David Buchan Lecture

David Buchan Lecture


Responding to Tragedy: A Folklorist Collects the Pandemic – Talk and Conversation

Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett 

Ronald S. Lauder Chief Curator, POLIN Museum Core Exhibition in Warsaw, and University Professor Emerita and Professor Emerita of Performance Studies at New York University

Thursday, 18 February 2021

7.00pm, On-line via Zoom

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(The Zoom link will be sent the day before the event to those who have booked)

The last year has seen a wonderful variety of creative responses to the pandemic, from masks, memes, and signs to memorials and tributes. Prof. Kirshenblatt-Gimblett will talk about how people give form to their values in everyday life, what these objects reveal, and what they mean in people’s lives. Grassroots creativity and resilience are evident everywhere in response to traumatic events, whether 9/11 almost two decades ago, or the COVID-19 pandemic today. These responses show tradition in action, adapting as it always does to new challenges. Folklorists are first responders on the cultural front, collecting the present and exploring dimensions of significance.

Listeners can contribute pictures of their own pandemic objects, some of which Prof. Kirshenblatt-Gimblett will discuss in the second half.

Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett is Ronald S. Lauder Chief Curator, POLIN Museum Core Exhibition in Warsaw, and University Professor Emerita and Professor Emerita of Performance Studies at New York University. Her publications include Destination Culture: Tourism, Museums, and HeritageImage before My Eyes: A Photographic History of Jewish Life in Poland, 1864–1939 (with Lucjan Dobroszycki); They Called Me Mayer July: Painted Memories of a Jewish Childhood in Poland Before the Holocaust (with Mayer Kirshenblatt); The Art of Being Jewish in Modern Times (with Jonathan Karp), and Anne Frank Unbound: Media, Imagination, Memory (with Jeffrey Shandler).

She was honoured for lifetime achievement by the Foundation for Jewish Culture, is a recipient of the Yosl Mlotek Prize for Yiddish and Yiddish Culture, received honorary doctorates from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and University of Haifa.  In 2015, she received the Marshall Sklare Award for her contribution to the social scientific study of Jewry. She serves on Advisory Boards for the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, Council of American Jewish Museums, Jewish Museum Vienna, Jewish Museum Berlin, and the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow, and is an advisor for museum and exhibition projects in Lithuania, Albania, Belarus, and Israel. She served as President of the American Folklore Society from 1991 to 1992 and was decorated with the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland for her contribution to POLIN Museum. Most recently, she was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and awarded the Dan David Prize.


The David Buchan Lecture was launched in 2015 to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the founding of the Elphinstone Institute. The lecture is in memory of the influential ballad and contemporary legend scholar who was also the Institute's first appointed director. This annual event places Ethnology and Folklore firmly in the university calendar and appeals to a wide audience across the university as well as to the general public.