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Folklore, Aesthetic Ecologies, and the Public Domain

40th Anniversary Conference and Reunion

April 2-3, 2004
University of Pennsylvania Campus
Logan Hall

Sponsored by the Center for Folklore and Ethnography
and the Graduate Students in Folklore and Folklife

Call for Participation

In 1963, Kenneth S. Goldstein became the first to receive a PhD in folklore from the University of Pennsylvania. Forty years and two-hundred and seventy-one dissertations later, we are inviting all Penn alumni, current and former faculty and students, and friends to join us in an exploration of the scholarship and practice that continue to emerge from Penn’s folklore program, and to imagine the future of folklore at Penn and beyond.

To focus our exploration, we propose the title: “Gathering/Place: Folklore, Aesthetic Ecologies, and the Public Domain.” Thinking of aesthetics as the culturally learned, appreciative awakening of the senses to one’s surroundings, and ecologies as the interrelations of people and their physical and social environs, we recall Dell Hymes’s testimony in support of the American Folklife Preservation Act, nearly thirty years ago, which illustrated what art looks like when embedded in the matrices of everyday life. Hymes related a moment in which Blanche Tohet, a Native American woman, finished hanging eels out to dry near her home in Warm Springs, Oregon. She then stepped back and surveyed them with satisfaction. “There!” she said, “Int [sic] that beautiful?” Hymes’s challenge to folklorists to explore the beliefs and practices underlying an aesthetics of everyday life inspired research agendas for many in the next generation of folklorists, a number of whom translated key legislation of the Great Society into unprecedented programs of public and applied folklore throughout the U.S.

Over the past two decades, folkloristics has moved toward new examinations of place as a dynamic milieu collectively produced through the language and practices of everyday life. In public practice we have seen the convergence of cultural conservation, natural resource stewardship, and sustainable livelihoods. Within the domain of social theory and ethnography, we have seen a turn toward the spatial, the bodily, and the ecological. This convergence of the ecological with previous aesthetic considerations provides an auspicious time both to revisit the lesson of Blanche Tohet and to imagine our trajectories for the future. How does the notion of “aesthetic ecologies” both clarify and complicate our inquiry into collective, vernacular ways of knowing, sensing, believing, and inhabiting that combine to produce locality and the spaces of everyday life? How does folklore circulate through aesthetic ecologies as a kind of public intelligence? What is the role of folklore in ecological production? How might the concept of aesthetic ecologies move us toward an understanding of folklife as the medium of place, and vice versa?

We are interested in examining these and related questions from multiple vantage points wherever folklorists practice; we are particularly interested in the ways in which folklore practice crosses disciplines, sectors, careers, and international borders. Therefore, to help us plan this conference, we want to hear from you. We invite everyone interested in participating to submit a description of his or her work as it relates to this topic. How does your current fieldwork, research, reading, writing, exhibiting, planning, or teaching contribute to the notion of folklore’s circulation within aesthetic ecologies? (For a list of bibliographic resources related to aesthetic ecologies, please see the conference's Working List page.)

These descriptions will be posted to our web page, and a program committee composed of Penn faculty and graduate students will use them to contact participants and organize sessions for the conference. Please note that the conference will occur over one and a half days of single-sessions only; therefore, sessions will be chosen according to their relevance to the central theme. However, we also imagine that the web page itself will provide an interesting perspective on the wealth and variety of work that continues to emerge from Penn and will remain as grist for the planning of future conferences, colloquia, and events.

Descriptions should not be longer than 250 words, may include links to other websites, and must be e-mailed as an attachment to Rosina Miller( by January 26, 2004.

Places to stay

Directions to Penn

Map of campus

For updates on the conference, please visit our website early and often:


For more information on the focus of this conference, please see the Working List of resources in aesthetic ecologies.

Mary Hufford, Director
Center for Folklore and Ethnography
University of Pennsylvania
313 Logan Hall
249 South 36th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6304
Phone: 215-898-7352
Fax: 215-573-2231

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