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2007 Botkin Lectures

Online Archive of Past Benjamin A. Botkin Folklife Lectures

All of the materials from the Botkin Lectures are available to visitors in the Folklife Reading Room. Selected materials will be made available online as digital versions ma available.

September 19, 12 noon - 1:30 pm
Pickford Theater, 3rd Floor, James Madison Building

Image: Storyteller in Herat, 1975. Margaret Mills."Afghan Women’s Stories: The Problematics of Cover"

presented by Margaret Mills, Ohio State University

Read the event flyer essay

View the video of this presentation Time 1:42

Afghan women in burkas have become iconic representations of women’s oppression in western media, but this representation is contested in various ways by Afghan women and men. The most common observation by Afghan women activists is that we westerners should get over it, that the burka, hot, uncomfortable and inconvenient as it is, is certainly not their most pressing problem. It has even proved useful at times as an enabling device to preserve women’s mobility and anonymity under circumstances of surveillance or constraint. (Photo credit on left: Storyteller in Herat, 1975. Margaret Mills.)

Image: Woman in a burka (actually called a chadri in Afghanistan - burka is a Pakistani term) in front of the shrine of Ali in Mazar-i Sharif, 1975. Grace Brigham.
Woman in a burka (actually called a chadri in Afghanistan - burka is a Pakistani term) in front of the shrine of Ali in Mazar-i Sharif, 1975. Grace Brigham.)

Westerners have their own preoccupations with visual access and its meanings, reflective of our ideas about bodily privacy and self-determination. This talk, illustrated with Afghan women’s folktales and personal reminiscences about the use and misuse of cover, both imaginary and actual, explores how Afghan women understand and strategize around constraints on their public presence and social authority. These observations are used to reflect on certain recent mismanaged representations of Afghan women and families in global media and their repercussions for the women so represented.

Margaret Mills was raised in Seattle and educated at Harvard, where she developed her lifelong interest in Persian-language oral narrative under the tutelage of Albert Lord and Annemarie Schimmel. She has taught ethnographic field research methodology in the U.S., Bangladesh, India and Tajikistan, has done research on schooling and foodways in Pakistan, on everyday ethical speech in Tajikistan, and continues her work on Afghan oral narrative, both fiction and oral history. Her previous publications include Rhetorics and Politics in Afghan Traditional Storytelling (1991) and she co-edited South Asian Folklore: An Encyclopedia (2003) with Peter Claus and Sarah Diamond. She has a book project under way presenting the oral history of an Afghan family as well as a monograph on tricksters and gender in Persian-language oral tradition. Dr. Mills recently completed a term of service as the Chair of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at Ohio State University.

August 15, 12 noon - 1:00 pm
West Dining Room, Sixth Floor, James Madison Building

Image of Roger Abrahams

"Folklore’s Champion: Ben Botkin"

presented by Roger D. Abrahams, Hum Rosen Professor of Humanities, Emeritus, at the University of Pennsylvania

Read the event flyer essay

View the video of this presentation Time 1:04

Among Benjamin Botkin's accomplishments, the gathering of slave narratives has received the greatest amount of attention, though not always with his name attached. As folklore editor of the Federal Writers’ Project, and later head of the Archive of Folk Culture at the Library of Congress, Botkin guided the fieldworkers who collected the narratives, amassed and edited the raw materials, and produced seventeen bound volumes entitled Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States from Interviews with Former Slaves (Washington, D.C., 1941). In this lecture, Roger Abrahams discusses this project, Botkin’s place in it, its impacton subsequent scholarship, and how one can take these studies further to understand more fully the ways in which the slaves achieved liberation themselves, before and after Emancipation.

Roger D. Abrahams is Hum Rosen Professor of Humanities, Emeritus, at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author and editor of many books, including After Africa (with John Szwed), African Folktales: Traditional Stories of the Black World, Singing the Master: The Emergence of African-American Culture in the Plantation South, African-American Folktales: Stories from Black Traditions in the New World, Everyday Life: A Poetics of Vernacular Practices, and Man-of-Words in the West Indies.

July 24, 12 noon - 1:00 PM
Pickford Theater, 3rd Floor, James Madison Building

Image of newspaper article on Bernie Herman
Newspaper articles on quilting. Photo by Bernard Herman

"Quilters' Save Our Stories"

presented by Bernard Herman, Professor of American Material Culture Studies and Professor of Art History at the University of Delaware

Read the event flyer essay

No webcast currently available

Bernard Herman's illustrated lecture demonstrates the rich potential of the Quilters' Save Our Stories collection, now happily housed in the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, through an examination of the archetypal and ubiquitous Sunbonnet Sue quilts.

Quilt image -- 'The Sun Sets on Sunbonnet Sue,' courtesy of Tennessee State Library and Archives.
'The Sun Sets on Sunbonnet Sue,' courtesy of Tennessee State Library and Archives.

Industry estimates place the number of individuals engaged in some aspect of quiltmaking in the United States alone at roughly 20,000,000 individuals generating annual revenues, excluding buying and selling quilts, in excess of $2,000,000,000. How is it then that so many Americans from all walks of life are engaged in artistic production about which the rest of us know so little? The Alliance for American Quilts addressed this lacuna in 1999 when a working group conceptualized Quilters' Save Our Stories, a project intended to capture and preserve the voices of the quiltmaking community from the ardent hobbyist to the avant-garde art quilter. The project pilot, conducted with the support of Quilters, Inc., at the Houston International Quilt Festival, collected nearly fifty interviews that were transcribed and placed online at As the archive grew, the Alliance and its partners at the University of Delaware worked to transform the Q.S.O.S. into a grassroots effort. New national and statewide projects were added including interviews with a Texas quilt guild, exhibitors in Philadelphias biennial quilt expo "Art Quilts at the Sedgwick," state chapters of the Daughters of the American Revolution, and many individual and group projects. To aid in the collection and processing of the interviews, The Alliance compiled a comprehensive manual edited by Karen Musgrave. Like the interviews, the Manual is on The Alliance website and free to all. The Q.S.O.S. continues to thrive as an Alliance grassroots project under the leadership of Karen Musgrave and invites volunteers to aid in the collection and preservation of the living voice of the quilt.

Bernard L. Herman, Chair and Edward F. and Elizabeth Goodman Rosenberg Professor of Art History at the University of Delaware, teaches courses in material culture, vernacular architecture, folk and ethnic arts, historic preservation, and writing.  His books include Everyday Architecture of The Mid-Atlantic (1997), The Stolen House(1992), A Land and Life Remembered: Americo-Liberian Folk Architecture (1989) with Svend Holsoe and Max Belcher, Architecture and Rural Life in Central Delaware, 1700-1900(1987), and most recently Town House: Architecture and Material Life in the Early American City, 1780-1830 (2005) . In 2006 and he contributed an essay, "Architectural definitions,"to the volume Gee's Bend: The Architecture of the Quilt. In 2005 he worked with twelve students in a senior writing seminar, compiling, designing, and producing People Were Close, an oral and photographic history of Newark, Delaware's historic African-American community. A second volume, Food Always Brings People Together: Stories, Poems, and Recipes from the New London Road Community was published in 2006.  Currently Dr. Herman is working on two book projects: the first period houses of the Delaware Valley, 1675-1740, and "Quilt Spaces,"with a particular emphasis on the quilts of Gee's Bend, Alabama, and the worlds of contemporary quiltmaking. 

July 5, 12 noon - 1:30 PM
Pickford Theater, 3rd Floor, James Madison Building

Image of Jim Crawford

"Down in the Old Belt: Voices from the Tobacco South,"

a film screening and lecture by documentary film maker Jim Crawford

Read the event flyer essay

No webcast was made for this film screening

It was the gold of Jamestown, the birthplace of our nation. Now, in the storied landscape of the Old Belt, tobacco farmers speak to the end of a culture 400 years in the making. From Jamestown to the 2004 buyout,  Jim Crawford's documentary film Down in the Old Belt: Voices from the Tobacco South, reveals the decline of the tobacco culture in the Old Belt of Virginia. 

Image of stringing blairs or bunches of tobacco leaves to dry
Stringing blairs, or bunches of tobacco leaves, to dry. Courtesy of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce.

Told in the context of tobacco's cataclysmic human history, this film weaves a complex picture of the livelihoods and traditions that compose this declining culture. The farmers in this documentary tell their stories not for sympathy but to reveal what is fading in the wake of this change. Their stories personify the cultural changes occurring in agriculture throughout the United States today.

James P. Crawford, is a Cultural Geographer, writer and film maker living in Roanoke, Virginia. He has taught Geography at Virginia Tech and Hollins University, but is presently focusing his efforts on his documentary production company, Swinging Gate Productions, LLC. His first documentary, the award-winning Down in the Old Belt: Voices from the Tobacco South will be broadcast on PBS to 48% of US households in the fall of 2007.

The Benjamin Botkin Lecture Series provided support for the following event:

SYMPOSIUM: "All through the North, As I Walked Forth...": Northern Ireland's Place Names, Folklife and Landscape

May 16, 2007
Library of Congress
Washington, DC

Read the event flyer essay

Currently no webcasts are available for the symposium presentations listed here. Materials are available in the Folklife Reading Room. See the symposium pages, Rediscover Northern Ireland, for more information about this event.

WELCOME & INTRODUCTION: Library Officials and Peggy Bulger (Director, American Folklife Center)

Edward Redmond (Geography and Map Division) delivered a presentation on cartobibliographic resources on Northern Ireland at the Library of Congress.

Richard Bartlett and Place-Names on his Maps of Ulster, 1600-1603

presented by Kay Muhr, Northern Ireland Place Names Project, Queen's University, Belfast

Image: Kay Muhr
Kay Muhr, 2007.

Kay Muhr is Senior Research Fellow of the Northern Ireland Place-Name Project in Irish and Celtic Studies, Queen's University. She is the author of North West County Down/Iveagh, vol. 6 in the Place-Names of Northern Ireland series, and of the text of the touring exhibition and booklet called Celebrating Ulster's Townlands. Kay Muhr grew up in rural Cambridgeshire, read Celtic studies at Edinburgh from 1966 to 1970, and received her Ph.D., on narrative style in traditional Gaelic literature, from the University of Edinburgh. She has written and lectured on early Irish literature, on the use of place-names in the Ulster Cycle tales, and on the early maps of Ireland. Professor Muhr is Chairman of the Ulster Place-Name Society, and is a past president of the Society for Name Studies in Britain and Ireland. Her research interests span Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man, including language, culture, oral tradition, and place and family names. Please visit the following website to view an exhibition of her current research on Ulster place-names entitled, Celebrating Ulster's Townlands.

Ballymenone: The Power of Place and the Riddle of History

presented by Henry Glassie, Professor, Indiana University, Indiana University, Bloomington

Henry Glassie
Henry Glassie, 2007.

Henry Glassie is the College Professor of Folklore at Indiana University. In 1972, he settled into a community in County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, to learn how country people endure in hard times. He worked with them, gathering their stories, and five books were the result: All Silver and No Brass, Irish Folk History, Passing the Time in Ballymenone, Irish Folktales, and The Stars of Ballymenone. Professor Glassie has served as the president of the American Folklore Society, and he has received many awards for his work, including the Chicago Folklore Prize and the Cummings Award of the Vernacular Architecture Forum. Among his other books are Folk Housing in Middle Virginia, The Spirit of Folk Art, Turkish Traditional Art Today, Art and Life in Bangladesh, The Potter's Art, and Vernacular Architecture.

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