Burt Feintuch, director of the Center for the Humanities and professor of English and folklore, passed away on Oct. 29, 2018.
Feintuch is remembered by colleagues as generous, kind, supportive and fair-minded. His demeanor was calm, his approach quiet, yet he fiercely advocated for faculty and their research. He was both steady and forward-thinking in the humanities — he respected tradition but looked for where change was needed and quietly worked to effect that change. He was passionate about how the humanities could engage with the public and make a difference. Defining humanities broadly, Feintuch provided Center funds for a wide range of faculty research projects across the College.
As a scholar of folklore, he was passionate and infinitely curious about culture. He loved talking about places — especially those he went back to again and again, such as Ghana, Cape Breton and New Orleans — and he actively sought out their people, traditions and nuances. He liked finding community with people, particularly when it could happen over good food and drink.
Feintuch came to UNH in 1988 to direct the then-new Center for the Humanities after having spent 13 years teaching in, and then directing, the graduate folklore program at Western Kentucky University. While in Kentucky, he chaired the Kentucky Humanities Council, which won an award for excellence during his tenure. Under his leadership, the UNH Center for the Humanities built an endowment, developed many interdisciplinary programs, and supported hundreds of faculty research and public humanities projects, as well as many lecture series, conferences and other endeavors. He earned his Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania in 1975.
Feintuch published widely on roots music, cultural sustainability and other topics in traditional and vernacular culture. From 1990-95 he edited the Journal of American Folklore, the leading folklore journal in the English-speaking world. In 2005, with David H. Watters, he published the “Encyclopedia of New England” (Yale University Press), which was named a best book of the year by a number of sources, including the Boston Globe and the Library Journal. He conducted ethnographic field research in roots music cultures in Great Britain, the United States and Canada, and for the past 20 years had been researching traditional music and culture on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia. His book, “In the Blood: Cape Breton Conversations on Culture,” with photographs by Gary Samson, won an Independent Publisher Book Award. His most recent book, again with Gary Samson, “Talking New Orleans Music: Crescent City Musicians Talk about Their Lives, Their Music, and Their City,” was published in 2015. Forthcoming is a new book, “Creole Soul,” about zydeco, a music created by black Creole people from Louisiana and Texas.
At the invitation of the Librarian of Congress, Feintuch served on the National Recording Preservation Board, and for five years, he represented the American Folklore Society at the World Intellectual Property Organization’s Intergovernmental Committee on Traditional Knowledge, Genetic Resources and Folklore. He produced documentary sound recordings for Smithsonian Folkways Recordings and the Rounder label. A video documentary about African American gospel music he produced had a national airing on PBS. A documentary film, “Shadows Fall North,” for which he was project director, examines the recovery — and forgetting — of African American History in New Hampshire. It premiered in 2016 and is now screening widely in public venues.
Feintuch will be greatly missed by the UNH community and, without a doubt, by the many communities he touched through his work, as well as the community he called home in Portsmouth.
The College will hold a memorial service later in the semester.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the Celtic Music Interpretive Center on Cape Breton Island, an organization that Feintuch was passionate about: http://celticmusiccentre.ca/store/index.php.