Contagious magic and the accomplishments of Linda Dégh

The principle of contagious magic states that personal energy can travel through objects. If a master potter creates a pitcher, part of her expertise then lives in that pitcher, and can be transferred to the next person who touches it. In this process, the potter’s life force is like a contagion. It exists independently of her and can affect others who come into contact with it.

Social scientists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries used contagious magic to explain the importance of totems among so-called primitive societies. That line of thinking has thankfully gone out of fashion, as “primitive” often served as a euphemism for “not as advanced as us,” or worse, “non-white.” Contagious magic survives today, though. In everyday life, many of us place extra value in the object that seems to transmit the energy of its previous handlers. Think of a departed ancestor’s wedding dress, or the cap and gown worn by a child who has grown up and left home. The closer we get to these artifacts, the closer we feel we are getting to the people whose hands once touched them.

Working in an archive provides a daily experience of contagious magic. The material an archivist deals with distills the energy of the inaccessible realm of history. Archival documents are letters from the past, both figuratively and literally. They provide detailed information about what people were thinking decades or even centuries ago, and often enough, they are made up of written correspondence from days gone by.

Linda Dégh

Linda Dégh

I had a rather potent encounter with contagious magic on a recent site visit with Dina Kellams, director of University Archives and Records Management. In late May, Dina and I spent time in the home of Linda Dégh, an eminent Indiana University folklorist who passed away in 2014. Our task was to collect the material that best serves to illustrate and honor Dégh’s career in folk narrative and belief studies. Her house was packed with it. Especially on the ground floor, a multi-room study where every available space was filled with books and paperwork, Dina and I had our work cut out for us.

As we sorted through the materials, we kept in mind how various types of documents would look if they were to be included in an archival collection. Of prime value were many of the thousands of photos Dégh shot over the years. The same was true of her hundreds of audio recordings, both cassette and reel-to-reel. Once processed, these will provide an intimate portrait of Dégh’s activities as a fieldworker. More specifically, they will allow users to partake in her point of view. To imagine holding the camera or pressing the record button is to effectively inhabit the perspective of this star of the field. The experience is doubly alluring for one who is familiar with Dégh’s work, as I am. The contagion of her career, which spanned most of the twentieth century, reaches me today, as if by magic.

The trouble with contagious magic in this case is that it applies to a much greater collection of materials than those that are appropriate for archiving. What of the many dissertations that Dégh supervised? Some of these sit in stacks in her basement. Several are still in their original envelopes, mailed decades ago by former students for her review. I know that these works are published elsewhere, probably in much handsomer formats. Still, I can’t help thinking of each of them as the physical incarnation of years of hard work and careful mentoring. If mental toughness looks like anything, it looks like a printed-out dissertation. Trust me. I just finished one. But to put such a document in the archive would unnecessarily expand its scope, as well as duplicate publication efforts made elsewhere. Therefore, the dissertations stay on the shelf, despite the energy and relationships they represent.

Just as Dégh’s work is far too voluminous to archive in total, it is too extensive to fully describe here. However, it is nicely summarized in her obituary from a recent issue of the Journal of American Folklore. Elizabeth Tucker writes: “Linda was such a star of folktale and legend studies, such a force of nature; how could she not be with us anymore?” The point is well taken. Dégh’s is a tremendous loss. Yet I am compelled to mention the comparably tremendous energy left behind in her papers. Through careful effort, perhaps our archiving project can capture a measure of that energy for posterity–a force of nature organized, indexed, and made available for public perusal.

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IU War Service Register Documents All IU Veterans

The War Service Register records are now open for research at the University Archives!

Used to the compile the original Golden Book housed at the Indiana Memorial Union (listing every IU alum who served in war), the War Service Register of Alumni and Former Students provides information on Indiana University alumni and former students who served in U.S. wars between 1860 and 1945 (i.e., the Mexican War, Civil War, the Spanish-American War, the first World War, or the second World War).

William Arthur Millington's World War I War Service record

William Arthur Millington’s World War I War Service record

The Alumni Office requested that each alum provide his or her name, degree, class year, dates of service, date of discharge, rank, and record. The amount of information provided, however, varies from student to student.

For those students serving in World War II, the material is much more comprehensive and often includes newspaper clippings and correspondence between IU and the enlistee and/or his or her parents. There are records for dozens of female enlistees. The Record (filled out by alumni) included, among other things, blanks for present service address, previous stations, and the question “are you receiving the alumni magazine?” In addition to the paper records, photographs were frequently sent to the Alumni Office (now housed in IU’s photograph collection).

Kathryn Griffith enlisted in the Marine Corps Women's Reserve in July 1945. At IU, she was a member of the Women's Athletic Association, Alpha Delta Pi sorority, and the Association of Woman Students.

Kathryn Griffith enlisted in the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve in July 1945. At IU, she was a member of the Women’s Athletic Association, Alpha Delta Pi sorority, and the Association of Woman Students.

History of the Register

The Office of the Alumni Secretary, led by Humphrey M. Barbour in the 1920s, compiled the initial (pre-World War II) War Service Register of Alumni and Former Students, which provided information about Indiana University alumni and former students who served in a U.S. war between 1860 and 1920. The Alumni Office collated the register using alumni responses to a memo requesting information sent in the early 1920s.

During and after the end of World War II, the Alumni Office, then under the charge of George F. Heighway, repeated this same process. Besides serving as a tool to encourage subscription to the IU Alumni Magazine, the letters were also used to find out information about soldiers listed as “missing in action.”

Cpl. Julius Griesel's father responded to Heighway's letter informing him that a wounded Griesel spent ten days in a German hospital, marched seventy-two miles to Italy, before finally being "liberated" by the Russians on April 22, 1945.

Cpl. Julius Griesel’s father responded to Heighway’s letter informing him that a wounded Griesel spent ten days in a German hospital, marched seventy-two miles to Italy, before finally being “liberated” by the Russians on April 22, 1945.

 

Heighway often wrote to parents of MIA or POW soldiers expressing his concern and asking for updated information. There are many instances, such as the letter at left, when families wrote back with good news that their son was found alive. Not all replies, however, were positive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harry Hanna, Class of 1926, served in the Air Service Command. Here he poses with other members of the Allied troops. In a memo encouraging the use of this photo in the Alumni Magazine, President Herman B Wells commented that "it certainly illustrates the cosmopolitan character of our Allies."

Hanna 2 Harry Hanna, Class of 1926, served in the Air Service Command. Here he (top photo, far right) poses with other members of the Allied troops. In a memo encouraging the use of this photo in the Alumni Magazine, President Herman B Wells commented that “it certainly illustrates the cosmopolitan character of our Allies.”

According to some counts, 288 former IU students were killed in action during the war. The Alumni Office requested that families of the deceased fill out a special form listing service information as well as place of burial. Most families also mailed photographs with the other information (such as the two shown below, Iceal Alford and Bernard Cederholm).

AlfordCederholm

On a personal level, these photographs were the most striking. The soldiers killed in action are indistinguishable, of course, from the rest of the photographs sent to IU. Yet, viewing their photographs, I already know how their lives ended. For those who survived, however, these records detail just a few years of their life. The rest of their life remains a mystery.

The finding aid is available here. If you have a relative who attended IU and served in the war, contact the University Archives to learn if there are records available to view!

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The folklorist’s progress at University Archives

The interview for this job wasn’t even an interview. Assistant archivist Carrie Schwier sat me down in a conference room and told me the position was mine if I wanted it. Even for part-time summer work, that’s a pretty smooth ride. I suppose that my academic background was convincing enough for the task at hand. I am a folklorist, and University Archives and Records Management has a backlog of folklore collections ready for processing. I had been referred by a colleague, also a folklorist, who attested that even though I have no library science training, I “know about folklore,” and am “smart.” Boy, what she doesn’t know.

Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology, Indiana University - Bloomington

Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology, Indiana University – Bloomington

Nonetheless, I’ve reaped the benefit of my colleague’s testimony for about a month now. Carrie hired me on, and I have spent my days elbow deep in the history of my home department, Folklore and Ethnomusicology. The bulk of my work has been with a series of special projects undertaken between the late 1970s and the early 1990s, a period of tremendous intellectual momentum. Having already distinguished itself by granting the first Folklore Ph.D. in the United States in 1953, and by graduating a number of respected folklorists who took faculty and professional positions across the country and abroad, the department went on to become a moneymaking machine. Tens of thousands of dollars in grant money funneled in for special projects. One of these focused on the uses of ethnicity among Hungarian-Americans in the Chicago Region. Another facilitated a Bloomington-based symposium bringing together U.S. and German folklorists to discuss contemporary issues in the field. Yet another encompassed a variety of ethnographic projects focusing on Hispanic folk poetry. It is personally thrilling that the latter project directly benefited my advisor, John Holmes McDowell, as he completed research that contributed to his 2000 book Poetry and Violence: The Ballad Tradition of Mexico’s Costa Chica, which explores the uses of narrative song in a region that has historically been saddled with patterns of social conflict.

As much as they are exciting, such thrills are simultaneously humble. While IU’s folklore doctoral program has been recognized as the best in its field, according to a 2010 report by the National Research Council, the discipline of folklore studies comprises a relatively small number of academic experts. Our gaze is global, but our numbers are few relative to, say, historians or sociologists.

Yet the benefit of working in a small discipline is the spike in familiarity that occurs almost immediately upon entering it. When folklorists are few relative to other sorts of scholars, it is possible to have direct contact with a greater proportion of the most successful figures among them. In this regard, sorting through these boxes sometimes feels like flipping through a family history. I know or have met many of the people whose activities are documented here. To read about the awards they earned in past decades feels different from simply reading their publications, which can be accessed far more easily. The archival materials are rarer, and they include professional correspondence, budget documents, and fieldwork reports, sometimes written in the scholar’s own hand. These bits of data remind me that even among the veterans of our field, every project grows from a group of people with a good idea and the inclination to try to make it real. This is heartening for a doctoral candidate like myself, as I begin to wade into the perennially challenging academic job market. If I can at least hold on to my good ideas, perhaps I will be in better shape.

These notes are my attempt to explain why University Archives and Records Management is a positive resource for folklorists, and for those who want to learn more about our small but tightly-knit discipline. As I have taken pleasure in tracing the activities of my mentors, I have wished the same for others. So, come check it out. Just, uh, give me a little more time to process these collections.

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Risks and Rewards

What’s the greatest risk you’ve ever taken? How old were you when you chose to take this risk? For pianist and Indiana University professor Menahem Pressler, one might argue that flying around the world to compete in an international piano competition was one of his greatest risks. From a young age Pressler was a natural player and chose to hone his skills as he grew older by attending the Tel Aviv Conservatory in Israel, where he and his family had emigrated to in 1939 from Germany to escape Nazi sentiments. After taking years of piano classes, Pressler decided he would enter into the Debussy International Piano Competition hosted in San Francisco, California. Luckily for him, his knowledge and talents supported him through the competition and Pressler won, marking his place in the world as a pianist and artist from that moment forward.

A young Menahem Pressler playing piano

A young Menahem Pressler playing piano

Menahem Pressler made his debut as a classical solo artist with the Philadelphia Orchestra only a few short weeks after winning the Debussy Competition. From there he has traveled the world performing solo, with his classical music ensemble the Beaux Arts Trio, and with other musicians and musical groups for over sixty-five years.

In 1955, Pressler accepted a position as a professor at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music. That same year, he performed with the Beaux Arts Trio for the first time, a classical chamber music group he co-founded with violinist Daniel Guilet and cellist Bernard Greenhouse. The Trio played their first concert at the Berkshire Music Festival (now known as Tanglewood) in Lenox, Massachusetts and continued to play together in different configurations with Pressler at the helm until 2008.

The Beaux Arts Trio, c.1962

The Beaux Arts Trio, c.1962

With a career as illustrious as Menahem Pressler’s, it comes as no surprise that the materials documenting his career is voluminous. Processing Professor Pressler’s collection was interesting for me as it helped me fully understand the breadth of his life and career, and how much of both he had dedicated to engaging the public with his talents.

The Beaux Arts Trio 1960 Itinerary

The Beaux Arts Trio 1960 Itinerary

Although I knew Pressler was constantly in motion with either travel or teaching, I was delighted to come across an itinerary from 1960 that delineated the places and time spans of each concert he had that year. From Indianapolis to New York, London to Jerusalem, Pressler’s influence spanned the entire world twice over. Program booklets and clippings match up with the itinerary dates and show which selections the Trio and Pressler focused on during this time period.

Beaux Arts Trio, Program Booklets, 1960

Beaux Arts Trio, Program Booklets, 1960

One of the first concerts of the year took place on January 27 in Miami, Florida. The trio played a classic Haydn’s Trio No. 3 in C major before moving on to a more contemporary piece by Aaron Copland entitled Trio on Jewish Themes (“Vitebsk”). One of the group’s last concerts took place at The Library of Congress’s Coolidge Auditorium where they played pieces from Joseph Haydn, Georg Friedrich Händel, Maurice Ravel, and Hermann Zilcher.

The Scotsman, September 5, 1960

The Scotsman, September 5, 1960

An article published by The Scotsman on September 5, 1960 stated that, “If the old Italian craftsman [Stradivarius] could claim some credit for the refined yet ample tone which flowed from [their] instruments he would have rejoiced at finding his instruments in the hands of such masters, for each is a soloist in his own right.” Another article published just a few days later on September 7, 1960 by the Daily Telegraph and Morning Post stated, “The pivotal point is the pianist, Menahem Pressler. His greatest technical asset is his touch, which, at the command of intense musical understanding produces not only runs of unusual fluency and the realization of hypersensitive phrasing, but the power to hold clearly the shifting balance of the music between the instruments with never any loss of control or tone.”

Menahem Pressler

Menahem Pressler

Accolades such as these continue up until this very day for the now 90 year old musician. Mr. Pressler has been the recipient of many influential and important awards such as the German President’s Cross of Merit, First Class (2005), France’s Order of the Arts and Letters (2005), and a Lifetime Achievement Award from The Edison Foundation (2009). None of these accomplishments could have been achieved without the daring choice to take a risk (an instructive example to us all).

The Pressler papers document his career as an artist and professor at Indiana University and are now processed with a finding aid available through the Archives. Contact the Archives for more information or to gain access to the papers! Additional information about Menahem Pressler may be found on his official website: http://menahempressler.org

Resources:
R., J. W. “Instruments in Master’s Hands.” The Scotsman [Edinburgh] 5 Sept. 1960: 5-6. Print. Edinburgh Festival
Warrack, John. “Edinburgh Festivial-Exciting Trios.” Daily Telegraph and Morning Post [London] 7 Sept. 1960: 9-12. Print.
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Influencing Academia: Denis Sinor’s Legacy at IU

Denis Sinor at 93

Denis Sinor at 93

Denis Sinor was an esteemed professor at Indiana University for over four decades. His work in the field of Central Eurasia shaped the way academics view the topic and area today. Sinor was born in Hungary on April 17, 1916, and was educated in Hungary, Switzerland, and France. Sinor was very active in the political scene in his youth, and during World War II, he served in the French Army as a member of the French Resistance. After his time in the military, he decided to enter the world of academia and after obtaining his MA in Oriental Studies at Cambridge University, he was appointed to its faculty.

In 1962, Sinor came to the United States as a visiting professor at Indiana University. His active professional life at Cambridge University surely influenced IU’s interest in him, as he wrote more than one hundred articles and reviews on the linguistics and histories of Inner Asia.

Defining Central Eurasia

Soon after joining IU’s faculty, Sinor was appointed to the head of the Uralic and Altaic program (later renamed the Central Eurasian Studies program [CEUS]). He served as the Chair for this program from 1963-1981, but continued to hold other important administrative positions as well as teaching and along the way, securing the title of Distinguished Professor, one of greatest honors IU bestows upon faculty, in 1975.

INUNRC

Inner Asian & Uralic National Resource Center (INUNRC)

In 1963, Sinor created the National Defense Education Uralic and Altaic Language and Area Center (later renamed the Inner Asian and Uralic National Resource Center [IAUNRC]) and served as the Director from 1963-1988. From 1965 to 1967, Sinor was the Chairman for the Asian Studies Research Institute (later named the Sinor Research Institute for Inner Asian Studies [SRIFIAS] in 2006). His work with these research centers, as well as the considerable amount of written work he produced, helped define the term “Central Eurasia” for the academic world.

Professional life

PIAC

PIAC

Professor Sinor also focused his considerable energy to professional service. He served as the editor of the Journal of Asian History (JAH) from its inception in 1967 until 2011. The JAH studies the regions of East, South, South-East and Central Asia before 1900. At IU, Sinor edited the Uralic and Altaic Series (over 174 volumes) and the Oriental Series. Sinor was a major force in the establishment of the Permanent International Altaistic Conference’s (PIAC) headquarters in Bloomington in 1962, for which he served as Secretary-General for numerous terms.

Sinor in North Pole

Sinor in the North Pole

Throughout his lifetime, Sinor traveled extensively in Asia, including Afghanistan, Chinese Turkestan, Soviet Central Asia, Northern Pakistan, Siberia, and Inner and Outer Mongolia. He received many honors within and outside of the United States from groups such as the American Oriental Society, the Oriental Institute of the Russian Academy of Science, and was the twice holder of a Guggenheim Fellowship (1968, 1981).

Professor Denis Sinor passed away on January 12, 2011. Through the gift of his papers to the University Archives, his teaching mission can continue.  Those interested in learning more about Professor Sinor, his life and his professional activities, should feel free to contact the Indiana University Archives for assistance!

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