The occasion of the 100th feature of SyndicateMizzou is marked with both celebration and sorrow. Celebration because this publication now proudly has shared the work of over 100 members of the MU community; sorrow because the creator of SyndicateMizzou, John Miles Foley, is not here today to celebrate. Dr. Foley, who founded both the The Center for eResearch and the Center for Studies in Oral Tradition, passed away in May of 2012. We continue our work in the spirit of Dr. Foley’s vision. Professor John Zemke has stepped into the role of Director of the Center for eResearch, and with his guidance we continue our mission of featuring the research and creative activities on the campus of MU.
Ever since the third grade, when an assistant principal generously offered to teach him and two classmates French, John Miles Foley has been curious about how languages work. Starting with the early epiphany that language is always embedded in culture, Foley followed this line of thinking until it led to oral tradition, which the MU Professor of Classical Studies and English has now been researching for over three decades. It will surely be a lifelong journey, for the field far outstrips written literature in size, diversity, and social function. In fact, all the written literature we have, Foley is fond of saying, “is dwarfed by oral traditions.”
The idea for SyndicateMizzou, if I recall the story correctly, arose during a lunch conversation involving two Center for eResearch personnel, founding director John Miles Foley and Information Technology Manager Jamie Stephens, shortly after the center was born in April 2005. “Wouldn’t it be great,” remarked the latter, “if there were a website that could syndicate diverse content, be fully searchable, and bring MU’s innovation, accomplishment, and expertise to the rest of the world?” It was initially over soup and sandwiches that this conversation grew into a conception of SyndicateMizzou—a website created to document and promote research and creative activity at the University of Missouri-Columbia. In fact, the trajectory from idea to reality provides a worthy case study for imagining and executing an online project.
John Zemke tells about the legacy of the late John Miles Foley, renowned oral tradition scholar and teacher. Dr. Foley founded the Center for eResearch in 2005.
As a Curators’ Professor and Byler Chair in the Humanities, Foley is well known for his teaching, offering a number of courses in the Classical Studies and English departments, and occasionally in Germanic and Slavic. For example, he currently teaches courses on oral tradition, a seminar on Beowulf, and courses in Homer and Greek literature. Foley notes that the Beowulf seminar reads the entire poem—“all 3,182 lines”—in the original language of Old English. In fact, he adds, “we have a feast at the end of the semester, when we perform it aloud so that the students can get a feel of what it’s like in the original.” Regardless of the topic, Foley infuses students with an appreciation for the beauty and complexity of language and verbal art.
The basic idea behind the study of oral traditions, explains John Miles Foley, is that we must approach them differently from how we approach written texts. Foley’s seminal book, How to Read an Oral Poem (2002), now translated into Chinese, offers a methodology for approaching oral tradition while paying attention to such crucial aspects as performance, audience, structure, and specialized language.
The Pathways Project explores the comparison between OT (oral tradition) and IT (Internet technology), showing the similarities between these two network-based modes of navigation. When it’s finished, there will be a paper book, Pathways of the Mind, as well as a website. The two methods of navigating through networks—oral tradition and the web—mimic the very way we think.
Foley distinctly recalls the roots of his interest in languages and oral tradition. During the third grade, assistant principal Jean Buteau offered to teach French to Foley and two other students as an alternative to study-time. In graduate school, two teachers were especially influential. One of them, Robert Creed, introduced Foley to oral tradition by performing parts of the Old English Beowulf during every seminar meeting, illustrating how — unlike the written word — oral traditions live in embodiment. The other, Anne Lebeck, was Foley’s most inspiring teacher of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, which also derive from oral tradition. Seeking a modern analog, Foley later began to study the living oral traditions of the Former Yugoslavia.
Since about 1975, field reports have revealed the tremendous size and diversity of oral tradition as a cultural phenomenon. In fact, Foley notes, “written literature is dwarfed by oral traditions.” Despite our “ideological fixation on texts and print, the communications technology we call oral tradition” has been with us for most of homo sapiens’ existence, whereas writing was introduced only relatively recently.
Foley describes several other ongoing projects. One involves relocating the journal Oral Tradition from a conventional paper format to a new incarnation on the web in 2006. The decision to put the journal online stemmed from his commitment to forge a truly international conversation about this multidisciplinary field. In addition to the online journal, the Center for Studies in Oral Tradition has published three book series, comprising over 27 volumes. Foley is also involved in various collaborative research projects with scholars in Sardinia, Finland, China, Mexico, Indonesia, and the Basque Country.
John Miles Foley explains how the two centers—the Center for the Studies in Oral Tradition (est. 1986) and the newer Center for eResearch—are cooperative ventures: “All of our activities at both centers have in common the philosophy of sharing intellectual content (knowledge, art, ideas) across barriers…to make it as easy as possible for everyone in the world to participate.”
Gallimore’s early research addressed how African Francophone writers subvert the French canon by drawing from their culture’s oral tradition to create different levels of meaning. In Gallimore’s first book, L’oeuvre romanesque de Jean-Marie Adiaffi. Le mariage du mythe et de l’histoire: fondement d’un récit pluriel (1996), Gallimore examines author Jean-Marie Adiaffi, particularly the novel La Carte d’Identité (1995). The main character in the book, who was a prince before colonization, loses his I.D. card. In the system imposed by the colonial French government, the loss of this I.D. card results in the loss of the man’s name and identity, so it becomes an allegory for the impact of colonization on the identity of the colonized.