Digital Folklore Project Launched
Duck-lip selfies, Confession Bear memes, urban legends about tainted Halloween candy, Ebola scares; they’re not exactly what people tend to think of when they hear the word “folklore.” But, they all are very much a part of Utah State University’s College of Humanities and Social Science’s Digital Folklore Project.
The venture, which launched recently, has the goal of tracking digital folklore trends such as urban legends, Internet memes, hashtags, vines and more.
Housed within USU’s Department of English and hosted by the Folklore Program and the Fife Folklore Archives in the Merrill-Cazier Library, the Digital Folklore Project currently is collecting nominations for “Digital Trend of the Year” on its website, digitalfolkloreproject.com, and through the hashtag #digitaltrendoftheyear.
The project is spearheaded and co-founded by Jeannie Thomas, professor of folklore and English Department head, and Lynne McNeill, director of online development. Their research team, made up of undergraduate and graduate students, currently is assessing data to determine the first such award.
“Digital forums provide powerful venues for everyday people to give voice to matters that concern or delight them,” said Thomas. “The Digital Folklore Project is unique in that it tracks and analyzes these important forms of online grassroots culture.”
With the surge in Internet use, and a culture seemingly obsessed with ever-changing online activities, ideas, stories and fads, the project likely will have no shortage of nominees for the Digital Trend Award. And though folklore and the digital domain may seem an unlikely pairing, McNeill begs to differ.
“These days, many folklorists are doing work with cultures and forms that the average person definitely doesn’t associate with the word ‘folklore,’ and this project is a great opportunity to begin to expand those associations,” she said. “Digital trends like hashtags and memes are a major way that everyday people can make their voices heard, building on and adapting the ideas of other people to make their own unique statement, whether for the sake of humor or for more serious cultural commentary. Folklorists have some unique insights on this surprisingly traditional process, and we're excited to be sharing those insights through the Digital Trend of the Year.”
Digital Folklore Project organizers encourage contributions to the Digital Trend of the Year. Tweet to @DigFolkProj on Twitter using the hashtag #DigitalTrendOfTheYear or email suggestions to email@example.com. The Digital Trend of the Year will be announced on the DFP website Dec. 13.
Folklore Faculty, Students Attend AFS Meeting
Students and faculty made a great showing at the annual American Folklore Society (AFS) meeting, held November 5-8 in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The annual meeting attracts participants from both the United States and abroad; this year, over 100 different countries were represented at AFS.
Anna Christiansen’s paper, entitled “Reflections of a Digital Age: Categorizing Bloody Mary Videos on YouTube” drew a number of comments and questions, while Lynne McNeill’s paper “I Remember Like It Was Yesterday: Motivating Perspective Change in Legends and Personal Experience Narratives” considered the shift from first to third person in narratives as evidence of constructed memory.
Lisa Gabbert’s paper “Suffering and Laughter: Further Explorations” examined the relationship between two terms generally considered incongruous, while Randy Williams (Fife Folklore Archives archivist) presented “From the Fieldworker to the Librarian: The Barre Toelken Image Collection,” discussing the process of transforming 2000 slides from Professor Barre Toelken’s fieldwork to a searchable digital collection. Claudia Schwabe (Department of Languages, Folklore Program faculty) presented “Magic Realism in Grimm and Once Upon a Time” applied magical realism to fairy-tale television. Her panel consisted of internationally known fairy tale scholars.
Rosa Thornley ’s paper "The Farm in Literature and Culture: A Higher Education Curriculum Model” discussed teaching the new book Farm: A Multimodal Reader, ed. Joyce Kinkead, Evelyn Funda, and Lynne McNeill.
Lynne McNeill and Jeannie Thomas launched the Digital Folklore Project to an enthusiastic audience, giving out stickers and presenting the project at various section meetings. The Digital Folklore Project (DFP) identifies the most important digital folklore trends of the year. Research is conducted by graduate students, and the trend is voted on by distinguished panelists. Lisa Gabbert and Randy Williams finalized plans to launch an inaugural summer 2015 field school. In partnership with the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, the field school is designed as a collaborative project to teach graduate students and others fundamental fieldwork and archiving techniques. Such field schools have been held in various locations across the US. The Logan 2015 field school will focus on the documentation and preservation of Cache Valley refugees.
A number of graduate students also attended the conference, capitalizing on a number of events for first-time attendees: Erin Sorenson, Naomie Barnes, Lori Lee, and Shannon Mauldin.
The Folklore Program at Utah State University was founded over forty years ago. Located between the disciplines of literature and anthropology, folklore is the study of traditional beliefs, stories, legends, songs, festivals, and arts of a given group. A primary emphasis in folklore studies is on tradition and the ways traditions manifest in the modern world. A second emphasis is on vernacular practices, artistic activities that are generated by people informally. USU’s program offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees and provides a flexible, interdisciplinary approach to study, small class sizes, and close interaction between faculty and students. Faculty members affiliated with the program are well known in their fields, have a strong program of research. Students in the Folklore Program also have many opportunities to work closely with the Fife Folklore Archives.
Join the Folklore Society!
The USU Folklore Society is starting up again, and they have some fantastic activities planned for fall semester!
Click here for more information, and watch for more event details to be posted on the calendar as they get closer. Come share your passion with others and learn about the stories inherent in the world around you!
Fife Folklore Lecture: Peggy Bulger
On Thursday, October 15, 2014, folklorist Peggy Bulger will give a lecture at USU as part of the Fife Folklore Lecture series. The lecture, titled “Full Circle – One Folklorist’s Life in the Public Sector,” will be held at 11:30 am in the Alumni House.
Bulger is a former director of the American Folklife Center (1999-2011) at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. who has been documenting folklife and developing and managing associated programs for more than thirty-five years. She is the author of South Florida Folklife (with Tina Bucuvalas and Stetson Kennedy), and the editor of Musical Roots of the South. She was the president of the American Folklore Society from 2000-2002.
The Fife Honor Lecture is named in memory of Utah State University folklorists Austin and Alta Fife. It has been a USU tradition for over thirty years and honors individuals who have made significant contributions to the study and preservation of folklore. Past speakers include Nick Spitzer (Host of Public Radio International's "American Routes"), Trudier Harris (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill), Carl Lindahl (University of Houston), Burt Feintuch (University of New Hampshire), and Peggy Seeger (folk singer).
Naomi Barnes completes internship at Library of Congress
Recently, grad student Naomi Barnes completed an internship in the American Folklife Center of the world-famous Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Here’s what she had to say about her experience:
On average, the Library of Congress receives 6,000 items a day to be sorted, catalogued, and archived. You can imagine, then, there is a constant influx of manuscripts, photographs, sound recordings, moving images, and various artifacts that make up “the stuff” found in the myriad projects and collections throughout the buildings and warehouses.
The American Folklife Center is only one section of the Library, and its goal is to collect and preserve living culture. It houses one of the largest collections of ethnographic materials in the world. As an intern, it was my job to help manage “the stuff” of three collections: Local Legacies, International Storytellers, and Voices of Civil Rights.
The Local Legacies project was created in 2000, in celebration of the Library of Congress Bicentennial. The Library asked each state to send information about local customs and celebrations—something unique to that particular region of the United States. The items in the collection have been sorted and catalogued, but the Center does not have a complete container list for the manuscripts, and had no accessible list for moving images and sound recordings. I spent the first half of each week creating these lists and was able to itemize 13 boxes of manuscripts, 38 boxes of moving images, and 642 sound recordings (audio cassettes and cds). Prior to the creation of these lists, it would take librarians a good amount of time to find the item a researcher requested. At the end of the summer, however, a librarian was able to locate a moving image for a researcher in less than two minutes, which was a tremendous help as the researcher was only able to be in DC for the day. Creating those lists felt monotonous at times, but I left feeling proud that I was able to directly help someone find the information they needed when it was needed.
The inventory lists for Local Legacies was in the collection’s final stages. However, the AFC agreed to house the International Storytellers collection as a new acquisition. The Center received quite a large amount of boxes from the organization; most of which have never been opened. I was able to help in the very first steps of this collection by rehousing “the stuff.” I sorted through fliers, programs, photographs, slides, CDs, cassettes, books, artifacts—each box a surprise. It was my job to go through the items and decide how to group them together in a more manageable way. It was a messy job at times, but it was interesting to learn how important those first steps are in creating a workable collection.
My favorite part of the week, though, was working with the Voices of Civil Rights project. In 2004, AARP (working with the Library) toured the United States recording interviews with people who wanted to tell their Civil Rights experience. My job was to listen to these sound recordings and write little blurbs detailing the important dates, names, and events in each interview. The Library hopes to create a searchable database of these interviews, and these descriptions will help researchers sort through the thousands of recordings in order to find only those pertaining to their topic. These stories were devastating, moving, and extraordinary. I learned more about the Civil Rights Movement in those interviews than I have in my entire educational experience. I was able to listen to 300 interviews and was amazed at the painful experiences these people went through. I was more amazed, though, at the level of hope and joy expressed over and over again. It was an experience for which I will always be grateful.
Working in the Library of Congress was like wandering through my own little corner of Wonderland. It was at times intimidating, thrilling, beautiful, and utterly surreal. Hopefully one day I’ll have the opportunity to wander through again.
Erin Sorensen completes internship at Fife Archives
Grad student Erin Sorensen recently completed a summer internship at USU's Fife Folklore Archives. She described her experience in these words:
For the Summer 2014 semester I conducted an internship with the Fife Folklore Archives under the direction of Randy Williams. After becoming familiar with the archives, I worked on a few different collections at the direction of Randy Williams. I was given four boxes of donated materials for FOLK COLL 52, the Deseret String Band collection, and was responsible to process the collection by organizing material, fitting them with a box and folder, describe what was inside the collection, and update the finding aid on the library website. Once I completed work on the Deseret String Band collection I begin work on FOLK COLL 37, which is an ongoing oral history collection. For this collection I listened to tapes and CDs of interviews, read interview transcripts, processed the information, and updated the online finding aid for roughly ten smaller oral histories.
The time spent in the archives was invaluable to my work as a folklore student. Over the course of this internship I learned how to complete every stage of processing a collection for the archives. This knowledge impacted the way that I now approach folklore research and fieldwork. Because of my time in the archives, I have a better idea of what questions to ask and the type of background information to gather as I conduct fieldwork. Overall, I am very pleased with the things I learned during my time in the Fife Folklore Archives and I would recommend other folklore students to conduct an internship there as well.
Lynne S. McNeill to present at conference in Finland
USU folklorist Lynne S. McNeill has been invited to be a keynote speaker at the Folklore Fellows 2015 Summer Institute, on the island of Seili, Finland. The theme of the 2015 summer school is "Doing Folkloristics in the Digital Age," and topics covered will include creativity in online communities, authorship and popular culture, new heritage and curation, methodology and ethics, and digital archiving. As the Folklore Fellows explain, "The everyday communication of [online] groups and the folklore they produce are influenced by local cultural traditions and models of communication, but are molded, too, by the conditions of the digital contexts and technical approaches. They move naturally between digital and real worlds." The emergence of the virtual world in the real world is a focus of Dr. McNeill's research, and she will be presenting on the ways that individuals creatively and traditionally influence (and are influenced by) their own digital communities.
Dr. Lisa Gabbert's book chosen for festival
Professor Lisa Gabbert's book Winter Carnival in a Western Town: Identity, Change, and the Good of the Community (USU Press, 2011) has been chosen as part of George Mason University and the City of Fairfax's "Fall for the Book" festival. The festival is a week-long, multiple-venue, regional festival that brings together people of all ages and interests. The festival advances children's education, showcases literary events, and connects readers and authors at all levels. The festival features authors of fiction, poetry, literary criticism, history & biography, and folklore, among others. Hers is one of two folklore books selected for this year's festival. Professor Gabbert will lecture on her book at George Mason on Sept. 16.
Dr. Lisa Gabbert's folklore workshop puts on live mumming event across campus
Today, Professor Lisa Gabbert's summer folklore workshop put on an Irish-style mumming event, with several performances across campus: at Luke's Cafe on the Quad, the Hub, the TSC Patio, and on the quad for a group of young children.
Mumming is believed to have become popular in the Middle Ages, although since it was mainly an oral tradition, no scripts survive from that time period.
Usually, though, mummer plays revolve around a plotline of the good guy (in the Irish case, usually St. Patrick) being killed by the bad guy (usually Oliver Cromwell in Northern Ireland, for obvious reasons). All seems lost, until a quack doctor vows to cure St. Patrick with a mixture made of "fillicifee of a bum bee, and the thunder nouns of a creepie stool." The Doctor suddenly finds a miraculous elixir in the waistband of his trousers, which he uses to resurrect St. Patrick, the "savior" of the play, in an interesting parallel to Christian beliefs.
Mummers would often go door-to-door in towns and villages, performing for each household and collecting money or food and wine afterward. If they were refused, the mummers would perform minor acts of vandalism and theft, cursing the family as they ran away.
Sadly, the tradition started to waver in the 1930s due to the "Trouble" in Northern Ireland. Because they were often masked, the mummers were forced to register with the British constabulary, which in Professor Gabbert's words, "destroyed the spontaneity of the event."
Dr. Christine Cooper-Rompato will present at conference in UK
Dr. Christine Cooper-Rompato will travel to the University of Durham, UK, where she will deliver a keynote lecture for a workshop titled “Hearing the Voice,” to be held at the Centre for Medical Humanities and the Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies. The workshop “will explore various aspects of hallucinatory experience in the pre-modern period, which is one focus of the Hearing the Voice project. The idea stems from an interest in how such experiences were described, regarded and explained in medieval and early-modern culture and society. Reports of phenomena redolent of hallucinatory experiences recur in both religious and secular literature of the period, indicating that the experience of hearing voices or seeing visions was, to a great extent, socially and culturally integrated. This contrasts starkly with the contemporary clinical view of hallucinatory experience which regards such episodes as pathological symptoms of psychosis requiring therapeutic intervention." The stated goal of the workshop is as follows: "We hope that by examining hallucinatory experiences in historical and literary contexts we will better understand how the phenomenon came to be pathologised and subsequently medicalised. Moreover, we hope to be able to offer to contemporary voice-hearers a new and alternative perspective on their experience.”
USU English Students Present at Western States Folklore/Association of Western States Folklorists
USU students made a great showing at the Western States Folklore/Association of Western States Folklorists concurrent meetings held on April 10-12 in Logan. Students in Folklore, Literature and Writing, and Professional Communication as well as undergraduate English majors presented research on topics ranging from personal narratives of birth and recreation to zombies and ghost legends, to Charles Darwin's use of oral formulas. The meetings gathered academics and professionals from around the western US, a number of whom commented on the strong quality of the student papers. Drs. Steve Siporin, Lynne McNeill, Claudia Schwabe, and Lisa Gabbert also presented.
Naomi Barnes, "Zombie Walks in America"
Jill Bleazard "Unfolding Adapted Laundry Traditions: A Case Study"
Anna Christiansen, "Craftsmen of the Urbanlands: The Emerging Art of Modified Bicycles"
Carlos Junior Guadarrama, "Folklore of the Intermountain Inter-Tribual Indian School Property"
Joshua Harms, "Mormon Folk Notions of Hell"
Crystal Henderson, "Waiters against Haters": The LDS Subculture of Waiting for a Missionary"
Amy Maxwell Howard, "The Strawberries Were So Much Better Then": Nostalgia and Identity Loss in Personal Narratives of Farm Workers"
Sara Jordan, "It's Been Fun Girls, Carry On....': Quilts and Quilting Practices as Cultural Markers in Northern Utah and Southeastern Idaho"
Bonnie Moore, "Tipping the Outhouse: Feminized"
Samantha Latham, "'I Am Very Selfishly Afraid': Formulas and the Nature of Intellectual Property in Natural History"
Lori Lee, "A Structural Analysis of Personal Outdoor Recreation Narratives: Studying Risks and Rewards of Man's Relationship with the Land"
Emily January Petersen, "The Accidental Professional Communicator: Technical Folklore in a Police Department"
Erin Sorensen, "Transitioning to Motherhood: Birth Stories & Personal Narrative"
Students Present at the 2013 Folklore Society of Utah Conference
The 55th annual meeting of the Folklore Society of Utah met in Ephraim, Utah on Saturday, November 9, 2013. Graduate students Scott White and Jill Bleazard presented. Scott White's paper, which won a prize, was title, "Folklore, Fakelore, and Festival" and examined the presentation of traditional arts in Silver City, a folk theme park in Missouri. Jill Bleazard's paper, entitled, "Laundry Practices of Alana Stowe" examined the aesthetics involved in the domestic activities of a single individual and generated a good discussion afterward.
Professor Gabbert, a past secretary of FSU, reported: "Both Scott and Jill did an excellent job. It was also great to see other students attend the conference who were not presenting, as well. USU made a strong showing."
Lynne McNeill Publishes Folklore Rules
USU English professor Dr. Lynne S. McNeill published her first book on October 10, 2013 through Utah State University Press in Logan, Utah. Entitled Folklore Rules: A Fun, Quick, and Useful Introduction to the Field of Academic Folklore Studies, this 100-page introductory text gives a condensed explanation of folklore to both budding and advanced folklore students, as well as curious readers who are not part of the folklore program.
Dr. McNeill, who has three degrees in folklore and nine years of teaching experience, recognized a need for a compact summary of folklore's qualities. This need is not generally met through most folklore texts. McNeill explained that her goal was "to pin down the basics of the [folklore] field in a short period of time, because folklore as a field of study is more complicated than it sounds." For instance, the genres of folklore (oral traditions, material objects, and folk customs) often merge into one another - and concepts within genres are sometimes especially difficult to clarify, particularly since folklore is relatively new as an academic field of study.
The book is designed to provide a concise summary of folklore. It is organized into five chapters: "What is Folklore?," What Do Folklorists Do?," "Types of Folklore," "Types of Folk Groups," and "What Do I Do Now?" Each chapter is crafted to guide both students and laypersons in understanding the nature of folklore, which rarely has precisely defined terms.
One of the many appealing aspects of Dr. McNeill's book is its cost. In the academic world, most textbooks are dauntingly expensive; however, Folklore Rules is only $24.95 as a cloth-bound hard copy, making it accessible to a wider number of readers. It is also available as a $20.00 e-book. This may be helpful because although the book is intended as a college textbook, students who would like to share their field of study with their family or find out about how interesting folklore may be can also afford to buy this compact volume. It can be purchased from Amazon here.
As Dr. McNeill noted, "Folklore Studies is a really misunderstood field, and non-students can definitely benefit from reading [Folklore Rules] to find out if the field is interesting to them. Thus, if students interested in English or Anthropology have not yet declared their minor, the Folklore Minor may be a perfect fit - and reading Folklore Rules may help to guide that decision. And for those who already have folklore studies in their sights for a career path, Dr. McNeill asserted, "I'd have loved to have a short, straightforward book about folklore to give my parents when I decided to become a folklorist!"
*Article by Bethany Lange, English Student
Lynne McNeill Appears on Animal Planet's Finding Bigfoot
Three years ago, a purported sighting of Bigfoot walking in Providence Canyon rippled along the Wasatch Front. A posting of the incident on YouTube prompted researchers of Animal Planet's show Finding Bigfoot to hold a town hall meeting in Logan to collect the stories of local Bigfoot encounters.
Lynne McNeill, assistant professor of folklore at Utah State University, was interviewed during filming for her expertise on urban legends. The show aire[d] March 11,  at 10 p.m.
Prior to the filming in December 2011, McNeill had never heard of the show or the number of Bigfoot sightings in the county. She visited the Fife Folklore Archives, an internationally-recognized collection at the Merrill-Cazier Library, and discovered 57 different accounts of Bigfoot sightings in the area since the 1970s. She directed the show's producers to the archives for additional source material.
Finding Bigfoot films four Sasquatch enthusiasts as they travel across remote areas of North America in search of conclusive evidence about the whereabouts of the elusive ape-man.
However, producers of the show were concerned having a folklorist appear on the show might send a message to viewers that Bigfoot sightings are phony, McNeill said. She needed to explain exactly what folklorists study before she could even tackle Bigfoot.
"Folklore is not a well-known discipline in academia," she said. "People tend to think of it as stories that aren't true from long ago. It is a discipline where terminology exists in daily conversation and we have a lot of preconceived understandings to content with."
Folklore is a way of studying group behavior and interaction through common stories and traditions in a culture such as legends, jokes, narratives, proverbs, festivals, or dance. The field bridges literature and anthropology to study everyday people and their culture through areas of commonality, McNeill said.
"Folklore has always been a barometer of culture," she said. "Folklorists know about the political concerns of the day by what jokes accumulate. They know about fears of a community by the legends they tell. The value of folklore is the shared common denominator of understanding."
McNeill has published on digital culture, ghost hunting, and animals in folklore and has appeared on the Food Network for her insight on urban legends. She believes popular television programs can get people interested in folklore and help introduce the discipline to a broader audience.
On Finding Bigfoot, McNeill was interviewed about how principles folklorists use in their analyses in the field could apply to Sasquatch sightings. Because reports of Bigfoot have been documented across cultures and continents, just using different names to describe an animal with very similar characteristics, it forces one to consider that Bigfoot sightings should not be dismissed.
"Many people are not deluded, or simply hopeful. Maybe people are seeing something," McNeill said.
*Article by Kristen Munson, Utah State University News
Dr. Christine Cooper-Rompato will travel to the University of Durham, UK, where she will deliver a keynote lecture for a workshop titled "Hearing the Voice," to be held at the Centre for Medical Humanities and the Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies. The workshop "will explore various aspects of hallucinatory experience in the pre-modern period, which is one focus of the Hearing the Voice project. The idea stems from an interest in how such experiences were described, regarded and explained in medieval and early-modern culture and society. Reports of phenomena redolent of hallucinatory experiences recur in both religious and secular literature of the period, indicating that the experience of hearing voices or seeing visions, was, to a great extent, socially and culturally integrated. This contrasts starkly with the contemporary clinical view of hallucinatory experience which regards such episodes as pathological symptoms of psychosis requiring therapeutic intervention." The stated goal of the workshop is as follows: "We hope that by examining hallucinatory experiences in historical and literary contexts we will better understand how the phenomenon came to be pathologised and subsequently medicalised. Moreover, we hope to be able to offer to contemporary voice-hearers a new and alternative perspective on their experience."