Thursday, 10 May 2012

John Miles Foley

John Miles Foley, who died on May 3rd at the age of 65, was for much
of his working life an outstanding contradiction to the often widely-
voiced view that cross-disciplinary and multi-disciplinary research
inevitably leads to a dilution in quality.  John Foley's work was widely-
respected across the many fields into which his underlying passion - the
ways in which oral knowledge is transmitted - led him.  His fascination
for all forms of oral communication embraced the apparent extremes of
the ancient epic poem - he was an expert on Beowulf and the Homeric
epics - and the internet, in his work as Director of the Centre for
eResearch.  Among his many achievements were his oral formulaic theory,
first published in 1985 and How To Read An Oral Poem (2002).  But his
profound underlying commitment to oral literature and the principle of
free and open access to scholarly work was perhaps best demonstrated by
his journal Oral Tradition  which has been an inspiration and example to
both scholars and publishers.

His life, as more than one commentator has observed, was dedicated to
bringing people together - across centuries and languages, as well as
across continents.  It's poignant that the most recent issue of Oral
Tradition  was a festschrift, consisting of articles written by John
Foley's past students.  It now stands as a fitting tribute to an
inspiring and generous teacher and a courageous and exemplary scholar.

We cannot say that we knew John well, but we had the pleasure of getting
to know him when he was invited to give the keynote at the World Oral
Literature Project 2010 Workshop, on the theme of Archiving Orality and
Connecting with Communities <>.
John gave a compelling presentation entitled 'Oral Tradition and the
Internet', arguing that humankind's oldest and newest technologies of
communication are fundamentally homologous. We were fortunate enough to
record his presentation on video so those who could not make it to
Cambridge could still benefit from his insights <
media/1092059> and we have also archived the material to the
institutional repository at the University of Cambridge <http://>. They have already been 
viewed and downloaded almost 500 times, proving his point: an oral lecture
delivered through the Internet.

John's intellectual vision combined with his gentleness and generosity 
to younger researchers were noted by all at the workshop. He has 
continued to inspire and educate through Oral Tradition,  <http://>, and through the Center for eResearch which fosters
interdisciplinary collaboration and exchange via digital and internet-
based media <>. A longer appreciation of
John's scholarly contributions  can be found on the Missourian online

Mark Turin 
Mick Gowar

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