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A Pack Basket Among the Lisu in Yunnan, 2004

If you click here, you will be taken to a Getty Images photograph by Zhang Peng/Light Rocket. The image shows a Lisu woman on her way to a market in Liuku, the prefecture seat for Nujiang Lisu Autonomous Prefecture in Yunnan, China. This autonomous prefecture is located northwest of Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture, where a group of research collaborators and I visited in 2013 and 2019. Nujiang Lisu Autonomous Prefecture is bordered on the west by Myanmar (Burma), on the north by Tibet Autonomous Region, on the Northeast by Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (Yunnan), and by Lijiang Prefecture-Level City (Yunnan) to the east and Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture (Yunnan) to the southeast.

Go look at the basket. I’ll wait.

Work on the manuscript dealing with basketry in Southwest China is, happily, now underway. While the study draws on work in communities that my collaborators and I have visited in Yunnan, Guizhou, and Guangxi, I am working to gather information from other parts of the Southwest. I am reading the ethnographies available in English (the Chinese language sources will come later) and finding what I can in museum databases and on the Internet. As I am reading Michele Zack’s The Lisu: Far From the Ruler (Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2017) at present, I have been looking for Lisu examples online. This Getty photograph provides a particularly useful example to consider.

The woman in the picture is wearing a pack basket. She is about 250 kilometers west (and a little north) of the Erhai Lake/Old Dali area where our group has documented and collected pack baskets among the Bai. (There are some Bai, speaking a different Bai dialect, among the Lisu in Nujiang Lisu Autonomous Prefecture.)

The basket that she wears is different from those of the Dali area in a number of ways. Even using just the picture, some of these can be observed. In common with Dali-area backpacks, hers is also generally “square” (/rectanguar) in profile rather than having a round opening, as among the Baiku Yao in Nandan County, Guangxi. But the two Northwest Yunnan types are different in several other ways. Dali-area backpacks have four sturdy bamboo feet, which hold the backpack level and off of the earth when it is set down. The Liuku are example lacks this feature.

Such feet would not work with the Liuku example because it is less of a rectangular solid and more of a trapizoidal prizm (if I am remembering my geography properly), with a rectangular opening at the top that is larger than the rectangular base at the bottom. This is a feature (manifest more generally in narrowing-to-the-bottom forms) seen in pack baskets from (nearby) highland Myanmar and elsewhere in mainland Southeast Asia.

In addition to differing in shape, the weave of the Liuku area basket is also very different. It is more open, with larger bamboo strips but also larger spaces in between them. The key difference is the way that the vertical elements that run from the base to the rim work. A proper analysis of the weaving techniques in both types would be instructive, but the provisional way to put this is that the Liuku basket seems dependent on these vertical elements, which weave in and out around the static horizontal elements. In Dali-area baskets, in contrast, the vertical elements are static and the weaving is primarily done with very thin horizontal strips that encircle the basket, working upward from the base and producing a basket without large openings.

Comparing the Liuku basket with my own market shopping basket from Xizhouzhen near Dali, I see that the two use the same olive green commercial fabric straps. This commonality is very different, again, from the pack baskets of Nandan County, Guangxi, where the straps are themselves woven out of narrow strips of bamboo.

I wish I could have included the photograph here, but the whole point of Getty Images is to sell use rights to images. I hope that you went and checked out the picture. The picture is worth more than my words, but these words help move the basket study along.

Native American and First Nations Studies in the American Folklore Society: The Founding AFS Fellows

As I noted in the previous post in this series on the presence and absence of Native American and First Nations studies work within the American Folklore Society, the 1940s began with a political intervention aimed at resolving tensions within the AFS between anthropological folklorists and humanistic, particularly, literature-oriented, folklorists. That moment of crisis is of focused interest here because those folklorists most consistently concerned with Native American and First Nations issues were anthropological in orientation. Most were concurrently active in the American Anthropological Association and, unlike the more literary folklorists, were unlikely to be involved in the Modern Language Association. The broader take away in the second post, which reflected meetings organized in the wake of this anthropology/literary studies intervention, was that in the 1940s, AFS meetings were, in general, very small and that Native American and First Nations-focused scholarship was regularly, but not consistently, present as a small slice a among a collection of small slices within a small field characterized by relatively small meetings even in relationship to the size of the community of folklorists then active in settler colonized North America.

The first post saw similar trends continue into the 1950s–small meetings featuring a small amount of work in Native American and First Nations content. It will be necessary to study other documents beyond the 1950s meeting programs to determine if the pattern seen in the 1940s–of a sizable number of anthropological folklorists working in, and sometimes with, First Nations and Native American communities continuing as a background phenomena to a greater extent that modest program participation would suggest.

One point of data available for the end of the 1950s is the story of the Fellows of the American Folklore Society, which was founded in 1960 (thus, effectively reflecting the state of affairs at the end of the decade. Information of the AFS Fellows can be found on the current AFS website, where all Fellows, past and present, are noted by name. Those who are deceased are so noted and, most relevantly for this project, those who were founding fellows are so noted. If one pulls the names of these first fellows out of the larger list, one can assess the orientation and work focus of this group of disciplinary leaders on colonized Turtle Island at the end of the 1950s. Rather than presenting the names is alphabetical order, I present them here in series of groupings. (For those interested in gender inbalance, I mark men and women in different colors. I also note the gender parity found among the anthropological folklorists.*

The first grouping represents scholars whose primary scholarly involvements concerned Native North America. This first cluster is comprised of two men and two women. In each case, there is nuance that can be added. Each of these four worked fully or significantly in Native American studies as anthropological folklorists. Anna Gayton also did work with Azorean Portuguese immigrants in California. Morris Olpler was also involved in work with Japanese Americans disgracefully interned during WWII and pursued work in East Asian studies also.

  • William Fenton (Ph.D. in Anthropology, 1937)
  • Anna H. Gayton (Ph.D. in Anthropology, 1928)
  • Morris E. Opler (Ph.D. in Anthropology, 1933)
  • Erminie Wheeler-Voegelin (Ph.D. in Anthropology, 1939)

Two other anthropological folklorists can be found in the initial Fellows, one man and one woman. Melville Herskovits was trained in, and worked in, the Americanist anthropological milieu, but was himself a student of African and African American societies. Katherine Luomala had research experience among Native American peoples and was involved, like Morris Opler, in applied work with interned Japanese Americans, but her primary work was set in Hawaii and the Pacific more generally. From the perspective of present-day work in Native American and Indigenous Studies, her involvements in Hawaii would readily move her to the first group.

  • Melville Herskovits (Ph.D. in Anthropology, 1923)
  • Katherine Luomala (Ph.D. in Anthropology, 1936)

Standing somewhat alone as the singular individual that he was, is Thomas Sebeok. Trained in Oriental languages he engaged with anthropology, linguistics, and folklore and was a pioneer in semiotics. His work related to a boundless range of topics, but included Uralic and Altaic languages.

  • Thomas Sebeok (Ph.D. in Oriental Languages, 1945)

The final group is comprised of scholars primarily focusing on European and European American expressive cultures. Most did so on the basis of training in English or another European language, but I note that Halpert held an M.A. in anthropology. Stith Thompson bridged Native and European tale traditions in his dissertation on European tales found among Native American peoples. George Korson rose to a position of prominence on the bases of his research and writings without a university degree. Thelma James held the M.A. degree but did not complete her doctoral studies, although she accomplished much within the discipline. Warren Roberts, from whom I took a class, earned the first Ph.D. in folklore in the United States, at Indiana. He would go on to pursue material culture research in the folklife/European ethnology tradition, but he was trained in the English language studies-informed mode of his mentor and fellow fellow Stith Thompson, as was Herbert Halpert.

  • Tristram P. Coffin (Ph.D. in English, 1949)
  • Herbert Halpert (Ph.D. in English, 1947)
  • Wayland Hand (Ph.D. in Germanic Languages, 1936)
  • Arthur Palmer Hudson (Ph.D. in English, 1930)
  • George Korson
  • Thelma G. James (M.A. in English, 1923)
  • W. Edson Richmond (Ph.D. in English, 1947)
  • Warren Roberts (Ph.D. in Folklore, 1953)
  • Stith Thompson (Ph.D. in English, 1914)
  • Francis Lee Utley (Ph.D. in English, 1936)
  • D.K. Wilgus (Ph.D. in English, 1954)

If we divide the group in to those affiliated with anthropology (including Sebeok), there are seven on this side of the binary divide and eleven on the other side. Of the eighteen founding fellows, four are generally understood as engaged participants in Native American studies, with Stith Thompson maintaining an interest in the field going back to his dissertation and non-trivial ongoing relationships with anthropologists.

How to read this data? I know that the matter is more complex than the following, but by 1960, I think that the days of parity of engagement between literary and anthropological folklore studies were over and that anthropological engagement was significantly diminishing as a growing sense of autonomy for folklore studies as an independent discipline in colonized North America had taken root. There would be re-connections to come (with the influence, for instance, of Dell Hymes and a broader re-connection under the auspices of the ethnography of speaking), but the old relationships of the pre-war era and the Boasian Americanist tradition mainly existed in individualized commitments (Ex. Fenton’s this period, my own in the current one) not as a wholesale collective enterprise in which AFS involvement was simply normative for anthropological ethnographers. As for Native American studies work in folklore, key individuals would come on the scene and do noteworthy work–Barre Toelken provides a clear example–but again, the field was about to grow both in numbers of participants and in diversity of interests and Native American studies would, I anticipate, continue to become a smaller and smaller part of the whole. Study of the meeting programs and JAF for the 1960s may prove me wrong in this anticipation.

* Beyond throwing shade, which I totally am, there are real reasons, both biographical and structural, in the history of American anthropology and the history of American literary studies for this gender difference.

No founding member of the AFS Fellows is known to me to have been a citizen of a Native American Nation. Please correct me if you know me to be in error on this point.

Native American and First Nations Studies at the American Folklore Society Meetings During the 1940s

Here is a second quick post on the presence and absence of Native American and First Nations studies at the American Folklore Society Meetings. Here the focus in on the 1940s. For most current members of the society, the surprise and interest in my report will not actually have much, if anything, to do with my specific topic. Likely to be of greater interest is simply the tiny number of presentations given at AFS meetings in this earlier era. To take the densest year for which I have data–1948–there were sixteen “regular” papers given at the annual meeting. On Friday, October 18, 2019, between 8 am and 10 am, thirty-seven classic papers were delivered. This number does not include more informal panel discussions and other special events that are now very common at AFS meetings. Thus, through the rise of concurrent sessions and especially the tremendous expansion of the field and society, we do more than twice in a single session block than was done at an entire large meeting in the 1940s. For 1941, I record a total of six presentations all together. This is the equivalent of one and a half or two present-day AFS panels. This is a dramatic change and when younger members of the society are exposed (endlessly) to elders droning on with declensionist post-golden age, narratives of disciplinary contraction and woe, consider treating their stories not as history but as a kind of sacred narrative doing a different work–for good or for ill–than descriptive history in a documentary mode. The American Folklore Society today is a juggernaut compared to seventy-five years ago.

As noted in the first post in this series, to know about the meetings in the 1940s, the easiest source to access are the reports of the meetings then-published in the Journal of American Folklore. Past AFS Executive Director Tim Lloyd, working with the librarians at the Indiana University Libraries, worked to make these reports available in IUScholarWorks and everyone can access them there. For 1948 and before, we have these post-meeting reports rather than the kinds of printed programs available for 1949-present.

An upside of the reports is that one gets a much richer sense of the society and its meetings outside of the presentations. The data in my first post should be considered in light of this lesson. Where we have reports of the meetings in the 1940s, one can learn about who presented what talk, by title. But the 1940s reports in JAF (available in the journal itself and excerpted in IUSW) also make clear that many active members were attending these meetings but not presenting lectures. The 1940s reports show that the expectation that a person would formally present at the meetings as a normal outgrowth of attending those meetings was absolutely not in effect, in sharp contrast to present-day norms in which presentation by attendees is very (I would say excessively) common. There are structural as well as ethos reasons for this and I do not foresee any likely change on this point, even in a post-COVID world.

Percentages are ratios and thus are only instructive in relation to the data on which they are based. (One paper on a given topic can represent 50% of the content at a meeting comprised of two papers…) With this caveat in mind, the picture for Native American and First Nations studies work at the meetings during the 1940s does not look much different than during the 1950s. For those with an interest in this field, a full program would boil down to two papers among a overall group of fourteen to sixteen presentations (ex: 1945, 1948). For at least two years (the data is incomplete at present, with gaps for 1940, 1942, and 1943) there were no papers related to Native American and First Nations studies work. As in the 1950s, none of the presenters working in this field are known to me to have been members of Indigenous Nations encompassed by the present-day settler states of Canada or the United States. Please correct me if you know this statement to be wrong.

Illustrating the way that presentation is a very incomplete measure of engagement and presence, I can note that the 1940s was the crucial decade for Erminie Wheeler-Voegelin, whom I mentioned in my previous post. She was editor of the Journal of American Folklore for much of this decade and she was AFS President at the end of the period. As I noted previously, her work was fully engaged with Native American studies and in the 1950s she would be central to not only the founding of the American Society for Ethnohistory and founding and editing its journal, Ethnohistory, she was central to the land claims work arising from the Indian Claims Commission in the United States. Another key scholar present at the meetings and on the program in this period was Gertrude Kurath, known for her extensive studies of dance throughout the Americas among both Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.

Looking to the reports beyond the meeting, it becomes clear that in the 1940s a large number of anthropological folklorists working in (sometimes also with) Native American communities were active presences within the society and its activities. Continuing from an earlier period, the publishing work of the society was clearly one key aspect of this. The society published monographs alongside the journal. Illustrating this nexus is anthropological folklorist Gladys A. Reichard. She served as AFS President in 1943 and the Society published her monograph An Analysis of Coeur D’Alene Indian Myths in the Memoirs of the American Folklore Society in 1947. A. Irving Hallowell, Frank G. Speck, and Morris Opler were among the the anthropological folklorists working in Native American studies (still) active in the 1940s.

Returning to the experience of the meetings from the perspective of the what one might hear in the lecture hall, reality is complicated. The range of topics under discussion in general in the 1940s was extremely narrow if judged by the standards of an AFS meeting held in the 21st century. Native American expressive culture was included in that narrow band. AFS members in that time clearly deemed work on Native American and First Nations topics (especially verbal art, but including dance) to be relevant. The attendance of a significant number of members working in this area implies that the value of attendance lay in informal discussion rather than formal presentation. Attendees today know this value too, but in relationship to the present state of Native American and First Nations studies in folklore studies, the question then becomes how large of a critical mass of attendees with shared interests are enough to sustain community of scholars.

For three years, the set of annual reports published in JAF seem to lack meeting data. If I can fill in the holes in the following, I will do an update later.

YearPresentations on Non-Native American TopicsPresentations on Native American TopicsPercentage on Native American Topics
Totals for Available Data6968%
Presentations on Non-Native American- and Native American-Related Topics at the Annual Meetings of the American Folklore Society During the 1940s

As in the 1950s, the joint meeting arrangements remained varied and in flux. The society met alone as well as with partners. Those partners included the American Anthropological Association (and those other societies who also met with it) and also the Modern Language Association.

If I can recommend any document from the 1940s set, it is the crucial report from 1940. That document reports on work and proposals trying to resolve critical tensions between the “humanities” (MLA-minded) and anthropological (AAA-minded) AFS members. Because of the different disciplinary roots, research foci, and community engagements at play in this contest, the conflict directly links to my interest in the presence and absence of Native Studies in folklore studies. The larger colonial, racialized, and nationalist contexts at a deeper level relate to the adjacent issue of the absence of Native American and First Nations AFS members/participants. Here is the evocation preceding the structural reforms intended to re-balance relations between the two interest blocks:

It is clear that the major difficulty facing the Society arises from a fail- ure to assess the importance of the fact that, by its very nature, the Society and its Journal are peripheral to two major concerns-those of anthropolo- gists and those of persons in the humanities. It is the opinion of the Com- mittee that in the future the Society should recognize more explicitly than in the past the importance of this fact, attempting by active encourage- ment to underscore those points at which fields of interest converge. On the basis of this fundamental assumption, the following proposals are put forward to implement this position:

Native American and First Nations Studies at the American Folklore Society Meetings During the 1950s

Update: The post below has been updated to include the previously missing 1951 program. I use strikeout and underline to show the changes. Special thanks to Tim Lloyd for both finding a 1951 program and for his earlier labors getting the corpus of programs into IUScholarWorks. [Later in the day of the original post, October 16, 2020]

I anticipate doing a series of posts on the topic of Native American and First Nations studies within the field of folklore studies. The American Folklore Society is currently meeting (virtually) and I became interested in probing my assumptions about when, within the history of the field (in so-called, North America) began to lose participants involved in studies of Native American-related topics. To begin to get at this with more than preconceptions, I started by looking at the programs from the annual meetings of the AFS. For the period before 1949, we have meeting reports published in the Journal of American Folklore. For most years, 1949 to present, we have printed programs that are available in IUScholarWorks.


Here is a picture of Native American studies works presented during the 1950s. No presenters during this decade are known to me to have been themselves members of Native American Nations from the colonized territories presently known as the United States or from First Nations of present-day Canada. [Please correct me if you know that I am wrong about this.]

The program for 1951 is not present in IUScholarWorks and thus data for that year is presently lacking.

YearPresentations on Non-Native American TopicsPresentations on Native American TopicsPercentage on Native American Topics
1951? 15? 0? 0%
Totals171 186127% 6%
Presentations on Non-Native American- and Native American-Related Topics at the Annual Meetings of the American Folklore Society During the 1950s

During this period, the AFS regularly met jointly with other organizations, but this was not always the case. Oral history of the matter suggests that the AFS used to meet in alternation between the Modern Language Association and American Anthropological Association, but the actual pattern in the 1950s is more complicated. [The meeting for 1951, for which I did not have a program when I first wrote this post, was joint with the MLA.] Unless it happened in 1951, the AFS did not meet with the MLA in this period. It did meet more than once with a coterie of anthropological (and one sociological) societies, including the AAA, during this decade, but joint meetings were also held with the Texas Folklore Society (in Texas), with the New York Folklore Society (in New York), and the Folklore (Summer) Institute (at Indiana University). The Society for Ethnomusicology was part of a joint meeting that included AAA and other anthropology groups in 1957. Thankfully, it was possible during this decade to identify the AFS panels papers within the larger mix of papers given at the joint meetings with anthropology societies. In the case of joint meetings with the folklore studies groups, there was no differentiation and such meetings are treated here as AFS meetings organized in partnership with the local societies and institute.

The data for 1951 is missing, but if we set that year aside, the average for the decade was 7% of the presented papers being on Native American and First Nations. [With the 1951 data, the decade average is 6%.] If the categorization related to Indigenous studies more broadly, the percentage would be somewhat higher depending on how one might include or not-include various peoples outside the continent presently known as North America. At three meetings (perhaps four in the case of 1951) [At four meetings] there were no presentations related to Native American or First Nations studies.

This surprised me to a degree, as I had perceived that an older, pre-WWII, pattern of involvement by Americanist anthropological folklorists had persisted more strongly into the 1950s. I had anticipated this because I had, wrongly, I think, associated their departure from active AFS participation with the rise of autonomous folklore studies (and programs) in the Richard Dorson-mode, but the 1950s programs show that the trend was already present prior to Dorson’s consolidation. I also read too much, I think, into William Fenton’s role in AFS during the 1950s, serving then as an officer and then as president (1959-1960). The meeting programs suggest that by the 1950s, his involvement was a survival of the older norm no longer widely practiced. He did what his mentors–Frank G. Speck (AFS President in 1921-1922), Edward Sapir (AFS President in 1929-1930), and John Swanton (AFS President in 1909)–did, but by the time that he did it, he was really an outlier enacting a practice from another age in the life of the society.

I note in this regard that my earlier perceptions were shaped also by the role of Erminie Wheeler-Voegelin, who was AFS President in 1948. In multiple ways, I am a lesser heir to Wheeler-Voegelin’s legacy as an anthropological folklorist and ethnohistorian working on Native North American topics on the faculty at Indiana University. The programs from the 1950s do not show her remaining particularly involved in the annual meetings of AFS. Her work, after her AFS presidency, closely relates, in my view, to the further sundering of Native American and First Nations Studies from the scholarly community gathered within the American Folklore Society. In the 1950s, she was the key person in the rise of the field of ethnohistory, She had edited the Journal of American Folklore between 1941 and 1946 but in the 1950s, she founded the American Society for Ethnohistory and started its journal, Ethnohistory, which she edited into the 1960s. In these years, the American Society for Ethnohistory became a key hub for interdisciplinary work in Native American and First Nations studies. She carried her folklore studies background into that new realm, but, like Dorson, she was an institution builder and the things that she created reshaped the landscape in which the American Folklore Society, and folklore studies on Turtle Island, operated.

Non-Native Studies (Blue) and Native Studies (Orange) Presentations at the AFS Meetings During the 1950s

Editors of scholarly journals published by societies are well aware of the gap that is common between the community gathered in the meetings of their society and that represented in the pages of the society’s journal. Review of JAF content during the 1950s will likely add nuance to the pictures presented by the meeting programs. To be continued….

3-2-1 Launch! Material Culture and Heritage Studies Laboratory

The pandemic slows all work beyond bare necessity, but good things can happen amid the difficulties of the present. Over the summer, with a small but mighty crew and some generous grants-in-hand, I did what the sailors call a shakedown cruise for the new Material Culture and Heritage Studies Laboratory that I founded at summer’s start. With great helpers, it was fun to return to research that had been set aside in 2012 when my MMWC era began. I am thankful for those organizations investing in this new work and for those colleagues and friends encouraging and participating in it. Last Friday the lab’s website launched bringing the quiet phase to an end. Check out the new website here:  

A screenshot from the MSHSL website. The image is of Tongle as viewed across a rice paddy from Zhiacong Village in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.

Thanks to all who have helped!

It is Time to Check Out The Michiana Potters: Art, Community, and Collaboration in the Midwest

Hi everyone. Some of you already know that The Michiana Potters: Art, Community, and Collaboration in the Midwest by Meredith A. E. McGriff came out recently from Indiana University Press. It’s great. You should read it asap. This is an exciting milestone not only for Meredith and her collaborators, but also for the Material Vernaculars book series that I edit for the IU Press. The Michiana Potters is the sixth title in the series. I am really happy about the work that the series is doing and I really appreciate both the IU Press and everyone who has supported the series as readers, reviewers, authors, and especially purchasers.

Why do a single out purchasers? Well, as I have noted previously, the MV series is an unusual experiment in scholarly publishing. Because those of us involved in the series want to make sure that potential readers are not hindered from reading series titles because of lack of library access or the inability to purchase the book, MV titles are offered for sale in beautiful print editions and also offered in free-to-readers editions online. When you choose to purchase one of those beautiful print books (or a commercial ebook edition), you are helping subsidize the digital free-to-readers edition. The granddaughter of one of the potters profiled in Meredith’s book, for instance, can click here and get access to the book and carry it around on her phone, show it to her art teacher, and use it for a class project. When someone who can afford to buy the book–a pottery collector getting excited about Michiana ceramics or a professor working in material culture studies, to give two obvious examples–buys the book, they are helping fund the production of the book so that others can also read and enjoy and learn from it. In fields such a folklore studies and cultural anthropology, maximizing access, especially for members of those communities from which we learn, is a crucial ethical consideration.

I have basically told this same story every time an MV title has appeared. The good news is that the system seems to be working. I hope that you will keep it working by purchasing Meredith’s fine book if you can.

As I will describe below, things are actually more complicated than I have evoked above. It is not actually the case that a book is either in print form or in the free digital form. There are other versions in the world too. Some of you can help the cause by using those other versions. I will now reveal some of these other ways.

First, the buyers. You can get a handsome paperback or hardback version of The Michiana Potters from a wide range of booksellers. The IU Press links to some of them on its webpage for the book. Pretty much any brick and mortar or online bookseller should be able to get it for you. If you are an ebook reader, you can also get an ebook edition from the usual sources of ebooks. So, book buyers, get busy. Thank you for making the series possible.

If you need or want to check out the free-to-readers edition of The Michiana Potters, it is now posted to the MV section of the IUScholarWorks repository. You can find its repository page here. If you know someone who really needs to read this or another MV title, please help them find this page. The series page with all six books in IUScholarWorks is here.

Now, lets get fancy. If you teach at a university or college and you wanted to assign The Michiana Potters or another MV title to your students, you can probably do this in a way that saves them money while also contributing financially to the work of the IU Press as the series publisher. “How can that be?” you ask. Well, series titles are also published as part of services that are relatively common in college and university libraries. One colleague of mine, for example, is teaching the inaugural series volume Material Vernaculars: Objects, Images, and Their Social Worlds this fall. Students in that colleague’s class will be reading the book via a JSTOR, a key service making journal and book content available on in university and college libraries. Other libraries have purchased eBook access using other services. For professors and students, your university library may or may not have purchased any one MV title in this form, but some have and more could. Usually all you need to do is look it up in your college or university library catalog.

So, if you are a university person, you can use a JSTOR or a university library ebook version for yourself or for your students. When you do, you are contributing, just by that use, to supporting the publishing work of IU Press, including the MV series. If you can do so, please use such library provisioned versions. They save your students money but they still help support the press. Doing so is better than pointing your students to the IUScholarWorks version. But, if you cannot arrange other access for your students or yourself, go ahead, of course, and use the Free-to-Readers version. That is what it is there for.

You can find The Michiana Potters in JSTOR here:

One source that I would really like to discourage you from using are the ever growing number of dubious file sharing sites. There really is no justification for getting The Michiana Potter from a Russian hacker when the IU Press and the IU Scholarly Communications Department, both at the IU Libraries, have worked to share a safe and easy version with you.

Happy reading to everyone! Congratulations to Meredith!


The IU Press flyer promoting The Michiana Potters.


On Taking Credit: Textile Traditions and Fashion Rip-Offs

Below find a guest post by Carrie Hertz, Curator of Dress and Textiles at the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA. –Jason Baird Jackson

On Taking Credit: Textile Traditions and Fashion Rip-Offs

by Carrie Hertz

On August 13, the mail carrier delivered the most recent catalog for Boden, a British fashion brand. While flipping through its pages that evening, I stopped dead on a spread for a new “limited-edition collection” of clothes featuring very familiar embroidery patterns. In explanation, the copy reads:

Our designers were so inspired by a vintage rug they discovered on their travels, they dreamed up this limited-edition collection of exquisitely embroidered pieces.

Let’s unpack this.

The Boden designers, clearly positioned here as worldly travelers, admit foreign “inspiration” for their ideas without actually revealing any valuable details about the source. The mention of a “vintage rug” not only suggests a possibly singular, idiosyncratic item, it places that rug’s creation far in the past, likely made by an anonymous and untraceable craftsperson now lost to history. As a limited-edition line of clothes, potential customers could be led to believe these designs are rare, exclusive, and fleeting, requiring their urgent action. These designs, however, are not unique. They are rip-offs.

IMG_8683As a folklorist and curator of textiles and dress, I engage and partner with artists around the globe who often struggle against the living legacies of colonial structures and the inequalities endemic to Western cultural imperialism. Western fashion corporations repeatedly claim the rights of “discovery” to the world’s textile traditions, capitalizing on unfair advantages constructed over centuries of imperial exploitation, profiting off the creative work of others, and actively concealing the sources of their theft.

Perhaps most painful to many of the artists and communities that I work with is the public erasure of their cultural contributions. In this case, Boden didn’t provide proper credit, not even naming the exquisite embroidery tradition it found so inspirational, perhaps because to do so would immediately shatter the illusion of their design team’s innovation, the elite exclusivity of their garments, or even their relative beauty in comparison to much higher quality versions readily available at affordable prices in the global market place.

So, I offer a small piece of this context now.

Suzani (from the Persian word for needle) embroidery has been developed over centuries in Central Asia, traded along the Silk Road, and later survived Communist attempts to suppress it during the Soviet era in places like Uzbekistan. According to Mary Littrell, a textile scholar and research associate for the Museum of International Folk Art:

In the 20th century, Communist rulers in Uzbekistan equated handcrafts with a feudal past. Handcrafts, associated by the Soviets with individual creativity and private production, served no purpose in a unified and mechanized future. Craft production was forbidden or forced underground as the workers turned to mass production. With the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Uzbek artisans began the long process of reviving their centuries-old craft traditions and transforming them in new directions for domestic, tourist, and international markets. (

Today, you can readily find gorgeous hand-embroidered garments made with naturally-dyed silks and cottons being sold on sites like Etsy and produced by living artists for which this artform represents multigenerational cultural memory and skill. During every non-pandemic year, the International Folk Art Market (IFAM, features numerous Uzbek artists selling handcrafted rugs, bedspreads, pillows, clothing and accessories. For examples:

Check out the beautiful designs at Bibi Hanum ( founded by Muhayo Aliyeva and her sisters (;

or the stunning work of Sanjar Ravshanovich Nazarov (;

or the truly exquisitely-embroidered coats produced in Madina Kasimbaeva’s workshop ( in Tashkent (

These are only a few of the talented and dedicated artists “dreaming up” suzani designs today. Uzbek artists and others have fought hard to sustain and revitalize suzani tradition. At the very least, they deserve credit for their efforts.


Frank G. Speck Visits the Euchee, Stockbridge, and Seneca Students at Haskell in 1939-1940

Among the objects cataloged as Creek in the collections of the National Museum of Natural History is a doll made by Leona Tiger while she was a student at the Haskell Institute (now Haskell Indian Nations University) in Lawrence, Kansas sometime before May 1940. The doll was purchased by Betty J. Meggers in Washington, DC at the “Department of Commerce Indian Store.” Catalogue information identifies Ms. Tiger as Creek (and thus the doll is labeled as Creek. In form it is a doll dressed in the kind kind of beaded two-piece dresses worn by Native American peoples of the Plains region. You can find the doll here and see it pictured below (Figure 1).


Figure 1. Doll (E424895) by Leona Tiger (Creek and/or Euchee), ca. 1939-1940 from the Betty J. Meggers Collection (374094), Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. Photograph by Anthropology Collections Management. Terms of Use are described here:

Tiger is a common last name among not only the Creek and Seminole people in Oklahoma, but also among the Euchee (Yuchi) and Cherokee there. Trying to learn more about the maker, I found her named in several issues of the Indian Leader, the magazine then published by the Haskell Institute. She was a pianist, part of the Concert Orchestra, a member of the Baptist student group, the Arts and Crafts Club, and was among the Home Economics graduates for 1940. The Indian Leader paints an inspiring picture of Ms. Tiger’s Haskell days. You can search a block of issues of The Indian Leader for this period here.

The Indian Leader also indicates that she was among the Euchee students there in the late 1930s in the following way. This story is at the intersection of Euchee history and the history of anthropology. An unsigned news item on page 7 of Volume 43, Number 9, dated January 12, 1940 is as follows (I have added the links for those interested and bolded the names so that they pop out to readers):

“Noted Anthropologist Visits”

“Dr. Loren C. Eiseley, Professor of Anthropology at K.U., brought to our campus last week Dr. Frank Speck, head of the department of anthropology and archaeology at the University of Pennsylvania, to meet some of our students and interview them on some of the language and folk ways that are of interest to their departments. Doctor Speck is the author of the outstanding work on the Euchee Indian and he spent some time interviewing Leona Tiger, Cilla Brown, and Ann Rolland [Holder] for additional material. He also had a conference with the seven Stockbridge young people on our campus and with Wesley Tallchief and David Whitetree, Senecas. Dr. Speck was disappointed not to find any Delaware here who spoke their dialect, as his plan was to make a comparative study of the eastern and western members of the original eastern seaboard tribes.”

Eiseley and Speck are both well-known figures in the history of anthropology. The author of this story is referring to Speck’s book The Ethnology of the Yuchi Indians, which is based on visits he made to the Euchee people of Sand Creek town near Bristow, Indian Territory in 1904, 1905, and 1908. This story helps show that Speck remained interested in the Euchee people during the final decade of his life. It also highlights the lives of Euchee women who pursued advanced studies at Haskell, more than 230 miles from home, in the late 1930s.

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A screenshot of the story about Frank Speck’s Haskell visit with Leona Tiger, Cilia Brown, Ann Roland and other Native students.

Daniel C. Swan, Museum Leader

Below find the ninth in a series of posts offered in celebration on the occasion of our colleague and friend Daniel C. Swan’s retirement from the University of Oklahoma, where he has served with distinction as a Professor of Anthropology, Curator of Ethnology, and Interim Director of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. Here I take a turn reflecting on an an aspect of Dan’s work and his personal impact. This series of guest posts has been organized in partnership with Michael Paul Jordan. –Jason Baird Jackson

Daniel C. Swan, Museum Leader

by Jason Baird Jackson

Earlier posts in this series in celebration of Daniel C. Swan’s retirement from the Sam Noble Museum, and from the University of Oklahoma where it is based, have emphasized mentoring. To impact a more junior colleague positively and to help launch them, or to advance them, in their career is particularly noble work. Since we met one another in the spring of 1994, Dan has been an extraordinary mentor to me and an energetic advocate for me and my work. My career has followed the particular—and wonderful—pathways that it has because of Dan’s deep influence on me and on my lifecourse. This observation could easily be the stepping off point for an essay on Dan’s outsized role as a mentor and supporter to me and to many others. I would love to write that essay.

For others, as for myself, a key part of Dan’s influence as a mentor relates to his providing an observable, emulatable model for collaborations that link communities and cultural organizations for work that addresses the needs or goals of the partner community and that serves society more broadly, while also advancing collaborative scholarly research. While Dan’s involvement in a wide range of such projects in Indian Country are perhaps best known, he has been involved in partnerships and initiatives connecting to, and serving, a still wider range of constituencies and communities. This was true, for instance, in his work as a curator in a an extremely diverse city, while at the Science Museum of Minnesota and I saw it first hand in his work as Senior Curator at the Gilcrease Museum.

In 1999, for instance, we worked together to raise funds for an “Oklahoma African American Folk Arts Survey” aimed at addressing the Gilcrease Museum’s historic neglect of African American cultural life in the state and in the Americas. We brought the Smithsonian exhibition Creativity and Resistance: Maroon Cultures in the Americas to the Gilcrease the following year for the same reason. At a much larger scale, one of his most ambitious and far reaching Gilcrease projects was the major permanent exhibition Las Artes de Mexico. Opened in 1996 and co-curated with Kevin Smith, that project shook things up for Gilcrease and leavened an excellent but little-known collection of Mexican art and documents with contemporary collections and contemporary voices—including Indigenous ones. It was perhaps the first time that a major Gilcrease Museum exhibition was informed by new, project-based ethnographic field research. It was also innovative not just for the museum but for the field in the way that it snuck in a wide range of then emerging best practices and subverted, in a fruitful and innovative way, the then-standard conventions of art-museum-based exhibition presentation and planning. Even the staid Tulsa World captured the sense of what I am getting at here in this June 9, 1996 report by arts reporter James D. Watts, Jr.

I could keep reflecting on Dan’s exhibition projects in this way. Symbols of Faith and Belief: The Art of the Native American Church (a partnered project of the Native American Church of Oklahoma and the Gilcrease Museum), A Gathering of Traditions: A Centennial Celebration of Dr. Charles Marius Barbeau in Oklahoma (a partnership of the Wyandotte Nation, the Seneca-Cayuga Nation, and the Sam Noble Museum) and A Giving Heritage: Wedding Clothes and the Osage Community  (a partnered project of the Sam Noble Museum and the Osage Nation Museum) in particular deserve detailed discussion. I hope to write, or to help someone write, that essay. Dan has been involved in a huge number and range of exhibitions and an even larger number of public-facing and community facing programs. These are not well-enough known.

Mentoring. Museum collaboration. Exhibitions. Dan’s accomplishments in these areas warrant extensive discussion. So too with his own research and writing. If you have not read Peyote Religious Art: Symbols of Faith and Belief (University Press of Mississippi, 1999) or Wedding Clothes and the Osage Community (co-authored with Jim Cooley) (Indiana University Press, 2019) yet, I really urge you to do so. On the article side, my favorites include “Early Osage Peyotism” (Plains Anthropologist, 1998), “The North American Lotus (Nelumbo lutea (Wild.) Pers.) – Sacred Food of the Osage (Ethnobotany Research and Applications, 2010), and (with Michael Paul Jordan) “Contingent Collaborations: Patterns of Reciprocity in Museum–Community Partnerships” (Journal of Folklore Research, 2015). It is hard to fathom how Dan found time for so much writing when his administrative, curatorial, teaching, and collaboration duties were so extensive across so many years. His larger oeuvre is remarkable and really warrants separate discussion. I hope to help with that and with helping surface the ways that all of these activities intersected with his teaching work at the universities of Tulsa, Memphis, and Oklahoma.

­­I am cheating by evoking those other areas here in brief as I do not want them to go unmentioned in the series. But the focus of my thinking today is in museum leadership. Between 2013 and 2019, I served as Director of the Mathers Museum of World Cultures (MMWC). Almost daily during those years, I thought about Dan and about all of the things that I learned from him about leading teams of colleagues within museums. I was really fortunate to have been hired by Dan to work as his understudy and assistant at the Gilcrease Museum during his tenure there as Senior Curator. Dan had begun his own museum career at the Oklahoma Historical Society’s main facility in Oklahoma City and then at the White Hair Memorial, an OHS state historic site and community learning center in the Osage Nation. Before returning to Oklahoma to work at Gilcrease Museum as Senior Cuator, Dan was Curator of Ethnology at the Science Museum of Minnesota. After Gilcrease he served as Director of the University of Memphis’ Chucalissa Museum and finally returned again to Oklahoma to follow me as the Sam Noble Museum’s Curator of Ethnology. Yesterday was his last day in that role and as the museum’s Interim Director. I write this reflection on his first day of retirement.

Museum leadership is often hard, especially in moments such as the current one. In each of his museum leadership roles, Dan made difficult choices with his eyes focused on how to advance the community-service mission of these museums. When I became Director at MMWC, I thought often about how I so regularly watched Dan turn bad news into good news and how he stayed positive and good humored even when this could not be done. There was almost always another day to try again. Every problem could be approached from a new angle. New friends, new funds, new relationships, new ways of organizing the team, new ways of organizing the day, new ways of organizing the collections, could almost always be found and, with them, new progress could eventually be made. The time that I spent at Gilcrease working with Dan and with our colleagues of that period was the most formative in my career. Despite all of the good things that have happened to me since, it remains my own personal golden age. I was shown how to do the work of a curator and given ever more expansive opportunities to do it. I had so much fun to work with Dan and with my other Gilcrease colleagues of that time.

But, I was also watching how the museum’s senior staff, its directors (there were several in a brief period) and especially how Dan, as Senior Curator, did their work. How did museum leaders interact with the board and with funders? Where did the funding come from? How did the leadership group work with the media? With city officials? How were staffing problems dealt with? Controversies? Mistakes? The usual physical plant crises? How did the museum present itself to its audiences and was it diversifying those? With respect to Dan in particular, how did he pull off major projects (the Thomas Moran exhibition, for instance) that went beyond the skills and experiences that the museum’s staff already had? How did he help the teams that he led innovate? I learned so much from watching him and from being involved in the group work that he led the Gilcrease Museum’s curatorial, registration, education, conservation, and programs staff in.

There are many lessons, but one that I thought about most often in my own directorship was the balance that a museum leader has to try to strike between firmness and flexibility, seriousness and fun, expectations (of growth, of productivity, of commitment, of progress) and acceptance (of personality differences, of relative skills, of career investment, of hard realities). In striking this balance, Dan always displayed an equanimity that I never came close to. With the staff, he knew just when the best course of action was to lighten the mood with appropriate humor. Inversely, he knew when frank words were necessary and how to convey them constructively. From my perspective, he knew just when he needed to roll up his own sleeves and join in the physical work of lifting a crate or painting a wall and when he needed to straighten his tie and leave such work to those for whom it was an assigned duty. I wish I had words adequate to describe what I am getting at, but the key thing is that Dan was a model museum leader not just in the sense that he was an excellent one, but in the sense that he literally provided the model by which I and others learned how to also be museum leaders ourselves through his example and influence.

While my time as a museum director is concluded, for now at least, I still use the lessons that I gained form Dan daily. They appear in my courses about museums and curatorship, certainly. They appear in my own mentoring of students and colleagues. But they also permeate my day-to-day work. At present, I am returning to my own research and my own collaborations. In doing so, I am trying to build a new team of collaborators and to revitalize relationships with partners for a post-MMWC period. I am trying to keep existing efforts going while looking ahead to new ones. Doing just this is fundamental to the work that I have watched Dan do for all of the twenty-six years that I have known him.

I am thrilled at the prospect of Dan having, at last, the freedom to take up his projects and pursue his collaborations out of pure interest and commitment without the burden of having to feed a museum’s insatiable demand for new exhibitions, new grants, new reports, new budgets, new donations, and all of the rest.

Dan—thank you for all that you have given and all that you have done. Congratulations!


During the Osage Weddings Project, which led to the exhibition “A Giving Heritage: Wedding Clothes and the Osage Community” and to the book Wedding Clothes and the Osage Community, project participants, including Dan Swan, held consultative events in the Osage community, such as this discussion in May 2015 at the Wah-Zha-Zhi Cultural Center in Pawhuska.

Thank You, Dan, For All The Keys

Below find the eighth in a series of guest posts offered in celebration on the occasion of our colleague and friend Daniel C. Swan’s retirement from the University of Oklahoma, where he has served with distinction as a Professor of Anthropology, Curator of Ethnology, and Interim Director of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. Reflecting here on an aspect of Dan’s work and his personal impact is Abby Wightman, who is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Mary Baldwin College. This series of guest posts has been organized in partnership with Michael Paul Jordan. –Jason Baird Jackson

Thank You, Dan, For All The Keys

by Abby Wightman

When my friends Michael Jordan and Jason Jackson asked me to write this piece in honor of Dan Swan, I was surprised – honored and pleased, but still surprised. Dan did not serve on my dissertation committee. We have never been work colleagues. I am not a museum anthropologist, and we have never co-authored a publication. In anthropological terms, we did not have formally-defined roles with assigned duties and reciprocal obligations. Yet it is precisely this list of “nots” – of all the ways Dan and I are not connected – that is so important here.

When Dan arrived at the University of Oklahoma in 2007, I was nearing the end of my doctoral studies in cultural anthropology, so he did not serve on my dissertation committee. Despite this, Dan reached out to me twice in later years – first, to ask me to participate on a conference panel and then several years later to work with him on a bigger, but also more complex and delicate project.

At the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, Dan had inherited a binder full of photographs of the Plains Apache community of Oklahoma, taken by anthropologist J. Gilbert McAllister in 1933. McAllister spent one year collecting kinship data among the Plains Apache, and this fieldwork became the basis for an important chapter in the well-known volume Social Organization of North American Tribes, edited by Fred Eggan (1937). As part of his research, McAllister also took many photographs of the Apache people and families he came to know. These photographs, through a rather circuitous route, came to the Sam Noble Museum and eventually to Dan’s care.

Together, Dan and I developed a modest pilot project with three goals: to learn more about the context and people featured in McAllister’s photographs, to ascertain community interest in the collection, and to find a place to archive the collection.  In the summer of 2013, with the support of the Sam Noble Museum and a small grant, I spent a summer of fieldwork in Anadarko and Caddo County, visiting with Apache friends. Apache folks patiently went through each photograph to provide the context missing from McAllister’s sparse annotations. The majority of unknown individuals were identified, as were location and context. The results were pretty astonishing, considering the age of the collection and the poor quality of some photographs.

Unsurprisingly, McAllister’s photographs strongly appealed to many Apache people. Unlike anthropologists, who might value historic images for their ethnographic value, Apache people primarily valued McAllister’s photographs for their social value. Although some of McAllister’s photos feature examples of material or expressive culture, the majority of the collection, over 60 photographs, are portraits. These photographs emphasize individuals and families in everyday dress, posed in front of homes, camps, cars, or – rarely – tipis. For many Apache people, McAllister’s photographs were valuable because of these portraits and their kinship ties to people in the present. While the photographs were visual representations of beloved relatives, they also had a material value and use beyond the image, as evidence of kinship claims and connections.

Like most fieldwork, however, this project wasn’t wrapped up tidily in one summer. While we made both hard and digital copies of photographs available to participants, I knew the entire collection should be stored in the community. In 2013, however, that was not possible. For six years, the binder with copies of the collection sat in my office, a constant reminder of my unfinished obligations to the Apache community. Last year, after checking with Dan, I was able to deposit hard and digital copies of the McAllister collection to the Apache Tribe of Oklahoma Cultural Preservation Office. The negatives will be archived, and accessible to the community and scholars, at the Western History Collection at the University of Oklahoma.

As the latest in a line of University of Oklahoma graduate students working with the Plains Apache, it made sense, perhaps, that Dan would ask me to help with McAllister’s photographs. But in a very real way, it also didn’t make sense. At my small university, requirements for tenure and promotion prioritize teaching and advising undergraduates. Dan knew that I could not reciprocate his offer of research support with support from my own institution – yet he offered me opportunities anyway, even without a formal student-advisor relationship. He became an invaluable connection back to Southern Plains scholarship and to the institution where I received my doctorate when I had few other links to this world.

Writing one of the later pieces in this blog series, I have had the opportunity to read previous posts that celebrated Dan as a dissertation advisor, mentor, confidant, father figure, and colleague. Like others, I have benefited and learned from Dan’s expansive knowledge, inclusivity, and respectful collaboration with the communities in which he works. To me, though, Dan’s lasting impact was as a generous provider of opportunities, opening doors to new possibilities without expectation of return. Perhaps a better analogy is that Dan handed you the key and trusted you to unlock the door yourself. It is an advising model based on mutual respect, and it has inspired how I advise undergraduates – providing students with the keys to opportunities and experiences, trusting their judgement and abilities.

Thank you, Dan, for all those keys. Best wishes on all your future adventures!


Photograph by the author. Anadarko, Oklahoma. 2013.


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