Writing an intellectual history necessitates choosing an angle, a perspective. One takes a slice of the past and scrutinizes a portion of the events that occurred during this time frame. In this work, the perspective on the past will reveal the conflict between the literary and the anthropological folklorists. The period of consideration will span the years from 1888, when the American Folklore Society was founded, to the early 1940s, when the anthropological control of the Journal of American Folklore was ended. At this time, anthropologists largely “abandoned” folklore. This had to do with a series of events: the reorganization of the American Folklore Society in 1940; and the deaths of Elsie Clews Parsons, the patron and scholar, in 1941, of Franz Boas in 1942, and of Ruth Benedict in 1948. Additionally, new concerns developed in anthropology. Radcliffe-Brown had had a crucial impact on American anthropology during his years at the University of Chicago in the 1930s, which resulted in an increasing emphasis on the study of social structure and kinship. World War II brought with it a series of new approaches, including acculturation studies. Most importantly, however, an anti-Boasian sentiment resulted in the rejection of much of the explicit directions of Boas’s work. Included in this was a deemphasis on the importance of studying folklore.
This withdrawal of anthropologists from folklore studies is illustrated in a letter from Anna Gayton to A. Irving Hallowell written in 1946:
When Fred Eggan asked me to be the spokesman for “Folklore” in his symposium on the fields of anthropology, he suggested that I “plant” a couple of copies of my talk with people who might start discussion.
Since the two points I am emphasizing—need for comparative work and need for improved psychological techniques—are interests of yours I am hoping you may care to respond in some way concerning them. I think you are one of the very few anthropologists who understands the methods and the values in both the old analytic-comparative studies and the new psychological interests in native mythology.
The paper as a whole is very dull, as any brief talk has to be. And since the bulk of anthropologists really does not know what goes on in the folklore society any more, I felt the introductory background should be given.
(Hallowell Papers, Gayton to Hallowell, 12/18/1946)
Thus, four years after the death of Boas, as stated by Gayton, the anthropologists no longer knew what was happening in the American Folklore Society.
During this same period, the literary folklorists took an increasingly active role in the American Folklore Society and the Journal of American Folklore. A subtle but telling sign of a shift in identity began to appear in the correspondence of the late 1930s and early 1940s. References were made to the folklorists—and these were those who studied folklore from a literary perspective.
At the center of the conflict between the literary and the anthropological folklorists were concerns of professionalism, science, and discipline. The core of the issue had to do not with theory, not with what the anthropological and the literary people did with folklore—this, as will be shown, was remarkably similar—but rather with professionalism. Folklore served the purpose of the anthropologists solely within the frame of a careful, scientific approach. Further, it could be used to strengthen their professional base, as a source for publication in the Journal of American Folklore and a means of organizational power in the American Folklore Society. In truth, for a period of over half a century, the anthropologists formed a united front within the society; and the literary people either maintained a defensive stance, or withdrew from the society. For the literary folklorists, folklore reached its efflorescence in their courses and in their writings.
In choice lies omission; by selecting a perspective on the past, others are necessarily put aside. There is frustration in this, for one is aware that the angle on the past, while vitally necessary as a frame for the myriad events, means also that many things will lie outside the realm of consideration. This is not to say that other perspectives are unimportant or insignificant. There were vital concerns that arose during the period under study—these include the popularist movement in folklore and the development of folklife studies and of public sector folklore. There are also important events that occurred after the period selected for this study: the development of graduate programs in folklore, the activities of the American Folklore Society after the 1941 accords, especially during the critical period of the 1940s, and the growth of folklore as a separate discipline. These and other areas are crucial for the development of American folklore scholarship. They are also, necessarily, outside the frame I have selected.
The singular in history has given way to the plural. Just as Franz Boas changed Tylor’s culture to the plural, so has history been restated as histories. Kenneth Bock, influenced by his mentor, Frederick Teggart, wrote on the Acceptance of Histories. In the plural, the word “histories” emphasizes that there is more than one story to be told, more than one series of events unfolding from the past—that, indeed, the past is made up of a multiplicity of events which defies neat, uniform categorization. Throughout this work, I have been concerned with the complexity of historical developments. It has not been my intent to minimize the forces at work. This would lead to what David Fischer refers to as the chronic fallacy, a “listing of facts that relate to each other only in calendric succession.” As Dan Ben-Amos (1973, 114) says, remarking on Fischer’s concept, this yields “a chronicle but not a history of folklore.”1 Thomas Kuhn also refers to such a tendency to simplify the history of science by presenting it as a unified development. As he remarks, “Scientists are not, of course, the only group that tends to see its discipline’s past developing linearly towards its present vantage. The temptation to write history backward is both omnipresent and perennial” (Kuhn 1970a, 138).
George Stocking cautions against reading the past in terms of present concerns. Such a perspective is part of what I call the “forerunner syndrome,” where one looks to the past to find the point of origin for the present theory. As Stocking says, we are all in search of the putative founders of our disciplines. The search yields a reward; once we have found our ancestors and seminal theoreticians, we have legitimacy. Intellectual genealogy when predicated on such presentist concerns traces a linear view of history without the dimension of time. Continuity, Stocking says, can be equated with atemporality. From the point of origin, developments continue in an unbroken line to the present, and the assumption is made that “one may enter into direct debate with the figures of the past” (Stocking 1974, 511). Stocking suggests that instead of attempting to read the past in the present, one should accept the past on its own terms. Discontinuity, he says, is as important as continuity. This he explains with the metaphor of stacked pie plates: rather than a straight arrow of uninterrupted linear development, a history might be viewed
as a series of pie plates stacked somewhat irregularly one upon another. The irregularity is important, for the pie plates themselves have thickness in time—what we are in fact investigating as intellectual historians are “contexts of assumption” which exist through time in complex interrelation with each other.
(Stocking 1974, 513)
I have also attempted in the research and writing of this history to portray the “native view” of the events. This, of course, is the angle of perspective adopted by ethnographers. As Clifford Geertz (1976, 228) in “‘.;From the Native’s Point of View’ ” says, “The trick is to figure out what the devil they think they are up to.” The same can be said of historical research. In this case, one must pay close attention to the precise words and specific concerns of the people involved. This can be done by a careful reading and frequent reference of their letters and works. And it is from the native’s own view—from Newell and Boas, Tozzer and Kittredge, Parsons and Taylor—that the concern with the literary and the anthropological emerges. In this sense, they have selected the frame of inquiry; I have followed the threads of tension.
The focus, then, has been on the schism in folklore studies between the literary and the anthropological. The view has been sharpened by the framework of the development of disciplines. In chapter 1, general remarks on the development of discipline and identity are presented, along with a review of Kuhn’s notion of disciplinary matrix. Chapter 2 carves out the field and scope of folklore studies and considers the significance of William Wells Newell’s intitial statement in the Journal of American Folklore. Chapter 3 examines the schism in folklore studies as manifested in organizational terms. Chapters 4 and 5 discuss the literary and the anthropological folklorists. Chapter 6 compares the methods and theory of the literary and the anthropological folklorists and draws out the shared, underlying approach to the material. Finally, chapter 7 tugs on the intellectual threads to see the tension in contemporary folklore theory which is a remnant of the earlier division.
I am grateful to my friends and colleagues in folklore and anthropology who have given me their help and encouragement throughout the course of this work. In folklore, I have been guided by Alan Dundes, and it is to him that I owe so much. His enthusiasm for folklore is boundless, and his demands for rigor in research are exacting. Together they make him a model professor and scholar. It has been his encouragement and support of my research that has sustained me. John Howland Rowe has helped shape my work in the history of anthropology. With his quiet, learned advice, I am always reminded of the importance of careful documentary research and critical thinking. Kenneth Bock gave generously of his balanced, reasoned views. Roger Abrahams offered a careful reading of a first draft. His comments, as always, were both encouraging and helpful. Dan Ben-Amos has been supportive of my work and most kind in offering research suggestions. Florence Baer has shared time and ideas. Susan Dwyer-Shick counseled me in the early stages of my research. Elizabeth Simons has listened to me talk about the ideas that have taken shape in this work, and has, in her inimitable style, asked the crucial question, which startled me and then helped me to refocus my work. Judith Justice has shown always a gentle kindness. Janice Weingrod has offered me sustenance at all times.
During my research, I have touched the lives and works of many outstanding scholars who have shaped the course of folklore studies in the United States. Deeply did I feel the deaths of two leading folklorists, William Bascom and Richard Dorson. With their simultaneous passing on September 11, 1981, the present became the past; an era ended. As a student of folklore, I have necessarily been influenced by Richard Dorson. His dedication to the discipline of folklore I do so admire. As a student of William Bascom, I have benefited from his reasoned scholarship and I have appreciated his gentle ways. He remains a force and an inspiration in my work.
The following institutions were crucial for the archival research that I conducted, and I am most grateful to their fine professional staff: the Bancroft Library (University of California, Berkeley), the American Philosophical Society Library, the University of Pennsylvania Folklore and Folklife Archives, and the University of Georgia Library. I would especially like to thank J. Stephen Catlett and Elizabeth Carroll-Horrocks of the American Philosophical Society for their tireless efforts to aid me in my research.
The archival work was supported with a generous grant from Davidson College. I thank especially T. C. Price Zimmermann, Vice-President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculty, and J. Nicholas Burnett, Associate Dean of the Faculty, for their support of my research.
To my family I owe endless thanks. They have each given me a part of themselves which has been a motivational force. My husband, Isaac Jack Lévy, has been patient and endlessly helpful. My daughter, Heather Allyson Elrick, has been, as always, enthusiastic and supportive. My father, Eugene Victor Zumwalt, and my mother, Dorothy Guy Zumwalt, have been, in the course of this work as in my life, my source of strength. It is to my parents that this work is dedicated.
Rosemary Lévy Zumwalt