"Politics and Poetics : Fieldwork in Afghanistan and Jamaica"
The program will include two presentations:
The Same River: Dilemmas and Challenges of Long-term Cultural Research in Conflict Zones and Failing States
by Margaret Mills, Professor, Ohio State University Dept of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures and Center for Folklore Studies
Private Stories, Public Folklore, and Contested Histories in Jamaica: Taking the Long View with the Maroons
by Kenneth Bilby, Research Associate, Smithsonian Institution Dept of Anthropology
Margaret Mills first visited Afghanistan in 1969, and subsequently conducted two years of research for her dissertation on contemporary folktale performance in Persian-speaking Herat, in western Afghanistan, in 1974-1976.
The Marxist coup of 1978 and the ensuing anti-Soviet war, followed by civil war, created a sixteen-year hiatus in her contact with Afghan friends and associates. Two short return research visits, in 1994 and 1995, re-established her contacts with close friends from her first period of research but were followed by another seven-year separation during the period of Taliban dominance. Her Botkin lecture-discussion will concern long-term commitment to longitudinal cultural study and necessarily episodic presence in what became a war zone.
This discussion addresses the difficult search for a balanced and productive relationship between the outsider researcher, now implicated by our own national policy in Afghanistan's struggles for political autonomy and security, and three generations of Afghans struggling to survive, economically, culturally and politically.
Kenneth Bilby's first encounter with the Maroons of Jamaica was in 1977, when he arrived in the community of Moore Town. Nearly three decades later, after further research in South America for a doctoral degree and multiple return visits to Jamaica, he is as involved as ever with the Maroons.
Legendary for their secrecy, the Jamaican Maroons have been described by one anthropologist as "some of the worlds most famous but least-known people." Descendants of enslaved Africans who escaped from plantations, fought the British colonists, and won their freedom in 1739, they have survived as distinct ethnic groups to the present. It is largely through their private culture of remembrance -- the esoteric, spiritually charged stories they tell about their past -- that Maroons construct and reproduce their continuing sense of collective identity.
The presentation will focus on the complexities and challenges of working with an oral culture that has traditionally been concealed from outsiders, yet has gained in political significance in an era characterized by conflicting claims over cultural authenticity and ownership of the past. This is further complicated by a nation-state that has continued to deny or ignore the Maroons' ongoing efforts to resist assimilation and assert their right to self-determination. Bilby will also discuss the making of his new book about Jamaican Maroon oral narratives and cultural memory, True-Born Maroons (University Press of Florida, 1995; Ian Randle [Jamaica], 1996)
Thursday, August 3
12:00 noon-1:30 p.m.
Mumford Room, Sixth floor, James Madison Building
The Library of Congress
101 Independence Ave, SE
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