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AFS Review: Notes

Tom Davenport Receives 2018 Judith McCulloh Award

Tuesday, November 13, 2018   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Rosalind V. Rini Larson
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At our recent Annual Meeting in Buffalo, NY, the American Folklore Society (AFS) Executive Board presented the 2018 Judith McCulloh Award for Lifetime Service to the Field to Tom Davenport of Delaplane, Virginia. Tom was born in 1939 not far from Washington, DC, and attended Yale as an undergraduate. Following his time in New Haven, he taught English in Hong Kong and studied Chinese at the University of Hawaii, and took up Buddhist practice that he continues to this day. He then spent time in New York in an extended apprenticeship with leading documentary filmmakers Richard Leacock and D. A. Pennebaker before returning home to Fauquier County, Virginia, to start his own independent film company with his wife Mimi. Their early work included a series of live-action films aired on PBS, that presented several of the Grimms’ fairy tales in American settings. From the 1970s through the 1990s, Tom, Mimi, Daniel Patterson (University of North Carolina), and others made a series of remarkable documentary films about American, and most often Southern, traditional culture, beginning with The Shakers and including Being a Joines: A Life in the Brushy MountainsA Singing Stream: A Black Family Chronicle; and The Ballad of Frankie Silver. Tom’s documentary filmmaking work continues to this day.

In 1999 he founded as “a national preserve of documentary films about American roots cultures.” Folkstreams presents the documentary work of independent filmmakers openly online, and has now grown to become a repository of more than 300 such films. And Folkstreams keeps growing, as ethnographers and filmmakers whose work has outlived its commercial phase continue to put that work into the public domain there. Folkstreams constitutes an unparalleled service to the field and the world. It is a powerful resource for students, scholars, filmmakers, and the public; and a compelling body of evidence for the quality and value of folklorists’ work. The collective that works on the project includes the Davenports, Dan and Beverly Patterson, Steve Weiss (University of North Carolina Library), and others, and they take great pains to prepare background and interpretive material on the films, and to link them to published research on their respective topics, thereby increasing the value of Folkstreams and of linked print scholarship reciprocally. Finally, like Open Folklore and other key information and research resources in folklore studies, Folkstreams exemplifies the bazaar-based, open-access ethos of our field, and the plucky and persistent ways in which a small group, within a small field, can use a great idea, plus belief, hard work, and modern means of communication, to leverage our work and its power upward and outward to a worldwide audience.

The American Folklore Society (AFS) Executive Board, which created the Judith McCulloh Award for Lifetime Service to the Field five years ago, makes this award from time to time to recognize extraordinary contributions in service over the course of a career that advance the visibility and success of the Society or the field of folklore studies. The award is named for our friend and colleague Judy McCulloh, who was for decades a driving force for excellence and leadership in book and journal publishing in folklore, ethnomusicology, and music history. Judy was AFS President in 1987 and an Executive Board member at least twice; was for many years a key member of the board of the American Folklife Center, as well as its president; and, along with her peers Archie Green and Joe Wilson, was one of the foremost advocates for our field in the larger world. She is dearly missed, but her legacy lives on in many ways, including this recognition named with love in her honor.

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