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New York Folklore Society Director,
Dr. Ellen McHale, Named an Archie Green Fellow of the Library of Congress

American Folklife Center Announces Recipients of Fellowships and Awards



NYFS Press Release

Dr. Ellen McHale, the executive director of the New York Folklore Society has been named an Archie Green Fellow at the Library of Congress. In a press announcement released on May 23, 2012, the Folklife Center at the Library of Congress names five Fellows for 2012. McHale joins fellow researchers Hannah Harvester of Traditional Arts of Upstate New York (Canton, NY), Deborah Fant of Northwest Folklife (State of Washington), Murl Reidel of Kansas Humanities Council, and independent scholar Candacy Taylor for this honor.

As an Archie Green Fellow, McHale, a folklorist with the New York Folklore Society in Schenectady, will document the culture and traditions of “backstretch workers” – trainers, grooms, exercise riders, boot and “silk” makers, saddlers and hot walkers – who work largely unseen at America’s racetracks and horse farms. The fellowship will enable McHale to document a complete year-long cycle with members of this unique occupational community. The study will document the changing makeup of the backstretch workforce, once dominated by African-American men, as it is becoming increasingly Latino and female. Documentation will be deposited at the American Folklife Center and will result in a minimum of two museum exhibitions in upstate New York. The research will also form the basis of a book published by the University of Mississippi Press.

The Archie Green Fellowship Program was established at the American Folklife Center in 2010 to honor the memory of Archie Green (1917–2009). Green was a pioneering folklorist who championed the establishment of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, which was established by an act of the United States Congress in 1976 “preserve and present” this great heritage of American folklife through programs of research, documentation, archival preservation, reference service, live performance, exhibition, publication, and training. The American Folklife Center was made permanent in 1999. The Center includes the Archive of Folk Culture, which was established in the Library of Congress in 1928, and is now one of the largest collections of ethnographic material from the United States and around the world.

As a scholar, Archie Green documented and analyzed the culture and traditions of American workers, and encouraged others to do the same. The Archie Green Fellowships support new research in this area, and will generate significant digital archival collections (audio recordings, photographs, videos, and fieldnotes), to be preserved in the American Folklife Center archive and made available to researchers and the public. The original documentary materials generated during the course of each fellowship will become part of the American Folklife Center’s Archie Green Community Documentation Collection.

McHale has served as the Executive Director of the New York Folklore Society since 1999. She holds a PhD in Folklore and Folklife from the University of Pennsylvania and has served as a Fulbright Fellow at the Institute for Folklife Studies at the University of Stockholm, Sweden. Her work at the Saratoga Racetrack began under the sponsorship of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, through a grant from the New York State Council on the Arts.

Read excerpts from Ellen McHale’s Voices article, “An Ethnography of the Saratoga Racetrack” here.

Juan Bon Bom Galbez demonstrates the Chilean art of braiding manes and tails.

Juan “Bon Bom“ Galbez demonstrates the Chilean art of braiding manes and tails at the National Museum of Racing’s annual Fiesta of Racetrack Traditions. Galbez is an outrider for the New York Racing Association. Photo: Dorothy Ours, courtesy of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.

Read the article from the Schenectady Gazette, “Folklorist McHale wins grant to study life on backstretch.”

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