I joined the faculty of the Indiana University Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology in 2004, having returned to Indiana from the University of Oklahoma, where I had served as a professor of anthropology and as curator of ethnology in the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. Prior to going to the University of Oklahoma, I was affiliated with the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where I served as Curator of Anthropology. The opportunity to participate in the Native American studies community at Indiana University was a major factor motivating my return to IU, as was the chance to join one of the world’s leading centers for the study of folklore.
My research centers on ethnographic collaboration (since 1993) with the Euchee/Yuchi and other Woodland Indian communities living in eastern and central Oklahoma. Following my original doctoral research, my positions at the Gilcrease Museum and the University of Oklahoma facilitated this work by enabling me to maintain long-term relationships with Euchee/Yuchi friends, while also giving me the opportunity to expand my circle of contacts and experiences throughout the region.
This background has been particularly valuable because a central concern of my work is understanding the regional dynamics of ceremonial visitation that both facilitate the formation of an overarching Woodland cultural and social world and the perpetuation of distinct tribal identities. My work at present focuses on this pattern in ethnographic terms, but my long-term goal is to work back ethnohistorically to form a clearer understanding of the same patterns of intertribal social interaction as they have unfolded in the past. The social and religious conditions that shaped the work of the Shawnee prophet among eastern tribes are an obvious example. My general approach combines a concern with social systems derived from sociology and social anthropology with an interest in the systems of meaning that have traditionally been the focus of American cultural anthropology. My method, one associated with folkloristics and linguistic anthropology, is to focus closely on genres of cultural performance, such as the visual arts, narrative, oratory, festival, dance and music.
My experience as a curator has also entailed many of the responsibilities typically associated with a public folklorist—collaboration with tradition bearers, exhibition development, and the planning of programs that bring local cultural traditions to wider publics. I continue to work in museum contexts and to teach courses related to museum work and public folklore. This continued involvement in museum issues while on the Indiana faculty (2004-2012) took a new twist (2013-) with my appointment as the Director of the Mathers Museum of World Cultures, Indiana University’s outstanding museum of ethnography and ethnology.
Over the past decade, my work has increasingly focused on emergent conceptual and policy issues. Building on longstanding involvement in cultural property questions (such as repatriation), I have developed interests in, and pursued work on, intellectual and cultural property (and heritage) questions. These are matters of especially prominent interest in contemporary folklore studies and my folklore colleagues have developed sophisticated perspectives on them. These interests in turn have motivated my involvement in scholarly communications reform, including the pursuit of open access scholarly publishing and considerations of the future of libraries, archives, and museums in the current period of rapid change. Heritage practices and policy has become a theme connecting my work undertaken in Native American contexts and newer studies of these themes being pursued in Southwest China as part of a larger initiative of the American Folklore Society and China Folklore Society.