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Posts from the ‘Folklore Studies’ Category

The Seventh Forum on China-US Folklore and Intangible Cultural Heritage: Collaborative Work in Museum Folklore and Heritage Studies

The following is a report on The Seventh Forum on China-US Folklore and Intangible Cultural Heritage: Collaborative Work in Museum Folklore and Heritage Studies (第七届中美民俗学与非物质文化遗产论坛: 博物馆民俗与遗产研究的协作工作). The version of record appears on the website of the American Folklore Society. This version adds more images. You can find a copy of the conference program here. –Jason Baird Jackson (杰森. 拜尔德. 杰克逊)

During three beautiful spring days in Beijing, a group of Chinese and American scholars and cultural workers gathered to discuss practices of collaboration in folklore studies and intangible cultural heritage work, with a focus on collaborations between ethnographic museums and between such museums and other groups in society. Held on May 19-22, 2019, this was the Seventh Forum on China-US Folklore and Intangible Cultural Heritage, one of a long-running series of conferences organized cooperatively by the China Folklore Society (CFS) and the American Folklore Society (AFS), as part of a broader binational collaboration begun in 2007. These forums have explored various aspects of cultural heritage policy, practice, and theory, giving US and Chinese participants an opportunity to learn about the state of the field as pursued in the national context that is not their own (Lloyd 2017).

This Seventh Forum, focusing on Collaborative Work in Museum Folklore and Heritage Studies, was held at the Indiana University China Gateway office in Beijing. Meeting under the auspices of the CFS and the AFS, the conference’s program was organized by the Mathers Museum of World Cultures and the Anthropology Museum of Guangxi (Guangxi Museum of Nationalities), with extensive logistical and practical support provided by the two societies and the gateway office staff. Generous financial support was provided by the Henry Luce Foundation and the Office of the Vice President for International Affairs at Indiana University.

Delegates to the forum came from a diversity of American and Chinese museums and universities. Chinese institutions represented included the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Sun Yat-sen University, the Anthropology Museum of Guangxi, the Nandan Baiku Yao Ecomuseum, Beijing Normal University, the Sanjiang Dong Ecomuseum, East China Normal University, Fudan University, the Guizhou Nationalities Museum, Minzu University of China, Shandong University, and the Yunnan Nationalities Museum. American institutions represented included the Michigan State University Museum, the Museum of International Folk Art, Texas Tech University, the Mathers Museum of World Cultures (Indiana University), History Miami, the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History (University of Oklahoma), and the American Folklore Society (Figure 1).

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Figure 1. Delegates to the Seventh Forum on China-US Folklore and Intangible Cultural Heritage held at the Indiana University Gateway Office in Beijing, May 19, 2019. Shu Caiqian (Guizhou Nationalities Museum), Zhang Yibing (Guizhou Nationalities Museum, Zhu Gang (Chinese Academy of Social Sciences), Li Mingjie (East China Normal University), Wang Wei (Shandong University), Jessica Anderson Turner (American Folklore Society), An Deming (Chinese Academy of Social Sciences), Luo Wenhong (Fudan University), Marsha MacDowell (Michigan State University Museum), Surna (Minzu University of China), Kristin Otto (Mathers Museum of World Cultures), Felicia Katz-Harris (Museum of International Folk Art), Sarah Hatcher (Mathers Museum of World Cultures), Yang Lihui (Beijing Normal University), Lu Chaoming (Nandan Baiku Yao Ecomuseum), Jason Baird Jackson (Mathers Museum of World Cultures), Chen Xi (Sun Yet-sen University), Carrie Hertz (Museum of International Folk Art), Chao Gejin (Chinese Academy of Social Sciences), Wuerxiya (Mathers Museum of World Cultures), Fan Miaomiao (Anthropology Museum of Guangxi), C. Kurt Dewhurst (Michigan State University Museum), Yang Quanzhong (Sanjang Dong Ecomuseum), He Chun (Nandan Baiku Yao Ecomuseum), Michael Paul Jordan (Texas Tech University), Wu Dawei (Sanjang Dong Ecomuseum), Ou Bo (Anthropology Museum of Guangxi), Michael Knoll (History Miami), Lan Yuanyuan (Sanjang Dong Ecomuseum), Gong Shiyang (Anthropology Museum of Guangxi), Jon Kay (Mathers Museum of World Cultures), Luo Yong (Nandan Baiku Yao Ecomuseum), Mai Xi (Anthropology Museum of Guangxi), Zhao Fei (Yunnan Nationalities Museum), Wang Yucheng (Anthropology Museum of Guangxi).

On the afternoon of May 19, the conference began with warm words of welcome from AFS Executive Director Jessica Turner and CFS Past President Chao Gajin (Chinese Academy of Social Sciences), standing in for current CFS President Ye Tao (Chinese Academy of Social Sciences) who was unable to attend (Figure 2). Also offering brief opening remarks on behalf of the program committee were Jason Baird Jackson (Mathers Museum of World Cultures) and Gong Shiyang (Anthropology Museum of Guangxi) (Figure 3). These remarks preceded the forum’s keynote address by C. Kurt Dewhurst (Michigan State University Museum). Extending an earlier discussion of principles for museum collaboration (Dewhurt and MacDowell 2015), Dewhurt reflected on a range of museum collaborations in which he and the MSU Museum have participated. Among the collaborations that Dewhurst addressed were earlier phases of the AFS-CFS partnership, which has included two museum sub-projects (2013-2016; 2017-2019). The first of these encompassed the Fifth and Sixth forum events, the traveling exhibition and bilingual catalogue Quilts of Southwest China (MacDowell and Zhang 2015), and numerous other elements (Lloyd 2017). In this phase, three Chinese museums and three US museums partnered together (Dewhurst and Lloyd 2019). In the more recent phase, collaborators from the three U.S. museums have joined with the Anthropology Museum of Guangxi for a program of joint research focused on textiles and intangible cultural heritage policy in two northern counties of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. Central to this new phase of work are the Nandan Baiku Yao Ecomuseum and the Sanjiang Dong Ecomuseum. Thus, while Dewhurst’s keynote was a general reflection on museum collaboration, his presentation also served to orient conferees to the specific joint AFS-CFS supported projects that gave the forum its organizational context.

The keynote address was followed by a panel discussion in which representatives from the Sanjiang Dong Ecomuseum and Nandan Baiku Yao Ecomuseum described their work and the community and organizational collaborations in which they participate (Figure 4). American participants appreciated this opportunity to learn about the innovative work of these ecomuseums first-hand and drew comparisons to various kind of community-based museums in the US. While Chinese delegates were more knowledgeable about the form that ecomuseums take in China, they also appreciated the chance to engage with the ecomuseum leaders directly in a comparative scholarly context.

It was an honor that many Beijing-based leaders in the CFS and in Chinese folklore studies overall could attend these opening events, which also included a welcoming banquet generously hosted by the CFS. This gathering was enlivened further when the leaders of the Sanjiang Dong Ecomuseum introduced both Dong flute music and toasting songs to the group. For many American delegates, this was a memorable first experience with the richness of Chinese banquet customs and the beauty of Dong music (Figure 5).

The second day of the conference was a full day featuring presentations from Chinese and American delegates. In line with the goals of the forum, the presenters described specific museum collaboration projects, using them as the basis for broader reflections on the work of museum ethnography and heritage studies today. Translation for most conference presentations was very ably done by Chen Xi (Sun Yat-sen University) and Luo Wenhong (Fudan University) (Figure 6). A number of themes emerged through the juxtaposition of presentations throughout the conference. These included: (1) the nature of museum-based ethnographic and exhibition projects in urban contexts, (2) the dynamics unique to heritage-oriented fieldwork pursued across differences of language, culture, and institutional context, (3) the place of objects and material culture studies within museum collaborations, (4) the use of exhibitions as catalysts for broader collaborations and relationship building, (5) the value of older museum collections for contemporary communities and craftspeople, (6) the place of documentary video in museum ethnography, and (7) the special importance that attaches to national folk costume in diverse museum and local cultural contexts in the current era (Figure 7).

The conference’s third day featured a morning of additional presentations followed by a special outing in which conferees visited Beijing’s Shichahai historic area to learn about cultural preservation and heritage tourism activities centered there (Figures 8-9). Participants enjoyed a hutong tour and a visit to the Drum Towner of Beijing (Gulou). While she could not attend the forum, this outing was curated by Zhang Lijun (George Mason University) and drew upon her folklore research interpreting the narrative performances of hutong tour guides (Zhang 2016, 2019). The conference concluded with a banquet, hosted by AFS and featuring Yunnan cuisine. Highpoints of this concluding gathering were many individual expressions of friendship and goodwill as well as a vigorous singing competition staged between the binational groups gathered around two large banquet tables. Heartfelt singing in Dong, Yao, Mandarin, Mongolian and English brought the seventh forum to a joyful close.

References Cited

Dewhurst, C. Kurt, and Timothy Lloyd. 2019. “The American Folklore Society-China Folklore Society Folklore and Intangible Cultural Heritage Project, 2013-2016.” Museum Anthropology Review 13 (1): 59-68. https://doi.org/10.14434/mar.v13i1.25405

Dewhurst, C. Kurt, and Marsha MacDowell. 2015. “Strategies for Creating and Sustaining Museum-Based International Collaborative Partnerships.” Practicing Anthropology 37 (3): 54–55. https://doi.org/10.17730/0888-4552-37.3.54

Lloyd, Tim. 2017 “The Inside Story of the AFS China-US Project.” https://www.afsnet.org/news/349609/The-Inside-Story-of-the-AFS-China-US-Project.htm, accessed June 12, 2019.

MacDowell, Marsha, and Lijun Zhang, eds. 2016. 中国西南拼布 | Quilts of Southwest China. Nanning: Guangxi Museum of Nationalities. [Distributed in the United States by Indiana University Press.]

Zhang, Lijun. 2016. “Performing Locality and Identity: Rickshaw Driver, Narratives, and Tourism.” Cambridge Journal of China Studies 11 (1): 88-104. https://www.repository.cam.ac.uk/handle/1810/260292

Zhang, Lijun. 2019. “A Brief Guide to Shichahai.” Video Presentation Prepared for The Seventh Forum on China-US Folklore and Intangible Cultural Heritage: Collaborative Work in Museum Folklore and Heritage Studies, Beijing, China.

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Figure 2. Figure 2. Chao Gajin welcomes delegates to the Seventh Forum on China-US Folklore and Intangible Cultural Heritage: Collaborative Work in Museum Folklore and Heritage Studies. May 19, 2019. Photograph by Jon Kay.

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Figure 3. Figure 3. Gong Shiyang addresses delegates to the Seventh Forum on China-US Folklore and Intangible Cultural Heritage. May 19, 2019. Photograph by Jon Kay.

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Figure 4. Wu Dawei offers remarks on the work of the Sanjang Dong Ecomuseum during the ecomuseum panel discussion. Left to Right: Lu Chaoming, He Chun, Lan Yuanyuan, Yang Quanzhong, Wu Dawei, Luo Wenhong (translating), Jason Baird Jackson. May 19, 2019. Photograph by Jon Kay.

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Figure 5. Wu Dawei performs Dong flute music at the opening banquet. May 19, 2019. Photograph by C. Kurt Dewhurst.

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Figure 6. Zhang Yibing discusses the work of the Guizhou Nationalities Museum with Luo Wenhong providing English translation.. May 20, 2019. Photograph by Jon Kay.

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Figure 7. Carrie Hertz discusses research related to the exhibition Dressing with Purpose. May 20, 2019. Photograph by Jon Kay.

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Figure 8. Surna discusses her research on Mongol national dress. May 21, 2019. Photograph by Jon Kay.

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Figure 9. Lan Yuanyuan and He Chun begin a rickshaw tour of the Shichahai neighborhood in Beijing. May 21, 2019. Photography by Jason Baird Jackson.

Material Culture Journalism, 7

The Material Culture students do not know about Material Culture Journalism yet. Maybe this week I’ll mention it to them. Day one was surely an overload as it was…

“450-Year-Old Painting Contains Over 100 Proverbs We Still Use Today” by Jessica Stewart on My Modern Met. (HT/BKG) https://mymodernmet.com/dutch-proverbs-pieter-bruegel #paremiology

“The Era of Easy Recycling Coming to an End” by Maggie Koerth-Baker for FiveThirtyEight. https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/the-era-of-easy-recycling-may-be-coming-to-an-end/ #waste

“China’s Destructive Laser Rifle has a Half-Mile Range” by Jefrey Lin and P.W. Singer for Popular Science. https://www.popsci.com/china-laser-rifle-energy-weapon #conflict

“Never mind killer robots—here are six real AI dangers to watch out for in 2019” by Will Knight and Karen Has for MIT Technology Review. https://www.technologyreview.com/s/612689/never-mind-killer-robotshere-are-six-real-ai-dangers-to-watch-out-for-in-2019/ #threats

“Persian Traditional Crafts: Traditional Bookbinding” on YouTube (Seen First on on Facebook). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XgQ-x-1hRQ4&vl=en #handcraft

“The Poor Can’t Afford Not to Wear Nice Clothes” by Tressie McMillan Cottom in Medium. (HT/RG) https://medium.com/s/story/the-poor-cant-afford-not-to-wear-nice-clothes-b015f6a79561 #racism #class #inequality

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CFP: Limitations and Adaptations: Negotiating Aesthetics, Power, and Positionality

I am happy to share the call for papers for the 12th joint student folklore conference organized by the students at Indiana University and the Ohio State University. Save the date and get your plans together to attend in Bloomington.


Limitations and Adaptations: Negotiating Aesthetics, Power, and Positionality
Twelfth Annual IU/OSU Student Folklore Conference
February 22–23, 2019

The Indiana University Folklore Student Association, in collaboration with the Folklore Student Association at the Ohio State University, invites submissions for the twelfth annual Indiana University / Ohio State University student folklore conference to be held in Bloomington, Indiana on February 22–23, 2019. We welcome proposals from folklore, ethnomusicology, and related disciplines. Presenters are encouraged to submit proposals related to the conference theme of “Limitations and Adaptations.” Some questions to consider could include the following:

  • What limits do people face in vernacular cultural production? How are these limits formed or identified? What are the power structures behind them?
  • How do limits shape artistic production?
  • How do people use vernacular cultural production to transcend limits/barriers or to adapt to change/oppression?
  • Does adaptation create or take place in a liminal space?
  • How do people adapt to limitations cross-culturally?
  • How might researchers be limited by factors such as identity, language, and environment? What impact might these limits have on selection, collection, or transmission of research?
  • What is the role of the researcher in either adhering to or pushing back against limitations? Is your project overcoming limitations in some way?

Proposals for papers, posters, roundtables, panels, workshops, and other formats are welcome. All presenters should write a 250-word abstract of their presentations. Prearranged or collective sessions should additionally include a session title, 250-word session abstract, and list contacts for all members of the panel/roundtable, if relevant.

All submissions will be due via google forms by December 30, 2018.

Submission link: https://goo.gl/forms/AX0ngluMRtgLcZZy2

Housing form: https://goo.gl/forms/FnaiT2R7nLOnPMhV2

For additional questions, please contact us at iuosu2019@gmail.com.

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Modalities of Culture Change: A Query

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A hybrid flower photographed by makamuki0 and circulated under a CC0 license. Hybridization as a mode of cultural change was discussed prominently in Theorizing the Hybrid, a 1999 special issue of the Journal of American Folklore edited by Deborah A. Kapchan and Pauline Turner Strong. Like mestatisize, hybridization in the context of cultural analysis draws on biological imagery.

Across the twentieth century, much of the heavy lifting in cultural anthropology, ethnology, and folklore studies was done with key concepts/words that related to identifiable modalities of cultural change. Diffusion was the core concept as these fields entered the twentieth century and a range of additional ones were identified, theorized, applied, refined, debated, etc. as the decades passed. Acculturation occupied a lot of attention, reorienting American cultural anthropology/ethnology in the process. The list grew longer and longer–innovation, socialization, enculturation, modernization, revitalization, missionization, colonization, decolonization, creolization, hybridization, globalization… No one mode of analysis or discourse predominated. Instead scholars in these fields accumulated a storage box of alternatives out of which they could draw at need. Some of these modes of thought and analysis have aged better than others. Some were criticized, some just came to be used less often. Some seem more relevant in the present than others. Most probably have their use now and will have in the future.

But what additional terms or concepts warrant our attention now? Suggestions are very welcome. Here is an example. Deskill. Deskilling. (Deskillification?) I now hear this term many times a week in a range of contexts. It seems like a candidate for possible inscription on the scholarly list of cultural/social change concepts. What about the more poetic transfers into cultural analysis. Borrowed from medicine, metastasize is being used more and more in discussions of cancer-like social processes. In more workaday work, folklorization is now well established as is traditionalization. On this model, it is not surprising that heritagization is also now in widespread use. Are there any comparable core concepts that we have not yet transformed in processual variants? Some terms come towards us from, for instance, the business world. Do folklorists, ethnologists, and cultural anthropologists need to put our own spin on disrupt?

I hope to revisit the lexicon of cultural change concepts in future work. Your suggestions are welcome. (I am certain there is already work by scholars in these fields on many newer modes of culture change, including the examples (deskill, disrupt) I use to illustrate the query. I am interested in that work also.)

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Neuroblastoma Rosettes by Dr. Maria Tsokos, National Cancer Institute [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. Although this cancer image is probably visually arresting when taken out of context, use of metastasize in cultural analysis is usually intended to provoke horror and to evoke ill social health. A great example encountered yesterday is in the first paragraph of Emma Louise Backe’s essay “Hau’s Hauntings

At the Estonian National Museum

#fulbrightspecialist #fulbright #exchangeourworld

This is the third of three anticipated posts on my fall 2019 visit to Estonia (1st, 2nd).

A great resource for the University of Tartu’s departments of Estonian Native Craft, of Ethnology, and of Estonian and Comparative Folklore is the Estonian National Museum (ENM). The museum is curates vast collections of relevance to students and researchers in these fields and the museum is a research hub for all them. Founded in 1909, the ENM has a long and distinguished history as an ethnography museum centering on Estonia and, more broadly, all peoples speaking Finno-Ugric languages. It its contexts, the museum’s work centers on an Estonian instance of Northern European ethnology (with Soviet “ethnography” dominating during the period of Soviet hegemony). But not long ago (2016), the museum moved into a dramatic and vast new facility and unveiled a pair of large new permanent exhibitions.

These exhibitions move beyond (but fully include) the ethnography of 19th and early 20th century peasant lifeways. In this mode, the new exhibitions show an additive expansion of the museum’s concerns to include the archaeology of the distant past, historical and contemporary linguistics, social history, and the ethnology of everyday life in the recent period and the present. Especially in its exhibition work, the new museum is working at the cutting edge of museum technology and communication research is a part of the museum’s practice and research agenda.

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The entry to the Estonian National Museum at night. By Klarqa. CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, from Wikimedia Commons

I will not offer a review of the two permanent exhibitions here, but I want to stress how much I learned about museum practice (and about Estonia and Finno-Urgric peoples) from my multiple visits to the museum’s galleries. I was very fortunate to be given introductory tours of both exhibitions by curators who were central to the work of developing them. Encounters tells the story of people in Estonia from the earliest moments of human activity in the territory of the present nation up to the present. Encounters is actually an interconnected suite of topical and chronological sub-exhibitions and I benefited greatly from seeing it first with Kristel Rattus and Liisi Jaats, two ENM researchers/curators who were part of the exhibition development team. Similarly, I saw the Echo of the Urals exhibition with Art Leete, Professor of Ethnology at the University of Tartu and specialist on Finno-Ugric groups in present-day Russia. Art led the curatorial team for the Finno-Ugric exhibition. The two exhibitions use a wide range of sophisticated exhibition techniques and these techniques are markedly different between the two shows, making the ENM an ideal teaching and learning laboratory for museum ethnology.

While I was more learner than teacher in this context, my work at the University of Tartu teaching the short “Material Culture and the Museum” course intersected with the ENM in a couple of ways. Because the ENM is such an attraction and hub for folklore studies and ethnology, (all or almost all) students and auditors in the course were familiar with the museum and it thus could be used as a valuable point of reference in and out of class sessions. More directly, the ENM hosted the 2018 International Committee for Museums and Collections of Ethnography (ICME) conference. I will touch on that below, but I note here that students participating in the course were obligated to attend parts of the ICME meeting, an activity that I feel certain greatly enhanced the overall experience of the course. The conference and my remarks on museum ethnology could have been completely askew, but in actuality there was, I think, an unusually good fit, with the topics that I raised in the initial sessions showing up in richer context in the presentations of ICME keynote speakers and presenters. The new exhibitions and new museum provided a great context for the course and the conference.

ICME is a group within the larger International Committee of Museums (ICOM). ICOM is the UNESCO-affiliated international organization promoting and supporting museums and museum work. ICME is one of the 30 International Committees active within ICOM. As the name suggests, its focus are museums of ethnography a conception that includes museums whose ethnographic collections and work are very local (such as community-specific museums), national and regional (such as the ENM) and those whose concerns are global in scope (such as the Mathers Museum of World Cultures). The meeting in Tartu at the ENM was the 51st ICME meeting and it was organized under the theme “Re-imaging the Museum in the Global Contemporary.” (Find information on the conference, including specific presentations here and here).

The ICME conference was presided over gracefully by ICME President Viv Golding (University of Leicester) and the hard working local organizational team was led by Agnes Aljas (Research Secretary at the ENM). Agnes in particular went to great lengths to facilitate my participation in the conference and I thank her for her kind efforts.

There were many excellent presentations throughout the conference and a range of meaningful special activities, Each day began with a keynote, all of which were rich and inspiring. The keynote speakers were Andrea Witcomb (Professor, Deakin University, Australia), Pille Runnel (Research Director, Estonian National Museum), Philipp Schorch (State Ethnographic Collection of Saxony, Germany) and Wayne Modest (Research Center for Material Culture, Netherlands).

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Participants in the 2018 ICME meeting. From http://network.icom.museum/icme/, accessed November 1, 2018.

One contrast that I would highlight concerns the way that many of core conference presenters–as one might expect in Estonia as a Northern European host country–work in contemporary contexts shaped by volkskunde– or folklife-centered disciplinary histories (European ethnology, etc.). Their ethnographic concerns remained issues of commonality and difference inside (usually small) nation states. Nationalism is their main specter. With the exception of Pille Runnel from the ENM, whose valuable keynote took us behind the scenes at the host museum, the primary concerns of the other keynote speakers were more inflected towards volkerkunde (social anthropology, etc.) disciplinary histories or contexts. Whether overseas colonial projects or the dynamics of settler colonialism (in Australia), colonialism was the specter that haunted their remarks, even when focused on the problems of contemporary national cultures. This distinction was never complete and it is less so in places like modern Europe, but it remains present but not always acknowledged in our discussions. Discussions of projects with source communities, for instance, mean very different things in Berlin or Tartu. One could often feel audience members straining to connect the compelling suggestions made by keynote speakers to their own very different working contexts. I am always hyper sensitive to these dynamics working as a folklorist, ethnologist, and cultural anthropologist in a settler society that has vexing colonial (overseas and internal) circumstances as well as a difficult history of nation building in multicultural-but-unequal circumstances. This is a hard problem to solve because working knowledge of different disciplinary traditions and circumstances are so unevenly spread and widely-read and discussed work in English language museum anthropology has often overwhelmingly favored work in colonial situations over work arising from provincial and national ones.

These remarks are not in any way a criticism. A problem that I have long felt as a museum folklorist who is also a museum anthropologist (and as a teacher of folklore studies and of anthropology) were made still clearer for me in the ICME context. I hope that I can find new ways to help bridge the gap that I am evoking. International meetings where different perspectives and different national and global circumstances converge certainly help. I know that I am not alone in having learned much at the ICME meetings. I would not normally have been able to travel to an international meeting of this sort, thus my visit to Tartu was an extra-ordinary opportunity.

One last ENM note. The ENM stewards another museum site that I visited. As noted in my first post, I visited the Heimtali Museum of Domestic Life near Viljandi. My visit was excellent thanks to the work of my guides Kristi Jõeste and Ave Matsin of the Department of Estonian Native Craft and the kindness of our hostess And Raud. A textile artist, arts professor, and student of Estonian craft, costume and textiles, Ms. Raud founded the museum around her extensive collection. While it is now a branch of the ENM, the Ms. Raud remains the Heimtali Museum of Domestic Life’s greatest guide and interpreter. I thank her and Ave and Kristi for my visit.

My museum engagements in Estonia were inspirational and they will inform my teaching, research, and curatorial work for many years. I am fortunate to have had these opportunities and I thank all those who made them possible, including the Fulbright Specialist Program, the University of Tartu, and the Estonian National Museum.

The University of Tartu, Appreciated

#fulbrightspecialist #fulbright #exchangeourworld

I recently spent an extended time in Tartu, Estonia. I had the wonderful opportunity to be a Fulbright Specialist visiting the Departments of: (1) Estonian and Comparative Folklore, (2) Ethnology, and (3) Estonian Native Craft at the University of Tartu. My visit also provided rich opportunities to learn about the work of the Estonian National Museum, with which these departments collaborate closely. Visiting Estonia was a transformational experience for me and I am very grateful for my generous hosts in Estonia and for the continued work of the [U.S. Department of State’s] Fulbright Program. Here I reflect briefly on the work of my fields at the University of Tartu. In a later post, I will evoke the courses that I taught and the students I met while in Tartu. In a final post, I will touch on the Estonian National Museum and the rich International Committee for Museums and Collections of Ethnography (ICME) conference that it recently hosted.

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On the left, with the mural on its end, is Ülikooli 16 in Tartu on the University of Tartu campus. It is today home to the Institute for Cultural Research, which includes the Departments of Ethnology and of Estonian and Comparative Folklore.

The twinned disciplines in which I work–folkloristics (folklore studies) and ethnology–have a deep and important history in Estonia. So too do the practice of, and the study of, the nation’s rich craft traditions. For my interests, it would really be difficult to think of a richer and more rewarding place to make an in-depth, scholarly visit. The University of Tartu is almost two centuries older than Indiana University where I work. It was founded in 1632 under the auspices of King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden. Through Swedish, Russian, and Soviet rule as well as in independent Estonia, the University of Tartu has been a major world academic center. This is reflected in the fame and impact of its academic programs and in the scholars and students who continue to gather there from around the world. (For those interested in Indiana University connections, the university is strong not only in folklore studies and ethnology, but in the neighboring field of semiotics, another field of special interest to Indiana University scholars. Semiotician and IU Distinguished Professor Thomas Sebeok’s library can be found there (See: Thomas A. Sebeok Memorial Library. As noted here, Sebeok was a Fellow of the IU Folklore Institute and a Professor of Anthropology among his many IU roles.)

The Departments that hosted me have longstanding and strong undergraduate and graduate programs, but a new joint MA program was one catalyst for my visit. Having just welcomed its second cohort of students, the Folkloristics and Applied Heritage Studies program is an English-language masters degree program attracting strong students from around the world (including the United States). It is taught and managed in partnership between these units.

I taught two short-term courses while visiting campus (see later post) and met with colleagues and students both in Tartu and in the city of Viljandi, where the Department of Estonian Native Craft is based. It and other arts programs are located in the Viljandi Culture Academy. Viljandi–about an hour east of Tartu–is a strong hub for the arts in general and for Estonian vernacular and folk arts in particular. For example, near Viljandi is a great satellite museum of the Estonian National Museum that is focused on handicraft and rural life (Heimtali Museum of Domestic Life) and Viljandi is home to the major Viljandi Folk Music Festival.

Both in Viljandi and in Tartu, UT faculty were very generous and taught me much about their work and its contexts. As someone who teaches the history (and present status) of folklore studies, anthropology, and ethnology, it was extremely valuable to have a close encounter with the past and present of these fields in a national context that is inflected in both Northern European ways and in the Russian, Soviet, Post-Soviet ways. As throughout the region, issues of nationalism and national identity are a central theme, but colonialisms and their afterlives are also woven throughout the disciplinary histories. Estonia offers much to think about.

This is not just a historical matter, as changes and innovations in Estonia society also offer many lessons. For instance, life at the University of Tartu is now heavily impacted by programs and initiatives of the European Union and technological mediation is a constantly present dynamic in the university’s educational work. While I am quite accustomed now with online and distance education, I was struck by the extensive role that these techniques play not only word-heavy curriculums such as in ethnology and folklore studies, but in the university’s native craft curriculum. Most students in this later department are older students (older, that is, than recent high school graduates) and they are learning advanced textile, metalwork, and building techniques as well as heritage studies methods and theories through a combination of intense-but-brief in-person work on campus and online education activities.

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My course on “Getting the Most Out of Peer-Review” was generously supported by the European Union, thus this sign was posted during class sessions.

From colleagues in these departments, I also gained a deeper understanding of their impressive publishing work. Highlights include the Journal of Ethnology and Folkloristics (which I have long admired) and Studia Vernacula and a great diversity of monographs and edited volumes. Publication work in my fields is very advanced in the UT departments. The well-researched and beautiful books being produced related to Estonian craft techniques and histories are a marvel–little work of this quality is found in the United States.

I could continue at near endless length, but this is enough for now. I close for the moment with warm appreciation for all of the staff, faculty, and students who worked hard to make my visit possible and who shared so much of their work and passion with me. Thanks also go to the Fulbright Specialist Program and to the European Union, the University of Tartu, and other funding agencies that supported my activities.

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In downtown Tartu.

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.

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