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Moira Marsh Receives 2019 AFS Judith McCulloh Award

Tuesday, November 5, 2019   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Lorraine Cashman

The 2019 AFS Judith McCulloh Award for Lifetime Service to the Field was presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Folklore Society to Moira Marsh, Indiana University Bloomington Libraries librarian, scholarly communications advocate, university leader, and humor scholar. Past award recipient Timothy Lloyd presented the prize on behalf of the McCulloh Award committee.

The AFS Executive Board bestows the McCulloh Award to recognize extraordinary contributions in service, over the course of a career, that advance the visibility and success of the American Folklore Society or the field of folklore studies. The Board intends the award also to foreground the critical importance to the health and sustenance of our field of those folklorists who, in addition to their personal accomplishments, make it possible for other folklorists to do their best work.

Dorothy Noyes, Timothy Lloyd, and Moira Marsh. Photo by Meredith McGriff

Born in Pahiatua, New Zealand, Moira came to Bloomington and Indiana University on a Fulbright Travel Grant in 1981, completed her IU folklore dissertation (on the ritual humor of students) in 1992, and received her master’s in library science from IU two years later.  She has been the subject librarian for folklore, anthropology, and sociology at IU Bloomington since 1997. During those 22 years, she has taken leading role after leading role in initiatives to make folklore scholarship more accessible, including every AFS scholarly communications effort of the current century and several of the previous one.

While in school, she was a graduate assistant to her mentor, folklore librarian Polly Grimshaw, from whom she says she learned everything she knows, and with whom she began the IU-MLA Folklore Bibliography Project, now in its 30th year.

She chaired AFS’s Electronic Publications subcommittee from 1999-2006, which in its earliest years planned the first AFS website. Along with David Azzolina and Joe Goodwin, more than 20 years ago, she planned AFS annual meeting workshops that instructed attendees in how to access the Internet and use email. She was one of the founding few of the Open Folklore project, the AFS-IU Libraries collaborative which almost 10 years ago created and still operates a web-based portal to folklore scholarship available openly online. As a long-time member of AFS’s Archives and Libraries Section, she was a founding member of the group within that section whose work led to the creation of the AFS Ethnographic Thesaurus, which has risen to the top of the library-world pantheon by having recently been adopted by the Library of Congress as its official authority for ethnographic terms.

In 2009, Marsh was instrumental in digitizing IU's Folklore and Ethnomusicology Collection as the first "Collection of Distinction" in the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC) agreement with Google. That is to say, in order to secure the right to cherry-pick particular titles on a variety of subjects from IU’s library shelves to digitize for its digital library, Google agreed to digitize in its entirety (and to return to IU in hard-copy and digital forms) the subject-area collection that the IU Libraries declared to be its finest: its 50,000-volume folklore collection. Moreover, she instigated the transfer of the IU Folklore Archives from their shrunk-wrapped isolation in a university warehouse to the care of the university’s archives, where they now are being properly and permanently curated.

Marsh has advised and mentored a generation of library-science students with ethnographic interests, and of ethnography students who like to stay organized, through her ongoing reference work and her leadership of IU’s joint MA in folklore-MLS in library science program. And more recently, in 2017, she became President of the Bloomington Faculty Council, only the second librarian in recent memory to have made this accomplishment.

Although the McCulloh Award is not given primarily for scholarship, Marsh has distinguished herself here as well. Since the time of her PhD work, she has actively and creatively published in the fields of folklore and humor studies. She is currently undertaking a cross-cultural analysis of the acoustics of laughter and editing a book of essays about unlaughter entitled “Not Funny, Not Fun.” Her book Practically Joking was published by the Utah State University Press in 2015. She has served as book review editor for the Journal of American Folklore (2000-2004) and for Humor: International Journal of Humor Research (2015-18) and as editor of the Journal of Folklore Research (2006-2012). 

The Board named this award for Judith McCulloh, most closely associated with the University of Illinois Press, whose career exemplified the contributions the award recognizes. Judy was for decades a driving force for excellence and leadership in book and journal publishing in folklore, ethnomusicology, and music history, a past president and Board member at both AFS and the American Folklife Center, and one of the foremost advocates for the field in the larger world.

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