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Richard Bauman
Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology

George Vlahakis
University Communications

Jason Baird Jackson
Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology

Last modified: Monday, November 24, 2008

American Folklore Society presents lifetime achievement award to IU professor Richard Bauman

Honor culminates more than 40 years of scholarly research

Nov. 24, 2008

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Indiana University folklore professor Richard Bauman has studied the acts of speaking and of silence as communicative modes among 16th century Quakers and Medieval Icelanders. He's also taken a keen ear to coon dog traders in East Texas and researching practical jokesters.

Richard Bauman

Richard Bauman's many interests also include African art

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"There's a kind of widespread notion that coon hunters lie about their dogs," noted Bauman, an IU faculty member since 1986, whose 1981 article about them was titled, "Any Man Who Keeps More'n One Hound 'll Lie to You."

"My work centered around a trade day in Canton, Texas," he recalled. "On the Friday-Saturday-Sunday preceding the first Monday of the month, you had these guys gathering with their dogs. For the sociability of it, for visiting with other coon hunters, they'd go out and hunt, shoot dice, get drunk, but tell a lot of stories about dogs.

"The stories," he observed, "offered me a wonderful vantage point on the tension between truth and lying in everyday life and the role of stories in calibrating and recalibrating that tension."

Bauman, Distinguished professor emeritus of folklore and ethnomusicology at IU, recently was presented with the Lifetime Scholarly Achievement Award by the American Folklore Society. This is the highest honor that the society bestows and it is bestowed upon a living senior scholar in recognition of outstanding scholarly achievement over the course of a career.

He is the fourth person to receive the honor and the first of his generation so recognized. Linda Dégh, also a Distinguished professor emeritus of folklore at IU, was a recipient of the award, which is presented every two years.

"There were some major paradigm shifts that went on with my generation," Bauman explained. "The previous winners were transitional in a sense. They were trained in an older approach to folklore that was very item-oriented and very historical in its focus. I had a hand in introducing perspectives that were much more anthropological, much more linguistic and much more ethnographic."

He is describing a revolution that the field of folklore went through during the 1960s. As an example, instead of looking at the comparative, textual history of individual folk tales or folk songs, Bauman and his folklore colleagues began to branch out and study the social context of such tunes, proverbs and riddles. He has observed how "these things have currency in their communities," he said.

Richard Bauman

Richard Bauman

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This recognition follows Bauman being presented the Edward Sapir Book Prize by the Society for Linguistic Anthropology in 2006. Bauman served as chair of the IU Folklore Institute in 1986-91 and 2003-07, directed IU's Research Center for Language and Semiotic Studies in 1992-1998 and chaired the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology in 2005-07.

He also was a founding member of IU's Department of Communication and Culture.

"To be recognized for your scholarly work is as good as it gets," he said. "Why else do we do this, except in the hope that it will be useful and interesting to people. The award's one way of measuring that your work has made a difference."

Jason Baird Jackson, an associate professor of folklore at IU, noted the impact that Bauman has had on his field and on another generation of folklorists.

"I am mindful of Dick's absolutely crucial role leading -- intellectually and institutionally -- two of the most important centers for folklore studies in the world. When he took the helm of the IU program for the first time, it was in a moment of significant transformation not only intellectually, but also organizationally," Jackson said.

"He set the department on a course that enabled us to grow and change, while retaining our core commitment to the global study of vernacular arts and cultures," Jackson added. "In doing so, he extended further our international prominence as a field-defining center for the study of ethnomusicology and folklore."

A native of Manhattan, Bauman grew up on the same street where Richard Dorson, founder of the IU Folklore Department, had resided years earlier as a child. Bauman was a faculty member at the University of Texas for 19 years before coming to IU.

Bauman's scholarly work also has included ethnographies of expressive culture in Scotland, Nova Scotia, Mexico, Texas, and other settings. He is the author of more than a dozen books and monographs and more than 60 journal articles and has contributed chapters to more than 50 books.

He has served as president of the Society for Linguistic Anthropology, editor of the Journal of American Folklore, president of the Society of Fellows of the American Folklore Society and as a member of the American Anthropological Association's board of directors.

"The thing I've been interested in, more than anything else, has been the artfulness of everyday life," Bauman said. "The kinds of things that I've been drawn to have to do with performance, which is really about the enhancement of experience -- what kind of pleasure does the display of communicative skill, virtuosity, offer to people.

"I've tended to work on the ways people enrich their vernacular communication," he added. "The discovery process and the analytical process of uncovering what it is that makes these things so artful, that makes them effective for the enhancement of the experience of the people around them, has been the strongest motivation."