John McDowell Research Collection

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I, John Holmes McDowell, am a folklorist steeped in the ethnography of performance and communication, and I have found myself on the edge and sometimes in the middle of many richly expressive moments. This quest has carried me to four continents (and an island or two), into homes, plazas, churches, and cabildos in dozens of villages, towns, and cities. It is my style to travel light, avoid the authorities as much as possible, and seek out the good-hearted people of a place, and in this I have been very fortunate. I have been fortunate, as well, for the companionship, in the field, of my photographer wife Patricia Glushko.

In this collection you will find an excellent representation of the publications resulting from my adventures in folklore, including: one of my books; a good sample of articles and book chapters; and a decent selection of the many reviews I have published over the years. The topics addressed in this body of work reflect my continuing fascination with the expressive cultures of Latin America, in particular of the Andes and Mexico; with the folklore of children; and, in general, with the role of language as a feature of social interaction across settings from conversation to ritual. These topics have led me into powerful themes such as commemoration, folklorization, and most recently, ecoperformativity, domains of inquiry where I hope to have shed light on social practices and cultural processes, and how individuals find their way through them.


Recent Submissions

Now showing 1 - 20 of 77
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    Inga Rimangapa Samuichi: Vengan a hablar la lengua inga
    (Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, Indiana University, 2012) McDowell, John; Tandioy Jansasoy, Francisco; Wolf, Juan Eduardo
    Inga Rimangapa Samuichi: Vengan a hablar la lengua inga es el primer método comprensivo para aprender la lengua inga, el dialecto de la familia Quechua que se habla en el suroeste de Colombia y en las tierras vecinas de Ecuador. Consiste en 21 lecciones utilizando experiencias típicas de la comunidad inga de Santiago en el valle de Sibundoy, presentando diálogos simpáticos además de ejercicios orientados para guiar el estudiante hacia una competencia básica de hablar y leer el inga. Se complementa estas tareas con un audio complementario para los primeros capítulos, más cinco apéndices: un glosario, un perfil de los sufijos ingas, notas acerca el inga entre los otros dialectos de Quechua, un esbozo del verbo inga, y una lista de palabras y frases claves. Este texto es producto de mucha labor colaborativa. De suma importancia es la contribución de Francisco Tandioy Jansasoy, sabio y activista inga, que da vida a la comunidad inga en estas páginas. Además, se ha beneficiado del trabajo de múltiples generaciones de alumnos en la Universidad de Indiana, quienes han agregado y refinado la contenida del texto durante varios años. Por último, queremos reconocer los mayores, los exgobernadores, los médicos ingas, toda la gente de las comunidades inga, el Comité Educación Bilingüe de Musu Runakuna, y las Hermanas Lauras de San Andrés, por su apoyo y ayuda.
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    Inga Rimangapa Samuichi: Speaking the Quechua of Colombia
    (Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, Indiana University, 2011) McDowell, John; Tandioy Jansasoy, Francisco; Wolf, Juan Eduardo
    Inga Rimangapa Samuichi: Speaking the Quechua of Colombia is the world’s first comprehensive language instruction method for the Inga language, the variety of the Quechua family of languages that is spoken in the southwestern corner of Colombia and neighboring regions of Ecuador. It contains 21 chapters drawing on real-world experiences in the Inga community of Santiago in Colombia’s Sibundoy Valley, presenting engaging dialogues as well as targeted exercises to guide the learner towards a basic speaking and reading competence in the language. These lessons are supplemented by an audio companion for the first set of chapters, and by five appendices: a glossary, a profile of Inga suffixes, notes locating Inga among the other varieties of Quechua, a chart of the Inga verb structure, and a list of key words and phrases. This textbook is the product of much collaborative effort. Of primary importance is the contribution of Francisco Tandioy Jansasoy, Inga intellectual and activist, who brings the Inga community to life in its pages. As well, it has benefited from the contributions several generations of Indiana University’s Inga students, who have added and refined its content over the years. Finally, we acknowledge the elders, ex-governors, Inga native doctors, all members of the Inga community, the Committee for Bilingual Education of Musu Runakuna, and the Hermanas Lauras of San Andrés, for their support and contributions to the project.
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    From Expressive Language to Mythemes: Meaning in Mythic Narratives
    (Indiana University Press, 2002) McDowell, John H.
    It is no secret that there are many ways of thinking about myth, or that myths have multiple layers and levels of meanmg. These certainties provoke a number of uncertainties when we attempt to define myth or interpret its meaning. In this essay I will have relatively little to say about the problem of defining myth, but will rather occupy myself which interpretive strategies rooted in the study of language. If we can agree that myth can or must be a story, and that stories are necessarily composed of narrative discourse, then we are well on the way toward recognizing the importance of language as one parameter for assessing the meaning of myth. But our quest will deliver us into some curious paradoxes, when we learn that scholarly programs originating in the study of language can arrive at very different places, and that the very notion of story may be deleted altogether from the enterprise.
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    Exemplary Ancestors and Pernicious Spirits: Sibundoy Concepts of Culture Evolution
    (Indiana University Press, 1992) McDowell, John H.
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    Customizing Myth: The Personal in the Public
    (Indiana University Press, 2011) McDowell, John H.
    On the surface of the matter, it would seem that mythic discourse is a quintessential form of what Basil Bernstein terms “public language,” that is, “a language which continuously signals the normative arrangements of the group rather than individuates experiences of its members” (1960:181). This assumption is amply reinforced by the important community work attributed to myth in the many definitions and roles devised for it by scholars over the centuries. Any folklorist could assemble a list of impressive public or communal duties assigned to myth in the last century or two, a list that might include (among other entries) Max Müller’s ideas about “mythopoeic thought,” G. L. Gomme’s tidy characterization of myth as “the science of a pre-scientific age,” Bronislaw Malinowski’s thesis that myth establishes a charter for social institutions, and Claude Lévi-Strauss’s notion that “myths operate in men’s minds without their being aware of the fact” (1969:12). Whatever formulation is chosen, we find ourselves in a discourse that would seem to largely exclude the personal in favor of the impersonal, the communal, and the collective. Practical facts conducive to personalization of the narrative, such as the age of the storyteller, the composition of the audience, the occasion for the storytelling event, are a matter of indifference in these frames of reference.
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    The Semiotic Constitution of Kamsá Ritual Language
    (Language in Society, 1983) McDowell, John H.
    Recent studies of socially situated ways of speaking have reflected a growing uneasiness with the tidy dichotomies (for example, formal/informal, polite/casual) that have informed sociolinguistic inquiries in the past. The ritual language of the Kamsa indigenous community of Andean Colombia presents a serious challenge to these familiar conceptual molds. In elaborating a semiotic constitution for this speech variety, I articulate a model founded on three interrelated variables - accessibility, formalization, and efficacy - that may prove relevant to the discussion of ritual and ceremonial languages elsewhere.
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    Sayings of the Ancestors: The Spiritual Life of the Sibundoy Indians
    (University Press of Kentucky, 1989) McDowell, John H.
    The Sibundoy Valley of Colombia is a South American microcosm, an indigenous cradle and crossroads, that has so far eluded thorough ethnographic description. In the following pages I offer an account of the spiritual life of its native peoples, a life marked by the unflagging quest for spiritual indemnity. The story is told primarily in the words of the Sibundoy peoples themselves, in their "sayings of the ancestors," in their glosses on the sayings, and in a parallel corpus of mythic narrative that provides the conceptual scaffolding for this spiritual edifice.
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    Riddling and Enculturation: A Glance at the Cerebral Child
    (Working Papers in Sociolinguistics, 1976) McDowell, John H.
    This paper attempts to illustrate with concrete data that riddles serve as a didactic device to sharpen the wits of young children. The riddle is described as a verbal routine which adapts the interrogative system of a speech community to purposes of play. Piddles concerning motion or locomotion of animal, machines and toys were collected in a single riddling session, from three Chicano children aged 5-7. The output of these neophyte riddles is discussed in the context of the acquisition and refinement of cognitive categories, and a folk taxonomy focused on the semantic domain of locomotion is suggested. Riddling is viewed as a didactic mechanism conducive to experimentation with received notions of order, and elaboration of novel cognitive orders. In riddlirg, at various stages, children learn to formulate culturally acceptable classifications; to articulate classifications at variance with cultural conventions; and finally to assess language and classification as arbitrary instruments reflecting only partially the continuous texture of experience.
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    Corridos of 9/11: Mexican Ballads as Commemorative Practice
    (Routledge, 2007) McDowell, John H.
    In the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the makers of Mexican ballads known as corridos created a rich body of narrative songs commemorating and commenting on these events. In this essay, I examine these “9/11 corridos” and the dynamics of their cultural production in a zone of what I term “commemorative practice,” taking note of stylistic and functional features that link this specific corpus to the larger corrido tradition, and ascertaining the range of attitudes they express toward the events of 9/11 themselves. I propose that we regard the 9/11 corridos as mediated ballads of mass communication, performed on a global stage and addressing issues of international consequence, a far journey from their point of origin as local ballads responding to matters of primarily local and regional interest.
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    Music, Politics, and Violence Edited by Susan Fast and Kip Pegley
    (Journal of Folklore Research Reviews, 2017-11-28) McDowell, John H.
    There is a tendency to think of music as a harmonious force in the world, a notion that is scrutinized, challenged, and revised in this collection of nine essays bookended by the editors’ introduction and an afterword by J. Martin Daughtry. We come away with a feel for “music’s richness as a medium for understanding violence” (1, editors’ introduction) and with “a more comprehensive understanding of the ways musical voices resonate through, interact with, and support violent acts” (258, Daughtry’s afterword). The nine intervening essays offer a diverse collection of case studies, linked rather loosely by the theme of violence lurking in the vicinity or background of musical production. These essays are helpfully grouped into three parts: Objective and Subjective Violences; Violence and Reconciliation; and Musical Memorializations of Violent Pasts.
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    Telling and Being Told: Storytelling and Cultural Control in Contemporary Yucatec Maya Literatures By Paul M. Worley
    (Journal of Folklore Research Reviews, 2015-08-25) McDowell, John H.
    There is much in this study to interest folklorists, and much, as well, to arouse our indignation, or more usefully, to prod us into constructive self-reflection. For here is a book in which culture brokers are presented as imperialists whose intention is to silence indigenous voices, “folklore” is conceptualized as a parroting of dying traditions, and folklorists in the academy are said to miss the point that traditions are interpretive modes that empower the people who live them. The critique goes further: even the scholar who presents the narratives of indigenous peoples in their own voices is still controlling the agenda and hence depriving subjects of discursive agency. From such a stringent vantage point, we might question whether it is possible to do responsible ethnographic work on narrative traditions, but Paul Worley suggests that we can, and he models in this book his method of treating Yucatec Mayan storytelling as “a way of knowing” (96) and as a form of “ethnogenesis” (104).
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    Review of Hispanic Folk Music of New Mexico and the Southwest: A Self-Portrait of a People By John Donald Robb
    (Journal of Folklore Research Reviews, 2014-09-10) McDowell, John H.
    Who says that nobody publishes texts anymore? The University of New Mexico Press in this year of 2014 has released two impressive collections documenting the remarkable trove of traditional Hispanic song conserved, principally, in the towns and villages of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. New Mexican Folk Music, compiled by Cipriano Frederico Vigil, and Hispanic Folk Music of New Mexico and the Southwest, compiled by John Donald Robb, cover much the same repertoire and many of the same musical genres, even coinciding on a few specific songs, but their perspectives are complementary, and paired together, they provide a comprehensive account of the florid vernacular traditions they take as their object. The publication of these two anthologies underscores the value of making field collections available to the reading public.
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    Review of Ritual Encounters: Otavalan Modern and Mythic Community By Michelle Wibbelsman
    (Journal of Folklore Research Reviews, 2013-01-16) McDowell, John H.
    The indigenous communities in the area surrounding Otavalo, in Ecuador’s Imbabura province, are a native people of the Americas that has prospered over the last several decades and, to a significant degree, managed to neutralize or even reverse its position in the regional social hierarchy. These communities are justly famous for their textiles and for their music among other things, both on vivid display at the Saturday market in Otavalo and transported to the world’s marketplaces by traveling musicians and merchants from the area. In some ways the tale of the Otavalans, who have so successfully leveraged their ethnicity into cultural capital, appears to be a unique development, but on inspection, it seems more likely that their experience is typical, in kind if not in degree, of many native peoples throughout the Andes and indeed the world over. Contemporary global society places a premium on the evocative local, and indigenous peoples with viable traditional expressive cultures, like the Otavalans, are finding and seizing ways of making profitable connections with these external loci of interest.
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    Review of Polyphony of Ceriana: The Compagnia Sacco Directed by Hugo Zemp
    (Journal of Folklore Research Reviews, 2013-01-09) McDowell, John H.
    This seventy-four-minute documentary features powerful singing on the part of a male choir whose members are resident in Ceriana, a small, picturesque town located between the Alps and the Mediterranean coast in West Liguria, western Italy. The Compagnia Sacco, which has been active since the late 1920s, took its name from the lunch sacks its members carried into the fields with them, and remains active into the twenty-first century as a group of men who sing in concert settings, both in Ceriana and beyond, as well as in local gatherings and events such as Holy Week processions and autumn festivals.
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    Review of New Languages of the State: Indigenous Resurgence and the Politics of Knowledge in Bolivia By Bret Gustafson
    (Journal of Folklore Research Reviews, 2011-12-14) McDowell, John H.
    Bret Gustafson has produced an encyclopedic, and at times epical, account of the bilingual education project in Bolivia as it transpired and evolved in the Guarani setting over the last few decades. Strategically situated as outside advisor, as collaborator in materials production, and as ethnographer of the project, Gustafson enjoyed access to the multiple realms of action that defined the progress of EIB, educación intercultural bilingüe, “bilingual intercultural education,” as it played out in Guarani communities, in the corridors of bureaucratic intrigue, in the programs of NGOs, and in the campaigns of political actors. There are many valuable lessons that emerge from this protracted engagement with every facet of the project. One of these is that the quest to modify educational policy and practice to encompass indigenous languages and worldviews quickly expands into cultural and political zones far removed from the purely educational; a second is that there are no easy answers, few villains or heroes, and instead of these palliatives, a great many figures and moments defined by the qualities of ambivalence and ambiguity. In a way, Gustafson’s book can be read as a caution against seeking simple solutions to complex social problems. But it would not be accurate to say that Gustafson counsels against taking up this good fight, for even if happy resolutions are not forthcoming, it is still the case that projects in bilingual intercultural education can achieve some amelioration of colonial structures of power distribution, and perhaps most significantly, can enable indigenous peoples to push ahead in a political project in which educational concerns constitute only one fragment in a larger agenda.
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    Review of Creating Our Own: Folklore, Performance, and Identity in Cuzco, Peru By Zoila S. Mendoza
    (Journal of Folklore Research Reviews, 2009-01-12) McDowell, John H.
    Creating Our Own offers a detailed accounting of how folklore enters into processes of identity formation and projection in one exemplary setting, Cuzco, Peru, during the first half of the twentieth century. Cuzco is an interesting site for this accounting due to its historical prominence as the center of Inca civilization and its emergence during the time-frame of this study as one of the primary tourist attractions in the Andes. Drawing on contemporary newspaper accounts, archival materials, and interviews she has conducted, Zoila Mendoza traces the evolution of “artistic-folkloric output” in Cuzco through the middle decades of the twentieth century. Her central argument is that this realm of “creative effervescence” cannot be regarded as merely a reflection of identity processes but is instead “an integral and significant part of these processes” (3). Mendoza views these public forms as “privileged areas” and notes that their “close study often reveals paradoxes and contradictions” (2). Creating Our Own makes a strong case for the centrality of folklore in the construction of regional, national, and even continental identities, and provides a thorough, at times bordering on exhausting, examination of the many paradoxes and contradictions that appear upon close inspection of these materials.
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    Review of The Hidden Life of Girls: Games of Stance, Status, and Exclusion By Marjorie Harness Goodwin
    (Journal of Folklore Research Reviews, 2008-02-14) McDowell, John H.
    This book’s author, Marjorie Goodwin, sets out to challenge a cluster of assumptions about how girls interact with one another, using empirical data drawn from close observation of girls at lunch and at play on school playgrounds, settings where they achieve “a local social order” (6) and exercise “children’s agency” (245). The stereotypes she addresses have both a popular and scholarly currency, and hold that boys are assertive and girls are nurturing, that boys are concerned with justice and girls with harmony, that boys use direct means and girls indirect means to advance their purposes. By listening to what the girls have to say to one another, Goodwin finds ample evidence to question these assumptions. The girls she observes exercise female assertiveness, not only in managing their same-sex activities but also in their interaction with boys who attempt to join their games. In one celebrated instance, the girls triumph over the boys in an effort to redefine access to the playground soccer field.
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    Hispanic Oral Tradition: Form and Content
    (Arte Publico Press, 1994) McDowell, John H.; Herrera-Sobek, María; Cortina, Rodolfo J.
    The nineteenth-century humanist Johann Gottfried von Herder distinguished "art poetry" from "natural poetry," and he discovered in the latter "the heart and soul of a people" (Bluestein). Scholars aligned with the nationbuilding process all around the v\/orld have frequently turned to the traditions that issue directly from the life of human communities in the effort to capture their true character, to establish their authentic identities. Oral tradition emerges from the fabric of everyday existence; it responds to the immediate and ultimate problems posed by life in human societies. Its insights and artistry derive from individual genius tempered by collective assent. More than any other expressive product, oral literature provides access to the wisdom and resolve of a people acting within and sometimes against the confines of their historical destiny.
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    Rethinking Folklorization in Ecuador: Multivocality in the Expressive Contact Zone
    (Western Folklore, 2010) McDowell, John H.
    "Folklorization " highlights the processing of local artistic production into mediated displays of culture. Here I challenge the built-in assumption that folklorization necessarily corrupts, arguing instead for the multivocality of cultural production in expressive contact zones, that is, zones where the local meets the global. In Quichua storytelling and in the making of musical CDs among the indigenous people of northern Ecuador, there is strong potential for revitalization of vernacular codes even in highly-mediated performance settings.
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    Chante Luna and the Commemoration of Actual Events
    (Western Folklore, 2005) McDowell, John H.
    On the first of January in 1891, a train departed Brownsville, Texas, on its way to Point Isabel on the Gulf Coast, with a large shipment of gold and silver. At a point known as Loma Trozada, where the narrow-gauge track passed through a small incline, this train was derailed by a gang of robbers who then locked the passengers in a boxcar and made off with the loot. It became clear that the leader of this gang of Robbers was a Texas-Mexican named Jose Mosqueda, who was eventually brought to justice and sentenced to life in prison.