In the first lesson we looked at the geographic region called Appalachia, showing impressive landscapes, photos of an open air museum and maps of various kinds. Then we looked at some period photographs to get an idea of what life was like in the mountains at the beginning of the 20th century. This much is covered in the PP presentation Smoky Mountains in the Resources folder. Finally we turned to the main source for the first half of the course, which is Horace Kephart's Our Southern Highlanders (1913). For week 2 students should do the exercises "Chap 1 Something hidden". Bring the answers to class.
We began by going over the exercises "Chap 1 Something hidden" in pairs. These were then handed in. Next a new topic was introduced, first in the person of Francis James Child, Professor of Rhetoric and English Literature at Harvard in the mid- and late-19th c. We focused in particular on his multi-volume work The Scottish and English Popular Ballads, a meticulous. scholarly collection of narrative folk songs handed down through oral tradition. Child's preferred sources were manuscripts, the older the better. This introduction served as a lead-in to an aspect of Appalachian culture which is not adequately dealt with by Kephart, the role of music in the lives of the people and the live transmission of the ancient ballads in Appalachia. We watched the beginning of the movie "Songcatcher", by Maggie Greenwald, which "documents" the discovery of this musical heritage among the mountain people.
For lesson 3 students should complete the exercises to Chap 2 of Kephart and bring them to class. Those who failed to hand in the exercises to Chap 1 can do so next week. I would recommend reading a few pages of Campbell & Sharp's English Folksongs (Resources folder). In the Introduction (written by Sharp) read the section entitled "The Country and its Inhabitants" (pp. iii-vii). This account can be compared with Kephart. Those who are interested in music might want to read more. In the following section, "The Singers and their Songs", we read "I found myself for the first time in my life in a community in which singing was as common and almost as universal a practice as speaking". This description can be compared with our contemporary consumer-oriented attitude toward music. Finally, the song we hear in the movie was "Barbara Allen", one of the best-known ballads in English (the clip is on Youtube). This is number 21 in Folksongs. Another worth checking out is "Pretty Saro", no. 76. We'll listen to this next week and see how it fits into the representation of Appalachian culture in "Songcatcher".
In the third lesson we began, as usual, with students discusion their homework assignments. We then moved onto a few comments on the wikipedia entry on "hillbilly" (whcih you may want to check out) and the accompanying photograph of the Hatfield clan, one of the main actors in probably the (in)famous feud of 19c Appalachia. Continuing with our concern with stereotypes and their representation we looked at Cecil Sharp's depiction of the people of the mountains and his attempt to counter many of these stereotypes (drinking, violence, laziness). We also considered some of the letters he wrote while collecting between 1914 and 1918 and examined some of his portait photos of ballad contributors. Finally, we watched a few scenes from "Songcatcher" and commented on what the director intended to represent about culture, gender relations, race relations, economics and the role of musitc in Appalachia. For the next lesson students should do the exercises for Chapter 9 and write a short text (no more than half a page) discussing a selection of the points regarding the director's intentions in the scenes mentioned above. Those who have not yet turned in earlier assignments should do so next week.
In lesson four students exchanged and discussed their analyses of the scenes from "Songcatcher". We then went on to cover the vocabulary exercises for Chap 9. As additional input for the study of lexis - using the words "uncouth" and "couth" as search items - we introduced a few useful resources. One is The Compleat Lexical Tutor. The site offers many takes on vocabulary. The one we looked at is the Familiser, a tool that allows you to find many (but not all) "members" of a word "family". This is an interface to a corpus which gives useful if not exhaustive information about word formation. Another site we looked at is the COHA, or Corpus of Historical American English. This corpus gives you access to frequency data but also to concrete instances and sources of word usage in US sources from 1810 to present. See the "Context" button in the top menu. Youi should start playing around with these sites to see what they offer you.
Students should do the exercises to Chapt 10 for the next lesson.
We first went over the exercises. I then stressed that we have eye-witness accounts of the culture and living conditions of the people who inhabited the Appalachians at the beginning of the 20th c. (Kephart and Sharp) and a reconstruction of the same period in the film "Songcatcher" produced almost 100 years later. I also underlined, once again, that it is important to be aware that observers and witnesses portray, describe and depict what they perceive, whether it be routine activities, gender relations or values, but they also project their own norms and values on what they observe. To fill the gap between these two time periods we looked at a few documents hailing from the 1960s. The first is a bluegrass (subcategory of country music) classic performed by the Stanley Brothers and recorded in 1960: "Rank Strangers". The song recounts the protagonist's return to the mountains only to find that nothing is the way it was when he left. Another document from the early 1960s is the TV sitcom "Beverly Hillbillies". The opening scenes present a stereotypical image of the mountain log cabin and mountain life and ignorance of modern technology. (See Internet resources for link.) We then watched a few minutes of the LBJ Poverty Tour (1964) which clearly showed that poverty in Appalachia was a pressing issue for the Federal Government 50 years ago. We closed with a 10-min video report by the Guardian which seeks to understand why one of the poorstest counties in one of the poorest states in the US voted overwhelming for Trump in the last preseidential election: "Why the poorest county in West Virginia has faith in Donald Trump" (2016).
For next week students should read Chap 11 "The Land of Do Without" in Our Southern Highlanders and write an outline of the chapter. Please bring this to class.
In lesson 6 we introduced the movie “O Brother, Where Art Thou” (2000), produced and directed by Ethan and Joel Cohen. The movie sparked a folk revival in the U.S. Although set in Mississippi, not in Appalachia, the movie picks up some of the themes of “Songcatcher”, such as cultural identity, roots in the past, and race relations. You may want to watch the trailer on YouTube. In contrast to “Songcatcher” the soundtrack was a major hit and won a Grammy Award, the ceremony is also on YouTube.
In the essay “O Brother, What Next?” (in Resources folder) cultural historian Benjamin Filene, author of award-winning Romancing the Folk: Public Memory and American Roots Music (Univ. Of N. Carolina Press: 2000) reflects on his reaction to the Hollywood hit “O Bother Where Art thou” (2000Filene considers issues such as the search for identity, the relation between the culture industry and tradition, and the staying power of folk revivals. He discusses at some length (pp. 51ff) the revival of the 1930s, which we have not dealt with. I suggest that you read pp. 50-51 to get an idea of the basic questions and then focus on pp. 56-59. He is writing about audiences in the United States but I think the issues are relevant to European and Asian audiences as well. Be prepared to comment on the reading and on your own experiences.
In this last lesson we tried to bring together a few of the themes that have accompanied us throughout the course. How can we explain the fact that two contemporary observers of more or less the same area of the southern Appalachians, Sharp and Kephart, provide divergent descriptions of key features of the mountain people? To investigate this question students reviewed the relevant passages in the texts and advanced hypotheses toward possible explanations for these differences. These may stem from Sharp’s and Kephart’s personal empirical experiences, different biographies, professional and human interests, worldviews, etc.
Another issue concerns the role of (perceived) isolation within the context of a constantly advancing civilization. Is what “stays behind” in some sense backward, or is it a potential bearer of authenticity and purity? How is this isolation and its consequences characterized and explained by the observers?
These questions will be the focus of one of the essay titles for the exam next week. Students may prepare at home and bring in notes (not texts). Then there will be two more titles, of which students will choose one. These will address the range of media we have examined in the last two months and how they serve to transmit information and awareness about cultural heritage.
Students may not use dictionaries or electronic devices. We will try to begin the exam at 1pm sharp, not 1:15.