back to news Dec. 10, 2021

Dorothy Noyes receives 2021 Kenneth Goldstein Award for Lifetime Academic Achievement

When the American Folklore Society (AFS) announced that Dorothy Noyes won the 2021 Kenneth Goldstein Award for Lifetime Academic Achievement, she thought it was a “nice surprise” but “shocking” at the same time.

“It’s an award they usually give to people five years past retirement, so I hope they weren’t sending me a hint,” joked Noyes, a professor of English and comparative studies.

Receiving the Kenneth Goldstein Award for Lifetime Academic Achievement is considered one of the highest honors from the AFS. Named after an influential professor Noyes studied under at the University of Pennsylvania, the award recognizes living scholars who have made significant contributions to the development of folklore programs, organizations and centers in addition to having outstanding teaching and advising capabilities.

As director of the Center for Folklore Studies from 2005 to 2014, Noyes was essential in building and maintaining a network of folklore collaborators across the university.

“Folklore at Ohio State is different from folklore at some more departmental structures because we have faculty and we have students who are all over the place,” she said.

But even before leading the center, Noyes created an interdisciplinary minor for graduate students that relied on the enthusiasm of many College of Arts and Sciences departments to get approval. Tying that academic program directly to the Center for Folklore Studies made more students aware of it and ask themselves whether integrating folklore into their studies could be beneficial.

With the center’s emphasis on teaching graduate students, Noyes has been able to mentor many aspiring folklorists in the early stages of thesis research. She sees her role as one of subtle guidance as she takes the “phenomenon” the student is passionate about and shows them ways to contextualize it through additional research and discussing potential theories.

“Many students come from communities they’re interested in preserving,” Noyes said. “Whether they’re from rural places or city neighborhoods, a lot of folklorists are people who want to find a way of keeping their own communities viable.”

Even before Noyes came to Ohio State, her lasting influence in folklore studies may have begun with an academic article called “Group” that was published in the Journal of American Folklore in 1995. Many of her peer-reviewed research papers since then are required reading for graduate students around the world. Her work that’s had the furthest reach has been about the examination of “these very basic, loaded concepts” such as the terms “folk” and “tradition” that people have used for years without understanding their cultural and historical context. Another topic she’s published on that’s becoming more important internationally is “cultural leftovers” and how to give validation to people’s identities without necessarily creating a way to profit off culture.

Noyes was on sabbatical when she received the Goldstein Award at the AFS annual meeting in October, and she’ll continue working on her new book Exemplary Failures: Gesture and Influence in Liberal Politics before resuming teaching in fall 2022.

In recent years, Noyes has had the freedom to expand her research interests into what she describes as “political folklore,” which looks at topics usually examined by political scientists and historians but uses folklore techniques to find out what’s missing from already published works.

“It’s reckless,” Noyes said. “It’s the kind of thing you can do late in your career.”

Exemplary Failures will describe how setting and following examples grew to be so crucial to political thinking in the Western world and dismantle our notions about role models.

When Noyes returns in the fall, she’ll be teaching a new general education course in the Department of Comparative Studies. “Common Sense: Knowledge, Experience, and Social Life” will consider common sense from every angle, including if we actually have any. Then, in the spring semester, Noyes will lecture students on how participation in educational opportunities abroad, K-pop music and much more are ways of cultivating international relations in the International Studies course, “Cultural Diplomacy.”

Although Noyes has already accomplished more than one could imagine as an educator, scholar, mentor and author — and now has a lifetime achievement award to her name — she’s looking into the future and all that’s left to explore.