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AFS Review: News

Tim Tangherlini Talks about His ACLS Digital Innovation Fellowship

Friday, September 2, 2016   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Jesse A. Fivecoate
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Recently, AFS announced that three of its members were awarded fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies. Since then, AFS has featured stories on two of those members and their work that led to their fellowship. In this light AFS wanted to showcase the work of Tim Tangherlini, who held a Digital Innovation fellowship from the ACLS in 2009. Tim talks about his work below.  

My work has focused, since my dissertation, on wedding statistical methods for the study of large collections of traditional expressive culture (i.e. Folklore) at varying levels of resolution, from the microscale of close reading, manuscript analysis, and individual performances, through the mesoscales of communities of practice, through the macroscales of broad tradition groups. Developing methods to allow researchers to move seamlessly through all of these levels of resolution, learning different aspects about the target tradition, is articulated in what we label the “Folklore Macroscope” (Western Folklore 72:1 (Winter 2013):7–27). A great deal of my work during the ACLS fellowship was operationalizing the folklore macroscope and exploring different methods for providing shifting resolutions on a very large folklore collection (

Perhaps one of the most important goals of the work on the collection (which comprises 3500 named storytellers, telling stories and performing other aspects of expressive culture in 4,000 places mentioning 12,000 total places, to one individual over the course of 50 years, resulting in 24,000 manuscript pages) was to devise different methods of presentation, aggregation and classification. Some of the most successful classification work we did on the project was published in the leading Computer Science journal (Abello, James, Peter Broadwell, and Timothy R. Tangherlini. "Computational folkloristics." Communications of the ACM 55.7 (2012): 60-70) and led earlier this year to the publication of the special issue of JAF on Computational Folkloristics, thus recognizing this as an important sub discipline in folklore.

My ACLS fellowship also gave me the opportunity to publish a hybrid publication of the work I had started during my Guggenheim Fellowship, focused on the repertoires of five exceptional storytellers from late 19th century Denmark. I had been struggling with a way to present a book that wedded folklore theory, history of the discipline, history of the collection, to individual ethno-biographies of storytellers and annotated repertoires of their storytelling, embedded in a rich context of complementary stories. The result was my book and accompanying digital materials: Tangherlini, Timothy R. Danish Folktales, Legends, and Other Stories. University of Washington Press, 2014. The accompanying digital materials, the Danish Folklore Nexus, are available as a DVD, a download and, in limited public access online.

We describe how we developed the Nexus in an article in JFR: Tangherlini, Timothy R., and Peter M. Broadwell. "Sites of (re) Collection: Creating the Danish Folklore Nexus." Journal of Folklore Research 51.2 (2014): 223-247.

We are currently extending the mapping/GIS aspects of the study to provide tools and methods for a new historic-geographic method in folklore, one that explores the type of information gain we can make by work macroscopically in a geographically aware manner, without falling prey to the originary fallacy that doomed so much mapping work in the past. We have also reached out to create partnerships with other projects in Germany, the Netherlands, Scandinavia, as well as Korea, Japan and China.

For more information about the other AFS member recipients, visit the AFS Review News piece at


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