Film, Video Politics and Poetics: Fieldwork in Afghanistan and Jamaica

About this Item


  • Politics and Poetics: Fieldwork in Afghanistan and Jamaica


  • Margaret Mills, professor at Ohio State University, and Kenneth Bilby, research associate at the Smithsonian Institution Department of Anthropology presented lectures in a program titled "Politics and Poetics: Fieldwork in Afghanistan and Jamaica" as part of the Benjamin Botkin Lecture Series sponsored by the American Folklife Center. Mills discussed "The Same River: Dilemmas and Challenges of Long-term Cultural Research in Conflict Zones and Failing States." She first visited Afghanistan in 1969, while doing field archaeology and teaching high school English in Iran. The vibrancy of oral narrative and other performance traditions in the region inspired her career decision to study living verbal art in Persian language. She conducted two years of research for her dissertation on contemporary folktale performance in Persian-speaking Herat, in western Afghanistan, in 1974-1976. Afghanistan at the time was peaceful, uncolonized, rich in oral traditions, impoverished but making tentative progress in development as an unaligned state. The Marxist coup of 1978 and the ensuing anti-Soviet war, followed by civil war, created a 16-year hiatus in her contact with Afghan friends and associates. Two short return research visits, in 1994 and 1995, re-established her contacts with close friends from her first period of research but were followed by another seven-year separation during the period of Taliban dominance. Her Botkin lecture-discussion concerns long-term commitment to longitudinal cultural study and necessarily episodic presence in what became a war zone. "Private Stories, Public Folklore and Contested Histories in Jamaica: Taking the Long View with the Maroons" is the title of the talk presented by Kenneth Bilby. Bilby's first encounter with the Maroons of Jamaica was in 1977, when he arrived in the community of Moore Town. There he spent 14 months undertaking a study of relations between Maroons and their Jamaican neighbors as part of his research for a master's degree in anthropology. After multiple return visits to Jamaica, he is as involved as ever with the Maroons and the implications of what he learned among them. Descendants of enslaved Africans who escaped from plantations, fought the British colonists and won their freedom in 1739, the Maroons have survived as distinct ethnic groups to the present. Their heroic history inspired Toussaint L'Ouverture of Haiti, and in the 1930s led African-American cultural icons Zora Neale Hurston and Katherine Dunham to carry out pioneering anthropological research among them. The Maroons have retained a rich, historically deep, and clearly distinctive oral culture. His presentation focuses on the complexities and challenges of working with an oral culture that has traditionally been concealed from outsiders, yet has gained in political significance in an era characterized by conflicting claims over cultural authenticity and ownership of the past.

Event Date

  • August 03, 2006


  • -  This recording is not available.
  • -  Kenneth Bilby is research associate in the Department of Anthropology at the Smithsonian Institution.
  • -  Educational Background Ph.D., Harvard University General Background Margaret Mills came to Ohio State University in 1998 from the University of Pennsylvania, where she was chair of the Department of Folkore and Folklife. She is widely regarded as a leading specialist in the popular culture of the Persian and Farsi-speaking world. Her book, "Rhetorics and Politics in Afghan Traditional Storytelling," won the 1993 Chicago Folklore Prize for best academic work in folklore. She is the author or co-editor of four additional books, with two others in preparation, as well as numerous other publications. Mills has also servicd as the chair of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at Ohio State.

Running Time

  • 1 hours 33 minutes 42 seconds

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