Last month, I attended the annual meeting of the American Folklore Society, and I had the privilege of presenting on a panel with two students from my cohort in the MACS program, as well as our academic director, Amy Skillman. The theme of this year’s conference was cultural sustainability, so it was a great opportunity for us to dialogue with folklorists and scholars in related disciplines, to share some of our own thoughts and research and to hear what the term “cultural sustainability” brings to mind for those who may not have discussed it or contemplated it as much as we have in our courses. Although I was only able to attend a few panel sessions out of many with fascinating topics, I learned a lot just from conversations with other scholars between sessions. Overall, I came away from the conference encouraged about the possibilities that we can discover and create in this field.
One of the most interesting things I learned came from Aisha M. Beliso-De Jesús, who talked about the idea of “smellscapes” in her paper on the “Santeria’s Sexualities” panel. I am fascinated by the role of the senses in ritual as well as the arts, and I will be thinking more about the olfactory aspect of cultural experience from now on. However, my greatest benefit from this AFS meeting, by far, was the time I spent with Jeff Todd Titon, whose work in ethnomusicology has been very influential on my thinking over the last year. We were paired with each other for the mentoring program, which I highly recommend to graduate students who attend future AFS meetings. We were able to get acquainted at one of many fun, casual receptions, where we also had a great chat with Bill Ivey, former National Endowment for the Arts chairman. Later, we attended a panel of Jeff’s former dissertation advisees, one of whom spoke about something very similar to my research interests: musicians’ perceptions of themselves and their bodies. I got to meet with these ethnomusicologists after the session, and hearing more about their research and career paths was very helpful for me as I am thinking about my own future in academia.
As a MACS student, I was thrilled to hear Rory Turner’s plenary address on the opening night of the conference. His thoughtful consideration of this “collision of keywords” – cultural sustainability – brought to mind some of the valuable concepts I have learned from him and other Goucher professors: lessons from folklore, anthropology, environmental studies, and the intersections of so many disciplines and interests. With due regard for the problems in defining this term, Rory’s talk provided ample motivation for the growth of our field as a response to very real societal and environmental threats against people and their cultural traditions. “Let us invite people to love what they love,” he challenged us, offering a sense of purpose to all of the academic discussions that took place throughout the meeting. I am grateful to have met several folklorists who are already answering this call: not only do they love what they do, but they constantly seek out ways to sustain opportunities for loving the cultural worlds in which people live and work.
|Benjamin Bean, MA in Cultural Sustainability 2015
Ben has spent much of his life writing and performing music, and he has been actively involved in the Philadelphia reggae scene for several years. His interests in culture, religion, and Afro-Caribbean music have led him to an academic inquiry into the relationships between artistic expression and social identity, with a particular focus on the music and ideology of Rastafari. After graduating from the Pennsylvania State University with a BA in Letters, Arts, and Sciences, and a minor in Environmental Inquiry, Ben discovered that the MACS program would be a great way to maintain his interdisciplinary course of study while pursuing a career as a professor of anthropology and ethnomusicology.