500 JAFs and Beyond: JAF 126/501-2
Friday, September 13, 2013
Posted by: Lorraine Cashman
The idea of an issue 500 was momentous one for our Journal and our field, and we wanted to mark that milestone with a strongly reflexive and challenging set of articles. Our intent in that issue was to fill the Journal's pages with articles that caused us to look at our disciplinary history, its inclusions and exclusions, its strengths and its limitations.
With the two issues that followed--issue 501 and now issue 502--we wanted to start the next great series of the JAF by signaling the dynamic and exciting work that folklorists are doing in the here-and-now, and the new insights that contemporary folklorists can bring even to topics that we have been collectively writing about for a long while. Festival emerged as a prime focus, and we were fortunate that we had received some fantastic submissions on this topic that went into 501. Human displacement, relations to place, and strategies for cultural sustenance are prime topics of interest in this era of globalization, and these issues form the focus of much of the material presented in 502.
Given that globalization is a perennial theme in popular, academic, and political discourse today, it made sense for us to highlight articles that we had received on the topic of the spread and adaptation of traditions across time and space. Each article in issue 501 looks at a festival and is rooted in a historical perspective, but each examines the spread and change of traditions in that festival in a manner decidedly different from the impersonal rings-on-the-surface-of-the-water model of transmission that so many of us remember from our foundational readings in the field. In the articles presented here, Jeroen Dewulf, Regina Marchi, and Michael Dylan Foster focus brilliantly on processes of transmission, but in ways that variously highlight a festival’s human dimensions, its surprising twists and turns, it shifting institutional bases, its insider participants and outsider audiences, and its conscious or unconscious political dimensions. If early twentieth-century folklorists were content to say that traditions jump language barriers with ease, the folklorists whose work is presented in this issue problematize and explore this act of "jumping," teasing out of their materials the often contentious and subtle ways in which traditions are borrowed and adapted as they move across geographic, cultural, and linguistic boundaries.
In issue 502, the prevailing emphases shift from historical analysis to contemporary ethnography, and from traditions to performers. David Sandell writes about pilgrims in Mexico and the ways in which pilgrimage helps participants uncover, alleviate, or exacerbate the difficulties of Mexican transnational labor migration. Timo Kaartinen delves into the artistry and motives of Bandanese singers in Indonesia, revealing the ways in which performers rely on oral genres to reference their community's historical migration from one part of the island nation and the ongoing implications of that migration. And in her "Art of Staying Put" Katherine Roberts explores strategic endurance–the artful ways that rural West Virginians resist displacement by struggling to maintain residence on family land despite the many economic, social, and environmental forces threatening rural livelihoods today. With the addition of Deborah Kodish's overview of the collaborative work and activist aims of the Philadelphia Folklore Project, we believe issue 502 makes a bold statement about the work of contemporary folklorists as documentarians, interpreters, partners, and advocates.
When we took over as co-editors of the JAF, we added two new features: "Notes on Practice" and a section of creative writing. Issue 502 is fortunate to have a contribution to each. John Laudun and Jonathan Goodwin use computer analysis to examine trends and themes in the JAF over the past 125 years, giving us a new digital snapshot of our collective interests and aims as reflected in the Journal. Sarah McCartt-Jackson presents poetry and commentary articulating the paradoxes, pleasures, pitfalls, and responsibilities bound up with dual identities as an academic and an artist, an intellectual outsider and an experiential insider. Both pieces offer viewpoints that mesh well with the articles described above.
It is funny to remember that we were getting issue 501 done and issue 502 through copyediting just as all the media craze about the end of the Mayan calendar was upon us, i.e, in December 2012. So our in-house joke was that issue 500 was the true cosmic end of all things and that issues 501 and 502 would never see the light of day, even though we had to turn them in. (Tom was also hopeful that he would get out of his fall semester grading if the world ended before grades were due and that he could avoid having to revise syllabi for the spring semester.) But the Mayan calendar reached its end and issue 500 came and went, and things continued to exist. Issues 501 and 502 mark this continuation and this new beginning, reminding us of the important contributions that folklorists are making to scholarly inquiry today.
--Thomas DuBois and James P. Leary
editors, Journal of American Folklore