October 3, 2011

Peace, War, Folklore

A quilt at the Mathers Museum  

When the American Folklore Society (AFS) selected Indiana University’s Bloomington campus for the location of its 2011 Annual Meeting, the faculty in the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology immediately realized that the “Making War, Making Peace” theme resonated with much of the work done by folklorists around the world. Modifying the theme slightly, we chose “Peace, War, Folklore” as the focus for our own conference. This has proven to be extremely fruitful, and from October 12-15 almost 800 folklorists and ethnomusicologists will come to Bloomington to participate in three days of panels and presentations, many dedicated to discussing critical issues of conflict and concord around the world.

Tales of epic warriors; games played by refugee children; lucky charms carried into battle; musical commemorations for the fallen; stories recounted by grandparents, parents, and children: the experience of war demands creative responses to violence, fear, pain, grief, and memory. Similarly, the desire to transform war into peace can be performed in traditional and artistic ways, through music and dance, protest marches, spontaneous shrines, candlelight vigils, and even through play and competition. The making of war and the making of peace are infused with forms of expressive culture that have long been of interest to scholars of folklore.

Indeed, by studying how people individually or in groups articulate their history and identity, their values and beliefs, their anxieties and joys, folklorists seek moments of creativity embedded in everyday life, such as the telling of anecdotes or the cooking of food. They also explore creativity during special occasions or extreme circumstances, when festival celebration and the performance of rituals, for example, can articulate profoundly held beliefs or deep anxieties. So it is not surprising that folklorists often find themselves working to understand how people experience situations of conflict and its aftermath. Whether in war zones or refugee camps, with immigrants, with veterans, or through studying the ethnic slurs and jokes that betray distrust between people living together, folklorists explore the many ways in which people and communities are divided, or struggle to transcend division.

The last time the AFS meeting was held in Bloomington was in 1968, during the thick of the Vietnam War, student uprisings, and peace protests around the world. Now, in a century already racked by conflicts and ongoing struggles for peace, a new generation of folklorists comes together in Bloomington to investigate similar issues.

In addition to academic panels and presentations at this year’s meeting, the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology is sponsoring a range of events and exhibitions in conjunction with the Themester. These include a discussion between Israeli and Palestinian scholars on Jerusalem, a Branigin Lecture on conflict resolution in Ethiopia, an art exhibit by a World War II POW, a quilt exhibition focusing on human rights, and a lecture by world-renowned folklorist (and IU professor emeritus) Henry Glassie who has long worked with communities in states of conflict, resistance, and uneasy peace. These events and exhibitions are open to the public and we hope members of the Bloomington community will join us in exploring issues of war and peace through the lens of folklore and folkloristics.

Michael Dylan Foster
Assistant Professor
Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology
IU College of Arts and Sciences 

The American Folklore Society's annual meeting runs October 12-15. Several events are open to the public. See the schedule for dates and times.  

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