James P. Leary is the Birgit Baldwin Emeritus Professor of Scandinavian Studies, an emeritus professor in the Department of Comparative Literature and Folklore Studies, and a co-founder of the Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures at UW–Madison. Recipient of the Governor’s Award for Excellence in Public Humanities Scholarship, Leary is a fellow of the American Folklore Society and co-editor of Journal of American Folklore.
Born in Rice Lake, Wisconsin in 1950, Leary grew up fascinated by the dialects, stories, music, and customs of his culturally diverse neighbors; and through part-time work on farms, logging, in a warehouse, a foundry, and as a “printer’s devil,” he learned to appreciate the school of hard knocks. Leary has done research since the 1970s on the cultural traditions of workers, Native peoples, European Americans, and new immigrants in the Upper Midwest, contributing to numerous folk life festivals, museum exhibits, films, public radio programs, documentary sound recordings, and accessible archival collections.
His books include: Yodeling in Dairyland: A History of Swiss Music in Wisconsin; Wisconsin Folklore; So Ole Says to Lena: Folk Humor of the Upper Midwest; Down Home Dairyland (with Richard March); Polkabilly: How the Goose Island Ramblers Redefined American Folk Music; and a new edition of Richard Dorson’s Bloodstoppers and Bearwalkers: Folk Traditions of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. His current projects are an ethnography of Ironworkers (with Bucky Halker) and a 5 CD/DVD/book production, Folksongs of Another America: Field Recordings from the Upper Midwest, 1937–1946 (UW Press).