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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A Place to Store My Memory in the Archives: The Reflections of an Intern

These days, people collect their memories on all sorts of mediums. With multiple places to share a thought, picture, or a video, memories easily become distorted to serve the purpose of the individual recording them. We’re human, we enjoy a good story…especially one told from our own point of view. When one’s story reaches the archives, however, it is transformed into its original form with the purpose of communicating truth. Placed on a timeline, and given an historical context, it becomes greater and more meaningful than even we could express in first telling it. This fact is something I have encountered multiple times in working with various collections at the I.U. Archives. The collections I worked with were, in a sense, boxed memories. Holding truly significant evidence of a time in an individual’s life, their story was left incomplete until given order and placed within the context of I.U.’s history.

I have had the pleasure of working with three collections of retired professors. Through each of them, I have had the opportunity to peek into their research, teaching styles, and even their personal lives. With them, I have learned many things, but most specifically the value in preserving a variety of backgrounds. Before the age of postmodernism, minority groups were rarely represented in archives across the world. Given this fact, archivists reevaluated their collecting policies, began to question their personal biases, and reached out to those whose stories originally went untold. Being aware of my responsibility to these individuals, I first acquainted myself with them. I would research their lives either within obituaries or even Facebook and LinkedIn accounts. Getting a sense of who they were helped me appraise and organize their collections. After being invested in a professor’s collection for a few weeks, it became hard to let one go and pick up another. However, with each collection I refined my skills and learned something new.

Along with managing collections, I was given a chance to see where archives are needed within an academic community. After the passing of one of I.U.’s esteemed chancellors, Byrum Carter, the President’s Office decided to hold a memorial in his honor. The individuals working on the project turned to the archives requesting access to his collection. My job was to collect a variety of images from his career and share them with other collaborators. I was also expected to provide an outline of his career including his early life, academic life, professional career, and achievements. Carter was a very involved administrator. During a time of enormous political upheaval on college campuses across the nation, his demeanor and management style ensured Indiana University remain devoted to carrying out its mission of education, uninterrupted by the chaos of the world. I was moved by his career and was determined to honor his memory through my work.

My memory of the archives will be preserved in this short post. In the future, it may be categorized, associated with something great or something small, or deleted entirely. In any case, my experience here will be one I will cherish. I have had a chance to experience what it means to be an archivist and work with some of the most helpful, encouraging people in the library. If one day I am fortunate enough to call myself an archivist and mentor a student, I will use the example of my supervisors to help her reach her full potential and follow her dream.

If you would like to a more detailed account of Jessica’s experience in the archives, feel free to visit her website

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Tablets in 1993?

More than 20 years ago, the Indiana University Center for Excellence in Education was committed to researching and developing an electronic textbook. They envisioned the device as “lightweight, clipboard-sized computers with built-in lessons, review drills, and data banks of reference materials.” In a time when computers were quite large and not mobile, the concept was radical and certainly before its time. The following representation depicts a typical work environment of the early 1990s:

Computer technology in the early 1990s.

Computer technology in the early 1990s.

The monitors and computer towers occupied the space of an entire desk. Did technology advanced enough even exist for the researchers of the Center to develop the tablet-sized computers they envisioned? In actuality, yes. It was surprising to learn that tablets have been around since the early 1990s and conceived as early as the 1960s.

In 1992, the Center for Excellence in Education acknowledged the impact technology would have in the future: “The advantages of computer presentation are so great that we must accept that, in time, textbooks as we presently know them will largely be displaced.” Unfortunately, however, a tablet was not the result of any of its research projects. Instead, they worked to develop virtual textbooks using the technologies that were available at the time. The model, called Papyrus 2, was a hypermedia application that combined course content, instruction and support. The software package was built to allow students flexibility and encourage exploration when working through the course content.

Would you like more information about this and other related projects? Contact the Archives about access to the Indiana University Center for Excellence in Education records, Collection C550!

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