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Linda Dégh, 1920-2014

Sunday, August 24, 2014   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Tim Lloyd
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Distinguished Indiana University folklorist and AFS Fellow Linda Dégh passed away on August 19, 2014. The following is her obituary, published in the Bloomington, Indiana Times Herald. Prof. Dégh, along with other colleagues who have passed away this year, will be remembered at the opening ceremonies of the AFS annual meeting this November in Santa Fe.

Linda Dégh-Vázsonyi, of Bloomington, died August 19, 2014. Professor Dégh was born March 18, 1920, to Karoly and Folan Engl Dégh in Budapest, Hungary. She was raised and educated in Hungary where she graduated from Péter Pázmány University. She began her teaching career at the Eötvös Loránd University's Folklore Department in Budapest, before accepting an appointment at the Folklore Institute of Indiana University, Bloomington in 1965. At that time, a new graduate curriculum in the Folklore Institute needed an Europeanist to enhance its already distinguished reputation as "the diamond in the crown of Indiana University" initiated by Herman B Wells. She became an Indiana University Distinguished Professor of Folklore and Ethnomusicology in 1982.

Linda Dégh was a folklorist/ethnologist, specializing in personal and communal identity projections of traditional rural and modern urban communities in Europe and North America. Through personal observation of creative processes in communicating folklore, traditional prose narratives in particular, taking into account historical and situational contexts of performance, she focused not on the text prototype, but on the unique, personal formulations of individuals generated by unpredictable given conditions.

Dégh's 18 books and over to 200 essays have been internationally recognized as initiators of a new approach to folklore study. Her last monographic survey, Legend and Belief: Dialectics of a Folklore Genre, published in 2001, exhibited emergence of stories form novel technological conditions in the U.S. spreading speedy to other industrially advanced nations, expressing fears and concerns of survival in a new world of alienation, globalization, and violence through the defense mechanism rationalizing the irrational.

As a scholar and a teacher, Linda Dégh worked best as a team player, in seminars and workshops. Her exploration of the American folk legend began in an introductory folklore class and resulted in the international study of a new genre, emerging from the advancement of modern technology. As young students disclosed an unknown treasury of legends, she founded the journal Indiana Folklore in 1968 to publish their stories, and with the collaboration of graduate assistants, develop a new method to collect, and analyze and interpret what is now known internationally as urban or contemporary legend. During the summer of 2001, she initiated a pilot study of Hungarian-Americans in the Calumet Region with students to begin exploration of ethnic cultural identity consciousness as a key to the uniqueness of American democracy maintained by an ideal of unity by diversity.

Other awards and honors include an American Philosophy Fellowship (1968), Guggenheim Fellowship (1970), Subcommittee on Anthropology/Folklore, ACLS and the Hungarian Academy of Sciences Joint Committee, Fulbright Research Fellowship in Germany (1984-85), American Folklore Society: Centennial Recognition Award (1989), National Humanities Center Fellowship ( 1990-91), Hoosier Folklore Society Achievement Award (1991), International Society for the Study of Contemporary Legend Outstanding Contribution Award (1993), Sigillo D'Oro, Pitré-Salomone Marino Prize, Palermo, Italy (1995), Ortutay Medal - The Hungarian Ethnographic Society Budapest (1995). In 2004, she received the Lifetime Scholarly Achievement Award from the American Folklore Society.

She was an honorary member of the International Society for Folk Narrative Research and the International Society of European Ethnology and Folklore. In 1993, she was elected as a member of the Folklore Fellows of the Finnish Academy of Sciences, Helsinki, Finland, and in 1971 elected as Fellow of the American Folklore Society where she was a Past-president in 1981-83.

Linda loved and was devoted to her church, former students, colleagues, special friends, and her pet family – Duffy, Midnight, and Olivia. A special note of heartfelt gratitude is extended to her team of caregivers, Southern Care Hospice of South Central Indiana, and the staff of Visiting Angels for their love and compassionate care.

She is survived by a great niece and a great nephew who reside in Budapest, Hungary. She was preceded in death by her husband of 28 years, Andrew Vázsonyi, and her parents.

A memorial service will be conducted by Pastor Andrew Kort at the First Presbyterian Church (221 East Sixth Street) at 10:00 a.m. on Friday, September 12, 2014.

Memorial gifts may be made in memory of Professor Dégh to the IU Foundation, PO Box 500, Bloomington IN 47402 . Any donations to the IU foundation in Linda's memory should be specifically directed to the "Linda Degh Endowment."  Linda donated her home to the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology to form the basis of an endowed professorship in folklore. The endowment will continue the work of trying to raise funds to make that happen. Donations in Linda's memory may also be made to the Monroe County Humane Association, PO Box 1334, Bloomington IN 47402.

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