Potter College News
Public Folklore Policy and Practice Students Visit Washington, D.C.
- Cori Cox
- Wednesday, January 25th, 2023
During the 2023 Winter Term, seven students departed on a trip to Washington D.C. as part of the Folk Studies Public Folklore Policy and Practice study away course led by Brent Björkman. Departing from the Nashville airport, the students were able to stay in Capitol City for six nights, leaving plenty of time to pack in meetings, tours, and networking opportunities with a wealth of folklorists working in D.C.
The class hit the ground running on day one by meeting leaders and heritage preservation specialists at the National Park Service. Folk Studies MA student Katie Bennett eagerly anticipated this first meeting saying, “a lot of my prior research into what they offer mainly focused on science degrees, so I was keen to learn exactly how I can pursue a partnership with them as a folklorist.” Here students were able to learn about internship and fellowship opportunities, the structure of heritage preservation systems, and the bureaucracy that goes into maintaining, preserving, and interpreting the historic value of our parks. The students topped off the day with a visit to the National Museum of African American History and Culture to learn from the associate director and curator.
In the days that followed, students had an exclusive tour of the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage and met with staff including Director Richard Kurin. They visited the American Folklife Center in the Library of Congress, where librarians and archivists enthusiastically shared their work and taught students best practices for creating metadata when processing fieldwork data. “They had a lot of unique artifacts and archives systems that they were so excited to show us,” says Master of Public Administration Joint Undergraduate-Master’s Program (JUMP) student Margaret Glaser. The group also visited the National Endowment for the Arts and heard from Folk and Traditional Arts Specialist Bill Mansfield about state and regional partnerships, and the got a glance into the decisions behind grant funding and fellowship procedures. The students were also treated to a tour of the Capitol Building led by Kentucky Congressman Brett Guthrie’s aides, and were the first guests of Rep. Guthrie’s office to sit on the House of Representatives floor since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Students walked away with a new perspective on public folklore and how public policy influences so much of what happens within the discipline. Folk Studies JUMP student Lamont Jack Pearley notes how his perspective on public folklore changed: “I wasn’t aware how much political influence, policy change, and other factors had to do with the discipline of public folklore.” “At the end of each day I felt like I had a totally new understanding of my future and possible pathways to go,” says Folk Studies MA student Ciara Bernal. “Being able to see and speak to folklorists outside of academia was amazing, the work that they are doing in and outside of the US is incredible. The trajectory of my future career was definitely changed for the better because of this course.” Other students expressed their newfound appreciation for archival and museum work, and passion in their new research topics.
“My focus in creating this Study Away course eight years ago was, and continues to be, to introduce our WKU Folk Studies graduate students to DC-based folklorists and cultural heritage colleagues and learn about the working trajectories of these professionals,” shares Brent Björkman. “I am proud of the insight each participant gains from their week-long experience. It is gratifying to see these engaged students further foster their own passions for the important work we are preparing them for by developing relationships with cultural innovators and grant makers in our field.”
Students will present their final research projects on Friday, February 3rd.
Article by Cori Cox, Folk Studies MA student and participant in the Public Folklore Policy and Practice study away course
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