Katharine Briggs Folklore Award 1998: Judges' Report

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Katharine Briggs Folklore Award 1998: Judges' Report


The 1998 Katharine Briggs Folklore Award was presented on Tuesday, 10 November by the then FLS President, Dr Juliette Wood, following a lecture at University College London by Dr Simon James of Durham University entitled "Celtic Myths or the Myth of the Celts?" Of the twenty-eight books submitted for the award, the judges shortlisted eleven and had particular difficulty deciding on the relative placement of the finalists.

The shortlisted books were extremely diverse in terms of both subject matter and approach, indicating an encouraging breadth of research within the general field of folklore. Especially refreshing was the interdisciplinary nature of many of the studies. Anthropology and folklore join forces in Barbara Bender's Stonehenge: Making Space (Berg) and Sarah Pink's Women and Bullfighting: Gender, Sex and the Consumption of Tradition (Berg). Bender's approach is particularly novel (if perhaps overly relativistic, in the judges' opinion), as she moves on from the often-researched prehistory of the stones to examine the various uses to which the monument has been put over the ages. She explores the different meanings of the landscape for archaeologists, local people, ancient druids and modern neo-pagans, arguing that all are constrained by the politics of past and present. Pink's anthropological study of female bullfighters focuses on two issues of considerable importance to folklorists: commodification and the invention of tradition. She also investigates the construction of gender in contemporary Spanish society, prompting the judges' suggestion that she might have included some comparisons with other traditionally male sports in which women are beginning to compete.

Another anthropologically-based work was Sharon Macdonald's Reimagining Culture: Histories, Identities and the Gaelic Renaissance (Berg), a study of the Gaelic culture revival in Scotland. Although the judges felt that Macdonald's use of pseudonyms for her informants and their community was a serious flaw which lowered the usefulness of the research, they nonetheless agreed that the book was theoretically sound and highly thought-provoking.

Archaeology was represented by Grave Concerns: Death and Burial in England, 1700-1850, edited by Margaret Cox (Council for British Archaeology), in which several authors report on research into funerary practices. The book contains much of interest to the folklorist and is both comprehensive and methodologically very rigorous.

There was one musicological entry: Harry White's The Keeper's Recital: Music and Cultural History in Ireland, 17701970 (Cork University Press), which was praised for its masterly handling of a great breadth of material without sacrificing the details. The judges felt that White may have assumed too great a knowledge of Irish history and basic musicology to make the book accessible to a wide readership, but otherwise enjoyed the work thoroughly.

The most purely "folkloric" study was Michael Wilson's Performance and Practice: Oral Narrative Traditions among Teenagers in Britain and Ireland (Ashgate) in which teenage storytelling is treated as performance art. …

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