Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Teaching’ Category

Two Short Courses in Tartu

#fulbrightspecialist #fulbright #exchangeourworld

In an earlier post, I expressed my appreciation for the opportunity to visit the University of Tartu as a Fulbright Specialist. Among my tasks while there was to teach two short courses. Here I want share the story of those courses and reflect upon how they fit into my visit and into my fall of sabbatical leave.

IMG_5455

The Departments of Ethnology and of Estonian and Comparative Folklore are not only headquartered in the beautiful building on the left, but they are located across from the wonderful, legendary cafe Werner on the right. The cafe itself justifies a trip to Tartu.

As I noted earlier, the University of Tartu has well-established and distinguished degree programs in (1) folklore studies, (2) ethnology, and (3) Estonian craft. My visit was in part prompted by the addition of an English-language MA program in folkloristics and applied heritage studies. This new program is being offered by the three departments in partnership. Given the focus of the new program and the interests of its students, there was a desire in the core faculty to offer an enhanced opportunity related to museums and material culture. That is where I fit it, as I regularly teach graduate courses in museum curatorship and in material culture studies for students of both folkloristics and in ethnology (≈ cultural anthropology). I suspect that my experience working in both museums and academe is also relevant here.

For my Fulbright visit, I was asked to contribute to a course called “Material Culture and the Museum.” Wonderful Tartu colleagues Kirsti Jõesalu, Elo-Hanna Seljamaa, and Ene Kõresaar organized and kicked off the course prior to my arrival and carefully managed its mechanics during and after my visit. I offered four course lectures and then participated with the students in the International Committee for Museums and Collections of Ethnography Conference held during my final week in Estonia at the Estonian National Museum (more on the conference later). The descriptions for my course talks were:

Museum Ethnology and Material Culture Studies: An Introduction

In the first of four sessions, the core concerns of museum-based folkloristics, cultural anthropology, and ethnology (= museum ethnology, hereafter) will be introduced. Material culture studies within these fields is an intertwined but independent endeavor. Concerned especially with the areas in which museum ethnology and the study of objects and built environments intersect, material culture studies as an research area in ethnology will also be introduced.

Theories of Material Culture

In the second of four sessions, the focus will be a survey of theoretical perspectives relevant to the study of material culture within the ethnographically-oriented disciplines. As a prelude to later investigations by course participants, a wide range of perspectives will be introduced briefly. The session will conclude with a somewhat more elaborated account of the primary approach to material culture studies now active in North American folkloristics. This dormant perspective reflects the communication or performance focus characteristic of North American folkloristics more generally.

Practices in Museum Ethnology

The third of the four sessions will characterize the practice of museum ethnology by scholars who are both based in museums and those who, while employed in other kinds of institutions, take museums and their collections as a special focus. What does a museum anthropologist, a museum-minded folklorist, or a museum ethnologist do? Why do they do what they do? What are the broader implications of this kind of work? How do such museum scholars contribute to the larger work of their field(s)? These questions will animate this session.

Contemporary Developments in Museum Ethnology and Material Culture Studies

In the final of the four sessions, the focus will be on emergent trends at the intersection of museum ethnology and material culture studies. These trends will be situated within a broader revitalization of work within these endeavors. Among the developments to be discussed are: (1) the changing role of museums in society, (2) reconfigured relationships with originating or source communities, (3) the impact of new digital technologies, and (4) the rise of new or reconfigured heritage and property regimes. We will also reflect on the relationship between museum/collections-based material culture studies and the now much larger and more diverse realm of material culture studies as a whole.

I was honored and a bit surprised that so many colleagues from around Estonia came to sit in on these four course meetings. There was a large and talented group of students participating in the course from the English-language MA and from other degree programs, but there were also faculty, researchers, and museum curators from around Estonia attending as well. It was exciting to engage with this diverse and interested audience. I am sorry that the size of the group prevented me from connecting personally with everyone.

I am on sabbatical leave this fall. Did I really have any business teaching? Yes. I will not be the first to observe how valuable teaching can be for the advancement of one’s own thinking and research. My Material Culture course at IU has been taught several times already, as has my Curatorship course. They need fresh thinking. Together, these two courses occupy 30 weeks of graduate seminar (75 contact hours). While in a small group, American-style seminar, I might have conversed my way across the topics outlined above, the large audience and tight time window necessitated coming at the material in a new way. Thinking about how to present the big picture in these two intersecting domains in a brief series of lectures was extremely productive for my own thinking. As I re-engage with my own museum-related material culture research, this fresh look is really valuable. One other thing that I can say about it was that–in the doing–I really drew inspiration from the recent work of younger scholars, including the IU graduate students with whom I get to work. The whole undertaking was generative and I appreciate the opportunity to pursue it. Special thanks to my colleagues for organizing it and for all who attended the course meetings.

My other short course was titled “Getting the Most Out of Peer-Review.” One of the advantages of a university with smaller course modules is that there is room for focused courses like this. This is the course that previously mentioned was partially supported by the European Union. It drew students from beyond folkloristics and ethnology and the participants were mostly PhD rather than MA students. It was at a high level from the first moment because a majority of the students came to the course with publishing experience. Most had already published one or more peer-reviewed articles, which meant that our discussions did not focus on the mechanics of submission and publication but focused specifically on peer-review. In this, we explored two phases. How to (1) engage with peer-reviews as an author receiving them and (2) how to be a good citizen and effective as a peer-reviewer. My kind hosts Kirsti Jõesalu and Elo-Hanna Seljamaa handled the kick-off and follow-up and mechanics of this course also and I hosted and led two seminars (one short, one long-but-with excellent snacks!) in which we discussed the broad domain. Unlike the lecture-hall material culture course, the peer-review course could be handled in seminar style and I thus had an increased chance to learn from the participants. I note here my thanks to all of the participants and to my hosts.

I won’t elaborate the peer-review course content further here, but I will note one related issue of particular interest to me.

The students in this course are advanced in their research and advanced in their publishing careers. This is normal for their institutional and disciplinary contexts in Europe and it also articulates with how most of them will meet their dissertation requirement for the PhD. As is true in the hard sciences in the United States but rare in cultural anthropology or folklore studies (or history, art history, etc.) here, these students dissertations will be assembled around a suite of peer-reviewed articles rather than a long-form, book-like manuscript. I hope to write more about this difference in the future, but if you are curious about what such a dissertation looks like, consider the case of Anastasiya Astapova’s dissertation titled Negotiating Belarusianness: Political Folklore Betwixt and Between. I choose this example because it is highly regarded and connects to my own home department.

As you will see if you consult the dissertation online here: https://dspace.ut.ee/handle/10062/49509, this dissertation combines a 69 page contextualizing and framing essay with presentation of five peer-reviewed articles and chapters. The first of these appeared in the journal Humor, the second appeared in the Journal of Folklore Research (published the IU Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology and IU Press), the third appeared in Ethnologia Europaea, the fourth appeared in the Journal of American Folklore, and the fifth appeared in an edited book titled Contesting Authority: Vernacular Knowledge and Alternative Beliefs. This is a stellar set of high profile publications in leading venues.

If you look at the dissertation online, you will find all of the framing and wrapper material, but not the five articles/chapters themselves. Professor Ülo Valk kindly gave me a paperback edition of the dissertation and it includes reproductions of the five published or then-forthcoming contributions. (All of the current Tartu dissertations are beautifully produced as book-like objects.) I suspect that the University of Tartu withholds these in the open access version for copyright reasons.

IMG_5454

While I mention Anastasiya Astapova’s dissertation in my post, there are plenty to attract our attention. Here is the cover of Jinseok Seo’s dissertation on Korean shamanism.

I hope to reflect more on this model of the dissertation in the future. Here, I mention it to provide context for the peer-review course. This structure definitely gives the peer-review article genre a key place in doctoral training.

In closing, here I want to thank the Fulbright Specialist program again as well as my staff and faculty hosts at the University of Tartu. In connection with the two courses, special thanks go to the students and colleagues who engaged with the efforts described here. (And thanks to the European Union for supporting the peer-review course.)

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.

IMG_5457

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.

IMG_5437

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.

IMG_5448

In downtown Tartu.

An Interview with Rachel Tavaras, Indiana University Graduate and Collections Manager at the Museum of Miniature Houses in Carmel, Indiana

Rachel Tavaras grew up in the Chicago area and earned undergraduate degrees in History and Anthropology, both in the College of Arts and Sciences at Indiana University (IU), where she was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa. At IU, museum work was a special focus for her and she undertook internships and practicum at the Mathers Museum of World Cultures, the Wylie House Museum, the Monroe County History Center, the Hinkle-Garton Farmstead, and the LaPorte County History Museum. After graduation in 2015, she joined the Historical Administration M.A. program at Eastern Illinois University (EIU). This highly regarded program is built around an on-campus year of coursework and hands-on training followed by a six-month supervised internship or job in a relevant museum or historical institution. While at EIU she was a graduate assistant at the Tarble Arts Center. Eager to catch-up with an outstanding undergraduate alumna who made a big difference during her time at Indiana University, I was pleased that Rachel agreed to an interview with me. In it we discuss her first job hunt, the Museum of Miniature Houses in Carmel, Indiana, where she now serves as Collections Manager, and her experience studying at Indiana and Eastern Illinois.

JJ: Thank you Rachel for being willing to do this interview.

Folk wisdom holds—and I think that it is often true—that one’s first full time job is often the hardest to find. We will come to your current work in a moment, but first could you tell us a bit about how you first got connected with the Museum of Miniature Houses?

RT: The initial job hunting process was quite daunting! My graduate program at Eastern Illinois University requires that we complete a six-month internship after coursework, unless we find a job. While I would not have had an issue with taking an internship, I sought something more permanent. When I saw an opening for the Collections Manager position at the Museum of Miniature Houses and Other Collections through the Association of Indiana Museums (AIM), I did not hesitate to apply.

Miniatures have always fascinated me, and, while I did not have a background in miniatures explicitly, I felt that my prior experiences with other types of collections could apply. From working with jewelry from the Middle East at Mathers, to working with Midwestern folk art dioramas at the Tarble Arts Center, I felt confident in my ability to work with a collection of objects made by less “formally trained” artisans. My theoretical training, both in class and in the museum field, also helped when it came to landing the job. I have been trained in methods of material culture, decorative arts, understanding folklife, and more. Such training is essential to understanding miniatures, whether it be a representation of an American Rococo living room or a Japanese farm house from Osaka.

IMG_1798[4]Rachel Tavaras shows off the “Yellow Georgian,” an assemblage of objects in the collections of the Museum of Miniature Houses in Carmel, Indiana.

JJ: Did you have any personal contacts with the museum beforehand or were you applying in response to the AIM advertisement? What did you learn from the application and selection process?

I did not have any personal contacts from the museum beforehand—I applied merely because of the online advertisement. Because I did not know anyone at the museum personally, every chance to leave an impression with the hiring committee was especially precious.

Because of this, through the hiring process I came to better understand the importance of the interview. I think that many recent graduates focus heavily on their resume and cover letter—and rightfully so. These are the first items that a potential employers looks over, and they will ultimately determine the applicant’s chance at an interview. For the interview, I was fully prepared and had anticipated many of the questions that the hiring committee asked. I had also researched the institution and miniatures in general beforehand, giving me the opportunity to explicitly express how my skills and experiences would make me a great asset. My efforts were worthwhile. Since being hired, I have been told that I “nailed” the interview. While my application materials got me the interview, it was my interview that go me the job.

I have since had to opportunity to be on the other end of the hiring process. Looking for a part-time Collections Assistant was an intimidating task, especially being so new to my own position. While sifting through applicants, I was reminded of the importance of first impressions. Many applicants sent vague and brief application materials. It was clear that they did not read the job description. On the other hand, one applicant both emailed and physically mailed me copies of her application. She was a high contender.

JJ: The name alone suggests that the Museum of Miniature Houses is a rather interesting institution. I won’t be alone in wanting to know more about it. Is the part-time Collections Assistant your only staff colleague or is the staff bigger than these two roles? Do volunteers play a big part in your museum? What can you tell us about the history of the museum and its current status? Who is the museum’s governance authority? Read more

Theories of Material Culture: Two Highlights

I am now concluding my graduate course Theories of Material Culture. I have taught this course several times previously and I always enjoy it. This year, the students who gathered with me were more diverse than usual. Beyond the normal folklorists and cultural anthropologists, there were practicing artists, a learning scientist, a fashion scholar, and an ethnomusicologist. In comparison to past instances, this made the course simultaneously more interesting and a more challenging exercise in translation. I am thankful for the chance to work with students whose interests intersect with mine in such stimulating ways. Interacting with these students was a big highlight of my distractingly busy semester.

k10581
Intentionally, I have made the Theories of Material Culture a weird course. In response to students who rightfully complained about constantly noting how key book-length works were often mentioned* in our courses but not assigned, the only readings in the course are books. Many books. Experience shows that, as part of a more diverse reading diet, this course pattern helps students in noticeable ways later–during qualifying exams, research planning, and dissertation writing. Some works have reappeared in different versions of the course, but some are always new to the course and occasionally some are new to me. This semester, I added two titles that, while I had not yet read them because they were brand new, seemed like sure bets. And they were. The were most beloved by the students and they provoked particularly rich discussions. These were Pravina Shukla’s Costume: Performing Identities Through Dress (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2015) and Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing’s The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015).

9780253015778_lrg
I cannot spare the time now to comment properly on these two excellent books, but I note here that they were highlights for me and for the students. I eagerly recommend them to you. Of reviews of Costume, I like the one written by Brandon Barker for JFRR. For The Mushroom at the End of the World, I note Eugene N. Anderson’s review in Ethnobiology Letters. (These two journals are both wonderful open access publications, by the way.)


* Particularly unnerving to students is the faculty habit of mentioning canonical books as if everyone in the room had not only heard of them previously but had read them and long ago assimilated their lessons. (I know I to am guilty of this tic too.) Books do of course get assigned in our classes, but usually a smaller number are balanced with a mixture of works in other genres. This normal pattern is true of my other courses too.

Its Summer Institute in Museum Anthropology (SIMA) Applicaton Time Again

Its time for graduate students with material culture interests to think about, and follow through on, applying to participate in the 2014 Summer Institute in Museum Anthropology. This is a four-week training program focusing on the methods needed to incorporate museum collections into broader research efforts in cultural anthropology and in cognate ethnographic fields such as folklore studies.

Funded by the National Science Foundation and held at the Smithsonian Institution, the program covers students’ room, board, and tuition. Housing is provided as is a small stipend for food and other local expenses. Participants are individually responsible for the cost of travel to and from Washington, DC. This is an intensive residential program and the participants are expected to devote full time to the training. Anyone working with, or interested in working with, material culture collections in their research should check out the program. Details are on the SIMA website.

Applications are due on March 1, 2014.

For other NSF funded training programs in cultural anthropology, see the Methods Mall website.

 

 

 

 


2013 Cultural Heritage Informatics (CHI) Fieldschool

Sharing below information on the 2013 Cultural Heritage Informatics Fieldschool.

The 2013 Cultural Heritage Informatics (CHI) Fieldschool introduces students to the tools and methods required to creatively apply information and computing technologies to cultural heritage materials and questions.

The CHl Fieldschool is a unique experience in which students come together for 5 weeks to collaboratively work on cultural heritage informatics projects. In the process they learn to envision and build applications and digital user experiences for cultural heritage – exploring skills such as programming, web design & development, user experience design, project management, digital storytelling, etc.

Build soundly on the principle of “building as a way of knowing,” the CHI Fieldschool embraces the idea that students develop a better understanding of cultural heritage informatics by actually building tools, applications, and digital user experiences.

2013 Fieldschool Theme: Each year, the CHI Fieldschool has a theme which guides and informs all work and projects undertaken by students. This year’s theme is “Visualization: Time, Space, and Data.”

The CHI Fieldschool is offered through the MSU Department of Anthropology as ANP491 (6 Credits)

DIRECTOR & CONTACT:  ETHAN WATRALL (WATRALL@MSU.EDU)
INFO & APPLY:  CHI.ANTHROPOLOGY.MSU.EDU/FIELDSCHOOL
DATES:  MAY 27-JULY 3

Note:  Interested graduate students from CIC Schools (Big 10 + Chicago) may wish to investigate participating through the CIC Traveling Scholars Program, which lets graduate students enroll on their home CIC campus while participating in a class on another CIC campus. For information, see: http://www.cic.net/projects/shared-courses/traveling-scholar-program/introduction

AFS Releases Lay and Expert Knowledge Project Reports #oaweek

In time for Open Access Week, the American Folklore Society and the Center for Folklore Studies at The Ohio State University have just made available a collection of reports and working papers derived from the Society’s project on Lay and Expert Knowledge in a Complex Society. This two-year project was funded by the Teagle Foundation as part of its “Big Questions and the Disciplines” program and focused examined undergraduate teaching of folklore in the contemporary world.

These materials are available now as volume 2 of the series Working Papers of the Center for Folklore Studies under the editorship of PIs Dorothy Noyes and Timothy Lloyd. This working paper series is made available through the OSU KnowledgeBank (the OSU institutional repository) and are harvested for search (OAI-PMH interoperability!) through the Open Folklore portal.

It has been an honor to participate in this project and I am super happy that first rate open access strategies are being used to make the work more accessible.

Why Michael Wesch’s “Blogging” Should Count

In his essay “Blogging for Promotion: An Immodest Proposal” anthropologist Greg Downey outlines a clear set of actionable proposals for reform at the intersection of scholarly communications practices and academic tenure and promotion practices. I commend his essay, which was published today (10/20/11) on Neuroanthropology, a compelling and influential PLoS (Public Library of Science) weblog that he runs with Daniel Linde. Rather than discussing this important contribution here in depth, I am going to try enacting one of its proposals. (For reference, see especially the discussion that follows Downey’s section heading “An immodest proposal (not an indecent proposition)”.)

First the set up. I am working extensively right now preparing a new course for spring 2011. This course was devised as part of my participation in a two year think-tank funded by the Teagle Foundation (a funder supporting projects designed to foster innovation in undergraduate teaching and learning) and organized by the American Folklore Society. The AFS project was built around the theme “What is the relationship between lay and expert knowledge in a complex society?” Colleagues teaching in a range of institutions, from community colleges and private liberal arts colleges to large research institutions gathered to explore the frontiers of research-based teaching, changing curriculum practices, and the wider contexts of our work in a small border discipline bridging the humanities and the social sciences, as well as the academy and the public sphere. As part of our work, we developed plans for new courses and teaching resources. Part of my work focused on working out plans for the course that I will initially teach next spring (it opens for enrollment today).

I have mentioned the course here previously. In a nutshell it uses the toolkit of folkloristics (and by extension my other field–cultural anthropology) to consider human responses–including aesthetic, expressive, customary, and communal responses–to a range of recently emergent and highly contested human social problems. Called “The New Social Problems: Communal and Expressive Responses” the new problem domains to be considered include such things as the digital divide, genetic engineering, intellectual property contests, and nanotechnologies. I am sure that I will be discussing the course further as it moves forward. The important point in this context is noting the influence that one colleague–whom I do not know and whom I have not yet met–has had on the shaping of my plans for this experimental course.

Michael Wesch, on his website/weblog Digital Ethnography (which is a key node in the digital infrastructure of his undergraduate-based research group), has regularly and effectively documented the pedagogical experiments and research work that he has been pursuing (over many years) with many successive groups of Kansas State University students. Wesch has been appropriately recognized and celebrated for the innovative work that he and his students have been doing. What I want to highlight here is that the manner in which he has documented and explained this work has made it richly available for the wider scholarly community. Because he has used http://mediatedcultures.net as a venue for reporting on his work, his strategies and experiences are openly and immediately accessible to me (and to my students) as well as to everyone else able to surmount the digital divide. Essays like “Our Class on How We Run Our Class” in which Wesch and his students describe (and enact) the technical and intellectual strategies through which a standard U.S. undergraduate course is turned into a deeply meaningful research collaboratory for social scientific investigation are just not available in the conventional published literature in our field. It is on the basis of the inspiration provided and the information conveyed by Wesch and his students that I am able to imagine a very different kind of course to pursue with my own students in January.

Michael Wesch’s Digital Ethnography efforts represent the kinds of “blogging” work that deserves to count as a substantive scholarly contribution (bridging teaching, research, and service) in such areas as annual review and tenure and promotion considerations.

Information R/evolution

While the fall semester is just beginning, this season’s call to submit book orders is a haunting reminder that the spring semester will be here very shortly. As I have noted previously, I will be teaching a new and experimental course on Folklore and the New Social Problems. Alongside ethical and topical matters, a meta-concern of this course is information literacy and the cultivation of durable research skills for a changing world. The call to submit textbook orders is especially ironic in these contexts in ways that I do not have time to explore in this post. Thinking about them today though, I wanted to catchup with an inspirational colleague (and an inspiration for my upcoming course) so I checked in online with Michael Wesch. I was happy to see that he has been named “Coffman Chair for Distinguished Teaching Scholars” at Kansas State University (well deserved!). I also watched, for the first time, his video Information R/evolution. It is a great companion to The Machine is Us/ing Us and it focuses on the changed information ecology in which those of us with access to digital resources work. Like many of Wesch’s other projects, it speaks well to the concerns so many of us are trying to negotiate. It is a valuable resource for my course. Check it out.

To be clear, I love books and nobody is working harder than my library colleagues to address the changes Wesch introduces. A key value of Wesch’s video work is his ability to explain these changes to general audiences (including those undergraduates with whom he has had such success).

Folklore and the New Social Problems

Like many friends, I am now rushing to prepare courses to be taught in the upcoming fall semester. This year I am teaching a new course in both the fall (=Indigenous Worldviews) and the spring. As fall progresses, I will need to get my act together for the new spring course. Book ordering will, for instance, come quickly. I wanted to describe here my new spring 2012 course and invite suggestions and comments from anyone interested in weighing in.

This new course “Folklore and the New Social Problems” or (in expanded form) “The New Social Problems: Expressive and Communal Responses” builds on work that I have done with graduate students over the past few years and was the focus of my contribution to the recent Teagle Foundation-funded project of the American Folklore Society. As part of the Teagle Foundation’s “Big Questions and the Disciplines” initiative, the AFS project focused on undergraduate curriculum innovations linked under the question “What is the relationship between lay and expert knowledge in a complex society?” This provides one context for the course that I will teach next spring.  Here is the course description.

FOLK F253 Folklore and the Social Sciences (3 cr.) S&H
VT: Folklore & New Social Problems
TOPIC:  The New Social Problems: Expressive & Communal Responses

This course considers human responses–including aesthetic, expressive, customary, and communal responses–to a range of recently emergent and highly contested human social problems. Working together to map uncharted territory, we will draw upon the methods, theories, and empirical findings of the international field of folklore studies while cultivating skills in media literacy and critical thinking.  As a course in folklore studies, we will specifically investigate the relationship of lay and expert knowledge within the fraught, complex, and large-scale phenomena and dilemmas that are its empirical focus. Among these course topics are: globalization and trade policy, financial engineering, the digital divide, intellectual property, the industrial food system, the trade in living human tissues and organs, biodiversity, geoengineering, climate change, cultural and linguistic diversity, farmer’s rights, corporate and media concentration, genetic engineering/synthetic biology, nanotechnology, and bioprospecting/biopiracy. Because these issues transcend the historic disciplines, the course will turn to the insights developed in a range of fields but the intellectual center of gravity will be the enduring concerns of folklore studies, as expressed in such core concepts as art, performance, identity, community, vernacular knowledge, context, expressive life, worldview, and heritage. While they will not be the focus of this course, we will acknowledge the enduring significance–in and beyond folklore studies–of what might be characterized as the old social problems. These would include such issues as slavery, terrorism, disease, colonialism, war, poverty, hunger, corruption, and racism.

Suggestions welcome!

%d bloggers like this: