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Latino Dancers
Latino Dancers

HNR/SOL 360:
Folk Arts, Festival and Public Display

Felicia McMahon
Research Associate Professor
Dept. of Anthropology

The goal of this interactive course is to design a community folk arts festival component for Mayfest 2008 and a series of artist demonstrations for the public. Students begin by exploring aesthetics in everyday life, i.e. those group experiences created by humans that are regarded as aesthetically pleasing to a particular community. Our emphasis will be on the process of recontextualization and hands-on collaborative projects in which students work as teams to plan and implement a folk arts festival.

Students will learn about "recontextualization" of folk arts for public audiences which involves the presentation of expressive behaviors that are learned as part of the cultural life of a community. Members of a particular community share a common ethnic heritage, language, religion, occupation, or geographic region. Their traditions, shaped by the aesthetics and values of a shared culture, are passed on from generation to generation. This cultural transmission most often occurs within family and the community through informal learning such as observation, conversation, and practice. However, how do groups claim '"authenticity' if they are performing outside of the "natural context?" How do groups make their worlds intelligible to new audiences? For relocated groups, do they keep their folk arts 'separate' or do they try to create "new" traditions by mixing them?

From articulations of folk artists and community members, students will gain insight into these processes. We will look at genres of folklore (proverbs, folktales, riddles) that may serve as the communis opinio on aesthetics to shed light on which properties are selected in order to elicit aesthetic response: The form? The material? The meaning? The symmetry? Some attention will be paid to the impact of market societies and social stratification on the formation of aesthetic concepts. Students will be required to write several short analytical papers, to analyze cultural community programs in our city, and to work as teams to design a mini-festival for our MayFest tent.

Required Texts:

Baron, Robert, and Nicholas R. Spitzer, eds. Public Folklore. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992.
McMahon, Felicia R. 2007. Not Just Child's Play: Emerging Tradition and the Lost Boys of Sudan. University Press of Mississippi, 2007.
Sims, Martha C. 2005. Living Folklore: An Introduction to Study of People and Traditions. Utah State University Press.

Class Participation (cultural programs, class discussions)-- 30%
Short Writing assignments-- 30%
Final project: Mini-festival-- 40%
(Honors students will work on Presentation Projects)

Throughout the semester I will direct you to online readings and Internet resources related to folk arts.

Learning Outcomes:
The student will:
1-be introduced to major concepts, current theories, genres and methodologies in the academic study of folklore, especially public folklore
2-examine and discuss examples of folk arts
3- gain an understanding of group aesthetics by considering related genres of folklore
4-will become aware of folk arts in our city and region, and societies around the world
5-will explore approaches to fieldwork, with special attention to techniques of participant
observation, interview, interpretation and ethical dimensions of fieldwork
6-will recognize the significance of academic journals for folk arts research and public folklore
7-will sharpen critical reading, writing and thinking skills through research assignments
8-will recognize the connection of folklore to anthropology as both social science and humanities
9-will have hands-on experience with developing a public sector festival
Plagiarism and cheating will result in failure of the assignment and possibly the course.

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