Jim Leary

Professor Emeritus



2315 Sterling Hall


Leary is a public folklorist who was born and raised in Rice Lake in northwestern Wisconsin. He earned a B.A. in English Literature, Notre Dame (1972); an M.A. in Folklore, University of North Carolina (1973); and a Ph.D. in Folklore and American Studies, Indiana University (1977). Since the early 1970s his research has focused on the traditional songs, stories, customary practices, and handwork of indigenous and immigrant peoples and their mostly rural and working class descendants in America’s Upper Midwest, resulting in numerous museum exhibits, folklife festivals, public radio programs, documentary sound recordings, films, essays, and books.


Leary is a faculty member in the Department of Comparative Literature and Folklore Studies and in the Department of Scandinavian Studies. He is also affiliated with the Celtic Studies Program, the Labor and Working Class Studies Project, and the joint UW-Madison/UW-Milwaukee Building, Landscapes and Cultures Program. Director of UW’s Folklore Program from 1999-2009, Leary co-founded and currently directs the Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures (http://csumc.wisc.edu/), a populist public humanities center devoted to research, the development of archival collections, and public programs regarding the languages and folklore of the region’s diverse peoples.


With Tom DuBois, Leary is co-editor of Journal of American Folklore. He also co-edits a book series with Joe Salmons, “Languages and Folklore of the Upper Midwest,” for University of Wisconsin Press: http://uwpress.wisc.edu/series/upper-midwest.html


COURSES TAUGHT AT UW                                                                                                                   


Introduction to American Folklore

Introduction to Comparative Ethnic Studies (cross-listed with Asian American Studies & Chican@/ Latina@ Studies)

The Folktale

Folklore of Wisconsin

American Folklore (cross-listed with Scandinavian Studies)

Nordic Perspectives on Folklore (cross-listed with Scandinavian Studies)

Scandinavian American Folksong (cross-listed with Scandinavian Studies)

American Folk and Vernacular Music (cross-listed with Music)

The Irish Tradition (also a Celtic Studies course)


America Works

Seminar in American Folklore

Field School: Local Cultures

Field Methods and the Public Presentation of Folklore (cross-listed with Library and Information Studies)

Practicum in Public Folklore

Folklore Theory




Regional Folklore, Folklife, and Folk Arts


2008 “Introduction” and editorial selection, commentary, and annotations for a new appendix of tales accompanying a third edition of Richard Dorson, Bloodstoppers and Bearwalkers: Folk Traditions of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.


1998 Wisconsin Folklore, ed.  Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.


1997 “Leaving Skibbereen: Exile and Ethnicity in Wisconsin Folklore,” in Wisconsin Folk Art: A Sesquicentennial Celebration, ed. Robert T. Teske.  Cedarburg, Wisconsin: Cedarburg Cultural Center; distributed by University of Wisconnsin Press.  Pp. 48-63.    


1994 “Ethnic Crafts and Rural Life: Subsistence, Ceremony, Symbolism,” in Passed to the Present: Ethnic Crafts Along Wisconsin’s Ethnic Settlement Trail, ed. Robert T. Teske. Cedarburg, Wisconsin: Cedarburg Cultural Center; distributed by University of WI Press.  Pp. 15-19.


1993 “Alex Maulson, Winter Spearer,” New York Folklore 19:3-4:43-58.


1982 “An Annotated Bibliography of Wisconsin Folklore,” in Midwestern Journal of Language and Folklore 8:l:52-81.                           


1990 “Lavern Kammerude, Farmer and Artist,” in Threshing Days: The Farm Paintings of Lavern Kammerude.  Mount Horeb: Wisconsin Folk Museum. Pp. 10-16.


1987 From Hardanger to Harleys: A Survey of Wisconsin Folk Art, co-authored with Janet C. Gilmore and Robert T. Teske.  Sheboygan, Wisconsin: John Michael Kohler Arts Center.  110 pp.


1987 “Folklore of the Upper Peninsula,” 1987 Festival of American Folklife. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution.  Pp. 51-54.  Reprinted in the 1987 Festival of Michigan Folklife.  East Lansing: Michigan State University Museum.  Pp. 17-20.


1983 “Wisconsin Crafts: A Report from the Field,” in Traditional Craftsmanship in America, ed. Charles Camp.  Washington, D.C.: National Council for the Traditional Arts.  P. 39.


1980 “Folklore and Ethnic Culture of the North Country,” North Country Folk 1:1:4-7.


Folk Narrative and Verbal Art


forthcoming, “A Storyteller’s Paradise,“ in  Michiganders: Michigan Folk Traditions, ed. Dewhurst, C. Kurt, Marsha MacDowell, and Yvonne Lockwood. East Lansing, Michigan State University Press.


2012 “Poles, Jews, and Jokes in America’s Upper Midwest,” Western Folklore 71:3-4. Pp. 213-237.


2012 “Scandihoovian Space in America’s Upper Midwest: Impersonating Ole and Lena in the Twenty-first Century,” special issue “Nordic Spaces in North America,” American Studies in Scandinavia 44:1. Pp. 6-32.


2012 “‘Ar du Svensk?’ ‘Norsk, Norsk.’: Folk Humor and Cultural Difference in Scandinavian America,” in Swedes and Norwegians and Swedes in the United States: Friends & Neighbors, ed. Philip J. Anderson and Dag Blanck.  St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press.  Pp. 67-84.


2009 “New Legends in Nordic America: The Case of Big Erick Erickson,” Arv, Nordic Yearbook of Folklore 65.  Pp. 111-129.


2008 “‘The Irish and the Dutch, They Don’t Amount to Much’: Germans and Irish in Wisconsin’s Folk Humor,” in Die deutsche Präsenz in den USA/The German Presence in the USA, ed. Josef Raab and Jan Wirrer. Berlin: Lit Verlag.  Pp. 331-355.  


2007  “Betty Carriveau Sherman and Her Father’s Tales” in Cinderella in America: A Book of Folk and Fairy Tales, ed. William Bernard McCarthy. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi.  Pp. 465-487.


2005  “Storviken in the Old World and the New,” Journal of American Folklore 118:468:141-163.


2001 So Ole Says to Lena: Folk Humor of the Upper Midwest.  Madison: University of Wisconsin Press. Second edition of Midwestern Folk Humor, with new title, tale type and motif indexes, and afterword.


1991 Midwestern Folk Humor.  Little Rock: August House.


1984 “The Favorite Jokes of Max Trzebiatowski,” Western Folklore 43:l:l-l7; reprinted in Humor and the Individual, ed. Elliott Oring.  Los Angeles: The California Folklore Society, l984.  Pp. l-l7.


1984 “Style in Jocular Communication,”Journal of Folklore Research 2l:l:29-46.


1982 “Hanging Out: Recreational Folklore in Everyday Life,” in Handbook of American Folklore, ed. Richard M. Dorson. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.  Pp. l78-l82.


1982 “Polish Priests and Tavern Keepers,” Midwestern Journal of Language and Folklore 8:1:34-42.


1980 “George Russell, the Repertoire and Personality of a North Country Storyteller,”  in Folklore on Two Continents: Essays in Honor of Linda Degh, ed. Carl Lindahl and Nikolai Burlakoff.  Bloomington, Indiana: Trickster Press.  Pp. 354-362.


1980 “The ‘Polack’ Joke in a Polish-American Community,” Midwestern Journal of Language and Folklore 6:l-2:26-33.


1980 “Recreational Talk Among White Adolescents,” Western Folklore 39:4:284-299.


1980 “White Ritual Insults,” in Play and Culture, ed. Helen B. Schwartzman. West Point: Leisure Press.  Pp. 125-139.


1977 “White Guys’ Stories of the Night Street,” Journal of the Folklore Institute l4:l-2:59-72.


1976 “Fists and Foul Mouths: Fights and Fight Stories in Contemporary Rural American Bars,” Journal of American Folklore 89:351:27-39.


1975 “The Land Won’t Burn: An Esoteric American Proverb,” Midwestern Journal of Language and Folklore l:l:27-32; reprinted in Folk Groups and Folk Genres, A Reader, ed. Elliott Oring.  Logan: Utah State University Press, 1989.  Pp. 302-307.


1975 “A Misplaced Tale Teller Gets it in the Neck,” New York Folklore 1:3-4:203-209.


1973 “The Boondocks Monster of Camp Wapehani,”Indiana Folklore 6:2:174-l90.


Folk Music and Folksong


2015 (in press) Folksongs of the Other America: Field Recordings from the Upper Midwest, 1937-1946, a book, 5 CDs, and a film/DVD. Co-publication, University of Wisconsin Press and Dust-to-Digital.


2014 (in press) “Czech Polka Music in Wisconsin,” in America’s Musical Diversity, ed. Kip Lornell and Anne Rasmussen. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi; second edition of Music of Multicultural America, updated from 1997.


2013 “Foreign Words and Folksongs: Field Recordings from America’s Upper Midwest,” special issue, “From Word to Print–and Beyond,” Western Folklore 72:3. Pp. 294-315.


2012 “Accordions and Working-Class Culture along Lake Superior’s South Shore,” in The Accordion in the Americas: Klezmer, Polka, Tango, Zydeco, and More!, ed. Helena Simonett.  Urbana: University of Illinois Press.  Pp. 136-155.


2011 “Songcatchers in the Midwest,’” The Ballad Collectors of North America: How Gathering Folksongs Transformed Academic Thought and American Identity, ed. Scott B. Spencer.  London: Scarecrow Press.  Pp. 83-101.


2011 Liner notes for double compact disk, regarding “Ezra Buzzington’s Rube Band/Rustic Revelers, North of the Ohio: Old-Time Northeastern and Midwestern Fiddlers and Stringbands, 1922-1929, ed. Kevin S. Fontenot and Patrick Huber.  Memphis: Dust-to-Digital.


2010 “Guest Editors Introduction,” and co-editing, with Hilary Joy Virtanen, special issue on “Finnish-American Songs and Tunes from Mines, Lumber Camps, and Worker’s Hall,” Journal of Finnish Studies 14:1.


2010 “‘Yksi Suuri Union’: Field Recordings of Finnish American IWW Songs,” Journal of Finnish Studies 14:1.  Pp. 6-17.


2010 “Herr Louie, the Weasel, and the Hungry Five: German American Performers on Midwestern Radio,” special issue on “Lied und populäre Kultur/Song and Popular Culture,” Jährbuch, Deutsches Volksliedarchiv 2010. Freiburg, Germany.  Pp. 101-133.


2010 Web portal, Norwegian American Folk Music, co-produced with Anna Rue and Carrie Roy, http://vanhise.lss.wisc.edu/nafmp/.


2009 “Bruce Bollerud and the Norwegian American Polkabilly Sound,” Vesterheim 7:2.  Pp. 4-10.


2008 Liner notes for compact disk, Paratiisin Pojat: Amerikansuomalaisia Lauluja/ Finnish- American Folksongs, J. Karjalainen and Veli-Matti Järvenpää. Tampere, Finland: Poko Records.


2007 Website, assistance with three online finding aids–“Wisconsin Swiss Traditional Music Project Collection,” “Leonard Finseth Collection,” and “Woodland Indian Traditional Arts Collection”—produced by Janet Gilmore and Karen Bauman for Public Folk Arts and Folklife Projects in the Upper Midwest, part of the UW Library’s Wisconsin Archival Resources website,    http://digicoll.library.wisc.edu/w/wiarchives/csumc.html.


2006 Polkabilly: How the Goose Island Ramblers Redefined American Folk Music. NYC: Oxford University Press.


2005 “Polkabilly: Wisconsin’s Distinctive Old Time Music,” Wisconsin Magazine of History 88:3:26-27.


2004 “O Cheesehead, Where Art Thou?: Alan Lomax and Wisconsin’s Folk Music,” Wisconsin Academy Review 50:4:23-29.


2004 “Dialect Songs Among the Dutch,” Midwestern Folklore 30:1:15-35.


2004 Swissconsin My Homeland. Co-producer, with Jim Miksche, compact disk reissue of a cassette originally produced by the Wisconsin Folk Museum. Madison: Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures.


2002 “The German Concertina in the Upper Midwest,” in Land Without Nightengales: Music in the Making of German-America, ed. Philip V. Bohlman and Otto Holzapfel.  Madison: Max Kade Institute for German American Studies, distributed by University of Wisconsin Press.  Pp. 191-232.


2001 “The Discovery of Finnish American Folk Music,” Scandinavian Folklore, a special issue of Scandinavian Studies 73:3:475-492.


2001 “Fieldwork Forgotten or Alan Lomax Goes North,” Midwestern Folklore 27:2:5-20.


1997 “Czech Polka Music in Wisconsin,” in Musics of Multicultural America, ed. Kip Lornell and Anne Rasmussen.  NYC: Schirmer Books.  Pp. 25-48.


1996 Down Home Dairyland, co-authored with Richard March and packaged with 40 half-hour radio programs produced for our Wisconsin Public Radio series.  Madison: University of Wisconsin-Extension.  Pp. xiii & 238, illustrations, bibliography, discography, index, and 20 cassettes. Reissued with 20 compact disks.  Madison: Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures, 2004.


1995 “Poppies, Pillows, and Polkas: Czech-American Folk Culture,” 1995 Festival of American Folklife, ed. Carla M. Borden.  Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution.  Pp. 58-59.


1992 Medicine Fiddle, an edited anthology of essays to accompany the Up North Films production of the same name.  Bismarck: North Dakota Humanities Council.  Pp. 50.  Leary’s “Sawdust and Devils: Indian Fiddling in the Western Great Lakes Region” reprinted in 1992 Festival of Michigan Folklife, ed. Ruth Fitzgerald and Yvonne Lockwood.  East Lansing: Michigan State University Museum.  Pp. 30-35.


1991 “Polka Music, Ethnic Music: A Report on Wisconsin’s Polka Traditions.” Mount Horeb: Bulletin No. 1, Wisconsin Folk Museum.  4 pp.


1991 Yodeling in Dairyland: A History of Swiss Music in Wisconsin. Mount Horeb: Wisconsin Folk Museum. 


1991 “Dutchman Bands: Genre, Ethnicity, and Pluralism,” co-authored with Richard March, in Creative Ethnicity, ed. Stephen Stern and John Allan Cicala.  Logan: Utah State University Press.  Pp. 22-43.


1990 “The Legacy of Viola Turpeinen,” Finnish Americana 8:6-11; reprinted in The Best of Finnish Americana, ed. Michael Karni.  New Brighton, Minnesota: Finnish-American Publications, 1994.  Pp. 84-92.


1990 Midwest Ramblin’, a recording by the Goose Island Ramblers, with notes.  Mount Horeb: Wisconsin Folk Museum.  Reissued as a compact disk, Madison: Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures, 2004.


1990 Minnesota Polka: Dance Music From Four Traditions, a documentary recording and 20 page booklet.  St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society.


1990 In Tune With Tradition: Wisconsin Folk Musical Instruments, co-authored with Robert T. Teske. Cedarburg, Wisconsin: Cedarburg Cultural Center; distributed by University of Wisconsin Press.


1988 “Reading the ‘Newspaper Dress’:  An Expose of Art Moilanen’s Musical Traditions,” in Michigan Folklife Reader, ed. C. Kurt Dewhurst and Yvonne Lockwood.  East Lansing: Michigan State University Press.  Pp. 205-223.


1987 “Czech Polka Styles in the U.S.: From America’s Dairyland to the Lone Star State,” in Czech Music in Texas: A Sesquicentennial Symposium, ed. Clinton Machann.  College Station, Texas: Komensky Press.  Pp. 79-95.


1987 The Wisconsin Patchwork: A Commentary on Recordings from the Helene Stratman-Thomas Collection of Wisconsin Folk Music.  Madison: University of Wisconsin Department of Continuing Education in the Arts.  Pp. iii & 69, bibliography, discography, and 13 half-hour Wisconsin Public Radio programs on cassette.


1986 Accordions in the Cutover: Field Recordings of Ethnic Music from Lake  Superior’s South Shore.  Mount Horeb: Wisconsin Folklife Center.  Pp. 36, illustrations, and double LP recording.


1985 Ach Ya!: German American Traditional Music from Wisconsin, co-produced with Philip Martin and Lewis Koch.  Mount Horeb: Wisconsin Folk Museum. Double LP recording, illustrations, documentary notes.  Reissued as a compact disk.  Madison: Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures, 2005. 


1984 “Ethnic Country Music Along Superior’s South Shore,” John Edwards Memorial Foundation Quarterly 19:72 (Winter):219-230; reprinted in Exploring Roots Music: Twenty Years of the JEMF Quarterly, ed. Nolan Porterfield.  Lanham, Maryland and Oxford: Scarecrow Press, 2004.  Pp. 272-288.


1984 “Old Time Music in Northern Wisconsin,” American Music 2:1:71-88.


1981 A Beginning Fieldworker’s Guide to European Ethnic Music in Northern Wisconsin.  Ironwood, Michigan: North Country Press.


1981 Ethnic Music in Northern Wisconsin: A Final Project Report.  Ashland: Northland College.


1981 “The Musical Traditions of Moquah’s Slovaks,” North Country Folk 1:2:4-8.                           


1981 “The Peasant Songs of Jerry Novak,” North Country Folk 1:3:4-7,30.


1981 “Ethnic Music of the North Country: The Ashland Area,” North Country Folk 1:2:4-8.


1974 “Pretty Boy Floyd, An Aberrant Outlaw Ballad,” Popular Music and Society 3:3:215-226.


Workers Cultures, Cultures and Class


2013 Editor, special issue, and author, “Introduction: Class War and Laborlore,” Western Folklore 72:4. Pp. 316-320.


2013 “Ironworker Blues: Workers’ Songs, Workers’ Voices,” special issue “Class War and Laborlore,” Western Folklore 72:4. Pp. 333-354.


2013 Co-producer, documentary radio feature, “The Cultures of Icelandic Workers,” in the Fólk og fræði (People and Culture) series of Ríkisútvarpið RUV (The Icelandic National Broadcasting Service), aired on December 29, archived at: http://ruv.is/sarpurinn/folk-og-fraedi/29122013.


2012 Website. Laborlore: The Cultures of Icelandic Workers. Co-produced with graduate students in a course–Public Folklore: American Perspectives, Icelandic Possibilities–at the University of Iceland. http://knitbird.com/folklore/


2011 Producer and director of a documentary film, The Art of Ironworking. Madison: Ironworkers Local 383 and UW Folklore Program, http://www.folkstreams.net/film,248.


2008 “Carl Gundersen’s Trip to the Lumbercamp,” in The Nordic Storyteller: A Festschrift for Niels Ingwersen, ed. Thomas DuBois and Susan Brantly. Cambridge, England: Scholar’s Publishing.  Pp. 79-104.


2007 “Woodsmen, Shanty Boys, Bawdy Songs, and Folklorists in America’s Upper Midwest,” The Folklore Historian 24.  Pp. 41-63.


1993 “Farm, Forest and Factory: Songs of Midwestern Labor,” co-authored with Richard March, in Songs About Work: Essays in Occupational Culture, ed. Archie Green.  Indiana University Folklore Institute Special Publications, No. 3.  Pp. 253-286.    


1991 “Loggers’ Folklore in the Upper Midwest,” Forest & Conservation History 35:1:30.


1991 “The Farmer and American Folklore,” 1991 Festival of American Folklife, ed. Peter Seitel.  Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution.  Pp. 47-49.


1991 “The Folklore of Michigan Loggers, 1940-1990,” 1991 Festival of Michigan Folklife, ed. Yvonne Lockwood.  East Lansing: Michigan State University Museum.  Pp. 15-25.


1978 “Stories and Strategies of the Omaha Stockyards,” in Worker’s Folklore and the Folklore of Workers, ed. Philip Nusbaum and Catherine Swanson. Bloomington, Indiana: Folklore Forum. Pp. 29-4l.


1982 “A Trickster in Everyday Life,” in The Paradoxes of Play, ed. John Loy. West Point: Leisure Press.  Pp. 57-64.


1979 “Adolescent Pranking in Bloomington, Indiana,” Indiana Folklore 12:1:55-65.


1978 “The Notre Dame Man: Christian Athlete or Dirtball?” Journal of the Folklore Institute l5:2:l33-l45.


1975 “Folklore and Photography in a Male Group,” in Saying Cheese: Folklore and Visual Communication, ed. Steven Ohrn and Michael E. Bell. Bloomington, Indiana: Folklore Forum Bibliographic and Special Series, No. l3. Pp. 45-50.


Public Folklore


2012 “The Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures,” The Second Forum on China-US Intangible Cultural Heritage: Case Studies. Nashville, Tennessee: Curb Center, Vanderbilt University. Pp. 8-12.


2000 “From a Potato Hole,” Public Folklore, a special issue of Folklore Forum 31:2:47-48.


1995 “In the Field for the Field,” in Michigan on the Mall, a special issue of Folklore in Use 2:2:201-212.


1990 “Professional Standards and Rights for Contract Folklorists,”with Janet C. Gilmore, in Folk Arts Programming in New York State: A Handbook and Resource Guide, ed. Karen Lux.  Syracuse: Regional Council of Historic Agencies.  Pp. 87-88.


1977 “A Folklorist’s Perspective on Man-Machine Relationships in the Living Museum,” 1977 Festival of American Folklife.  Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution.  Pp. 5-6.


Office:  2315 Sterling Hall

Email:  jpleary@wisc.edu

Web Page:  http://scandinavian.wisc.edu/?q=node/30