Exploring North Country Traditions
As an international student from the Netherlands who just graduated with a major in Global Studies, people tend to think I focus on issues far away from here. This summer, however, I am keeping it very local by interning with Traditional Arts in Upstate New York (TAUNY). TAUNY is an organization in Canton that celebrates the traditions of the North Country. Their mission is to connect people to the cultures of everyday life in New York State’s North Country. It has only been three weeks, but I have already been able to do a lot of different things here. So far, I have visited Tug Hill for my very first Bluegrass Festival, helped out at SLU alum Alex Smith’s concert, done some field work at the Gouverneur Flag Day, interviewed TAUNY staff on their personal summer traditions, and cold-called multiple people to set up interviews, despite my deep fear of phones. Meanwhile, I have some other long-term projects going as well, such as creating an online map, and updating parts of the TAUNY website. Though there are definitely some less exciting days, where I spend most of my time in the office, I love working here. After all, even the occasionally tedious office work is something that I know will support TAUNY’s mission. One major, ongoing project at TAUNY is the North Country Heritage Awards program. Each year, these awards are given out to individuals, organizations, and places that exemplify traditions of the North Country. The recipients are a varied bunch; there are woodcarvers and musicians and boat builders, but the list also includes a Ramakrishna retreat, an Italian-American food festival, and even a dowser! This year marks the 25th anniversary of the awards, an opportunity for a celebration. So, the main project we are working on this summer is catching up with past Heritage Award recipients to prepare for the exhibit that will celebrate the anniversary. Traditions, after all, tend to change over time as they are passed on and often reinterpreted. That is what we are trying to find out in catching up with past award recipients: how have their traditions changed, and how they are going into the future. It is safe to say that even just starting this internship at TAUNY, I may just have learned more about the North Country already than I have in my entire time at St. Lawrence. The sheer variety of traditions in this area, and the huge amount of pride that people take in them, is something that is not always clear while one is focused on the SLU campus. It has also been fun to put all the theory I have studied at SLU into practice. In academics, we tend to approach societies and cultures as areas of conflict. Often they are, and it is vital to recognize and dissect these problems. But sometimes it is important too to remember all the good things it brings us. By making me focus on the traditions that bring people together, rather than what drives them apart, TAUNY is helping me add a new perspective to my toolbox as a social scientist: that of celebrating the things that are going well!