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Do Unto Others as You Would Have Them Do Unto You: The Value of Proverbs in American Sociopolitical Discourse

Wednesday, October 31, 5:30 pm
Marsh Room, Billings Library
University of Vermont

Silver Special Collections is pleased to announce that UVM Professor of German and Folklore Wolfgang Mieder will participate in our lecture series this fall, with a presentation titled "Do Unto Others as You Would Have Them Do Unto You: The Value of Proverbs in American Sociopolitical Discourse."

Proverbs as strategic signs for recurrent situations have long played a significant communicative role in political rhetoric. Folk proverbs as well as Bible proverbs appear as expressions of wisdom and common sense, adding authority and didacticism to the multifaceted aspects of American sociopolitical discourse. Some proverbs like “The rich get richer and the poor get poorer”,“It takes a village to raise a child” or the golden rule “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Matthew 12:7) can function as traditional leitmotifs while other well-known proverbs might be changed into anti-proverbs to express innovative insights. The moralistic, evaluative, and argumentative employment of proverbs for sociopolitical improvements can be seen in the letters, speeches, and writings of such major American figures as Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, Elisabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Martin Luther King, Barack Obama, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Bernie Sanders. Citing proverbial wisdom, they all argue against the illusion that America has reached the state of a perfect union when in fact there are a multitude of exclusions that keep people in the United States from enjoying anything nearing its idealistic proverbial motto of “E pluribus unum.”

Prof. Mieder has special expertise in the areas of German and international folklore, the history of the German language, the Middle Ages, and especially the study of proverbs. Since 1984 he has been the editor of Proverbium: Yearbook of International Proverb Scholarship, an annual book that is published by the University of Vermont.While Wolfgang Mieder has written several books on German literary matters as well as fairy tales and folk songs, he is an internationally recognized scholar of over one hundred books and three hundred articles on proverbs.

The lecture is free and open to the public. For more information, contact Silver Special Collections at uvmsc@uvm.edu or (802) 656-2138.