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Published: Sunday, 10/25/2009

BGSU professor began popular culture center

BOWLING GREEN - Ray B. Browne, 87, who created an academic discipline and a national movement by studying the stuff of everyday life - whether comic books, fast food, pop tunes, or situation comedies - died Thursday in his home of congestive heart failure.

"He's the father of popular culture studies," said Gary Hoppenstand, a professor of American studies at Michigan State University, and a popular culture graduate student at Bowling Green State University and protege of Mr. Browne's.

"He's done more to affect studies in the humanities than any other individual the last 30 or 40 years."

Mr. Browne began the Center for the Study of Popular Culture in 1968 at BGSU. The Popular Culture Library followed.

In 1973, despite detractors, he began a distinct department of popular culture. His history of the popular culture movement's early struggle is called Against Academia.

"Ray opened the windows of the academy, just opened them up," said Michael Marsden, one of the department's first faculty members, now dean and academic vice president of St. Norbert College, De Pere, Wis. "We have the people's culture being studied, and we're learning how complex and wonderful and significant it is."

The BGSU department was the first of its kind.

"Today there is a course in popular culture studies in every major and minor university in the country," said Mr. Hoppenstand, also editor of the Journal of Popular Culture Studies, founded by Mr. Browne in 1967.

Mr. Browne's expertise landed him in the popular culture. Reporters from all media, worldwide, sought him out to decode the latest pop phenom or the enduring - detective novels, soap operas.

"My dad was very much a populist," his daughter, Alicia Browne, said. "While he loved Dickens and Melville and Shakespeare, he thought it was far too hoity-toity to think that only those few people created anything of value."

"He might not personally have liked it, but if someone is reading it, if someone is singing it, or saying it, he believed there was value to it, or at least we should understand it," she said. "[He was] endlessly curious about anything."

He arrived in 1967 at the BGSU English department intending to bring the study of popular culture to the academy.

He retired in 1992 and was a distinguished university professor emeritus. He worked until recently and had agreed to write the foreword to an anthology being edited by BGSU popular culture faculty, said Jeremy Wallach, an associate professor in popular culture. The book will be dedicated to him. "He has a very robust legacy," Mr. Wallach said.

Mr. Browne was born Jan. 15, 1922, in Millport, Ala. The Depression ruined his father, a banker, and the family was poor. With the help of an older sister, he went to the University of Alabama and received a bachelor's degree. He served in Europe during World War II in an Army artillery unit.

Afterward, he studied at universities in Birmingham and Nottingham, England. He received a master's degree in Victorian literature from Columbia University in New York City. He taught at the University of Nebraska before he attended the University of California at Los Angeles, from which he received a doctorate in English and folklore.

He taught at the University of Maryland and Purdue University.

Surviving are his wife, Maxine "Pat" Browne, whom he married Aug. 25, 1965, sons, Glenn and Kevin, daughter, Alicia Browne, and three granddaughters.

Visitation will be from 6 p.m. to 8 pm. Tuesday in the Holman Funeral Home, Ozark, Ala. Graveside services will be at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Woodlawn Memory Gardens in Ozark. Bowling Green arrangements are by the Dunn Funeral Home.

The family suggests tributes to the Browne Popular Culture Library at BGSU.



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