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“Adio Kerido” In Memoriam: Samuel G. Armistead, 1927–2013
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With the passing of Samuel G. Armistead we have lost a luminary in the field of medieval Spanish literature, a pioneer in the field of Judeo-Spanish literature and culture, an infinitely kind and generous mentor and a meticulous, original, erudite, courteous scholar and man. Many of us knew Sam personally and have stories of his generosity, good humor, love of animals, and passion for saving and singing Judeo-Spanish ballads. He was the best of mentors, colleagues and friends and the model scholar.

Armistead worked with some of the great figures of twentieth-century medieval Hispanism, including Ramón Menéndez Pidal, Diego Catalán, Manuel Alvar, and Maria Rosa Menocal. But it is his series of monographs and sixty years of work on the Judeo-Spanish ballad tradition –during which he spent decades with his friend and colleague, Joe Silverman interviewing informants in the United States, Spain, Israel, Morocco, Portugal, and other sites across the world–of which he was most proud and that he seems to have enjoyed the most.

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Samuel G. Armistead in his home office with his cat, Aysha. 2012.

This project, to collect and preserve Judeo-Spanish ballads and culture –and through that, in a small way, the songs and culture of fifteenth-century Spain that itself goes back to earlier times– allowed Sam to do what he loved best, work and spend time with real live people. As he stated in a 2011 article, “Working with books is great fun, and I do plenty of that, but working with people is even better (most of the time) and often more interesting” (“Half a Century” 101). This talent for working with people of all nationalities and linguistic, religious and social backgrounds is for our (or any) profession unusual, and he excelled at it.

With his pioneering work on the Judeo-Spanish ballad in its multiple manifestations, Sam not only advanced the study of the medieval Spanish epic and ballad, but also created a space in what had been a field primarily concerned with national (Spanish) origins for a wider, more expansive vision of a pan-Hispanic literature and culture. To this end Armistead documented the survival and transformation of Spanish cultural production in the Diaspora –in Israel, Morocco, the Balkans, and in the United States, from Los Angeles, Seattle, New York and Philadelphia to the remote isleño, bruli and adaeseño communities of Louisiana and East Texas– offering a testament to both the continued creativity and the notable conservatism that repeatedly destabilized any fixed academic notion of a Spanish literature defined by ethnic, geographical and even linguistic borders of the nation. This broader perspective and openness allowed generations of scholars to approach and study a “Spanish literature” that was much more than Castilian texts written on the Iberian Peninsula and that could be expressed in any of the languages of the Peninsula or the Disapora, from Arabic, Hebrew, Turkish, Ladino, Basque, or Galician, to Lousiana isleño. Sam, time and time again, in his over 500 (and counting) publications carefully and meticulously showed beyond a shadow of a doubt that there was and is room in the vast enterprise of “Iberian cultural production” that we each study from our respective areas of expertise for the multiplicity of languages, ethnicities and religious orientations that Sam and his many collaborators explored, explained and documented over the course of some 60 years.1 Sam connected the various, at times seemingly independent traditions mentioned above, building of course on the shoulders of his own mentors –among them most notably Américo Castro and Paul Bénichou.2

For Sam the act of singing ballads was much more than an entertaining pastime: it was a willful act of preserving the past for future generations. The oral tradition he studied and brought to light was an important testament not only to the Spanish past, but also to the socio-historical realities of the Diaspora, and perhaps most importantly a testimony to the shared, active enterprise that is the performance of traditional material—a type of shared cultural experience very much at odds with the dominant forms of modern entertainment. Sam contextualized his work collecting and...

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