provost for Research for supporting the assistantship positions that have at various points helped MAR prosper. I thank Janice Frisch (2019-2010), Teri Klassen (2014), and Emily Buhrow Rogers (2014-2017) for their hard work as editorial assistants with MAR.

IUScholarWorks:  MAR would not be possible without the extraordinary vision, investment, and labor gathered in the IUScholarWorks program of the Indiana University Libraries. Focused on supporting open access scholarly communications efforts, IUScholarWorks (IUSW) has a number of signature projects, including Indiana University’s institutional repository and the IUScholarWorks Journals program. MAR was the first of the IUSW supported journals. This program has grown to include more than forty open access journal titles, including others of relevance to the ethnographic disciplines (Anthropology of East Europe Review, Ethnomusicology Translations, Studies in Digital Heritage, etc.).

I am not able to quantify the financial investments that the IU Libraries have made in MAR via the IUSW program, but the investment is significant and important. Most crucially, it is via IUSW that MAR has access to the incredible open access journal hosting and workflow software known as Open Journal Systems (OJS). OJS makes MAR possible and the IUSW librarians and staff make MAR on OJS possible. I want to express appreciation for the investment and incredible support that the IU Libraries have provided to me and to the MAR project. I hope to say more about the details of this support in the future and to quantify the technical and staff costs underlying it. For now, it may be enough to know that just as MAR tries to serve the field without charging fees for that service, IUSW tries to serve projects like MAR without charging fees for that service. It is certainly the case that economies of scale have been realized by having library-based publishing support services that can concurrently help a wide range of (mostly small) journal projects.

Indiana University Press: Technically, I could speak of the IU Press alongside IUScholarWorks. At Indiana University, our wonderful press is now a unit inside the IU Libraries. In this position, there is significant overlap and interdigitation between the open access publishing support work of IUScholarWorks and the general publishing work of the IU Press. But the two efforts also preserve some distinction. One way that MAR is increasingly being served by the IU Press is through promotion. As an outgrowth of the Press’ own commitment to fostering open access publishing, the Press has generously promoted MAR alongside its full suite of scholarly journals. As with the libraries as a whole and IUSW in particular, I cannot say enough good things about our press. The open access-fostering work of the Press, IUSW and the libraries in general are an outgrowth of a larger campus-wide and university-wide commitment that has been a key factor in the success of MAR and other OA (related) projects (JFRR, Material Vernaculars, Open Folklore) in which I have participated. I am appreciative of this support even as I cannot put a dollar figure on it. The key thing here is that MAR had not had to pay the IU Press to promote the journal (through print and web ads) just as it has not had to pay the libraries for IUSW services.

Conclusion: Responding to current calls for transparency in the work of open access journals is important. When I edited Museum Anthropology for the Council for Museum Anthropology Review, I was required to prepare and present annual editor’s reports that provided the board, the membership, and the AAA an auditable record of the journal’s editorial work and the financial realities of the journal in relation to the finances of AAA vis-à-vis its (then) publishing partners (University of California Press –> Blackwell/Wiley-Blackwell). By their nature, more emergent and grassroots projects (like MAR) lack formal institutional structures and thus they lack baked-in prompts for recording and reporting the facts of their existence. I hope that the accounting that I have provided here shows how one such project has functioned, particularly in terms of the flow of in-kind services. If cognate projects to MAR can also respond to calls for more public sharing of their underlying circumstances, the larger project of building a more equitable and sustainable system of scholarly communication can be advanced. I regret now not putting the facts noted above into written form sooner. Rather than end though on regret, let me close with a final word of appreciation to all of those who have provided the in-kind labor or financial support or technical infrastructure that has made MAR possible. See what you think of the results at: https://scholarworks.iu.edu/journals/index.php/mar/issue/archive.


Note

*For the first time in MAR’s history, I paid a freelance copyeditor to edit three article manuscripts last month. Other duties prevented me from doing this work in a timely way and the assistantship role is not filled during the summer months. I paid for these edits out of discretionary funds raised through my involvement in other non-journal projects. Noting this fact allows me to record the value I place on the contributions that publishing professionals make in scholarly communication work. The DIY nature of MAR is an outgrowth of its nature and scale and is not a repudiation of professionalism in publishing work. Opposition to large corporate publishers is not the same thing as opposition to all publishers. I have devoted significant effort to supporting university presses and I try to be an ally to university press colleagues.

[Jason Baird Jackson is the author of this post. It was initially written on June 16-17, 2018 and published on Shreds and Patches on June 17, 2018. It is released under a CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 license. At the time of its publication, his twitter account “handle” is @jasonjackson116]

A Quick Trip to Beijing

Late last month, I was fortunate to have a chance to return quickly to Beijing as a member of an Indiana University delegation visiting the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Happily CASS is a scholarly powerhouse in general and it possesses special strengths in folklore studies/ethnology. It was a whirlwind visit during which I spoke four times in four days.

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A promotional sign for UCASS-Indiana University Academic Week at the University of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, May 2018.

My first engagement was not at CASS but with the world-renowned folklore program ( Institute of Folk Literature, formerly the Institute of Folklore and Cultural Anthropology) at Beijing Normal University. There my host was Professor YANG Lihui, a leading figure in international folklore studies and a key interpreter of the history and theory of the field. Professor YANG has helped explain developments in U.S. folklore studies to her colleagues in China and, reciprocally, worked to make the field as practiced in China more legible to non-Chinese scholars. (For example, see this article in Asian Ethnology with AN Deming.) My topic was the relationship between museums and folklore studies in the United States. My timing was auspicious, because in their coursework with Professor YANG, many of the graduate students had recently been reading and discussing just this topic (including work by by Barbara Kirshshenblatt-Gimblett, whose efforts were also touched on in my talk). The discussion that followed my presentation was rich and I greatly appreciated this chance to visit a leading program in our shared field. An account of my visit was kindly prepared by one of the participating students and published on the webpage of the School of Chinese Language and Literature.

On my second full day in Beijing, I was a participant in a rich conference during which CASS and IU scholars across the breadth of the social sciences shared background on their home departments and institutes, as well as brief glimpses of their own scholarly work. I spoke about the work of folklore studies in the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology, the cultural anthropology faculty and training in the Department of Anthropology, and the Mathers Museum of World Cultures. Each of the IU faculty participating were paired with a CASS colleague. I was thrilled to be matched with an outstanding folklore scholar who has deep knowledge not only of the field, but about its status at Indiana University. Like Professor YANG at Beijing Normal University, Professor AN Deming was a visiting scholar in the IU Folklore Institute and has maintained close ties with IU colleagues. Drawing on his background in folklore studies and his ties to IU, Professor AN’s warm remarks to the conference attendees really set the stage well for exploring possible initiatives that might link scholars at both institutions. We were the first pair of scholars to speak. In the presentations that followed, we learned a lot about CASS but also research expertise from an interesting range of scholars from across the full breadth of the social sciences, from the philological study of ancient scripts to the study of contemporary global economic shifts.

On my third day, I was the guest of the Institute for Literature, one of the homes for folklore studies at CASS. The folklore studies group in the Institute of Literature is led by Professor AN and his students and colleagues came out in significant numbers to attend my talk and to discuss it afterwards. My subject related to complementary theories of cultural heritage. I am very thankful for their generous welcome and the opportunity to discuss shared interests with them. Later in the day, I was able to meet with another key colleague at CASS. This is CHAO Gejin, the leader of the Institute for Ethnic Literature and also the President of the China Folklore Society. In the later role, Professor CHAO is at the heart of the important partnerships that link the CFS and the American Folklore Society for joint work. It was a pleasure to meet with Professor CHAO and learn more about the folklore studies work being done in his institute. (For background on folklore studies at CASS and the units in which it is housed, see the essay by AN Deming, SHI Aidong, YE Tao, and YIN Hubin included here.)

On my final day in Beijing, I addressed a large group of (mostly) graduate students enrolled in the University of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. My topic was again ways of thinking about the concept of cultural heritage. As reflected by the photograph I share above, the University went to great lengths to promote the talks that my colleagues and I delivered. They branded our week of campus visits as “UCASS Indiana University Academic Week” and were extremely generous hosts. I appreciated the chance to learn about the graduate and (new) undergraduate programs at CASS and to see their immaculate campus in the Beijing suburbs. With my colleagues C.T. and P.W., I enjoyed a wonderful bowl of noodles in the campus restaurant. How great it would be to have such noodles on one’s campus!

I close by recording my appreciation for all of my hosts, both those colleagues with whom I enjoyed rich disciplinary discussions and the staff of CASS, BNU, and the Indiana University Beijing Gateway who worked hard to make these undertakings a success. I also enjoyed traveling with a wonderful group of IU faculty colleagues. 谢谢

 

 

 

The Mallet: Making a Maul in a Baiku Yao Community

This guest post by Jon Kay, Curator of Folklife and Cultural Heritage at the Mathers Museum of World Cultures provides Jon with the opportunity to share the first of the documentary videos arising from work that he and colleagues pursued together in Nandan County, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in December, 2017. It is the final post in a eleven-part series relating to travel in China and specific work in Nandan County that began with a post on January 2, 2018 and continued most recently through post 9, a guest post by Carrie Hertz of the Museum of International Folk Art. These earlier posts are accessible here 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10.

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Lu Bingzhao uses a billhook to make a wooden mallet or maul. December 15, 2017. Photograph by Kurt Dewhurst.

I was in Southwest China as part of a joint team of researchers from the United States, the Anthropological Museum of Guangxi, and the Nandan Baiku Yao Eco-Museum who were documenting basket and textile traditions of the Baiku Yao people in Nandan County, in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.

Our team visited a home in Manjiang village to inventory the baskets collected and used by a local family. As the fieldworkers worked photographing and measuring baskets, Mr. Lu Bingzhao came into the house and picked up a mallet, which he showed everyone and then went outside. I did not speak Mandarin or the local Baiku Yao dialect, but I felt he had something he wanted to show us. I went outside and saw him lay the mallet on the trunk of small felled tree in order to get a rough measurement; it was then that I realized he was going to make a mallet. I grabbed my camera and began shooting. I didn’t have a tripod with me, so I didn’t expect to shoot the entire process, but I became enthralled with how the elder worked. Two of his grandchildren played nearby, and they often stopped to watch him work and to interact with him.  Neighbors and family members stopped by to visit as they returned home from picking greens.  Mr. Bingzhao worked steadily as people came and went. He was skilled at using the billhook. With heavy chops, he used the hook to quickly remove the excess wood. Then he delicately shaved the mallet’s handle smooth, using a pulling motion. Finally at the end of the video, just as he completes the mallet, he gives it to his daughter-in-law. Tree became tool and gift in little more than an hour.

I was told that mallets, like the one made in this video, are commonly used to pound rice straw for sandals and to set the poles for warping a loom, the later activity I witnessed the next day when a group of weavers came to the Nandan Baiku Yao Eco-Museum office, where I was staying. I am sure the mallet probably has many other uses in the daily life of the community. For sure, the young woman would find utility in the gift. This video was totally unplanned, as the shaky recording and odd camera angles reveal, but I was compelled to edit this footage into this short portrait, to document the making of this tool. Reflecting reoccurring themes in my scholarship, it also demonstrates how craft can connect an elder to his family and community.”

 

 

 

 

Technical Note: The video was shot with a Canon 80D camera with a RØDE stereo microphone attached to the camera’s hot-shoe mount.

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: 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.

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.

The Ethnic Costume Museum at the Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology (12/9)

In the previous post in this series, I described how my traveling companions and I visited Beijing’s 798 Art Zone. (For the series in order, see 1, 2, 3, and 4.) After that stop on December the 9th, we visited one more Beijing museum. This one was a new one for everyone. Carrie researched it and put it on our agenda—The Ethnic Costume Museum at the Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology (BIFT). We were uncertain what to expect, but we speculated that it would be a small university museum.

It won’t take many words to tell the story. We were extremely impressed. The museum is not richly contextualizing and interpretive in approach (as more and more university museums work to be) but its collections are outstanding and they are beautifully presented in large, comfortable galleries. For scholars interested in dress, adornment, and textile history in China, it is a definite must-see.

The museum is located on an upper floor of a multi-use academic building in the midst of the BIFT campus. Discovering this, one presumes further that the space will be small, as many similar university galleries in the United States often are. But on arrival up the stairs, this speculation is dispelled. The galleries go on and on. You can check out an English language web page for the museum here: http://english.bift.edu.cn/department/ethniccostumemuseum/index.htm It begins:

The Costume Museum at the Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology (BIFT), founded with the approval of Beijing Municipal Administration of Cultural Heritage, is the first museum specializing in ethnic costumes in China. The Museum is also a cultural research institute integrating collection, display, research, and teaching.

BIFT Costume Museum covers a floor space of 2,000 square meters, with several major exhibition halls: Han Nationality Costume Hall, Ethnic Minority Costume Hall, Miao Nationality Costume Hall, Metalworking Jewelry Hall, Brocade Embroidery and Wax-printing Hall, Olympic Uniform and Ceremony Costume Hall, Picture Hall, and Hands-on Workshop (for teaching and academic exchange).

As the top specialized costume museum in China, it has a fine collection of over 10,000 pieces of costume, accessories, fabric, wax printing, and embroidery. The collection is displayed in different categories, such as costumes of Miao nationality, metalworking jewelry, folk wax printing, and fabric. The museum also has a collection of nearly 1000 precious photographs taken during the 1920s and 1930s featuring the ethnic costumes of Yi, Zang, and Qiang nationalities.

That is all true. Here I share some of our photographs from the visit, which was the high point of our day and great preparation for the work we would begin in Guangxi the next day.

When we arrived, we noticed a sign that indicated that no photography was allowed. This left us crestfallen. We started taking in the exhibitions and noticed that all the other visitors were taking pictures and that the staff was completely aware of this. On investigation, it was flash photography that was prohibited. As a result of these factors, as well as the appropriately dark galleries (appropriate because textiles are being put on display for extended periods, raising the problem of light damage) our photographs are dark and rushed.

In honor of our generous hosts in Nandan County, I present the Baiku Yao men’s outfit on display at the museum before posting a sample of other images from the museum.

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The “Men’s attire of the white-pants Yao branch of the Yaozu people” at the Museum of Ethnic Costumes. December 9, 2017. Photograph by Jason Baird Jackson.

Beijing’s 798 Art Zone, Revisited, Again (12/9)

After visiting The Museum of Women and Children (See part 3 here), our group checked in with the Beijing arts neighborhood known as 798. (For background on 798, see wikipedia here, but know that the essay needs a refresh.) This area was the focus on an exhibition (just deinstalled last week) that I did last year at the MMWC with help from Luo Wenhong of the Yunnan Nationalities Museum. For Jon Kay, it was his first visit, but for Carrie Hertz, Marsha MacDowell, Kurt Dewhurst, and I it was a revisit. Jon already had a good sense of the place from our discussions (and from the exhibition photographs that he walked by almost every day at the MMWC since April). For the rest of us, it was our reaction that was new.

We know well—from Wenhong’s historical and ethnographic work there and from our own brief visits—that the neighborhood is an always changing place. But this visit caused us to believe that 798 has really now turned another corner. Of the group, I had visited 798 most recently. In May 2016, I captured over 700 images of the neighborhood trying to document its sidewalk visual culture for the exhibition. (“Beijing’s 798 Art Zone” was presented at the MMWC from April 6 to December 17, 2017.) Discussing such things as the gentrification and new high-rise construction that presses in on the neighborhood, the increased presence there of major corporations and their promotional imagery, and a transition from confrontational street art to fun, selfie-friendly graffiti and amusing sculpture, I tried to suggest the ways that 798 is changing. I also tried to evoke some of the factors that were making the neighborhood a different kind of destination, while also noting the slipping away of the artistic cutting edge that other observers have noted. As my efforts were in the spirit of visual and urban anthropology rather than an effort in contemporary art criticism, I did not take a particular stance on these changes, just tried to convey a sense of them.

All that to say that a contemporary arts district is not the kind of place that any of us would visit expecting to find cultural continuity. At the same time, our visit in 2017 did surprise us with how rapidly things can change. It is hard to sort out day-to-day, and season-to-season variations, but the contemporary-art-first version of 798 seemed defeated as judged by its street-level visual culture, as we experienced it last month. Some iconic graffiti and fiberglass sculpture remains. Some of the more robust galleries and retail shops are still there, but in the course of about nineteen months, a lot had disappeared or been degraded. Through its various earlier phases as an arts zone, a kind of playful-but-edgy aesthetics dominated the neighborhood’s visual culture. That aesthetic was haphazard in the sense that it was not centrally coordinated, but it was coherent in the sense that there was the kind of coherence that is the hallmark of many successful art colonies and artistic “schools.” The aesthetic last month had tipped over into the haphazardness of the flea market. (As folklorists, we love flea markets, but the change is noteworthy.) Unlike on recent visits, there was also a lot of empty real retail space.

In the 2017 MMWC exhibition, I showed the store front of the +86 Design Store’s 798 branch, using it as a way of talking about how a commercial culture of cute and of design had been progressively overtaking the oppositional style of the neighborhood. On the latest revisit, +86 had partitioned off the back of the store and seemed to be renting it out as office space, thus reducing significantly the amount of goods available for sale and giving the place an aura of decline. Similarly, suggesting how an exhibition such as the MMWC 798 show is almost immediately obsolete is the case of the Sony display space that I pictured in the exhibition. I used the Sony exhibition space (bright and fresh in 2017) to evoke the ways that corporations were colonizing the neighborhood as a way of connecting with the many visitors that stroll its streets but also as a way of capturing something of the neighborhood’s residual cool factor. On our revisit, the Sony exhibition space was gone and it appeared that a failed spa had already come and gone in its place. The space was not in use. (It is not clear if Sony’s space had always been intended to be short-lived. For an occasional visitor, it is sometimes hard to track the differences between temporary commercial/corporate/foreign government exposition/exhibition spaces and longer-term endeavors.)

Different parts of the neighborhood are faring differently and, despite it being winter, there were plenty of visitors out walking and exploring the neighborhood. It is still, as described in the exhibition, a destination for making selfies and for more professional photo shoots. But emblematic of the newest incarnation of 798 for us was the store called in English “Iran”. As the name suggests, the store offers Persian art and objects. There are familiar kinds of objects such as woven rugs, but then there are (many) less familiar (to me, at least) paintings (?) on black velvet. Iran was crowded with people and crowded with what cultural critics in the west would call  (perhaps misperceiving what they see) orientalist kitsch mixed with textiles, metalwork and other genres with less ambiguous roots in Iran. To see something what Iran in 798 looks like, check out this short YouTube video published soon after our visit. Iran seems to be part of a changing culture of exhibition in 798. As the edgy aura wears off, but as people continue to visit (but, it seems to me, to not spend very much money), the neighborhood becomes useful for quirky soft-power projects. Iran’s place in 798 casts a new light on the Israeli chamber of commerce’s presence in 798 (noted on my last visit) and its activities hosting expo-like events in the neighborhood. (Iran is almost across the street from the Israelis.) Along the same lines, 798 is similarly home to a branch of the Beijing Goethe Institut.

The shift to a more random retail footing can also be seen in other new businesses getting going in 798. An example is the “Custom Barrrl [yes, three Rs, no E] Scotch Whisky Exchange”. The most dramatic new architectural presence is a building marked in English “798 Art Auction Center.” I have not found information online about what is going on with it.

Unlike the rest of the neighborhood, UCCA (Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art) seemed to basically be as it had been on past visits. But a quick Google search shows that it too has been changing recently. For those interested in the state and fate of UCCA, check out this story in the South China Morning Post. The 2017-10-9 story begins with these headlines:

Beijing contemporary art space UCCA sold to Chinese investment group, securing future of 798 Art District landmark

Deal for Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art ends year of uncertainty, and director is hopeful its new status as a foundation will help it raise funds, improve its exhibitions and attract more visitors.

It actually isn’t true that UCCA seemed unchanged at street level. Reviewing our photographs, I recall the shock I felt in seeing that the museum was hosting a bamboo basketry class. Those who know my own enthusiasms can imagine that I see this as a change for the better. Probably so, and in my book this is a rather cutting-edge thing for them to be doing, but still it would have seemed preposterous that UCCA would have had such classes at the time of our first visits there.

Things seemed less promising for us at at the Enjoy Museum of Art, which appeared to us to have closed. (Let me know if you know otherwise.)

Other new developments: a decorate-your-own-ceramics place, more kid-oriented retail and amusements, lots of boutiques with sophisticated women’s wear, many street vendors selling the kind of foods one can get in Chinese city parks (candy glazed strawberries on a stick, for instance), and lots of card-tables-on-the-sidewalk retail of used and simple domestic goods (these in particular contribute to the flea-market vibe) and tchotchkes. As is true everywhere in Beijing now, rental bicycles are ubiquitous in 798 and they crowd at the entrances to the district.

Of course, a series of quick visits and walkabouts are not the same thing as sustained attention, historical, ethnographic, or otherwise. It is not possible to fully understand the state and fate of 798 without deep knowledge of the political economy and culture of Beijing, China, and the international worlds of art, culture, and discourse in which these intersect and entwine. I am glad that there are in-the-know scholars working on these larger contexts in which 798 has a place.

As we entered 798 on this visit and approached the visitor center, we noticed that the sculpture on the left had been replaced by the less unnerving one on the right…

 

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.

 

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