By DAVID DUPONT
BG Independent News
Lynn Bartholome first heard about Professor Ray Browne of Bowling Green State University when she was teenager in the late 1960s.
She read a magazine article about Browne’s pioneering work at BGSU creating the academic discipline of popular culture. “This is incredibly cool,” she thought. Here was a way of explaining to her father why she spent so much time watching television.
After raising her children, Bartholome went on to earn a doctorate in humanities, studying the popular culture of classical times.
A former president of the Popular Culture Association-American Culture Association, she is directing the association’s Summer Research Institute that runs Sunday through Thursday at BGSU.
Popular culture, she explained in a recent telephone interview isn’t just about what’s popular now, — that would best be called “pop culture” – but rather the culture of everyday life in any time period.
Bartholome said she once talked to Ray Browne, and he said he regretted terming the phrase “popular culture,” thinking that the phrase “common culture” would be best.
Bartholome never studied with Browne. Instead she attended Florida State, where she worked with one of his close colleagues Jerome Stern.
“Popular culture is something we’ve had since the beginning,” she said. “It’s the culture of the average man and the average woman.”
That means the scholar not only studies Van Gogh, but the street painters of his time.
One of Browne’s own favorite topics was wallpaper because it reflects the way people thought of their lives and the times they were living in.
Browne’s work, Bartholome said, is still “very pertinent.”
“Ray Browne and his peers struggled to gain legitimacy for popular culture,” she said. “We don’t bat an eyelash now at a course on the Rolling Stones. We don’t even think about it anymore.”
But when Browne was first advocating for popular culture’s inclusion in the curriculum other academics “thought it was crazy.”
“He fought for legitimacy. We are fortunate we no longer have to do that.”
In its second year, the institute celebrates Browne’s legacy. The institute welcomes 23 scholars who will conduct research using the resources in Jerome Library, primarily those in the Ray and Pat Browne Library for Popular Culture Studies and the Music Library and Bill Schurk Sound Archives.
“If you’re a popular culture scholar, this is the place you go,” she said. The BGSU collection and the collection at Michigan State University “are the best popular culture collections in the country and probably the world.”
The scholars had to submit proposals about what they would be studying during the institute. Those were vetted by BGSU Music Librarian Susannah Cleveland and Popular Culture Librarian Nancy Down to make sure those subjects fit with the resources at the university.
The scholars include graduate students completing their work on master’s degrees, tenured professors, and independent scholars. Their topics include on Donald Duck, teen magazine, and sweet novels for teenage women.
Travel grants are provided to keep the cost of the institute affordable, she said. Participants will live in Centennial Hall, a few steps from Jerome Library.
The expectation is that within a couple years, the scholars will be presenting the fruit of the research done at BGSU at regional or national Popular Culture Association conferences.
“What I find so exciting is that as a microcosm these scholars become a real learning community,” Bartolome said. “They make friendships that will last for the rest of their lives. Something about 20 to 25 scholars being together in this kind of environment really creates professional and personal friendships.”