From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search
Blemmyes from Hartmann Schedel's Nuremberg Chronicle (1493)
Blemmyes from Hartmann Schedel's Nuremberg Chronicle (1493)

"Folklore, in short, is perpetually running into mythology; and there are few myths which do not exhibit in some of their features points of likeness to the tales usually classified under the head of folklore." --An Introduction to Mythology and Folklore (1881) by George William Cox

Hand of Glory, anonymous
Hand of Glory, anonymous

Related e



Folklore (or lore) is shared by a particular group of people; it encompasses the traditions common to that culture, subculture, or group. proverbs, poems, jokes, and other oral traditions.

They include material culture, such as traditional building styles common to the group. Folklore also includes customary lore, taking actions for folk beliefs, and the forms and rituals of celebrations such as Christmas, weddings, folk dances, and initiation rites.

Each one of these, either singly or in combination, is considered a folklore artifact or traditional cultural expression. Just as essential as the form, folklore also encompasses the transmission of these artifacts from one region to another or from one generation to the next. Folklore is not something one can typically gain from a formal school curriculum or study in the fine arts. Instead, these traditions are passed along informally from one individual to another, either through verbal instruction or demonstration.

Folklore studies

Folkloristics is the formal academic study of folklore.

It is well-documented that the term folklore was coined in 1846 by the Englishman William Thoms. He fabricated it for use in an article published in the August 22, 1846 issue of The Athenaeum.

Thoms consciously replaced the contemporary terminology of popular antiquities or popular literature with this new word. Folklore was to emphasize the study of a specific subset of the population: the rural, mostly illiterate peasantry.

In his published call for help in documenting antiquities, Thoms was echoing scholars from across the European continent to collect artifacts of older, mostly oral cultural traditions still flourishing among the rural populace. In Germany the Brothers Grimm had first published their "Kinder- und Hausmärchen" in 1812. They continued throughout their lives to collect German folk tales to include in their collection. In Scandinavia, intellectuals were also searching for their authentic Teutonic roots and had labeled their studies Folkeminde (Danish) or Folkermimne (Norwegian).

Throughout Europe and America, other early collectors of folklore were at work. Thomas Crofton Croker published fairy tales from southern Ireland and, together with his wife, documented keening and other Irish funeral customs. Elias Lönnrot is best known for his collection of epic Finnish poems published under the title Kalevala. John Fanning Watson in the United States published the "Annals of Philadelphia".

With increasing industrialization, urbanization, and the rise in literacy throughout Europe in the 19th century, folklorists were concerned that the oral knowledge and beliefs, the lore of the rural folk would be lost. It was posited that the stories, beliefs and customs were surviving fragments of a cultural mythology of the region, pre-dating Christianity and rooted in pagan peoples and beliefs.

This thinking goes in lockstep with the rise of nationalism across Europe.

Some British folklorists, rather than lamenting or attempting to preserve rural or pre-industrial cultures, saw their work as a means of furthering industrialization, scientific rationalism, and disenchantment.

As the need to collect these vestiges of rural traditions became more compelling, the need to formalize this new field of cultural studies became apparent. The British Folklore Society was established in 1878 and the American Folklore Society was established a decade later. These were just two of a plethora of academic societies founded in the latter half of the 19th century by educated members of the emerging middle class.

For literate, urban intellectuals and students of folklore the folk was someone else and the past was recognized as being something truly different.

Folklore became a measure of the progress of society, how far we had moved forward into the industrial present and indeed removed ourselves from a past marked by poverty, illiteracy and superstition. The task of both the professional folklorist and the amateur at the turn of the 20th century was to collect and classify cultural artifacts from the pre-industrial rural areas, parallel to the drive in the life sciences to do the same for the natural world.

"Folk was a clear label to set materials apart from modern life…material specimens, which were meant to be classified in the natural history of civilization. Tales, originally dynamic and fluid, were given stability and concreteness by means of the printed page."

Viewed as fragments from a pre-literate culture, these stories and objects were collected without context to be displayed and studied in museums and anthologies, just as bones and potsherds were gathered for the life sciences. Kaarle Krohn and Antti Aarne were active collectors of folk poetry in Finland. The Scotsman Andrew Lang is known for his 25 volumes of Andrew Lang's Fairy Books from around the world. Francis James Child was an American academic who collected English and Scottish popular ballads and their American variants, published as the Child Ballads. In the United States, both Mark Twain and Washington Irving drew on folklore to write their stories. One Samuel Clemens was also a charter member of the American Folklore Society.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Folklore" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

Personal tools