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Final report: Collaborative Research Seed Grant

Research program: Canadian traditional and popular culture studies past, present, and future

Pauline Greenhill, Diane Tye, and Cynthia Thoroski


1. Where are we now?

Over the past several years, Pauline Greenhill and Diane Tye have collaborated on a number of successful projects to analyse, comment upon, and develop traditional and popular culture studies in Canada (see for example Greenhill and Tye 1994 and 1997, and Tye and Greenhill 1997). The research program we are currently developing will continue this collaboration, and extend it to others, in order to conduct an investigation and analysis of the past, present, and optimal future of traditional and popular culture studies in Canada. The current situation of traditional and popular culture and its study in Canada is a product of our particular context and history. There is always a tendency to compare Canadians to an American norm, but such a correlation is both colonialist and inappropriate. The tracks of folkloristics in Canada have been neither parallel to nor derivative of the (inter)discipline's movements in the U.S. Both academic and public sector traditional and popular culture studies have instead developed more or less independently and with fundamentally different concerns and issues, addressed divergent political and social concerns, and used different institutional bases. The late 1990s are good time in the history of traditional and popular culture and its studies in Canada to begin such an evaluative and analytical project. It is more than twenty years since Carole Carpenter wrote the first historical study of folkloristics in Canada (Carpenter 1979). The intervening years have seen the beginning of a journal, Canadian Folklore canadien, which is about to publish its 19th volume, under the new and more accurately representative title of Ethnologies; the publication of a special issue on traditional and popular culture of both the Canadian Studies bulletin and the Journal of Canadian Studies (1994), and recently Greenhill, in collaboration with Peter Narvaez of the MUN Folklore dept, has begun work on a special issue of the Journal of American Folklore on traditional and popular culture studies in Canada. Commentaries on traditional and popular culture studies in Canada and works by and about Canadian folklorists have been published in the Canadian Encyclopaedia, the Encyclopaedia of American (sic) Folklore, and so on. We have, then, the basis for beginning an evaluation. But we also feel strongly that it is important that the (inter)discipline of traditional and popular culture maintain and develop its strengths in the Canadian context.

The round table
In order to begin work on this program, Greenhill and Tye chaired an exploratory round table at the annual meeting of the Canadian Society for Traditional Music in Winnipeg, Manitoba, on November 1 (see attached minutes of the round table for specific of attendees, program, and discussion). This conference was a particularly good location to hold such a research development meeting for several reasons. It avoided identifying the program with either the Folklore Studies Association of Canada or the American Folklore Society, associations which have been seen by some Canadian folklore scholars as representing two alternative locations of allegiance. Holding such a meeting at the Learneds with FSAC, or at the AFS meetings, would alienate possible collaborators and supporters of the project. The CSTM, on the other hand, provided a literal "third space" (Bhabha 1994), in an association which is Canadian but has an international membership, and which has attracted both academics and non-academics. The attendees at the round table included faculty and students in ethnomusicology, musicology, folklore, anthropology, and cultural history; private scholars, a museum curator; a folk festival director; performers of traditional music; and other interested members of CSTM.

2. What are the needs?
Individuals attending this meeting identified a plethora of needs in the area of traditional and popular culture in Canada. We can divide them into several areas:

Primary information gathering and sharing
Some people suggested that gathering of primary information about traditional and popular culture was essential--that even museums and academic specialists have very little knowledge of the actual range and depth of the expressive cultures involved. Specific suggestions included:
1. Interview scholars, researchers, and collectors in order to find out their working definitions and directions.
2. Develop an intellectual history of Canadian traditional and popular culture studies
3. Keep focusing on the music, performance, sharing, not just on scholarship about traditional and popular culture.

Publication and presentation of results and information
Many attending the workshop felt that even though there is published and archived information, it is difficult to access. Specific suggestions included:
1. Publication in books, cds, museum exhibits, etc. of the materials themselves: traditional songs, etc. Usable, user-friendly packaging of traditional and popular culture.
2. Publication of an online journal, which could make research on traditional and popular culture quickly and readily available.
3. Reprinting of major historical materials currently only located in obscure and/or dispersed locations.
4. Need for consistent indexes and summaries (including on internet) of available material.
5. Need for elementary and secondary school materials, with performances/demonstrations (i.e., not just the theory but the actual stuff).
6. Need a blanket organisation of academics, people involved with traditional and popular culture, museums, etc. to improve communication.
7. Need multilingual--minimally, and only minimally English and French--materials.
8. Need an internet discussion list. Internet discussion groups could increase communications between students, faculty, administrators, public officials, related to traditional and popular culture studies. A regular forum with specific topics would help to focus discussion.

1. Better methodology and technical training/expertise, ensuring that what is actually collected was usable. Better use of technology available, CD ROMs, etc. Access to and/or development of interactive CD-ROM technology for archival materials with up to date and consistent information about which materials are accessible, and where, would help to facilitate much of our work.
2. More popular productions, available, accessible and useful to a general public who both need and want information about Canada and its diverse and significant traditions.
3. More relevance of theorising and analysis to Canadian perspectives and more recognition of distinctiveness of Canadian theorising and analysis.
4. Need for improved communication between those working in the area broadly defined.
5. Need for collaboration between those individuals and groups working in the area.
6. Need for accountability of "professionals" in the discipline to those they work with, to each other, etc. Need professional ethics and high standards of quality interaction between researchers and subjects.
7. Need for more institutional collaboration, between museums and universities etc.

Attitude improvement
1. Several individuals before, after, and during the roundtable noted that they and others they knew were burned out.
2. Many pointed out that the term "folklore" (which had hitherto been used in this program proposal) does not communicate to the public what most researchers of traditional and popular culture mean and do. In Anglo Canada, it is thought to refer exclusively to source or old country traditions, to delimited and restricted geographical regions (e.g. Newfoundland and Quebec), and to archaic, dated, and trivial materials. For Canadian Francophones, "folklore" also connotes the colonial British/Anglo legacy, and thus refers primarily to negative aspects of sociocultural realities. We need another term than folklore, which is limited because it excludes too many people.
3. Need for lobbying, political action, or positive publicity and public awareness of traditional and popular culture and their relevance to Canadian life, in turn suggesting pressure as a result of public interest on government agencies and on individuals to increase funding and raise public awareness.

Broader public/academic involvement
1. Students mentioned that though they were extremely committed to researching traditional and popular culture, they did not feel involved in the discipline beyond their own academic location. Forums for the display, discussion, and recognition of student and other work (like CSTM meeting in Winnipeg!) would encourage their participation in the creation of a new understanding of raditional and popular culture studies, and lessen marginalisation of many potential contributors.
2. More interdisciplinarity and multidisciplinarity. Ethnomusicologists and other disciplinary scholars present indicated that they lacked information about what was being done in the area of traditional and popular culture outside their own disciplines.
3. Many mentioned that the area/subject needs more legitimacy with the public, with funders, and so on, and that it should be less marginalised than it is.
4. Outreach to the public from academics and enthusiasts.
5. More recognition of the significance of student work--after all, students are often the ones most involved in original field research. Greater student access to publication and to being involved in the dissemination of information at conferences, etc.

Financial aspects
1. Need access to funding from major organisations like SSHRCC which are not as friendly to these areas as they are to the more established disciplines.
2. Need for a market for the products when they are published, presented, recorded, etc.

3. Where do we want to be?
As a starting point, we feel that in essence, the primary obstacle for Canadianist folkloristics is a failure to value--and often even to recognise--the distinctive needs, concerns, and perspectives which must be addressed by traditional and popular culture/ethnology studies in Canada (as discussed by Doucette 1993, especially 126-129). Some of these emerging areas have to do with the potential or actual political uses of traditional and popular culture (see Ferguson 1994, Turgeon 1997); relations between immigrants and native born groups which share ethnic heritage (e.g. Greenhill 1994, Del Giudice 1994); and the distinctive locations of collectors, especially women, in developing regional and national consciousness and agendas (Greenhill and Tye 1994, Tye 1993). Indeed, the strong influence upon Canadian folkloristics of several women regionalist and nationalist collectors, like Barbara Cass-Beggs, Helen Creighton, Edith Fowke, and Louise Manny, whose route to traditional and popular culture was not initially academic, potentially opens the discipline to a variety of perspectives. A more concerted focus upon non-academic analysis and theorising (e.g. Tye 1997) may attract a more diverse group to us, just as bell hooks' theorising that is as accessible as it is trenchant has attracted broad and socioculturally diverse attention to feminist thinking and writing in the U.S. There is real potential for what we have provisionally called "popular theory" (see Tye and Greenhill 1997).


1. People
It is clear to both collaborators that we are not a sufficient team to complete this research. If our focus is upon traditional and popular culture studies, even if we define that in the broadest possible sense, we need additional collaborators with stronger connections to Francophone scholarship; one should be connected to CELAT (the ethnology program) at Laval, and another
connected to the Canadian Museum of Civilisation. Dr. Laurier Turgeon of Laval (former CELAT director and CFc editor) and Dr. Carmelle Begin, curator in charge of the Canadian Centre for Folk Culture Studies at CMC have both tentatively and provisionally agreed to participate. Once we have secured the co-operation of these individuals or their colleagues, the next stage of our work will be to convene a workshop to develop a specific research plan. Several individuals attending the round table suggested that we needed a mission statement, and this would be one initial outcome of the workshop, since we would need some kind of overarching perspective to unite the various aspects of work we would undertake. Each collaborator should come to this meeting with specific information about the areas they will address, keeping in mind the suggestions in the Collaborative Research Seed Grants Guidelines and the results of the round table discussion. We do not anticipate this work being completed in a short period of time, or with the support of only one granting agency or program. The range of tasks that were presented to us at the round table will require a much longer term--minimum of five years--and more broadly based and pluralistic series of funding sources.

From the round table, it is clear that the work we do must be heavily consultative. We feel it is essential in the kind of study we intend to conduct to include all the Canadian academic programs which grant degrees in traditional and popular culture: Alberta, Laval, Memorial, and Sudbury. We should also include individual academics who are trained and/or work in related areas, such as Canadian Studies, English, Humanities, Ethnomusicology and Anthropology. We need to work with museums, whose work involves the study of traditional and popular culture--not just CMC, but also regional, provincial, and local museums. Students as well as faculty must be active participants in setting the directions of the research, as well as in doing the background bibliographical and archival research, the fieldwork, and the preparation of results. Obviously, both francophone and anglophone scholars, including private scholars, must be consulted. They should represent and include a wide range of ethnocultural groupings and regional locations. In addition, those involved in the promotion of traditions--festivals, production and presentation companies (e.g. the Folk Arts Council of Winnipeg, Mariposa In The Schools, etc.) must be consulted. In addition, the various associations, from the British Columbia Folklore Association to FSAC/ACEF, to CSTM/SCTM must be consulted and involved. We feel strongly that this was one of the strengths of our previous collaboration (Greenhill and Tye 1997); it involved women and men from folklore, sociology, anthropology, English literature, and women's studies; students, faculty and private scholars; museum and non-profit sector workers; anglophones and francophones, etc.

2. Money
The obvious location for funding such work is SSHRCC. However, other government agencies--e.g. those responsible for multiculturalism and for Canadian studies--will be approached. In addition, the CMC's involvement may generate some funds for this work. Suggestions from the roundtable indicated that if we try for corporate funding, we should attempt a high level of
basic funding, rather than a series of piecemeal efforts. Other suggestions included fund raising from popular publications (print and sound) and donations (tax receipts). The potential involvement of the Department of Canadian Heritage was also mentioned.

3. Facilities and Equipment
In order to address even some of the issues raised in this roundtable we will need extensive infrastructure. We will need to secure the involvement of academic departments, since they will be the ones to implement some of the suggestions. We will need the involvement of museums and archives, for the same reason. We will need extensive equipment even for the information gathering stages, in order to record the visual and aural information. The facilities of the academic departments and of the museums may be sufficient to provide these. We will need new strategies and links with private companies to produce much of what is suggested above. Allan Kirby offered to assist in contacting businesses. An umbrella institute could help facilitate implementing report suggestions, as interaction and linkages seem crucial.


bell hooks 1994 Outlaw Culture: Resisting Representations. New York: Routledge.

Bhabha, Homi K. 1994 The Location of Culture. London and New York: Routledge.

Carpenter, Carole H. 1979 Many Voices. Ottawa: Canadian Centre for Folk Culture Studies.

Del Giudice, Luisa 1994 Italian Traditional Song in Toronto: From Autobiography to Advocacy. Journal of Canadian Studies 29 #1,74-89.

Doucette, Laurel 1993 Voices Not Our Own. Canadian Folklore canadien 15 #2, 119-138.

----- 1997 Reclaiming the Study of our Cultural Lives, in Greenhill and Tye, pp. 20-27.

Ferguson, Mark 1994 The Book of Black Hearts: Readdressing the Meaning and Relevance of Supernatural Materials. Journal of Canadian Studies/Revue d'etudes canadiennes 29 #1, 107-121.

Greenhill, Pauline 1994 Ethnicity in the Mainstream: Three Studies of English Canadian Culture in Ontario. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press.

----- and Diane Tye 1994 Critiques from the Margin: Women and Folklore in English Canada. Canada, Theoretical discourse/discours theoriques, eds Terry Goldie et al. Montreal: Association for Canadian Studies, pp. 167-186.

----- 1997 Undisciplined Women: Tradition and Culture in Canada. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press.

Turgeon, Laurier 1997 The Tale of the Kettle: Odyssey of an Intercultural Object. Ethnohistory 44 #1,1-29.

Tye, Diane 1997 Lessons from "Undisciplined" Ethnography: The Case of Jean D. Heffernan, in Greenhill and Tye, pp. 49-64.

----- and Pauline Greenhill 1997 Folklore, feminisme et etudes feministes au debut des annees 1990. Ethnologies francophones de l'amerique et d'ailleurs. Eds. Anne-Marie Desdouits and Laurier Turgeon. Quebec: Les Presses de l'universite Laval, pp.119-136.