Thursday, 10 November 2011

Katharine Briggs evening 2011

Before I head off to the South East London Folklore Society for my talk tonight I should mention last night's Katharine Briggs evening at the Folklore Society. I'm a bit thick-voiced after the reception, which is normally an indicator that a jolly time was had: there were a number of comments to the effect that the Briggs evening is acquiring a customary life of its own as a seasonal event, with regular visitors and a formalised tradition of how it all unfolds. It was also a nice chance to meet other scholars I didn't know, authors whose books I'd reviewed but whom I didn't know, and people I'd so far only spoken to on Twitter.
The Briggs lecture was given by Michael Rosen on 'The Folk Tradition: What Do We Do With It?' (The accompanying picture, blagged from his website, shows Mike at the Ledbury Poetry Festival). His engaging performance was really about the folk traditions that play out in his work. He laid particular emphasis on the range of such traditions and the interactions involved in eliciting and documenting them (for example in getting children to collect from each other and from their parents). Much of this isn't overly controversial for contemporary folklorists, but it was refreshing to hear a reasoned and entertaining defence of collecting whole repertoires rather than selective documentation. It was also very nice to hear the audience respond with a realisation of the wealth of folkloric material they have heard throughout their lives.
The Katharine Briggs book award went to Herbert Halpert and J.D.A. Widdowson, Folk Tales, Tall Tales, Trickster Tales and Legends of the Supernatural from the Pinelands of New Jersey: Recorded and Annotated by Herbert Halpert between 1936 and 1951 (The Edwin Mellen Press, 2010). I'm very excited about this book, which sounds remarkable. I've long admired Halpert's fieldwork and his scholarship, and I'm pleased to see recognition given to what, in some ways, was a pinnacle of his work. Receiving the award John Widdowson said the book had become Halpert's 'life work': towards the end of his life he had almost lost sight of publication because of his ongoing research and annotation. Widdowson also paid tribute to their publishers. Where other publishers had wanted to cherry-pick stories and ditch the scholarly apparatus that make the project so valuable, Edwin Mellen took the manuscript on in its entirety. That was almost the most encouraging part of the story. It is still possible to produce books of serious scholarly folklore research. That is also cause for celebration, and is a fitting tribute to Herbert Halpert and his work.

1 comment:

  1. Of course, I should mention that the Halpert & Widdowson book isn't cheap. It's an eye-watering £90 in the UK, which is all too usual from small academic presses. The quality appears to be rather better than some of those presses, which often function as little more than academic vanity projects. But that's a different discussion!