Bernard L. Herman

Bernard L. Herman

Fellow: Awarded 2010
Field of Study: Folklore and Popular Culture

Competition: US & Canada

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Bernard L. Herman is the George B. Tindall Distinguished Professor of American Studies and Folklore at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a chair he has held since 2009.

For more than three decades before that, he held appointments at the University of Delaware, first as a Lecturer in American Studies and History and then Research Associate (and eventually Senior Policy Scientist) in the College of Urban Affairs and Public Policy, to which were added professorships in the departments of history and art history, and a position in the Winterthur Program in American Material Culture; in 2000, he was named Edward F. and Elizabeth Goodman Rosenberg Professor of Art History. He was also the cofounder and inaugural director of the Center for Material Culture Studies and a cofounder of the Center for Historic Architecture and Design.

As his multidisciplinary roles at the University of Delaware suggest, Mr. Herman, who was trained in folklore and folklife (Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania, 1978), has never been easy to pigeonhole. He is known for his extensive research and fieldwork in areas as seemingly diverse as architectural archaeology, outsider art, and foodways, including the hand-restoration of the native oyster beds and marshlands on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, and for his ability to bring his enthusiasm and out-of-the-box thinking into the classroom, a talent that earned him in 1992 the University of Delaware’s award for excellence in teaching. In addition he has been an advisor on various nominations for the National Register of Historic Places, and a consultant for exhibitions on quilts, photography, and vernacular art and for historic site restorations and interpretations in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

His various interests are well represented in his publications. Among his five monographs are Architecture and Rural Life in Central Delaware: 1700-1900 (1997, 2d printing, 1999); The Stolen House (1992), which was named a New York Times notable book of the year; and Town House: Architecture and Material Life in the Early American City, 1780-1930 (2005), which he wrote with the support of an NEH Fellowship. Each of those three books won the Abbott Lowell Cummings Award for the best book on North American vernacular architecture (in 1988, 1994, and 2006, respectively). He also coedited (with Thomas Carter) volumes III and IV of Perspectives in Vernacular Architecture (U. of Missouri Press, 1989, 1991). He was the project director and editor for two books on the New London Road Community of Newark, Delaware—People Were Close. They Looked After Each Other: An Oral and Photographic History (2005) and Food Always Brings People Together: Recipes, Poems, and Stories (2006)—and the author of “Charles Benefiel” in Raw Vision, 30 (Spring 2000); “The Quilts of Gee’s Bend: How Great Art Gets Lost” in The Journal of Modern Craft, Vol. 2, No. 1 (2009); and “Drum Fish Stew: The Power and Poetry of Terroir” in Journal of Southern Culture (Winter 2009); among many other articles and book chapters. In addition, he co-created the Quilter’s Save Our Stories Project for the Alliance of American Quilts, which is an online archive of over one thousand oral history interviews.

During his Guggenheim Fellowship term, Bernard Herman will be completing his sixth book, tentatively titled Troublesome Things in the Borderlands of Contemporary Art. In it, he will examine five “fringe dwellers” of contemporary art—the makers of works variously characterized as art brut, outsider, self-taught, craft, and vernacular: Thornton Dial, Ellen Kochansky, Malcolm McKesson, Dennis Callwood, and Charles Benefiel—as a means of challenging and reshaping traditional conceptions of what is art and what is not.


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