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Diane Goldstein
IU Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology

George Vlahakis
University Communications

Last modified: Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Professor becomes fourth IU faculty member to lead American Folklore Society

Jan. 26, 2011

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Diane Goldstein, professor of folklore and ethnomusicology in the College of Arts and Sciences at Indiana University Bloomington, will be the fourth IU faculty member to be elected president of the American Folklore Society.

As president-elect this year and president in 2012 and 2013, she will help preside over the organization's 123rd annual meeting when it convenes this October at Bloomington. She had been a member of AFS' board from 2004 to 2007.

Diane Goldstein

Diane Goldstein

Print-Quality Photo

Goldstein also is following in the footsteps of her late father, Kenneth Goldstein, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who had been a student at the renowned IU summer folklore institute in 1958 and taught at it in 1966. He was president of the AFS in 1976.

"Being elected president of the American Folklore Society is a vote of confidence in Diane's qualities as a colleague and mentor, and it presents Diane with a unique opportunity to advance her thesis that folklore studies has much to tell us about contemporary social problems," said John McDowell, chair of the IU Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology. "We are proud of Diane and happy for her."

Previous AFS presidents have included three faculty members of the IU Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology: professors Richard Dorson, Linda Degh and Henry Glassie.

Other past AFS presidents with ties to IU have included alumni Michael Owen Jones, retired professor of history and folklore at the University of California at Los Angeles; and Bill Ivey, former president of the National Endowment for the Arts.

"I am a firm believer that folklore, in its various guises, has vital perspectives on critical social issues, and I would like to see the society become more involved in the pressing social and cultural issues of our times," Goldstein told fellow AFS members prior to her election.

"I have extensive experience through interdisciplinary teaching, cultural and health policy committees, and through cross disciplinary team research, convincing others outside of our discipline of the significance of our disciplinary perspectives and would like to explore ways that we can better present those perspectives," she added, "to make our relevance visible within the academy, with the public and with cultural policymakers."

In an interview, she said her goal was to raise the profile of folklore studies in public policy as it addresses issues such as health care and nutrition, immigration, heritage and cultural preservation, as well as the potential role of folklore in peace-keeping.

Goldstein joined the IU faculty in 2010 after teaching at Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN), Canada, for 24 years and being awarded the university's highest ranking research chair, University Research Professor. At Memorial University, she led its folklore department and its folklore archive. She also was chair of Canada's Social Science and Humanities Research Council Grants panel ( 2002-2004) and was president of the International Society For Contemporary Legend Research (2004-2007).

Her folklore research, as published in several books and journals, focuses on the role of belief and narrative in contemporary social concerns, as well as in folk religion and views of the supernatural.

For example, her book, Once Upon a Virus: AIDS Legends and Vernacular Risk Perception, looks at commonly told stories -- urban legends -- about the disease, focusing on the potential implications of those narratives for public health.

Told cross-culturally, stories about the origins of the disease, HIV-positive sexual predators and HIV-contaminated food do more than entertain, according to Goldstein. They articulate notions of risk, provide commentary on public health and offer insight into the relationship between cultural and health truths.

As a result of her research, Goldstein participated on several cultural and health policy committees, including a three-year appointment to the Canadian Federal Committee for AIDS Priorities and Policy. Goldstein has published three books on HIV/AIDS and one on folklore and terrorism. Her last book was on ghosts and contemporary folklore. Her current project examines narratives about mothers who kill their own children and the implications of those narratives for legal decision-making in cases of maternal infanticide.

"I'm thrilled. The American Folklore Society is an incredible organization. It's always a nice thing to be elected by your scholarly peers," she said, adding that it is "very unusual" for one university to be so frequently represented within the AFS' leadership. "You won't find that in other departments."