Tom Mould: a prolific author, respected folklorist and gifted scholar

The associate professor of anthropology and folklore was awarded the 2013 Distinguished Scholar Award for his depth of scholarship and research in his published work.

Research is at the heart of Tom Mould’s professional story.

It is why the associate professor of anthropology and folklore pursued graduate school. It remains a driving force in his career today.

“I love being a teacher,” Mould says. “I love the interaction with students and exploring topics collaboratively, working to open up space in and outside the classroom for joint discovery.

“At the end of the day,” he adds. “It is this process of discovery that lies at the center of my love for my work, a process that is embodied in my research and shared in my scholarship.”

As a folklorist, Mould is most interested in personal interactions and immersing himself in people’s everyday lives to better understand how they think, believe, create and communicate.

“I am driven by a humanistic orientation writ large, focusing on the value, agency and expressive nature of human beings individually and collectively,” Mould says. “This focus on the individual in the performance of traditional genres marks a distinct divergence from the majority of folklore studies and virtually all anthropological study.”

A prolific author, he has written three books and edited two, including two on Mormon folklore and two on the Choctaw. He has published numerous journal articles, book chapters, encyclopedia entries and book reviews on folklore and oral traditions. In addition, he has produced three video documentaries and given more than 20 peer-reviewed or invited conference presentations.

“This is an impressive dossier for any serious scholar, and it clearly confirms Tom’s talent for rigorous, intellectually challenging work,” a colleague says. “In terms of productivity and quality, there can be no question that Tom’s record is stunning.”

Mould received his master’s degree and doctoral degree in folklore from Indiana University in 1998 and 2001, respectively. He holds a bachelor of arts in English literature with a minor in fine arts from Washington University.

Mould started his career at Elon in 2001 as an assistant professor of English, sociology and anthropology. For the past 10 years, he has been an associate professor of anthropology teaching courses in anthropology, folklore, ethnography, general studies, interdisciplinary studies and literary journalism.

Since 2003, Mould has developed the Program for Ethnographic Research and Community Studies (PERCS) and serves as its director. He recently embarked on a collaborative ethnographic research project through PERCS in order to help address the damaging narratives and stereotypes about welfare and welfare recipients that shape public perception and public policy. 

“His keen ear and carefully honed sense of nuance invite readers in the lived experiences of communities and individuals in ways that are profound,” a colleague says. “This is one of the hallmarks of truly successful folklore and ethnography, for while Tom’s published work is notable for its depth of scholarship and research, I have been acutely aware of its ability to bring complex cultural experiences into reach.”

Mould is the recipient of numerous internal and external grants and awards. He has received many honors, including the 2006 and 2012 Excellence in Scholarship Award from the Elon College, the College of Arts and Sciences.

“While many academics certainly hope to gain national standing in their own field, very few manage to achieve recognition outside of it,” says a colleague at another university. “Dr. Mould has done both, and at a very early age. He is a gifted scholar, a dedicated and ethical researcher, and an asset both to Elon University and to the field.”

In the past year, Mould secured the North Carolina Humanities Council Grant, the Turnage Family Faculty Innovation and Creativity Fund for the Study of Political Communication from Elon University and a course development grant from the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning for his PERCS-sponsored class, Faces of Welfare. For the Faces of Welfare Project, he received an Elon University and a Community Partnership Initiative Grant.

Mould has researched widely among diverse communities, including African-American step dancers, Indiana ginseng hunters and North Carolina traditional potters and pottery collectors.

“One of Tom’s significant contribution to folklorists – and to ethnography and cultural studies more broadly – is his masterful demonstration of how close attention to the structure, conventions, and rhetorical and social functions of one genre open up a clear vantage point onto values, preoccupations, beliefs and worldview among native people or indeed any group of people,” a fellow folklorist says.

Mould is the 14th recipient of the Distinguished Scholar Award, which recognizes a faculty member whose research has earned peer commendation and respect, and who has made significant contributions to his or her field of study.

Coming up next week: a profile on Jana Lynn Patterson, winner of this year’s Ward Family Excellence in Mentoring Award.