Katharine Briggs Folklore Award 2003: Judges' Report

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The Katharine Briggs Folklore Award for 2003 was presented on Tuesday 11 November 2003 by the President, Dr Marion Bowman, at The Warburg Institute, following a lecture by Robin Briggs, Fellow of All Souls, Oxford, entitled "By the Strength of Fancie: Witchcraft and the Early Modern Imagination."

Forty-one books were entered this year--an impressive number, covering a very wide range of subjects, both historical and contemporary, both British and foreign. We have the impression that the overall quality of folklore submissions is rising year by year, which is encouraging, although it makes the task of selecting a shortlist more difficult. Three books unfortunately were ineligible for consideration under the terms of the Award rules: David Atkinson's The English Traditional Ballad (Ashgate) because the author is on the Folklore Society's Committee; Roy Palmer's Folklore of Leicestershire & Rutland (Tempus) because it is primarily a reprint, although with some additional material; and Fionnuala Carson Williams's Wellerisms (University of Vermont, Proverbium, Supplement Series), because it was published in the USA alone, without simultaneous UK or Ireland publication.

Three or four more fell outside our criteria, being literary criticism, psychology, or even biology, not folklore. The judges chose a shortlist of eleven, and from among these picked two for Honourable Mention, a Runner-up, and the Winner--and it can be said that the choice between Runner-up and Winner was a close-run thing.

Of the books shortlisted, John Boardman's The Archaeology of Nostalgia (Thames & Hudson) is essential reading for anyone with an interest in Greek myths. It explores how the Classical Greeks exploited landscape features, place-names, fossils, and surviving artefacts from previous cultures to build up a mental image of the heroic and mythical past in a very concrete way. To folklorists studying the characteristics of local legends in our own countries, the parallels will be fascinating and illuminating.

Three themed collections of scholarly papers were shortlisted. Celtic Hagiography and Saints" Cults (University of Wales Press), edited by Jane Cartwright, contains fifteen papers examining various items of early and medieval hagiography from Wales, Ireland, Cornwall, Celtic Scotland, and Brittany, in closely detailed analysis. It is a useful contribution to an area of study that is attracting increasing attention. Welsh Communities (University of Wales Press), edited by Charlotte Aull Davies and Stephanie Jones, has contributions from ethnographers and sociologists, drawing upon long-term personal programmes of research from within the communities studied. The concept and experience of "community" is explored from several different angles. The third collection is Food and the Rites of Passage (Prospect Books), edited by Laura Mason. Although there is some variation in quality between papers in this volume, the general theme is an important one and the book contains much interesting information.

Anthropology is represented this year by Suzanne Kuchler, Malanggan (Berg). This is a thorough investigation of the sacrificial rites and the complex beliefs surrounding wooden figures called malanggan, which are made in Papua New Guinea for use in funerary ritual. The figures themselves are common in ethnographic museums, since their sanctity ends once the cycle of mourning and remembering is closed, so they can be disposed of to collectors rather than destroyed; nevertheless, their metaphysical importance is profound. …