Tag Archives: folklore

Prison Laugh Riot

The University of Wisconsin Press is pleased to release IF YOU DON’T LAUGH YOU’LL CRY: The Occupational Humor of White Wisconsin Prison Workers. Author Claire Schmidt writes about the unexplored world of prison staff humor. In their high-stakes, high-stress environment, these workers let off steam by cracking jokes that are not always nice. In this post, Schmidt emphasizes the difference between movie portrayals of cruel  guards and real corrections workers and discusses why the evolving state of U.S. prisons is no laughing matter.

 

 

“There’s nothing funny about prison.”  That’s what my uncle told me when I started researching the humor of prison workers.
There's nothing funny about prison, said my uncle as I started writing about what was funny about prison. Click To Tweet
And yet, when prison workers get together, they surround themselves with laughter. Many of the people I interviewed for this book—my collaborators—are gifted verbal artists, making each other laugh. Practical jokes, gag gifts, smart remarks, memes, and mimicry evolve into stories that travel beyond the walls of the institution.

One collaborator told me, “I am constantly trying to make my coworkers laugh. I consider it imperative to do this every day in this profession. Humor cuts tension. Cutting tension in the correctional setting, rather than adding to it, elevates my self-worth.”
We love to hate the prison guards in films and television; their violence, racism, and inhumanity is legendary, from Cool Hand Luke to The Shawshank Redemption. But we almost never see the faces or hear the voices of actual, living prison workers. Prison work happens behind closed doors—there is no “take your daughter to work day.”

The men and women who work in Wisconsin’s correctional facilities work hard for low pay and eroding benefits. They don’t get much respect or appreciation. The job brings elevated risk of heart attack, suicide, substance abuse, and divorce. So why is humor so important to prison work?

The men and women I interviewed insisted that humor is an essential job skill. “It’s really true—if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry,” one collaborator told me. Enduring stress, boredom, stigma, violence, and human suffering is part of prison work. As one collaborator observed, “We need to rely a lot on gallows humor to cope with the things that we see.”

When we joke, we are able to talk about such scary or taboo topics as sex, death, and race. The communicative power of humor is especially important in prison. Workers can express anger, sadness, or frustration with their jobs under the protection of “only” joking.

Prisons are all about people and all about communication. My collaborators made it clear that they use humor to build functional relationships with inmates as well as to communicate solidarity and affection to their coworkers. Wit and comic timing can deescalate a crisis and good storytelling turns that crisis into an educational story.
One collaborator told me, “If we like you, we’ll mess with you!” Humor helps to educate, test, and initiate rookies, just as gag gifts and roasts are an essential parts of corrections retirement parties. Laughter turns outsiders into insiders, but humor also defines the boundaries between groups like officers vs inmates or black vs white.

Humor isn't safe or nice. Professionalism is at war with the desire to push the limits. Click To Tweet
Humor isn’t safe or nice. Professionalism is at war with the desire to push the limits and to talk about uncomfortable things. Prison worker humor (just like doctor or teacher humor) can be tasteless and offensive. “We joke about a lot of gay stuff,” one collaborator told me.

Corrections officer Harriet Fox writes, “We sure laugh a lot at work. Watching inmates act disorderly and shocking can be sadly entertaining.” And since most Wisconsin prison workers are white, anxiety about unfamiliar cultures manifests in racial humor. Just because humor is offensive doesn’t mean it isn’t important.
Although violent crime has declined in the US, we lock up a huge number of our citizens (and in Wisconsin, a really disproportionate number of black, Hispanic, and Native people). It’s getting harder and harder to recruit and retain correctional officers in Wisconsin after the workers’ union was stripped of collective bargaining rights. If we want safer prisons, we can start by trying to understand what makes these workers laugh.

Audioclips from interviews conducted by Schmdit wherein prison guards tell stories of the humor involved on the job. 

“Don’t send me any of them down here!”

“What’chu know bout CeeLo Green?”

“Best part of the job.”

And a final word of advice: If you meet a correctional officer, avoid “don’t-drop-the-soap” jokes. They’ve heard them.
If you meet a correctional officer, avoid “don’t-drop-the-soap” jokes. They’ve heard them. Click To Tweet

Claire Schmidt is a folklorist and assistant professor of English at Missouri Valley College.

New books and new paperbacks, July 2017

We’re pleased to announce these new books, and titles new in paperback, debuting this month.

July 18, 2017
WISCONSIN AND THE SHAPING OF AMERICAN LAW
Joseph A. Ranney

“Not simply about Wisconsin’s legal history, for Ranney covers the sweep of state laws in American history from the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 to recent legal questions of the twenty-first century. Impressively researched and invitingly written, this is a unique introduction to our states as laboratories of democracy.”—Lloyd C. Gardner,Rutgers University

State laws affect nearly every aspect of our daily lives—our safety, personal relationships, and business dealings—but receive less scholarly attention than federal laws and courts. Joseph A. Ranney looks at how state laws have evolved and shaped American history, through the lens of the historically influential state of Wisconsin.

 

July 18, 2017  NEW IN PAPERBACK
AMENDING THE PAST
Europe’s Holocaust Commissions and the Right to History
Alexander Karn

“Historical commissions, Karn argues, have brought expert historical practice to bear on complex questions, adding new meaning to facts that have either been debated or glossed over. These commissions matter because they serve to amend history in cases in which social memory has impeded understanding of historical injustices and begin the amelioration of past human rights violations.”Choice

“A very important contribution to the interdisciplinary scholarship on the broad theme of reckoning with histories of atrocity.”—Bronwyn Leebaw, University of California, Riverside

Critical Human Rights
Steve J. Stern and Scott Straus, Series Editors

 

July 18, 2017 NEW IN PAPERBACK
SHAPING THE NEW MAN

Youth Training Regimes in Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany
Alessio Ponzio

“Ponzio tells a nuanced story of the delicate and volatile relationship between interwar Europe’s two fascist regimes. . . . He highlights power struggles between leaders, curricula designed not to educate youth but to transform them into ideal representatives of their regimes, and strict gender policing within each of the organizations. Recommended.”Choice

“Ponzio provides, above all, valuable new perspectives on the tremendous influence of Italian Fascism on fledgling Nazi youth organizations, and the cooperative and reciprocal relationships that flourished between the two regimes.”—Michael Ebner, author of Ordinary Violence in Mussolini’s Italy

George L. Mosse Series in Modern European Cultural and Intellectual History
Steven E. Aschheim, Stanley G. Payne, Mary Louise Roberts, and David J. Sorkin, Series Editors

 

July 27, 2017
BEYOND THE MONASTERY WALLS

The Ascetic Revolution in Russian Orthodox Thought, 1814–1914
Patrick Lally Michelson

“Impressive in its analytical breadth and astute in its interpretive depth, this is an engaging, lucid, and original contribution to the history of modern Russian thought and modern Orthodoxy.”—Vera Shevzov, Smith College

“Reading this extraordinary book is like having missing pieces of a puzzle click together at last. Actors normally examined separately—radical socialists, theological academies, hermits, great writers, bureaucrats, lay intellectuals—emerge as part of the same religious culture that placed asceticism at the center of discourse and practice in imperial Russia’s defining century.” —Nadieszda Kizenko, University at Albany, SUNY

 

July 27, 2017
IF YOU DON’T LAUGH YOU’LL CRY 
The Occupational Humor of White Wisconsin Prison Workers
Claire Schmidt

“A lucid, compelling study of some very funny, compassionate corrections officers. Their intelligence and comic delight shine through on every page.”—Jackie McGrath, College of DuPage

America is fascinated by prisons and prison culture, but few Americans understand what it is like to work in corrections. Claire Schmidt, whose extended family includes three generations of Wisconsin prison workers, introduces readers to penitentiary officers and staff as they share stories, debate the role of corrections in American racial politics and social justice, and talk about the important function of humor in their jobs.

Folklore Studies in a Multicultural World

 

 

Oh yah, that’s Yooper talk

Today the University of Wisconsin Press publishes Yooper Talk: Dialect as Identity in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Author Kathryn Remlinger explores features of this unique North American dialect while examining why dialects persist even in a globalized age.

The remote and isolated location of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, combined with contact among English and other languages, have shaped Yooper talk over the past 150 years and have helped it remain distinct from other varieties of American English. It is shaped by tourism, economics, the sociolinguistic history of the Upper Peninsula, research on regional varieties, awareness about language variation, and how speakers claim identity with language.

Figure 1: Bjorklund-Ollila Strawberry Harvest at Heinola Finnish Immigrant Agricultural Community near Oskar Bay in Houghton County ca1920. Used by permission from Finlandia University’s Finnish American Historical Archives Collections

If there is a definitive Yooper dialect, why don’t all Yoopers sound the same?

Figure 2: Map of Michigan and Research Area, University of Wisconsin Press

Although there is a recognizable way of speaking American English in the Upper Peninsula, there is not just one standard UP dialect. There are many ways of speaking in the UP due to diverse factors including socioeconomic class, social relationships and activities, gender, age, first language, education, and occupation. Furthermore, many of the stereotypical features of “Yooper” are found throughout the Upper Midwest, including northern Wisconsin and Minnesota, and even in other parts of the United States and Canada, including Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Ohio, and southern Ontario. Residents, natives, tourists, and linguists have created the perception that there is one specific way of speaking in the Upper Peninsula. Typically this idea is based on a few limited linguistic features, but, if we listen to our neighbors, friends, and relatives who live in the UP, we’ll hear a cacophony of voices, each one claiming its place on the dialect map.

Figure 3: Welcome to Yooperland sign at Da Yoopers Tourist Trap, Ishpeming, photo by Kathryn Remlinger

But what about TV, radio, and other media? Aren’t they wiping out regional dialects?

Although we may learn new words and expressions from various media, media typically does not affect the ways we use language beyond temporarily adding to our vocabulary. Language variation and change can only happen through face-to-face interaction, while TV, radio, the Web, and other media lack that connection. However, regional dialects are far from static.

 

Figure 4: Say ya to da up, eh! bumper sticker, created by Jack Bowers, photo by Kathryn Remlinger

But why do these distinct varieties still exist with all the moving around that people do?

In part, distinctions exist because of the isolation and remoteness of certain areas. The Upper Peninsula is a good example of this, as its location limits the amount of contact speakers have with others. Thus we can hear certain features of the local dialect persisting, such as ya, da, eh, and the pronunciation of sauna as “sow-na.”

It’s not just geographic boundaries that influence local speech; cultural differences affect language variation, too. Our worldview is reflected in the language we use and how we use it. However, this claim comes with a cautionary note: language, particularly vocabulary, can reflect the beliefs and worldview of a group of people, and learning other languages is one way in which people develop different perspectives on the world. Yet, language does not determine our worldview, nor does culture determine the structure and use of our language. They are merely reflections of each other. For example, it’s commonly believed that people living in snowy regions have more words for snow than do speakers in tropical climates. While this might be true given the individual cultures and a community’s everyday practices, the number of words depends on how those words are put together and what counts as a “word.” Also, just because a language has no word for snow, this does not mean that its speakers can’t understand what snow is or create a word in their language for it.

Just because a language has no word for snow, this does not mean that its speakers can’t understand what snow is. Click To Tweet

Figure 5: Sauna insurance sign, photo by Kathryn Remlinger

Another factor that affects the longevity of dialects are the meanings and values we attach to them. For example, we often tend to think of someone who speaks with a regional accent as more honest, loyal, and kind. This positive perception is linked to the idea that the “best” speakers of a dialect are typically seen as the most “authentic” locals. Tied to this sense of authenticity is the most compelling reason for the maintenance of dialect differences: identity. Our language is one of the most obvious ways in which we mark who we are, where we’re from, and where we’ve been. This includes not only our region but also our social class, gender, age, ethnicity, education, and other ways in which we categorize ourselves culturally and socially. As the linguistic landscape shrinks through our online and geographic interconnectedness, language remains our badge of identity.

The most compelling reason for the maintenance of dialect differences is identity. Click To Tweet

Kathryn A. Remlinger is a professor of English: Linguistics at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan.

New books in June 2017

We are pleased to announce six new books to be published in late June.

June 20, 2017
WRITTEN IN BLOOD

Revolutionary Terrorism and Russian Literary Culture, 1861–1881
Lynn Ellen Patyk

In March 1881, Russia stunned the world when a small band of revolutionaries calling themselves “terrorists” assassinated Alexander II. Horrified Russians blamed the influence of European ideas, while shocked Europeans perceived something new and distinctly Russian in a strategy of political violence that became known as “the Russian method” or “terrorism”.

“A superb model of interdisciplinary scholarship: highly original, subtle, thought-provoking, and a pleasure to read. Analyzing both word and deed, Patyk rewrites the history of modern terrorism showing why the Russian case was pivotal. A gripping story.”—Susan Morrissey, author of Suicide and the Body Politic in Imperial Russia

 

June 27, 2017
THE POX LOVER
An Activist’s Decade in New York and Paris
Anne-christine d’Adesky

Memories of the turbulent 1990s in New York City and Paris told by a pioneering American AIDS journalist, lesbian activist, and daughter of French-Haitian elites.

“In a voice both powerful and cool, The Pox Lover takes on a sprawling personal history, deeply aware throughout that it is the politics of anyone’s day—and how we respond to it—that shapes a life. Never far from the mad joy of writing, loving, and being alive, even as it investigates our horribly mundane capacity for horror, this book is a masterpiece.”—Michelle Tea, author of Black Wave

 

June 27, 2017
YOOPER TALK

Dialect as Identity in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula
Kathryn A. Remlinger

Yooper Talk explains linguistic concepts with entertaining examples for general readers and also contributes to interdisciplinary discussions of dialect and identity in sociolinguistics, anthropology, dialectology, and folklore.

“Although humorous songs poke fun at Yoopers’ words and customs, Remlinger takes this place and its people very seriously. She explains how history, ethnicity, environment, economic changes, tourism, and especially language have created a colorful and distinctive regional dialect and identity.”—Larry Lankton, Hollowed Ground: Copper Mining and Community Building on Lake Superior

Languages and Folklore of the Upper Midwest
Series Editor(s) Joseph Salmons and James P. Leary

 

June 27, 2017
THE LIMA INQUISITION

The Plight of Crypto-Jews in Seventeenth-Century Peru
Ana E. Schaposchnik

The Lima Inquisition reveals the details of the Americas’ most alarming Inquisitorial crackdown: the ‘Great Complicity’ and subsequent Auto de Fe of Lima in 1639. Schaposchnik convincingly shows that it was not an aberration or just another Baroque-era spectacle—it was the essence of what the Inquisition was and had been all about, from inception to abolition.”—Kris Lane, Tulane University

“An in-depth look at the trials of the Great Complicity in the 1630s, during which almost 100 people, overwhelmingly men and women of Portuguese origin, were accused of being crypto-Jews and detained and tried by the Inquisition. Recommended.”Choice

 

June 27, 2017
9XM TALKING 
WHA Radio and the Wisconsin Idea

Randall Davidson

This is the fascinating history of the innovative work of Wisconsin’s educational radio stations, from the first broadcast by experimental station 9XM at the University of Wisconsin to the network of stations known today as Wisconsin Public Radio. Randall Davidson provides the first comprehensive history of the University of Wisconsin radio station.

“An engaging, even engrossing, narrative about the station’s pioneering work in broadcasting. … A reader witnesses … the struggles that small and educational broadcasters faced in the early years in what was nearly a constant battle to maintain a foothold in the frequency spectrum.” Journalism History

 

 

June 27
FROM WAR TO GENOCIDE
Criminal Politics in Rwanda, 1990–1994
André Guichaoua, Translated by Don E. Webster, Foreword by Scott Straus

“A landmark in the historiography of the Rwandan genocide. No serious scholar writing about the genocide can afford to ignore this trailblazing contribution.”—René Lemarchand, author of The Dynamics of Violence in Central Africa

Critical Human Rights   Steve J. Stern and Scott Straus, Series Editors

Finding Frenzy among the Pinery Boys

 Today the University of Wisconsin Press releases Pinery Boys: Songs and Songcatching in the Lumberjack Era, published in the series Languages and Folklore of the Upper Midwest. This is a new book that incorporates, commemorates, contextualizes, and complements Franz Rickaby’s landmark 1926 collection of lumberjack songs. Included in Pinery Boys is a biography of Rickaby by his granddaughter, Gretchen Dykstra. In this guest post, she comments on her quest to find the grandfather she never knew, tracing his steps through the Upper Midwest.  

Although I’m a New Yorker now, I’ve always liked the Midwest. When I was seven I spent the summer swinging from barn beams into haystacks at my grandmother’s dairy farm in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin. My father was born in Grand Forks, North Dakota. He, my mother, one sister, and I all graduated from UW–Madison, and my step-grandfather, Clarence Dykstra, was its chancellor. But it took me sixty years to write about the Midwest—and then it was thanks to Bill Zinsser, my late, great writing teacher.

When Bill went blind, he stopped writing and teaching formally, but he met individually with some writers in his rambling Manhattan apartment. I was one of the lucky ones. I went about once a month. If I came at noon I’d bring him a sandwich; if I came at 2:00 I’d bring him cookies. That was the deal. He’d sit at the dining room table, sunglasses and baseball cap on, and listen intently as I read my latest pages. Occasionally, he’d stop me and, in his inimitable, funny, but always supportive way, would offer an editorial suggestion.

“Gretchen, if you are a bus driver going from New York to Miami, you can’t head to Chicago without telling your riders why.” Then I’d know I had an organizational problem.

It was Bill who urged me to go looking for the grandfather I never knew—Franz Rickaby, who had died when he was only thirty-five. My grandmother had called him Frenzy. As a young English professor at the University of North Dakota, Franz wandered the Upper Midwest from 1919-1923. With a fiddle on his back, he sought the songs of the shanty boys from the camps of the quickly disappearing white pine forests.

His resulting songbook was published by Harvard University Press several months after he died in 1926. The book became a minor classic in the world of American folklore and folksong. Edited by George Lyman Kittredge, praised by Carl Sandburg, and celebrated by Alan Lomax, Rickaby’s book was unique for the lyrics, the tunes, and the vivid portrait he painted of the lumberjacks and their lives.

I took Bill’s advice and hit the road. I traced Rickaby’s footsteps—as many as I could—and, in doing so, I met my grandfather. And I came to know a slice of American history from the lumber industry to the forest fires, from cutover land to the last remaining majestic white pines. I dove into the files of archives and historical societies from Galesburg, Illinois, to Ladysmith, Wisconsin, to Virginia, Minnesota, and points in between. When I called eminent folklorist Jim Leary, who knew Rickaby’s work well, a new edition of my grandfather’s work took shape. Pinery Boys was born.

It has four parts: Rickaby’s original text with all the lyrics, music, and his lively notes; an introduction by Leary, placing Rickaby in historical context; additional never-before-published songs that Rickaby collected, with notes by Leary; and the story of my own quest and discovery of who Rickaby was, what he might have seen, and what motivated him.

One man, one life, a glorious time, a changing landscape, and three voices.

 

Franz Rickaby (1889–1925) was born in Arkansas, educated at Knox College and Harvard University, and taught at the University of North Dakota.

Gretchen Dykstra is a writer living in New York City. She was the founding president of the National 9/11 Memorial Foundation, commissioner of the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs, and president of the Times Square Alliance.

 

 

New books in May 2017

We are pleased to announce six new books to be published in May.

May 9, 2017
WHISPERS OF CRUEL WRONGS
The Correspondence of Louisa Jacobs and Her Circle, 1879-1911
Edited by Mary Maillard

Louisa Jacobs was the daughter of Harriet Jacobs, author of the famous autobiography Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. That work included a heartbreaking account of Harriet parting with six-year-old Louisa, taken away to the North by her white father. Now, rediscovered letters reveal the lives of Louisa and her circle and shed light on Harriet’s old age.

“A rich and fascinating portrait of Philadelphia’s and Washington D.C.’s black elite after the Civil War. Even as the letters depict the increasingly troubled political status and economic fortunes of the correspondents, they offer rare glimpses into private homes and inner emotions.”—Carla L. Peterson,author of Black Gotham

Wisconsin Studies in Autobiography
William L. Andrews, Series Editor

May 16, 2017
TO OFFER COMPASSION
A History of the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion
Doris Andrea Dirks and Patricia A. Relf

“Conservative Christianity has become synonymous with opposition to abortion, but before the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized it in the U.S., clergy organized to protect pregnant women and direct them to safe abortions. Dirks and Relf explore this extraordinary and little-known history through detailed first-person interviews and extensive research with Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish clergy who, between 1967 and 1973, created a pregnancy counseling service and national underground network to provide women with options for adoption, parenting assistance, and pregnancy termination. . . . Critically important social history that too many in today’s abortion wars have never known or chosen to forget.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review

 

May 23, 2017
SPIRIT CHILDREN
Illness, Poverty, and Infanticide in Northern Ghana
Aaron R. Denham

“A brilliant, sensitive, and moving book about the heartbreaking phenomenon of infanticide. This is a book to be taken seriously by hospital personnel, public health policymakers, NGO workers, and anyone interested in the fate of the world’s most vulnerable young children.”—Alma Gottlieb, coauthor of A World of Babies

“A skillful ethnography of the spirit child phenomenon in northern Ghana—children who fail to thrive, are feared to harm their families, and therefore should be ‘sent back.’ This insightful, theoretically rich analysis offers a nuanced ecological, economic, and cultural explanation of maternal attachment.”—John M. Janzen, author of The Quest for Therapy in Lower Zaire

Africa and the Diaspora: History, Politics, Culture
Thomas Spear, Neil Kodesh, Tejumola Olaniyan, Michael G. Schatzberg, and James H. Sweet, Series Editors

 

May 23, 2017
THE LAND REMEMBERS

The Story of a Farm and Its People  9th Edition
Ben Logan
With an introduction by Curt Meine

“Ben Logan is strikingly successful in recalling his own boyhood world, a lonely ridge farm in southwestern Wisconsin. . . . He reviews his growing-up years in the 1920s and ’30s less with nostalgia than with a naturalist’s eye for detail, wary of the distortions of memory and sentiment.”—Christian Science Monitor

“A book to be cherished and remembered.”—Publishers Weekly

 

 

May 30, 2017
PINERY BOYS
Songs and Songcatching in the Lumberjack Era
Edited by Franz Rickaby with Gretchen Dykstra and James P. Leary

As the heyday of the lumber camps faded, a young scholar named Franz Rickaby set out to find songs from shanty boys, river drivers, and sawmill hands in the Upper Midwest. Pinery Boys now incorporates, commemorates, contextualizes, and complements Rickaby’s 1926 book. It includes annotations throughout by folklore scholar James P. Leary and an engaging biography by Rickaby’s granddaughter Gretchen Dykstra. Central to this edition are the fifty-one songs that Rickaby originally published, plus fourteen additional songs selected to represent the

Franz Rickaby

varied collecting Rickaby did beyond the lumber camps.

“[Rickaby] was the first to put the singing lumberjack into an adequate record and was of pioneering stuff. … His book renders the big woods, not with bizarre hokum and studied claptrap … but with the fidelity of an unimpeachable witness.”—Carl Sandburg

Languages and Folklore of the Upper Midwest Series
Joseph Salmons and James P. Leary, Series Editors

 

May 23, 2017
The second book in the Dave Cubiak Door County Mystery Series
DEATH AT GILLS ROCK
Patricia Skalka

“In her atmospheric, tightly written sequel, Skalka vividly captures the beauty of a remote Wisconsin peninsula that will attract readers of regional mysteries. Also recommended for fans of William Kent Krueger, Nevada Barr, and Mary Logue.”
Library Journal, starred review

“Three World War II heroes about to be honored by the Coast Guard are all found dead, apparent victims of carbon monoxide poisoning while playing cards at a cabin. . . . The second installment of this first-rate series (Death Stalks Door County, 2014) provides plenty of challenges for both the detective and the reader.”Kirkus Reviews

“Skalka captures the . . . small-town atmosphere vividly, and her intricate plot and well-developed characters will appeal to fans of William Kent Krueger.”Booklist

folklore and worldview on the Irish border


Cashman-Packy-Jim-cPacky Jim: Folklore and Worldview on the Irish Border
has just been published. Folklorist Ray Cashman recounts both his experience of meeting Packy Jim McGrath and how folklore can be used to critique today’s society.

In 1998 I was a novice fieldworker conducting ethnographic research in Aghyaran, Co. Tyrone, Northern Ireland. I arrived in the wake of the Good Friday Agreement followed by the bombing of Omagh, a time of new hope tempered by familiar tragedy. What drew my attention was stories people told about themselves at wakes and ceilis (nighttime social visits), the kind of stories that appeal to a sense of shared local identity and history that undermines the divisive claims of sectarian affiliation. My preoccupations with politics and community aligned with many in Aghyaran who used storytelling to cope and comprehend after three decades of violence. But of course this was only one meaningful strand, only one perspective on the interestingly complicated borderlands between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

While conducting that research, having claimed to be a folklorist, I was continually told to visit one elderly or gregarious person after another. One in particular was recommended time and again: “You want real folklore? Packy Jim is your man.” My charge was never to turn down a lead, to cast my nets widely, so eventually I crossed the border and trekked into the mountains of Co. Donegal in search of Packy Jim.

Packy Jim McGrath

The man I found was much as he had been described, living alone and self-sufficient in a rustic stone house without benefit of electricity, running water, or near neighbors. He reminded me powerfully of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden persona; his surroundings put one in mind of W. B. Yeats’s “The Lake Isle of Innisfree.” Whatever one’s reaction to introspective iconoclasts in bee-loud glades might be, Packy Jim undeniably has a quick wit, a formidable way with words, and an unmatched talent for glossing almost any thread of conversation with an appropriate story, song, or recitation. His store of memory is vast. Having grown up on a secluded smuggling route, he had heard the news, songs, and stories of several generations of men and women who stopped to pass the time until cover of darkness allowed the border’s unofficial economy to resume. Packy Jim says that in these early years he was all ears, but now it is his turn to talk.

It is exhilarating to find someone who embellishes everyday conversation with stories of ghosts and fairies, heroic outlaws, and hateful landlords—the stuff folklorists traditionally seek. And yet, although an older model of folklore collecting had brought me to him, over the years my interest in Packy Jim has matured through greater familiarity and friendship to focus less on the stuff, the lore, and more on the uses to which he puts it.

Over the years my interest in Packy Jim has matured through greater familiarity and friendship to focus less on the stuff, the lore, and more on the uses to which he puts it.

Packy Jim’s house

That is, I have come to better appreciate that—when conversation is two-way and free-flowing—Packy Jim uses narratives from a range of traditional genres to comprehend and critique his own society, while at the same time presenting a coherent moral self. Packy Jim is as much a storyteller working within a vernacular tradition of Irish narrative that we may wish to appreciate in its own right, as he is an individual using available narratives to compose a song of the self.

As Mikhail Bakhtin tells us, our mouths are full of the words of others, but such a formulation should not challenge our faith in individual agency or indeed genius: which words, and how spoken, matter. Packy Jim’s talent and dexterity with the inexhaustible potential of narrative guarantees that he is no more contained between his hat and boots than was Walt Whitman. Neither is Packy Jim shackled by tradition when he trades in handed-down words, images, and stories to order his complicated world of deep-seated mentalities and provocative change. To use Claude Levi-Strauss’s memorable term, Packy Jim is a bricoleur, a crafty recycler who constructs new possibilities out of available handed-down raw materials, meeting present needs.

Listen to Packy Jim recount the origin of the fairies in the following video. It’s a good story well told. It establishes a vision of the cosmos, how it came into being, what roles humans and spiritual beings are meant to play, and how it will all come to an end.

Cosmology, ontology, teleology, and eschatology are weighty matters perhaps best articulated and comprehended through narrative. But consider also that this story serves Packy Jim as a springboard for social commentary and as an index of his personal orientations. Packy Jim as bricoleur masters this story because he needs this story. The slings and arrows of this world—from fairy mischief to difficult neighbors—have a primal sacred origin. Tradition provides Packy Jim both an explanation for hardship and a charter for his own moral behavior, helping him comprehend injustice and have faith that, in the end, the deserving will triumph. You would not be able to adduce much of that from the text of this story alone. Understanding the broader significance of this story—and all the stories in his repertoire—requires paying attention to how Packy Jim uses stories, parable-like, as glosses in longer conversations. It requires appreciating how he tells one story to amplify another, how stories build contexts of meaning for each other. Such contextualization—paying attention to the interplay of text and context—requires patience, and it reveals a worldview that is both idiosyncratic and shared—a testament to individual intelligence and talent, and a window into Irish vernacular culture.

Ray Cashman

Ray Cashman

Ray Cashman is an associate professor of folklore at Indiana University. He is the author of Storytelling on the Northern Irish Border, which won both the Chicago Folklore Prize of the American Folklore Society and the Donald Murphy Prize of the American Conference for Irish Studies. He is a coeditor of The Individual and Tradition: Folkloristic Perspectives.

New Books for August 2016

 

We are pleased to announce two new books arriving in late August.

Reyfman-How-Russia-Learned-to-Write-c

HOW RUSSIA LEARNED TO WRITE
Literature and the Imperial Table of Ranks
Irina Reyfman

Irina Reyfman

Irina Reyfman

“Compelling, clever, and persuasive. Examining many Russian writers’ self-fashioning as members of the nobility and their careers in public service, Reyfman admirably shows that the understanding of rank should inflect all our arguments and histories of the writing profession in Russia.”

—Luba Golburt, University of California, Berkeley

“Indispensable reading for all who study Russian literature of the Imperial period. Reyfman adds nuance and necessary reevaluation to our understanding of how literary careers and literary biography evolved in Russia in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.”
—Andrew Kahn, University of Oxford

Publications of the Wisconsin Center for Pushkin Studies     David M. Bethea, Series Editor

Cashman-Packy-Jim-c

 

August 30, 2016

PACKY JIM
Folklore and Worldview on the Irish Border
Ray Cashman

“A brilliant testament to the ethnographer’s art, the deeply rooted wisdom of an ‘ordinary’ person, and the complex ways in which folklore figures in everyday life along the Irish border.”
—James P. Leary, author of Folksongs of Another America

“Octogenarian bachelor Packy Jim McGrath of Lettercran, County Donegal, emerges here as both typical and singular, a barometer of continuity and change. McGrath’s resilience, dignity, and strong sense of self manifest clearly in his stories, which locate him both in the technological consumerist future and in the primordial self-sufficient past. Ray Cashman’s sharp and sympathetic observation delivers a classic ethnography that stakes a major claim for folkloristic studies as cutting-edge humanities research.”
—Lillis Ó Laoire, author of On a Rock in the Middle of the Ocean: Songs and Singers in Tory Island

Ray Cashman

Ray Cashman

Packy Jim McGrath

folklore, memory, and racial conflict in Boston

head_shot_buccitelli

Anthony Buccitelli

Anthony Bak Buccitelli is a folklorist and assistant professor of American studies and communications at the Pennsylvania State University, Harrisburg. He is the author of City of Neighborhoods: Memory, Folklore, and Ethnic Place in Boston. We spoke with Buccitelli about growing up in the Boston area, the study of folklore, and his research in Boston’s neighborhoods.


As publishers in the academic field of folklore studies, we know that “folklore” means different things to different people. What is your approach in this book?  

Oh, yes, that’s so. Sometimes the general public uses the term to talk about things that are wrong: “oh, that’s just a bit of folklore!” Or some people think folklore applies only to ancient cultures, or only to fairy tales. There’s a lot of room for misinterpretation there. But what most folklorists these days study are the traditions of creative expression that make up quite a bit, perhaps most, of our lived cultural experience.Buccitelli-City-of-Neighborhoods-c

This can mean those recognizable traditions, such serving turkey on Thanksgiving or a bride’s white dress at a wedding, but it can also mean a lot of other things that don’t necessarily jump out at you as “traditional.” Cracking jokes with your friends at a bar; playing games on the playground as a kid; telling stories about family history, memories, or experiences; ways of making food; neighborhood festivals or fairs; songs you sing at a birthday party or around a campfire; even the way you write a text message to a friend; all of these things can become traditions and so can be studied as folklore. So when I talk about folklore in the book, I am really talking about these traditional, but sometimes seemingly trivial, forms of culture that actually define a great deal of our contemporary cultural lives.

I am especially interested in the culture of urban neighborhoods, so my choices of what folklore to study and how to approach it were influenced by the specific Boston neighborhoods where I did my fieldwork: South Boston, East Boston, and North Quincy. I looked at their parades and festivals, stories folks told about life in the neighborhood, and their use of visual symbols in neighborhood spaces.

You also write about memory and ethnic place. How do these connect with the study of folklore? The experience that led me down the road to writing this book was going to the L Street Brownies Annual Plunge. The Brownies are possibly the oldest “polar bear” swimming club in the U.S. and are based in South Boston. I was doing a small field project with them, and their theme that year for the Plunge was “Southie Pride.” I noticed that people were wearing clothing or objects associated with being Irish or Irish American, and Southie does have a history and public identity as an “Irish neighborhood.” But, local residents I had interviewed had just been telling me how they saw Southie as an ethnically diverse neighborhood, and that it had been diverse for a long time. This got me thinking about why South Boston, and many other places, are associated strongly with particular forms of identity, especially ethnicity or race, despite underlying diversity.

The Annual Plunge, 2006

The Annual Plunge, 2006

So my research evolved into understanding two things. First, how do ethnic identity and place identity converge in people’s lived experience? In other words, how closely is my feeling of being “Italian” or “Irish” or “Greek” connected to my sense of being “South Bostonian” or, in my own case, a “Hinghamite”? Other scholars have argued that American ethnics today are very mobile and no longer intimately connected (or restricted) to enclaves of specific urban neighborhoods. But at the same time, there still seems to be a strong cultural sense of connection between ethnicity and place. The force of this connection, I found, can remain even after the actual demographics of a neighborhood have changed significantly. So, understanding the process of “social memory” in each neighborhood became a crucial part of the picture. I was exploring not just what the actual history of the neighborhood was, but also how that history is remembered and represented by people and communities.

Second, I wanted to understand how people use folklore to negotiate these kinds of situations, and to form or alter these kinds of memories. I kept coming back to the idea that, despite the many, varied, or conflicting ways people represented the history and ethnicity of their neighborhood, there was often a single representation that served as a base for variation. For example, even when residents of South Boston told me that their neighborhood wasn’t actually as Irish as outsiders thought, they were still starting from a basic idea of Southie as an Irish enclave, an idea widely represented in neighborhood folkloric practices. It’s this dominant sense of connection that I call the “sense of ethnic place.”

Santarpio's Pizza, East Boston

Santarpio’s Pizza, East Boston

So is “ethnic place” kind of a shared “archetype” or a universal idea that people have about the connection between ethnicity and places? No. It’s not universal at all. In fact, I contend, that it’s very specific to a single place and time period. And, the dominant “sense of ethnic place” in a given area is never completely dominant, and it’s certainly not permanent. In fact, as I demonstrate in my book, it’s always changing. And, I found, there are multiple senses of place at work at the same time in the same neighborhoods! Places can become full of meaning for us, both because we connect specific memories to places and because we attach cultural significance to places. This cultural significance can be expressed through formal commemoration of historical or heritage sites, but also in informal understandings shared by a specific community of people.

You grew up in Hingham, in the Boston area. How did that influence your research? I spent a lot of time in my younger years hanging around different parts of Boston. I could say that I intended to “write what you know,” but I think it was actually the reverse. I wanted to study and write about Boston to understand it better. I already knew people in some of the places I was studying, so that was somewhat helpful in doing fieldwork. My own sense of identity as an Italian American from Hingham surely shaped some of the interactions I had in my fieldwork. How exactly? Well, I’m not sure!

Since you were not from any of the neighborhoods you were studying, and there are so many diverse neighborhoods in Boston, how did you choose the areas you wanted to focus on for this book?  Boston has such a vital, longstanding, and very rich history of neighborhood cultures that I could have chosen almost any neighborhoods to write about. I chose these three for practical reasons, but also because they represented different configurations and histories in connection with ethnic identity. South Boston, as I mentioned, has a very public association with Irish American identity, but also longstanding Polish, Lithuanian, and Italian communities, and a unique history with other communities including African and Asian Americans. Demographically, the ethnic composition of the neighborhood has been changing gradually over the past few decades.

In contrast, East Boston has an association with Italian American identity going back to the first half of the twentieth century, and some small but longstanding communities of other ethnic groups. But, since the 1980s, the neighborhood has seen much more dramatic changes, particularly with the emergence of very large communities of different Latino/a ethnicities, mainly Salvadorian, Puerto Rican, and Mexican.

Chinese Herbal Center, North Quincy

Chinese Herbal Center, North Quincy

Finally, again in contrast to the other two, North Quincy never had a strong association with a particular ethnic group. It was a mix of mainly European ethnicities. But more recently, it has become one of the largest Chinese American communities in the state.

My choice of locations with three very different demographic ethnic histories wasn’t to build a model for direct comparison, but rather to try to get a sense of the diverse ways in which connections between ethnicity and place can take shape.

In a number of places in the book, you write about contemporary conflicts between people or groups that are tied to historic ethnic or racial conflicts in the Boston. Is there a culture of racism or ethnic hostility in these neighborhoods?                 

Ladder 19, South Boston

Ladder 19, South Boston

Boston does have a history of racism, as well as ethnic and racial tensions that have sometimes emerged as open conflict or violence. There’s no doubt about that. But I don’t think that this is in any way limited to a particular neighborhood or group of people, although it sometimes has been portrayed that way. Glossing over the larger historical dynamics that have shaped these conflicts misrepresents the history of the city and hinders our ability to address these issues.

I don’t shy away from talking about interethnic or interracial conflicts in the book, sometimes in pretty stark terms. But these are not the only defining features of local cultures in Boston. Nor are they the only element around which memories take shape in Boston. Memories of racism or ethnic tensions exist as a part of the landscape of memory, but among many other parts.

There is certainly still a great deal of work to be done in Boston to bridge the barriers that exist between ethnic and racial communities. But what I also think the book shows is that no culture is static. A city is always changing. People in the Boston area care a lot about their neighborhoods, spending a lot of time thinking about them and working to make them better places. I hope that my book can, in some small way, contribute to these discussions as they take shape.

 

Public & school librarians choose best UW Press books

Each year, a committee of librarians representing American public libraries and K-12 school libraries select university press books most suited to their audiences.  The result is a bibliography, University Press Books for Public and Secondary School Libraries, an annual collection development tool published with the help and support of two divisions of the American Library Association: the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) and, from public libraries, the Collection Development and Evaluation Section of the Reference and User Services Association (RUSA/CODES). Each book chosen receives one or two sets of ratings, from a school library reviewer, a public library reviewer, or both. Books rated by the school librarians are also recommended for grade levels.

The following University of Wisconsin Press books (published in 2015) were chosen for the annual list!

 “The Best of the Best” titles
Bechard-Norske-Nook-Pies-cThe Norske Nook Book of Pies and Other Recipes, Jerry Bechard and Cindee Borton-Parker

Each year, panelists from the joint selection committee of librarians present a small selection of their favorite recommendations at the American Library Association annual conference at a “Best of the Best from the University Presses” session, to be held this year at the ALA conference in Orlando, Florida on Sunday, June 26, 2016, 1:00 p.m.

Outstanding-rated titles from the University Press Books Committee

  • Living Black: Social Life in an African American Neighborhood, Mark S. Fleisher
  • The Norske Nook Book of Pies and Other Recipes, Jerry Bechard and Cindee Borton-Parker

The above titles received ratings of “Outstanding” by members of the 2013 University Press Books Committee, recommended as essential additions to most public and/or school library collections.

000-099 General Knowledge

Baughman Cover Design071.3   Baughman, James L., Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen, and James P. Danky (Editors)
Protest on the Page: Essays on Print and the Culture of Dissent since 1865

Explores the intertwined histories of print and protest in the United States from Reconstruction to the 2000s. Ten essays look at how protesters of all political and religious persuasions, as well as aesthetic and ethical temperaments, have used the printed page to wage battles over free speech; test racial, class, sexual, and even culinary boundaries; and to alter the moral landscape in American life.
LC 2014030784, ISBN 9780299302849 (p.), ISBN 9780299302832 (e.)
School Libraries: General Audience/High School                    Public Libraries: General Audience

300-319 Sociology, Anthropology, Cultures

Grady-Improvised-Adolescence-c305.893   Grady, Sandra  Improvised Adolescence: Somali Bantu Teenage Refugees in America

A glimpse into the lives of African refugee teens, as they negotiate the differences between African and American ideas about the transition from childhood to adulthood. Of interest to social services workers and educators as well as scholars of folklore, anthropology, African studies, and child development.
LC 2014030780, ISBN 9780299303242 (p.), ISBN 9780299303235 (e.)
School Libraries: Special Interest/High School, Professional Use          Public Libraries: Special Interest

Fleisher-LivingBlack-c305.896   Fleisher, Mark S.  Living Black: Social Life in an African American Neighborhood

Breaks the stereotype of poor African American neighborhoods as dysfunctional ghettos of helpless and hopeless people. Despite real and enduring poverty, the community described here—the historic North End of Champaign, Illinois—has a vibrant social life and strong ties among generations.
LC 2015008381, ISBN 9780299305345 (p.), ISBN 9780299305338 (e.)
School Libraries: Outstanding/Professional Use        Public Libraries: General Interest
*Outstanding* rating: “This quality ethnography reads like a series of engaging stories. The study reflects both excellent research and a clear sense of the provisions that ensure quality in qualitative research. A clear voice supporting diversity and our awareness thereof.”—Janie Pickett (AASL)

320-329 Political Science

Bartley-EclipseoftheAssassins-c327.730   Bartley, Russell H. and Sylvia Erickson Bartley  Eclipse of the Assassins: The CIA, Imperial Politics, and the Slaying of Mexican Journalist Manuel Buendía

Investigates the sensational 1984 murder of Mexico’s most influential newspaper columnist, Manuel Buendía, and how that crime reveals the lethal hand of the U.S. government in Mexico and Central America during the final decades of the twentieth century. This is a stellar, courageous work of investigative journalism and historical scholarship—grippingly told, meticulously documented, and doggedly pursued over thirty years.
LC 2015008379, ISBN 9780299306403 (c.), ISBN 9780299306434 (e.)
School Libraries: Specialized Interest / Professional Use          Public Libraries: General Interest

 

640-649 Home Economics

Bechard-Norske-Nook-Pies-c641.860   Bechard, Jerry and Cindee Borton-Parker  The Norske Nook Book of Pies and Other Recipes

The Norske Nook’s mile-high meringue and dairyland deliciousness attracts foodies, celebrities, and tourists from around the world to sample its glorious pies. This beautifully photographed cookbook features more than seventy pies, including thirty-six blue ribbon-winners at the annual National Pie Championship.
LC 2014037003, ISBN 9780299304300 (c.)
School Libraries: Outstanding/ Middle School, High School, Professional Use   Public Libraries: General Interest    *Outstanding* rating:  “If you aren’t able to make a personal visit to one of the Norske Nook’s ‘pie shrines’ this title will certainly help any home baker re-create some of their amazing recipes. Of course there are old favorites like apple and cherry pie, but you can also find mouth-watering recipes for a Snickers caramel pie, a raspberry white chocolate pie, or a Northwoods root beer float pie. The basics like pie crusts and toppings are covered in their own chapters, and non-pie chapters are devoted to tortes, muffins, cookies and Scandinavian specialties. Even non-bakers will enjoy drooling over the beautiful photographs. The directions are clear and easy-to-follow, which should make this title very appealing to middle and high school aspiring pie bakers.”—Judi Repman (AASL)

700-759 Fine Arts

Langer-RomaineBrooks-c759.13   Langer, Cassandra    Romaine Brooks: A Life

The artistic achievements of Romaine Brooks (1874-1970), both as a major expatriate American painter and as a formative innovator in the decorative arts, have long been overshadowed by her fifty-year relationship with writer Natalie Barney and a reputation as a fiercely independent, aloof heiress who associated with fascists in the 1930s. Langer provides a richer, deeper portrait of Brooks’s aesthetics and experimentation as an artist.
LC 2015008825, ISBN 9780299298609 (c.), ISBN 9780299298630 (e.)
School Libraries: Specialized Interest / High School           Public Libraries:  General Interest

 

780-799 Music, Performing Arts, Recreation, Sports

Diebel-Crossing-the-Driftless-c797.122   Diebel, Lynne   (Illustrated by Robert Diebel)  Crossing the Driftless: A Canoe Trip through a Midwestern Landscape

Crossing the Driftless is both a traveler’s tale of a 359-mile canoe trip and an exploration of the dramatic environment of the Upper Midwest’s Driftless region, following the streams of geologic and human history.
LC 2014030800, ISBN 9780299302948 (p.), ISBN 9780299302931 (e.)
School Libraries: Regional Specialized Interest / High School          Public Libraries: Regional General

 

800-819 American Literature

Merlis-JD-A-Novel-c813.54  Merlis, Mark  JD: A Novel

Thirty years after Jonathan Ascher’s death, Martha finally opens her husband’s journals and discovers his secret affairs with men as well as his all-absorbing passion for their deceased son, Mickey. Mark Merlis shows readers a vivid picture of a family who cannot find a way to speak their love for one another.
LC 2014030801, ISBN 9780299303501 (c.), ISBN 9780299303532 (e.)
School Libraries: Specialized Interest / Professional Use          Public Libraries: General Interest

 

DeVita-A-Winsome-Murder-c813.6  DeVita, James  A Winsome Murder

A serial killer brings bloody murder to the pastoral Wisconsin town of Winsome Bay, requiring the expertise of detective James Mangan, a hard-bitten Chicago cop with an unexpected knowledge of Shakespeare.
LC 2014042916, ISBN 9780299304409 (c.), ISBN 9780299304430 (e.)
School Libraries: General Interest / High School            Public Libraries: General Interest

 

 

Meet Me Halfway813.6  Morales, Jennifer   Meet Me Halfway: Milwaukee Stories

When an African American teen suffers a serious accident in the home of his white neighbor, his community must find ways to bridge divisions between black and white, gay and straight, old and young.
LC 2014030802, ISBN 9780299303648 (p.), ISBN 9780299303631 (e.)
School Libraries: Regional General Interest / Professional Use      Public Libraries: Regional General Interest

 

830-899 Literature of Other Languages 

Blessington-Euripides-Trojan-Women-c882.01  Euripides  (Verse translations by Francis Blessington, with introductions and notes)  Trojan Women, Helen, Hecuba: Three Plays about Women and the Trojan War

“These lively, accurate translations will allow readers and theater audiences to appreciate the power of Euripidean tragedy. Blessington’s language is spare and his translation fairly literal, allowing direct—sometimes punchy—delivery while retaining poetic expressions from the Greek.”—Francis Dunn, author of Tragedy’s End: Closure and Innovation in Euripidean Drama
LC 2015010084, ISBN 9780299305246 (p.), ISBN 9780299305239 (e.)
School Libraries: General Interest / High School, Professional Use     Public Libraries: General Interest

 

950-969 Asian, Middle Eastern, and African History

Lee-Dreams-of-the-Hmong-c959.004   Lee, Mai Na M.  Dreams of the Hmong Kingdom: The Quest for Legitimation in French Indochina, 1850-1960

Authoritative and original, Dreams of the Hmong Kingdom is among the first works of its kind, exploring the influence that French colonialism and Hmong leadership had on the Hmong people’s political and social aspirations.
LC 2014035663, ISBN 9780299298845 (p.), ISBN 9780299298838 (e.)
School Libraries: Specialized Interest / Professional Use                       Public Libraries:  Specialized Interest

Amony-I-am-Amony-c967.610  Amony, Evelyn  (Edited with an introduction by Erin Baines)  I Am Evelyn Amony: Reclaiming My Life from the Lord’s Resistance Army

A harrowing account by one of the 60,000 children abducted by the violent African rebel group, the Lord’s Resistance Army. Amony tells of her life as a forced wife to LRA leader Joseph Kony, her eleven years in the LRA, her part in a peace delegation after her capture by the Ugandan military, and her current work as a human rights advocate.
LC 2015008824, ISBN 9780299304942 (p.), ISBN 9780299304935 (e.)
School Libraries: General Interest / High School, Professional Use     Public Libraries: General Interest