Expert Opinion

A Visit to the American Folklore Society

In this post, Dr Emily Marshall reports on her recent trip to Santa Fe to attend, and present her research on Brer Rabbit, at the American Folklore Society's annual meeting.

Dry grassland

Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Santa Fe 

I have just returned, somewhat jet-lagged, from a stimulating conference in Santa Fe, the capital of the state of New Mexico. Every year the American Folklore Society hosts an annual meeting which brings together around 7000 scholars of folklore worldwide. The theme of this year’s conference was ‘folklore at the crossroads’.

Supported by funding from a Leeds Beckett Early Career Researcher Development Award I flew to Santa Fe to present on my research for my forthcoming book on the African American Trickster figure Brer Rabbit, entitled American Trickster: Trauma, Tradition and Brer Rabbit (Rowman and Littlefield, 2016). The feedback following my presentation, ‘Brer Rabbit at the Cultural Crossroads: A Question of Origins’, helped me gain some excellent insights into the field, including making contact with one of the most prominent American folklorists Roger Abrahams.  I was also offered information on the location of lesser known archival material of the earliest recordings, written and oral, of African American Brer Rabbit stories.

Desert plains, near Santa Fe

Santa Fe is an isolated city 7000 feet above sea level and boasts the best quality of air in America. It’s surrounded by the snow-flecked Sangre de Cristo Mountains and great desert plains, which so inspired artist Georgia O’Keeffe that she moved into a remote house near Santa Fe and spent her time collecting and painting rocks and bones from the vast swaths of desert scrub. With its rich mixture of Native American and Spanish cultural influences, it’s a hotspot for artists, art collectors and ‘culture vultures’ from across the continent.

Native American jewellery seller

The research interests of folklorists that I met were wide-ranging; from the analysis of the Grimms’ fairy tales to Native American burial traditions and the Mardis Gras carnival practices of Louisiana. Many folklorists involve themselves directly in ‘participant observation’ research, and their immersion into their field of study leads to fascinating and original results.

Attending the conference was a unique and intellectually invigorating experience and I return to my research with renewed enthusiasm.

Native American jewellery sellers

Dr Emily Zobel Marshall

Reader / School Of Humanities And Social Sciences

Emily’s research is informed by postcolonial theory and includes examinations of constructions of identity, race and racial politics and Caribbean carnival cultures. She is particularly interested in forms of cultural resistance and cross-cultural fertilisation in the face of colonialism. Emily is an expert in the role of trickster figures in the literatures and cultures of Africa and its Diaspora and has published widely in this area.

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