Ray Browne legacy is the heart of popular culture research institute

Scholars visit BGSU to dig into Wm. T. Jerome Library’s special collections

By Julie Carle

The name Ray Browne is synonymous with popular culture studies, not just in Ohio, but also around the world. After his arrival at Bowling Green State University in 1967, he established the Center for the Study of Popular Culture and the Department of Popular Culture Studies. He promoted “the academic study of roller coasters, Barbie dolls and The Three Stooges,” said Dr. Lynn Bartholome, co-director of a popular culture research institute held recently at BGSU.

The foundations that Browne used to establish the center and the department were dear to him and led to the founding of the Ray and Pat Browne Library for Popular Culture Studies and the Music Library and Bill Schurk Sound Archives . The special collections have developed into some of the most significant collections of their kind, drawing scholars from around the world. During the Popular Culture Association Summer Research Institute, nearly two-dozen scholars dug into the special collections to advance their research.

Bartholome, who is a professor emeritus of English, philosophy, religion, interdisciplinary humanities and popular culture at Monroe Community College, organized the second annual PCA Summer Research Institute with the help of Drs. Jeremy Wallach and Esther Clinton of BGSU’s Department of Popular Culture Studies, and staff from the University Libraries.

Scholars representing colleges and universities in Finland, Canada, California, Connecticut, Nevada, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Tennessee benefitted from the week they spent accessing the popular culture and music and sound recordings collections.

“What I found here was critical to my work,” said Kimi Kärki, University of Turku in Finland. “What a resource this place has been” for his research, entitled “Imagine the Superman: A History of Transhumanist Popular Culture.” He uncovered additional information, some which will require him to revise one of the already-written chapters in his book.

Terri Toles-Patkin from Eastern Connecticut State University came to expand on her research about “Contextualizing Cultural Values in Board Games.”

“I came in with a defined project, and I’m leaving with six projects,” she told the group during the closing reception. “There were boxes and boxes of games that I was able to put my hands on. I found things that had not been catalogued yet; it was remarkable.”

Seeing and holding items in the collections was meaningful for M. Nicole Horsley of Ithaca College in New York, whose topic is “Reading Representations of Black Women in Visual and Sonic Cultures.” She came to look more closely and listen to the albums of black women artists such as Grace Jones and Betty Davis. “Sitting down with these particular pieces and being able to touch them” gave special significance to her research.

The special collections staff was on hand throughout the week, providing assistance and guidance for the group. Matthew Pifer of Husson University of Bangor, Maine, thanked the librarians for helping him organize his research “Defining Dissent: Lessons from the Underground Presses of the 1950s.”

“The way these materials were archived and organized helped me move forward in this project and get rid of my feelings of working in an abyss,” Pifer said.

In addition to scouring the special collections for details to advance their scholarly work, the participants also listened to faculty presentations such as “Interpreting Everyday Life” and “Exploring Methodology.”

Carolyn Bronstein of DePaul University in Chicago appreciated the ideas from the session “Interpreting Popular Texts.” The information helped her shape tactics for approaching her project about “The Parents Music Resource Center.” At the heart of her research is the 1985 committee founded by four women, including Tipper Gore. The mission of the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) was to limit children’s access to music with violent, drug-related or sexual themes; PMRC campaigned for labeling albums with Parental Advisory stickers.

“I learned that to make the best case possible, it helps to look from everyone’s point of view,” she said.

“I need to understand the framework of heavy metal rockers, read their subcultures and understand their music, the words and the social statements,” Bronstein said. “The (libraries’) materials were amazing to help me emotionally connect with the two audiences.”

Much of the work that was accomplished during the week was possible because of Browne’s dedication to creating a study of popular culture,.

“Ray Browne taught us how to look at our world with different goggles,” Bartholome said. “He gave us legitimacy.” He and other scholars dealt with the doubts and cynicism of the academy so that researchers today can study subjects such as the Western, TV sitcoms, lawn ornaments, carnivals, menstruation and even wallpaper.

“He gave us the authority to write about the sacred, the profane, the mundane, the ordinary - because to write about such things is to write about us - our hopes, our loves, our fears, our frustrations,” she said.