Big Questions and the Disciplines Project

The Society received a two-year grant from the Teagle Foundation as part of its “Big Questions and the Disciplines” initiative. The Foundation received over 60 pre-applications, invited 15 applicants to submit full proposals, and funded five organizations nationwide.

This initiative provides grants to support the gathering of scholar-teachers from particular fields to discuss a Big Question of central importance to the humanities or social sciences and, based upon that Big Question, to develop and test curriculum materials to more deeply engage undergraduate student education.

The Big Question chosen for our project–“What is the relationship between lay and expert knowledge in a complex society?”–allowed us to bring the legacy of the field to bear on several critical questions and to design undergraduate curricula to address them more explicitly, including:

  • How does lay knowledge negotiate among experience, events, and social conventions?
  • How is it transmitted in the absence of codification, and in what sense does it persist over time?
  • How do informal and codified knowledge interact, or fail to interact, in different social and historical settings?
  • How do the rhetorical strategies of each affect their reception?

During 2010 and 2011 project co-directors Tim Lloyd (AFS) and Dorry Noyes (The Ohio State University) convened a group of ten folklorists:

  • Michael Chiarappa, Department of History, Western Michigan University (Kalamazoo)
  • Danille Elise Christensen, Department of Communication and Culture, Indiana University (Bloomington)
  • Sean Galvin, LaGuardia Community College (Long Island City, New York)
  • Jason Baird Jackson, Director, Folklore Institute, Indiana University (Bloomington)
  • Carl Lindahl, Department of English, University of Houston (Texas)
  • Sabina Magliocco, Chair, Department of Anthropology, California State University (Northridge)
  • Jay Mechling, Department of American Studies, University of California (Davis)
  • Tom Mould, Department of Anthropology, Elon University (Elon, North Carolina)
  • Leonard Norman Primiano, Department of Religious Studies, Cabrini College (Radnor, Pennsylvania)
  • Howard Sacks, Interim Provost, Kenyon College (Gambier, Ohio)

These folklorists, along with AFS Associate Director Lorraine Walsh Cashman, carried out work on this project. Their academic homes—liberal arts colleges, urban commuter schools, small state schools, and large land-grant institutions—represent the diversity of institutions where folklorists teach today, of those institutions’ student bodies, and of the knowledges those students are bringing to the classroom.

This project also served as a beginning for a long-term effort by AFS to strengthen undergraduate education in folklore–intended to deepen the contributions of our field to the academy, and to strengthen our field by attracting talented and committed young scholars and public humanists to undergraduate and graduate study in folklore.

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