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Ray B. Browne

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Ray Broadus Browne /braʊn/; January 15, 1922 – October 22, 2009, was an American educator, author, and founder of the academic study of popular culture in the United States He was Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Bowling Green State University BGSU in Bowling Green, Ohio He founded the first and only academic Department of Popular Culture at BGSU in 1972, and is the founding editor of the Journal of Popular Culture, the Journal of American Culture, and the Popular Press a university-based press that published hundreds of books on popular culture He also founded the Library for Popular Culture Studies BPCL at BGSU which today bears his name, the Popular Culture Association, and the American Culture Association His particular area of specialization was American popular literature, and he was an authority on Herman Melville, Mark Twain, the popular culture surrounding Abraham Lincoln and the American Civil War, and the influence of Shakespeare on American popular music


  • 1 Early life
  • 2 College and World War II
  • 3 Early academic life
  • 4 Primary academic life
  • 5 Works
  • 6 International conferences and travel
  • 7 The term "popular culture"
  • 8 Publicity
  • 9 Personal life and death
  • 10 Notes
  • 11 References
  • 12 External links

Early life

Ray Browne was born in Millport, Alabama on January 15, 1922, the youngest of four children His father, Garfield Browne, was a bank manager and later bank president of various small-town banks in the south Browne's mother was Anne Nola Browne née Trull The family moved on numerous occasions during Browne's early life as his father sought new opportunities in banking Browne lived for short periods of time in Arkansas and Florida, and for longer periods in Epes, Alabama and, off and on, in Millport, Alabama The family finally settled in Millport, where Browne graduated from high school Browne's father lost his bank, his job, and his life savings in the stock market crash of 1929, and he grew up in poverty during the Great Depression

College and World War II

Browne attended the University of Alabama due to the encouragement of a high school teacher, Elbert Coleman, and the financial support of his sister Joan Following graduation, he immediately entered the US Army and served in an artillery corps in the European theater in World War II His unit entered Europe at Marseille and was part of the allied thrust that drove the Germans back into Germany His corps was in Germany at the war’s end

Following the war, Browne was one of thousands of GIs who stayed in Europe for a year He studied Shakespeare and early Greek philosophy at the University of Birmingham and literature at the University of Nottingham in England

Early academic life

Browne returned to the United States and entered the master's program at Columbia University, graduating with a degree in Victorian literature From there he took a job teaching English at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, where he was influenced by recently retired folklorist, Louise Pound After two years of teaching, he entered the PhD program in English at the University of California, Los Angeles UCLA in 1950 His two mentors at UCLA were the famed American Studies scholar Leon Howard and well-known folklorist Wayland Hand Browne's dissertation was on the topic of Alabama folksongs His dissertation was later turned into a book entitled The Alabama Folk Lyric: A Study in the Origins and Media of Dissemination 1979 He graduated with his PhD in 1956

Upon graduation from UCLA, Browne took a job as an assistant professor at the University of Maryland at College Park He served on the faculty for four years before moving to Purdue University in Lafayette, Indiana in 1960 His years at Purdue were distinguished by significant professional advancement He published numerous books in the area of American culture and literature that would lay the foundation for his later works, including Critical Approaches to American Literature: Roger Williams to Herman Melville 1965, with Martin Light, New Voices in American Studies 1966, with Donald Winkleman and Allen Hayman, and Frontiers of American Culture 1967, with Richard Crowder, Virgil Lokke, and William Stafford His years at Purdue were also marked by a growing conviction that English departments were not teaching a wide enough spectrum of literature In particular, Browne believed that popular literature was unduly ignored and denigrated by traditional academics In 1967, Browne moved to the Department of English at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio where he saw an opportunity to begin teaching courses in Popular Culture and American Culture on a wide scale

Primary academic life

In his early years at BGSU, Browne founded the Journal of Popular Culture JPC in 1967 and the Center for the Study of Popular Culture in 1968 JPC was the first peer-reviewed journal for scholarly work in the area of popular culture His early efforts in the Department of English led in 1973 to the establishment of a separate Department of Popular Culture which began by offering an MA program, followed by the establishment of the undergraduate major a year later This department was the first formal attempt to promote serious scholarly inquiry into what most people do with most of their free time The Department of Popular Culture quickly grew and continues to flourish at BGSU today

Browne was named a Distinguished University Professor at BGSU in 1977 and taught there until his retirement in 1992

In 1970, Browne founded the Popular Press to publish books on popular culture and the popular arts His wife Pat soon became the manager of the press and was the driving force through its growth as the premier publishing outlet for academic books on popular culture until her retirement in 2002 At that point the Popular Press was acquired by the University of Wisconsin Press

In 1969, Browne founded and began to develop the Popular Culture Library at BGSU This library now holds 190,000 catalogued books and many hundreds of thousands of additional materials eg, comic books, fanzines, photos, games, postcards, posters It is one of the most important collections of popular culture artifacts in the world The library is now named the Ray and Pat Browne Popular Culture Library

In 1970, Browne founded the Popular Culture Association as an organization to promote the study of popular culture In 1979, he founded the American Culture Association to promote specifically the study of American culture, and the same year was founding editor of the Journal of American Culture

In 1971, Browne organized the first national conference of the Popular Culture Association This conference showcased the broad conceptual thinking and foundational ideas that would lead to the widespread teaching of popular culture at American and international universities The conference grew quickly in size and participation, and for many years has featured the presentation of more than 2000 academic papers at each conference The 2009 conference in New Orleans marked the 39th annual conference

In 1979, Browne helped organize the first national conference of the American Culture Association This conference is held in conjunction with the Popular Culture Association Conference and marked its 30th anniversary with the 2009 conference

Browne had numerous colleagues with whom he worked in developing the academic study of popular culture, including Russel B Nye of Michigan State University, Marshall Fishwick of Virginia Tech, Carl Bode of the University of Maryland, John Cawelti of the University of Chicago, Michael Marsden of Bowling Green State University now Academic Vice President at St Norbert College, Daniel Walden of Penn State University, and Peter Rollins of Oklahoma State University


Ray Browne's works through the years laid the conceptual foundations for the study of popular culture Among his key foundational works are his essay "Popular Culture: Notes Toward a Definition", which first appeared in the book Popular Culture and Curricula 1972, edited by Ray Browne and Ronald Ambrosetti, and books such as Popular Culture and the Expanding Consciousness 1973, Challenges in American Culture 1970, with Larry Landrum and WK Bottorff, The Popular Culture Explosion 1972, with David Madden, Heroes of Popular Culture 1972, with Marshall Fishwick and Michael Marsden, Icons of Popular Culture 1970, with Marshall Fishwick, Icons of America 1978, with Marshall Fishwick, Rituals and Ceremonies in Popular Culture 1980, Objects of Special Devotion: Fetishism in Popular Culture 1982, Against Academia Popular Press, 1989; a semi-autobiographical book, Dominant Symbols in Popular Culture 1990, with Marshall Fishwick and Kevin O Browne, Continuities in Popular Culture: The Present in the Past & the Past in the Present and Future 1993, with Ronald Ambrosetti, Popular Culture Studies Across the Curriculum 2005, Profiles of Popular Culture: A Reader 2005, and Mission Underway: The History of the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association and the Popular Culture Movement 1967–2001 2002

Other books of note by Ray Browne include Melville's Drive to Humanism 1971, Popular Beliefs and Practices from Alabama 1958, Dimensions of Detective Fiction 1976, with Larry Landrum and Pat Browne, A Night With the Hants & Other Alabama Folk Experiences 1976, The Many Tongues of Literacy 1992, Ordinary Reactions to Extraordinary Events 2001, with Arthur Neal, The Detective as Historian: History and Art in Historical Crime Fiction 2000, with Lawrence Kreiser, and The Guide to United States Popular Culture 2001, with Pat Browne, among many others

Browne also published hundreds of essays and articles in academic journals and published hundreds of book reviews, most notably in the Journal of American Culture

International conferences and travel

As a means of promoting the academic study of popular culture internationally, Ray and Pat Browne organized numerous conferences in the United Kingdom from 1978 until 2001 These included a 1978 conference at Chichester, a 1980 conference at Winchester, 1993 at York, 1995 at Oxford, 1997 at York, 1999 at Cambridge, and 2001 at Cambridge

In addition to their international conferences, Ray and Pat made two round-the-world trips on behalf of the US State Department to promote the study of American popular culture Their travels led them to the Soviet Union, India, Korea, Japan, Indonesia, Australia, and New Zealand

The term "popular culture"

See also: Popular culture studies

Ray Browne was credited with coining the term "popular culture" in 1967; however, he did not originate this term In 1973, Browne created the first academic program dedicated to studying popular culture at Bowling Green University Browne created this program because he wanted to know the effects of society on culture and the effects of culture on society Browne stressed to scholars that it was important to learn about the irrelevant changes in peoples' lives However, many scholars criticized Browne for trying to belittle their teachings when he created the "popular culture department" Browne's work inspired other universities to offer classes that explore popular culture


Browne's work in popular culture was recognized not only in academia, but also by news organizations Through the years he appeared twice on the CBS Evening News, twice on the Phil Donahue Show, twice on the Geraldo Rivera Show, and on BBC News, and was quoted in hundreds of magazines and newspapers including Newsweek, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Chicago Tribune, People, and many others

Personal life and death

Browne married Olwyn Carmen Orde in 1952 They had three children: Glenn born 1956, Kevin born 1958, and Rowan born 1961 Olwyn and Rowan were killed in an automobile accident in 1964

Browne was re-married in 1965 to Alice Maxine Pat Matthews born 1932 They had a daughter, Alicia born 1967 Pat helped Browne develop the popular culture movement through her management of the Popular Press and her role as a principal organizer of the Popular Culture Association and American Culture Association conferences and the international popular culture conferences from the 1970s until her retirement in 2002 She also edited the scholarly journal Clues: A Journal of Detection for many years Ray and Pat together edited the compendium volume The Guide to United States Popular Culture Popular Press, 2001

Ray and Pat Browne lived in retirement in Bowling Green, Ohio where Browne continued to write and serve as book review editor for the Journal of American Culture until his death

Browne died in his home in Bowling Green, Ohio on October 22, 2009


  1. ^ Obituaries in the news, Associated Press, October 24, 2009
  2. ^ Although the Oxford English Dictionary lists the first use as 1854, it appears in an address by Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi in 1818: The Address of Pestalozzi to the British Public 1818 I see that it is impossible to attain this end without founding the means of popular culture and instruction upon a basis which cannot be got at otherwise than in a profound examination of Man himself; without such an investigation and such a basis all is darkness 


  • Hoppenstand, Gary, "Ray and Pat Browne: Scholars of Everyday Life" in Pioneers in Popular Culture Popular Press, 1999

External links

  • http://wwwamericanpopularculturecom/journal/articles/fall_2002/brownehtm
  • http://wwwbgsuedu/colleges/library/pcl/page42606html
  • Washington Post: Professor saw the potential in studying pop culture

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