Richard Bauman

November 17, 2016

Among the criteria for recipients of the American Anthropological Association’s top honor are the sacrifices made to advance the discipline, “sometimes against personal safety.”

“I’ve had guns pointed at me just twice in my fieldwork,” says Richard “Dick” Bauman, “the first time by a disgruntled dog trader in East Texas who blamed me for his bad luck in a crap game, the second by an aggrieved participant at a fiesta in Central Mexico, who had just shot another man for fooling around with his wife.”

Fortunately, in both instances, cooler heads prevailed.

“I think that’s not the most salient criterion for why I got the award,” Bauman says with a grin.

Bauman, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of folklore and ethnomusicology, has received the annual Franz Boas Award for Exemplary Service from the American Anthropological Association.

“Great teachers of anthropology at all levels have received this award,” according to the award’s description. “Although the activities of the recipients will vary from year to year, all awardees have made many sacrifices, usually without personal reward, and sometimes against personal safety. They have all used anthropology for the benefit of others.”

Bauman, who also is a professor emeritus of anthropology and communications and culture, has previously received a similar lifetime scholarly achievement award from the American Folklore Society in 2008. In 2006, he received the prestigious Edward Sapir Book Prize from the Society for Linguistic Anthropology.

While he knew that he had been nominated, Bauman says he was pleasantly surprised by the honor.

“I’m not a straight-line anthropologist in the ways that (previous award recipients) have been,” Bauman says. “One of the things that I have worked hard to do is to carry perspectives and ideas from anthropology into a whole range of adjacent disciplines. … That is one of the things they said had been a service to the field.”

Franz Boas, considered the father of anthropology as a discipline in the United States, had a broad vision and “when constructing a field had a very wide reach,” Bauman notes.

Jason Baird Jackson, director of the Mathers Museum of World Cultures at IU Bloomington, says Bauman has played a crucial role as a “high-impact intellectual leader” in the two scholarly fields that Boas helped found: anthropology and folklore studies.

“Not only has Dick made major forward-facing contributions to his fields, he has been recognized for his contributions to the study of the history of ideas in these fields, including innovative work on Boas’ own place within them. He is an ideal recipient of this important honor on many levels,” Jackson says.

John McDowell, chair and professor of folklore and ethnomusicology and director of the Folklore Institute at IU Bloomington, says Bauman deserves the award because of “his influential publications exploring the social dynamics of verbal artistry, and for his illustrative career as an inspiring teacher who guided many a student, myself included, on a life-changing intellectual adventure.”

“Dick’s formative work in the ethnography of speaking has helped shape a substantial field of inquiry, setting a productive agenda for folklore studies and impacting scholars across the social sciences and humanities,” McDowell adds.

Like Boas, Bauman says he’s never felt constrained by disciplinary divisions. He holds degrees in four disciplines: He has a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Michigan, a Master of Arts in folklore from IU, and a Master of Science in anthropology and a doctorate in American civilization, both from the University of Pennsylvania.

Since coming to IU in 1986 from the University of Texas, Bauman was a faculty member in three departments. Before retiring in 2008, he served as chair of the IU Folklore Institute from 1986 to 1991 and from 2003 to 2007, directed IU’s Research Center for Language and Semiotic Studies from 1992 to 1998 and chaired the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology from 2005 to 2007.

He also was a founding member of IU’s Department of Communication and Culture, now part of The Media School at IU.

“I’ve sometimes questioned my place in this field, because I haven’t done it the way everyone else does,” Bauman says. “To have an achievement recognized that doesn’t fit the template is enormously satisfying to me, and to have a second lifetime achievement award on top of the other one makes it all the sweeter.”

This award also means a great deal to Bauman because of the deep intellectual debt he owes to Boas’ vision of anthropology.

“His vision was that in the relationship between language and expressive forms of one kind or another, stories and myths and the like, there’s a powerful vantage point on society, culture and history and that’s what I do: bring together language and folklore and culture in a way that is closely descended (from Boas’ work),” Bauman says.

Over a career that includes being a Guggenheim Fellow and two-time holder of a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship, Bauman’s research has including speaking and silence among 17th-century Quakers, storytelling among East Texas dog traders and traditional nativity plays in Central Mexico.

Although he is retired, Bauman has remained active as a researcher and has worked closely with a former graduate student, Patrick Feaster, on studies of early commercial U.S. sound recordings, dating from 1895 to 1920. Feaster is co-founder of the First Sounds Initiative, which actively searches for the world’s oldest sound recordings, and a media preservation specialist for IU’s Media Digitization and Preservation Initiative.

“What captured my attention was what the pioneers of the medium were doing in taking performance forms that people were accustomed to engaging in co-present situations and in adapting them to a medium where the performance and the reception were separated in time and space, where they had to rely on sound alone, and where they had only two and a half to four minutes to accomplish the entire performance.”

Examples include recordings of religious sermons, political speeches, virtuosic talkers such as carnival barkers and medicine show pitchmen, and storytelling. He is intrigued by how these older forms of entertainment were adapted for the new technology of the time.

In 1920 and beyond, electronic technologies and the development of commercial radio transformed the soundscape.

A native of Manhattan, Bauman was a faculty member at the University of Texas for 19 years before coming to IU. His scholarly work also has included ethnographies of expressive culture in Scotland, Nova Scotia, Mexico, Texas and other settings. He is the author of more than a dozen books and monographs and more than 100 journal articles and chapters in more than 50 books.

“This has been an important place for linguistic anthropology,” Bauman says of IU, noting the significant contributions of the late Charles “Carl” Voegelin, IU’s first professor of anthropology and one of the leading authorities on indigenous languages of North America.

The journal Anthropological Linguistics is based at IU, and Bauman’s chief mentor, Dell Hymes, received his doctorate at IU under Voegelin and the late Thomas Sebeok, a polymath American semiotician and linguist.

“The university has generated significant scholarship in the field, and it pleases me now to be part of that lineage,” he says.

This post was written by George Vlahakis and appeared originally in Inside IU e-newsletter on November 16, 2016.