Academic journal article Voices: The Journal of New York Folklore

Transcendence: Making Meaning with American Public Folklore Diplomacy Programming in Nanjing, China: Dedicated to Dr. Edward Guiliano, NYIT President and CEO

Academic journal article Voices: The Journal of New York Folklore

Transcendence: Making Meaning with American Public Folklore Diplomacy Programming in Nanjing, China: Dedicated to Dr. Edward Guiliano, NYIT President and CEO

Article excerpt

"Folksongs as Regulators of Politics," by Betty Wang (1965) in The Study of Folklore, edited by my mentor Alan Dundes, served as my introduction to Chinese folklore when a graduate student in the folklore program at the University of California at Berkeley from 1979-82. From that article, I learned, for example, that during different periods of history, the Emperor of China had sent officials out into different regions of the country to collect folk songs in order to understand how well he was governing from the point of view of the people, as expressed in these narratives (Wang, 308-14).

Approximately 35 years later, at the New York Institute of Technology (NYIT) and the Nanjing University of Posts and Telecommunications (NUPT) Overseas Education Program, my undergraduate students, other students, professors, administrators, and a few members of the public had the opportunity to learn about the thoughts and feelings--or worldviews--of regional groups of Americans, as expressed in their folklore not only through assigned course readings--for my students--but also through the Public Folklore Diplomacy Programming that occurred in one of the original 12 American Culture Centers in China, funded by the US Department of State, on our campus. In the NYIT Center for Humanities and Culture at NUPT (CHC), Teaching Building One, Room 207, we as Americans were granted permission by the Chinese government, through our partner institution, to explore the folklore of specific regions of the United States by bringing folk artists, folklorists, and other scholars of folklore to this space.

As a result, Cultures of the American Gulf Coast: Work and Play through Story and Song from Louisiana to Florida brought Dr. Nick Spitzer, folklorist and NPR "American Routes" founder and host, as well as Tulane University professor and co-editor of Public Folklore with Robert Baron (2007), along with folklorist Josh Kohn, to Nanjing during the 2013-14 academic year. Their entourage included the Louisiana-based Cajun musicians Jesse Lege, Joel Savoy, and the Cajun Country Revival; Cajun filmmaker and University of Louisiana folklorist Connie Castille; and sacred steel guitar musicians, The Campbell Brothers. Independent scholar Sandra Parks also joined them and spoke on the work of Florida folklorist, social activist, and author of The Klan Unmasked (2011), Stetson Kennedy. Finally, a "Woody Sez: The Life & Music of Woody Guthrie" performance was offered.

In 2014-15 Folk Arts of New York State were highlighted in this American Culture Center. Harvard-trained sociologist and NYIT Campus Dean Dr. Monique Taylor spoke on "Changing Foodways in Gentrifying Harlem," and MIT Professor Christopher Dewart lectured on "From Shaker to IKEA," A Folk Arts of New York State Lecture on Furniture Making." New York Folklore Society Director Dr. Ellen McHale offered a presentation on her book Stable Views: Voices and Stories of the Thoroughbred Racetrack (2015). In addition, Goucher College Cultural Sustainability faculty member Dr. Robert Baron presented on "Folklore and Cultural Tourism." The world class Klezmer band, The Klezmatics--whose performance included songs from their 2006 CD, Wonder Wheel, with music put to Woody Guthrie lyrics--and the award-winning Amsterdam, New York-based Alex Torres and his Latin Orchestra were also brought to China through one of the two US Embassy Beijing $50,000 Supplemental Grants awarded to NYIT for this folklore programming.

What is the effectiveness of such folklore programming in an Overseas Education Program in China? What purpose has it served? Who has gained what from these outstanding performances and lectures? Of what lasting value will the experience of these two programs have? As Stephen D. Winick asked in the conclusion of his piece on "Folklore and/in Music": "What does this mean?" (Winick 2014, 480).

In an effort to answer this question as a folklorist, professor, and the director of the former NYIT Center for Humanities and Culture at NUPT, now known as the NYIT-NUPT Campus Commons, the two former Student Associate Directors Li Jinke and Xu Jiayi and I created two surveys to be completed by 22 other former student assistants who worked in the Center during the years under consideration. …

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