Friday, 20 November 2009

Josh Beasley

On the 26th September I was in Greenwich. I don't get down there much, and I was struck by a lengthy wall of memorial graffiti on the Thames Footpath, just outside the Greenwich entrance to the Foot Tunnel.
Beginning at the left hand end of the wall, the heavily-covered memorial is clearly dedicated to 'Josh' (see above).
Seventeen-year old Josh Beasley went missing on Christmas Eve 2007, after going out skating with friends. His body was found further up the river a month later. He had drowned.
As is the case with other people who have died tragically young, Josh was commemorated by his friends in a number of ways. Photos on the Facebook Memorial page show that not only were memorials drawn here, but it was also the site of extensive floral tributes.
As ever, the messages are emotional, and great creative skill has been expended in the cartoons and images.
What surprised and impressed me was that the wall was still covered in these memorials nearly two years after Josh's tragic death. Other memorials I have photographed, like those to Khaleel Khan, were removed soon after their appearance. I hope that this means a more sensitive attitude to the grief enshrined here. It may be that the memorial is subject to constant renewal by Josh's friends.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Briggs Award winner

The Judging Panel commended Ronald Hutton's book Blood and Mistletoe (Yale UP) as a further contribution to his ongoing work on the origins of contemporary witchcraft.
They noted Owen Davies's Grimoires: A History of Magic Books (Oxford UP), strong bibliographical work, as Runner-Up,
The winner of the 2009 Katharine Briggs Award is Kathryn Marsh for The Musical Playground: Global Tradition and Change in Children's Songs and Games (Oxford UP). Building on work by Iona and Peter Opie, Julia Bishop and Mavis Curtis among others, this is a serious and impressive book on change and development in childlore. The Panel's full citation will be published in Folklore, but I'd like to add my congratulations.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Shortlist for the Briggs Award 2009

The Katharine Briggs Award is the annual book prize of the Folklore Society. There's a particularly strong shortlist this year, with the Judging Panel saying they were 'pleased to report ... a substantial number of good quality entries'. (The length of the list gives some idea of this, as many previous shortlists have only been about 6 books long).
Alphabetically by author, the shortlist is as follows:

Bever, Edward, The Realities of Witchcraft and Popular Magic in Early Modern Europe (Palgrave Macmillan)
Davies, Owen, Grimoires: A HIstory of Magic Books (Oxford UP)
Evans, Nicholas, Dying Words: Endangered Languages and What They Have to Tell Us (Wiley-Blackwell)
Fimi, Dimitra, Tolkien, Race and Cultural History (Palgrave Macmillan)
Hutton, Ronald, Blood and Mistletoe (Yale UP)
Marsh, Kathryn, The Musical Playground: Global Tradition and Change in Children's Songs and Games (Oxford UP)
Mees, Bernard, Celtic Curses (Boydell & Brewer)
Newton, Michael, Warriors of the Word: The World of Scottish Highlanders (Birlinn)
Sumpter, Caroline, The Victorian Press and the Fairy Tale (Palgrave Macmillan)
Sutherland, Alex, The Brahan Seer: The Making of a Legend (Peter Lang Ltd)

The winner will be announced, as usual, at the buffet following the Briggs Lecture. That takes place this coming Tuesday, 10th November, at the Warburg Institute, Woburn Square, London, at 6.30pm (more details here).
I'm also very much looking forward to the lecture itself. Professor John Widdowson, a former President of the Folklore Society, will be speaking on 'Folklore Studies in English Higher Education: Lost Cause or New Opportunity?'. Professor Widdowson played a crucial role in establishing the Centre for English Cultural Tradition (CECTAL) at the University of Sheffield. I did my Masters in Folklore there in its later guise as the National Centre for English Cultural Tradition (NatCECT).
Like many English folklore scholars I have some anxieties over the future (and, indeed, the present) of it as an academic discipline here. That isn't a national/regional concern: although it fares somewhat better in Scotland, it is still not in a particularly strong position, and even some of the bigger American schools have been affected by cuts and retrenchments. Indeed, what makes Professor Widdowson's lecture even more valuable is his long experience at Memorial University, Newfoundland. It may not make comfortable listening, but I expect a customarily thoughtful and incisive appraisal.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Exploring the Extraordinary

I find it quite difficult to blog about my current research. Discreet items of collectanea are one thing, but I'm cautious about pre-empting my longer-term analysis. So, it's nice to be able to mention what a good time I had yesterday at the Exploring the Extraordinary network's first one-day conference in York. (The bill is here, if you want to see what you missed).
I've developed something of an aversion to interdisciplinary conferences: too often there's no sharing of disciplines, no searching for points of contact, just some monomanic shouting and no listening. Yesterday, by contrast, was a rather pleasurable sharing of methods and interests. I had little in common with most of the speakers - I'd go so far as to say that I probably disagree quite strongly with some of them - but there were points at which our researches overlapped, and we were able to share material at those fringes. (I had an interesting chat with David Woollatt, for example, who's working on contemporary Spiritualism: it's peripheral but not unimportant in my work on ghost beliefs). I enjoyed it greatly. (Thanks Hannah and co for the efficient organisation, too).
I think the network's a useful resource, and will become even more useful the wider the breadth of scholarly approaches and disciplines it embraces. The JISCmail list is here, if you want to sign up, and they also have a Facebook group.