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MSU Museum Curator, MacDowell, Honored by American Folklore Society

Quilts

The American Folklore Society (AFS), the country’s professional society for folklorists, has announced that Professor Marsha MacDowell of Michigan State University is the 2020 recipient of the Society’s Benjamin A. Botkin Prize for significant lifetime achievement in the field of public folklore.

Headshot of Marsha MacDowell, she is smiling with a black shirt. There is a bookshelf behind her.

Marsha MacDowell

MacDowell is the Curator of Folk Arts and Quilt Studies at the MSU Museum, in addition to a professor in MSU’s Art, Art History, and Design Department. Her research interests include South Africa quiltmaking; traditions of patchwork covers in China; quilts and health; the history and meaning of lau hala in Hawaiian cultural history; folk arts, social justice, and education; and the intersection of ethnography and museums in a digital age. She is the director of the award-winning Quilt Index, a digital repository of stories, images, and other data related to quilts around the world, a project of MSU’s Matrix: Center for Digital Humanities and Social Sciences.

MacDowell has co-curated over 50 research-based interpretive exhibitions and festival programs at Michigan State University, the Smithsonian, indigenous museums in the U.S., and museums in South Africa and China. As coordinator of the Michigan Traditional Arts Program (MTAP), based at MSU’s Residential College of Arts and Humanities, since 1984 she has led many research and education projects focused on Michigan’s traditional cultural heritage.

“Dr. MacDowell’s ground-breaking work spans forty years and serves as a model for public work in folklore, traditional arts, and the humanities,” remarked Jessica Turner, Executive Director, American Folklore Society.

MacDowell’s nominator for this award is her former student and MSU alumnus, Micah Ling, one of many young scholars mentored by MacDowell. Ling is continuing her education in the Folklore Ph.D. program at Indiana University and serves as program coordinator of MTAP.

The AFS Botkin Prize is awarded in recognition of the work of Benjamin A. Botkin (1901-1975), an eminent New Deal-era folklorist, national folklore editor of the Federal Writers’ Project in 1938-1939, advocate for the public responsibilities of folklorists, and author and compiler of many publications on American folklore for general audiences. Botkin at one time headed the Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress and had a major impact on the field of public folklore and on the public understanding of folklore. For more information about the American Folklore Society, please visit the AFS website.

Stephanie Palagyi via MSU Museum

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