Niagara University folklorist Edward Yong Jun Millar recently received an Archie Green Fellowship from the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress to document and preserve the stories, experiences, knowledge, and traditions of workers involved with the Ransomville Speedway. His is one of only seven projects in 2020 to have been awarded this competitive annual national fellowship.
Millar, curator of folk arts at the Castellani Art Museum of Niagara University and adjunct professor in the art history with museum studies program, will interview drivers, mechanics, ticket sellers, facility workers, maintenance crews, track managers, pit crew members, concessionaires, and more over the next year. The interviews will be available to the general public through the American Folklife Center’s Occupational Folklife Project web page and to researchers in person at the AFC.
“I was excited to learn that we received the Archie Green Fellowship as I knew what it could mean for preserving an important part of Niagara County’s heritage and raising national awareness of the Ransomville Speedway. After being brought to my first race by a co-worker two years ago, I knew this fellowship represented a great opportunity, as there are so many moving parts, and knowledge, skill, and experience needed to host each race,” Millar noted. “The fellowship recognizes the need to preserve the voices and experiences of workers in this country—that their knowledge and skills are an important part of the narrative of America’s history, despite historically being overlooked or underrepresented. As a resident of the county. it feels great to be able to help and be involved in sharing the voices and experiences of my neighbors in a national archive.”
The Ransomville Speedway, in Ransomville, N.Y., is rich with history, culture, legends, and stories from its early founding with Ed Ortiz and the Ransomville Slo-Pokes to the present.
“We are very excited to be working with Edward on this project,” said Jennifer Martin, general manager of the speedway. “Racing is not generally a sport that most think would have history, but that is certainly not the case. Ransomville Speedway is a huge part of Niagara County, and we are excited to help with interviews, pictures, and anything else that may be needed. When this is all said and done, we will encourage everyone to go take a look at the completed project.”
The Archie Green Fellowships were established to honor the memory of Archie Green (1917-2009), a pioneering folklorist who championed the establishment of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress and devoted his life to documenting and preserving the traditions of American workers. The fellowship is intended to support new research in occupational folklife and to generate significant digital archival collections of interviews with contemporary American workers (audio recordings, photographs, videos, and fieldnotes), which will be preserved in the American Folklife Center archive and made available to researchers and the public. To date, the Archie Green Fellows have completed more than 1,000 substantive interviews that now enrich the AFC archive.
This fellowship follows the Castellani Art Museum’s Folk Arts Program’s dedication to original fieldwork since its beginnings in the early 1990s with folklorist Kate Koperski, and has gone on to document and preserve first-hand interviews, photography, and videography of local traditional artists, community members, and cultural traditions. Although they have primarily focused on folk art traditions in Buffalo-Niagara region communities, Millar notes there is also culture and traditions embedded in work. “Folk art and traditional culture are not only something seen, it is something experienced, something made. It can be found wherever special knowledge and skill come together to create, repair, or act. It’s all around us—from auto repair shops to kitchen tables, in a story told or a field sown.”
In addition to the materials being archived in the American Folklife Center, this fieldwork will also lead to a future exhibit at the Castellani Art Museum of Niagara University.
“This award is a great shared achievement for the Castellani Art Museum, Niagara University, and the Ransomville Speedway. Aside from the project, Millar’s research and documentation will help lay the groundwork for a future exhibition at the Castellani Art Museum about the history and occupational folklife of the Ransomville Speedway," said Michael Beam, CAM interim director.
For more information about this project, please contact Edward Yong Jun Millar at firstname.lastname@example.org or 716-286-8290.