News

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, [2012] 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."