An American Folklorist Looks at European Heritage Studies - The 2013 Sief Congress

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2013

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American Folklore Society

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In Europe, as in most of the world today, heritage is a major focus of academic discourse and public engagement for folklore, ethnology and anthropology. Intangible culture heritage (ICH) is now a priority for national cultural policies as a result of UNESCO’s 2003 convention for safeguarding ICH. Following from the mandates of the convention, folk culture is extensively inventoried, academic “experts” are called to advise on policy and community involvement in ICH safeguarding is emphasized. Heritage was a principal topic at the 2013 biennial Congress of the International Society for Ethnology and Folklore (SIEF) held in July at the University of Tartu, Estonia. Scores of presentations critically analyzed the consequences of intervention, recontextualizations and transformations of traditions, government policy, mediation and community self-determination. While all of these issues have been confronted by American public folklore for decades, public folklore scholarship and practice is absent from ICH discourse, in Europe as elsewhere. At the same time, American public folklorists have little awareness of European ICH initiatives and scholarship. As an American public folklorist, I was engrossed and intellectually energized by presentations at the SIEF Congress which described heritage case studies from throughout Europe, critically assessed national ICH policies, and engaged in critical reflexivity about the roles of scholars in heritage projects.

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