AAHD Professor and Museum Curator Honored by American Folklore Society

The American Folklore Society (AFS), the country’s professional society for folklorists, has awarded Marsha MacDowell, Professor in MSU’s Department of Art, Art History, and Design and MSU Museum Curator, the 2020 recipient of the society’s Benjamin A. Botkin Prize for significant lifetime achievement in the field of public folklore.

MacDowell is the Curator of Folk Arts and Quilt Studies at the MSU Museum. Her research interests include South African 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.

woman wearing a black top with short curly hair smiling at the camera with a bookshelf in the background
Marsha MacDowell

MacDowell has co-curated more than 50 research-based interpretive exhibitions and festival programs at Michigan State University, the Smithsonian, indigenous museums in the United States, 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 40 years and serves as a model for public work in folklore, traditional arts, and the humanities,” said Jessica Turner, Executive Director of the American Folklore Society.

Dr. MacDowell’s ground-breaking work spans 40 years and serves as a model for public work in folklore, traditional arts, and the humanities.

Jessica Turner, Executive Director of the American Folklore Society

MacDowell’s former student and now MSU alumnus, Micah Ling, one of the many young scholars mentored by MacDowell, nominated her for this award. 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. From 1942-1945, Botkin 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, visit the American Folklore Society website

Featuring three floors of special collections and changing exhibits, the MSU Museum is the science and culture museum at Michigan State University and the state’s first Smithsonian Affiliate. Currently, the MSU Museum is closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a reopening date has not been determined.

(Written by Stephanie Palagyi, Communications Coordinator for the MSU Museum)