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Accepted Paper:

'Eeny Meeny Miny Mo': catching racism by the toe  
Barbara Hillers (Indiana University, Bloomington)

Paper short abstract:

Digitization has made vast folklore collections, such as the Irish Folklore Commission's Schools' Collection, accessible and searchable in new ways. My paper tracks the racist counting rhyme 'Eeny Meeny Miny Mo' in Ireland, and asks us to consider some hard truths about the dark side of folklore.

Paper long abstract:

The Irish Folklore Commission's Schools' Collection offers us a window into Irish society in the 1930s. Digitization has made 444,335 manuscript pages available, over 70% of which is fully text-searchable. For the first time, researchers can develop their own research criteria and can look for subject matter that would have been outside the archivists' and indexers' vision. Ireland of the 1930s was not immune to xenophobia, antisemitism or racism, and digitization has enabled us to track such topics. Such shadow sides become particularly apparent when we investigate the rich collection of children's games and rhymes that forms an important part of the Schools' Collection.

In this paper I will track the racist counting rhyme 'Eeny Meeny Miny Mo.' The rhyme is thought to have acquired its racist form in nineteenth-century America, and the Opies believed that the rhyme originally featured a tiger, at least in Europe. However, the Irish material shows that by the 1930s, the rhyme was firmly embedded in Irish playgrounds in its racist form, and was handed onto several subsequent generations.

My paper looks at the rhyme within the context of racist childlore, and asks how folklorists should approach this material today. What can we learn from it, how can we mediate it, and how can we make sure our open archives do not feed into popular contemporary racism?

Panel Arch03
Being bold in the archives: innovative folklore archival practices [SIEF Working Group On Archives]
  Session 1 Monday 21 June, 2021, -