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The James T. Callow Folklore Archive

About Dr. James T. Callow

Dr. James T. Callow Folklore comprises traditional beliefs, customs, and stories of a community that are passed from one person or generation to the next by word of mouth. Professor James T. Callow, folklorist, scholar, professor and author was the University of Detroit/Mercy's definitive resource for folklore, urban legends, traditions and myths. Thanks to Dr. Callow we have a greater understanding of the customs and traditions surrounding the holidays, weather- events, animals, insects, religion. His research topics have included Spring Fever, Halloween, Groundhog Day, New Year's Day, Valentine's Day, Friday the Thirteenth, Indian Summer, Scare Crows, Cows, Bees, Angels, Folklore of the Tongue, Folklore of Fire, Snakes in the Fruit Market, Using the Statue of St. Joseph to Sell Your Home, hiccup cures ....

The Detroit Folklore Archive at the University of Detroit was founded in 1964 by Dr. Callow and Frank Paulsen. For the next thirty years Dr. Callow worked to make this one of the finest archives of its type in the country. He was instrumental in the computerization of the archive in 1972 using a punch card system. The reputation of the University grew as many others modeled their folklore files after the system Dr. Callow established. He describes the archive in his 1992 Annual Report, "I have motivated my students to take pains with their collecting because it is destined to be preserved for years to come. Nor will it lie gathering dust. Every time we retrieve from this database, some of the proverbs, riddles, stories, songs, customs, and beliefs that these students gathered are read and appreciated. It's a way of perpetuating one's own traditions, and those of one's family and friends as well."

In 1978, Fr. Malcom Carron, S.J., president of the University of Detroit, honored Dr. Callow by presenting him the Award for Excellence in Teaching and Research. Dr. Callow's efforts as an educator, folklore expert, developer of the computerized folklore archives, head of English library acquisitions, author, and recipient of multiple foundation and government grants in the humanities were all cited by Fr. Carron as factors in the award.

On September 13, 1995 he was awarded the rank of Emeritus Professor of the University of Detroit Mercy. In the letter conferring this rare honor, Sr. Maureen A. Fay, O.P., President of the University of Detroit Mercy states, "During your forty years of teaching and your continued research in American letters, folklore, and ethic and cultural folkways, you continue to bring honor upon yourself, the Department of English and the University. Your publications are prodigious, earning you a great respect as an Americanist of the highest order. The national Endowment for the Humanities' research grants for your present project on the Sketch Club Minutes is evidence of the value of this latest endeavor.

Dr. Callow retired from fulltime teaching on January 1, 1995.

Callow's principal books are Guide to American Literature: Its Beginnings through Walt Whitman, Guide to American Literature from Emily Dickinson to the Present, and Kindred Spirits: Knickerbocker Writers and American Artists, 1807-1855. Click here for a complete list of publications. He is widely published, with regular contributions to the Academic American Encyclopedia and the Encyclopedia of American Popular Beliefs and Superstitions. Articles about him have appeared in newspapers and magazines including Computer World, USA Today, New York Times, the New York Evening News, the Wall Street Journal, Detroit News and Detroit Free Press, Detroit Monitor, Michigan Catholic, Michigan Chronicle, the Southfield and Birmingham Eccentric, etc.

In addition to publications Callow has served as an emissary for the Folklore Archive and for the University of Detroit appearing in countless radio and television interviews on NPR, WWJ, WJR, CBS, CBC, WNIC, WMJC, WXYT, Fox, NBC, ABC, etc. He once wrote, " My media appearances and interviews serve to inform the public of their culture's traditional role." (from Dr. Callow's Annual Report 1989-1990)

Folklore, it is said, like any other discipline, has no justification except as it enables us to better understand ourselves and others.
— Roger D. Abrahams, Journal of American Folklore 81: 157 (1968).

Dr. Callow used folklore as a tool to promote justice and equality through understanding. Richard Kowalczyk, Chair of the English Department, in the letter recommending Callow for Emeritus Professorship mentions his ‘expertise in ethnic and cultural folkways.' "He introduced slave narratives to the Curriculum of Colonial American Literature when it was not popular to argue for the inclusion of Afro-Americans in colonial literature courses." In his 1991-1992 Annual Report Professor Callow writes "Much of the material was ethnic, especially African-American. I learned that Ford Motor Company has two Martin Luther King Holidays each year (one on Easter Monday). I received the archive's first rap song text (it was full of social protest), and even though I once worked on a housing clearance survey of the worst areas in Toledo, Ohio, it took my students to remind me that ghetto life has produced a certain kind of humorous tall talk ("The rats were so big in our neighborhood they...."). It's a genre worth studying."

The understanding he has helped us achieve through stories about ourselves and our customs makes the world a better place. In 1992 The Cultural Education Foundation, a philanthropic think tank with many members from the United Nations was working to lessen world hunger. They contacted Dr. Callow requesting information from the Folklore Archive on blessings before meals. Callow states, "Of course we did" (have information about blessings), "but we also had stories, customs, and beliefs that envisioned waste of food as a grave sin. They were deeply grateful for the hundred or so entries I retrieved for them." From Dr. Callow's Annual Report 1991-1992

Folklore helps us to form and express identity in the midst of an always complex, sometimes confusing social context, in which our sense of who we are is frequently questioned and challenged.
— Martha C. Sims and Martine Stephens, Living Folklore (2005)

Callow was a pioneer in the use of computers for humanities courses. As early as 1984 Dr. Callow gave a talk to an all university audience to celebrate "Computer Week". He also gave a presentation that year about Data Bases at the annual meeting of the American Folklore Society in Baltimore, Maryland. In his 1986-1987 Annual Report he lists his attendance at the annual meeting of the Association for Computers and the Humanities held at Vassar. He reports that this enabled him to explore the possibility of teaching a course in computer usage.

In these early days of computers Professor Callow ran into compatibility issues that would have overwhelmed anyone else less determined. He struggled with different formats amongst Burroughs, IBM, Modems, Fortran, Mainframes. He incurred considerable personal expense growing, protecting and maintaining his data files. It was his belief, long before it even occurred to others, that every faculty member should have their OWN computer.

In 2009, Dr. Callow donated the folklore archive to the University of Detroit Mercy Libraries/Instructional Design Studio which, through the assistance of a grant from the Detroit Area Library Network (DALNET), digitized the folklore field notes and made these important primary materials accessible via the Internet. The field notes are comprised of over 42,000 folklore traditions taken from field notes gathered by UDM students as part of their course work in "Introduction to Folklore," "Studies in Folklore," "Folk Groups," and "Folklore Archiving." The folklore archive covers traditions gathered from the Detroit area between 1964 and 1993.

James T. Callow was born in June 1928. He received his Bachelor of Social Science in History and English from John Carroll University in 1950. He received his Masters degree in English at the University of Toledo in 1952. His doctorate was awarded in American Culture in 1964 from Western Reserve University. Dr. Callow joined the University of Detroit as an English instructor in 1954. In 1960 he was promoted to assistant professor, in 1966 to associate professor, and in 1969 to full professor.

He is a member of the American Studies Association, the New York Folklore Society, the Modern Language Association, The Archives of American Art, the Societe Internationale d'Ethnologies et de Folklore, and the American Folklore Society.

The University of Detroit Mercy Libraries/Instructional Design Studio is pleased and proud to present and host the Dr. James T. Callow Folklore Archives on the ReSearch Portal. It is our goal and our hope that you will find the lore and traditions found in this repository to be informative, enlightening and enjoyable.

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