Richard Bauman chatted with Ilana Gershon over coffee about his career upon receiving the Franz Boas Award for Exemplary Service to Anthropology. Below is the second part of an edited transcript of the informal conversation.
In recent years, you have been turning to the study of media, and in particular to how people had to transform genres as they transitioned from performing in front of audiences to making early commercial sound recordings. How has studying media affected your understanding of performance?
Coming to IU to a department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology, the ethnomusicology graduate students made a huge difference. They had to take my core courses, and I began to serve on some of their committees. They were eclectic: if it was co-present or on the radio or in the recording studio, if it is music and people are singing and performing it, let’s look at it. So I wound up working with these graduate students who were thinking about what happens when a singing group or a musical ensemble goes into the recording studio, or what happens when the music becomes classified as world music. Ethnomusicology keeps all of these phenomena open as a possibility. Then I got into the department of Communication and Culture, and there are people who are interested in media history in a variety of ways. These engagements allowed me to build on performance and the genres that I am interested in, what happens when these things are taken up in a new medium? Materiality and commoditization become central—issues that I hadn’t had occasion to think about before that.
Academics tend to circulate a tremendous amount of advice around getting hired, getting tenure, and writing grants. Few talk about retiring well, yet I have had many conversations here at IU and with your colleagues elsewhere about how thoughtfully and happily you retired. Do you have any shareable insights on how you navigated this transition?
One thing is to have a project you can carry beyond retirement, to the degree that you want to do it. And so in my engagement with early commercial recordings, I had a corpus, I had ideas, and now, unencumbered the institutional factors of having to prepare syllabi and grade papers and go to meetings and all that, I have time. Have something to work on, if you like to do research, which I assume you do, especially being a professor in a research institution.
The other advantage of that for me, and again, it is because of institutional factors, is the international reach of the Folklore program, and to a certain degree also Communication and Culture. Students come to get degrees, they work with you and develop these relationships, intellectual, personal, and so on, they go home, they develop careers, they begin to move up and they can invite you places. When you are on the job, you have to fit big trips into your academic schedule. But once you are retired, you can accept invitations, those that you want to, anytime. But you have to have something new to tell them. That has been a big motivation for me to keep on writing.
And the last thing is to develop other interests, for heaven’s sake. I told other people from the day that I retired, and I still say, there are a lot of rivers I still haven’t fished.
Read Part 1 of this interview here.
Richard Bauman is a professor emeritus of anthropology, folklore, and communication and culture at Indiana University. He has received a Guggenheim, the Edward Sapir book prize, the American Folklore Society’s Lifetime Scholarly Achievement award, an NEH fellowship (twice), and has been president of the Society for Linguistic Anthropology.
Ilana Gershon curated this article.