The 2011 Charles Homer Haskins Prize Lecture
Henry Glassie is one of the intellectual leaders who broadened the discipline of folklore from a study of the texts of ballads and tales into a kind of descriptive and interpretive ethnography, without leaving behind the scrupulous recording initiated by Franz Boas. Glassie’s commitment to art and artists has rendered his sort of folklore study unique. The formidable comprehensiveness of his first book, Pattern in the Material Folk Culture of the Eastern United States (1969), demonstrated that material culture studies had to include the history not only of objects, but of the human artists who produced them.
His first major ethnography, Passing the Time in Ballymenone (1982), demonstrated the centrality of folklore to people’s lives in times of dreadful crisis, and pioneered the interdisciplinary breadth of folkloristics by embracing Irish vernacular architecture, folksinging, material culture, storytelling, oral history, and farming practices. His other major ethnography, in a totally different country, was Turkish Traditional Art Today (1993), an immensely detailed account of calligraphy, ceramics, woodworking, carpet weaving, and their creators. Between these two works, Glassie produced a major statement of aesthetic philosophy in The Spirit of Folk Art (1989). For him,
Art is a universal reality . . . [,] works of art are the richest expressions of the manifold human experience, and . . . works are called ‘folk’ as part of an academic effort to designate for consideration creations that would be ignored if the presuppositions of study remained unexamined.
He followed his Turkish work with an ethnography on Bangladesh and, in 2010, a study of the life and art of the Nigerian painter Prince Twins Seven-Seven.
Glassie received his Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania, where he also served as chair in the Department of Folklore and Folklife before going to Indiana University. He has taught several generations of American folklorists, as well as students in Turkish, American, Central Eurasian, Near Eastern, and India Studies. He is the recipient of the Award of Honor for Superior Service to Turkish Culture from the Ministry of Culture of the Turkish Republic, and the Friend of Bangladesh Award in Recognition of Outstanding Contribution toward Bangladesh from the Federation of Bangladeshi Associations in North America. He served on the board and as president of the American Folklore Society (1988-90) and in 2010 he was given the Society’s award for a lifetime of scholarly achievement. Glassie also served as the president of the Vernacular Architecture Forum, which, in 2003, named its award for scholarly achievement to honor him.