The Indiana Folkloristics series is intended to demonstrate the highest levels of scholarship in the study of folklore. While the majority of books in the series will be concerned with individual genres, several of the titles will treat special areas in folklore theory and method. This volume, American Folklore Scholarship, which inaugurates the series, is an incisive historical account of the development of folkloristics in the United States.
A discipline may be said to have achieved its niche in the academy when its history has been documented. This being so, the study of folklore in the United States may achieve such status through the publication of Zumwalt’s thorough and detailed chronicle of the beginnings and development of serious folklore study by American scholars. Her judicious combination of the published record and unpublished archival materials, especially the correspondence of many of the pioneering figures of the field, gives a remarkable account of the emergence of the academic study of folklore. The biographical facts, the intellectual genealogies of both “literary” and “anthropological” folklorists, and the continuing influence of the American Folklore Society, founded in 1888, are all presented as integral parts of the history of modern American folkloristics. Some of this information is not easily accessible to the casual inquirer and Zumwalt has performed a real service in both unearthing significant letters and bringing together a mass of diverse materials under one cover.
The central argument of the volume is that part-time folklorists of the past, be they ballad scholars in English departments or myth scholars in anthropology departments, have given way to full-time folklorists who have little patience with divisive debates over the respective merits of “literary” versus “anthropological” approaches to folklore data. Scholars who consider themselves folklorists first are less concerned than their predecessors, most of whom were born in the nineteenth century, with their allegiance to literary or anthropological warring camps. The struggle between literary and anthropological paradigms in the development of folkloristics in the United States is a historical fact, as Zumwalt’s painstaking research shows. But at the same time, her even-handed treatment of the two rival factions may serve to end once and for all this unnecessary and often debilitating conflict. In that sense, this book may help unify folklorists of various persuasions and encourage them to address the major theoretical and methodological issues in folklore research, issues that are inherent in folklore itself and that are independent of the particular academic affiliation of the folklorist.
I am convinced that this useful survey of American folkloristics will not only be required reading for all graduate students in folkore in the United States, but that it will acquaint many non-folklorists with intimate details of the founding of folklore as an academic discipline. Nowhere else is it possible to learn so much about Francis James Child, Franz Boas, William Wells Newell, and many others responsible for the establishment and growth of the study of folklore. Zumwalt succeeds admirably in discussing both individuals and ideas.
Born in Decatur, Georgia, Rosemary Lévy Zumwalt was educated in California. She earned a B.A. in anthropology with honors at the University of California, Santa Cruz, in 1972, and it was there she was introduced to folklore by Professor Gary Gossen. She completed her M.A. in folkfore at Berkeley in 1978, writing her thesis on French folklorist Arnold van Gennep. Her doctorate in anthropology was also at Berkeley and her dissertation was an earlier version of the present book. Throughout her career, she has been especially fascinated by the intellectual history of folklore and folklorists, particularly in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Since 1983, she has taught in the Department of Anthropology and Sociology at Davidson College in North Carolina.
Perhaps in the future, some energetic scholar will undertake the task of writing a history of folkloristics worldwide. Such a scholar will have to rely on the standard histories of folklore research in individual countries. One of the sources for that work will surely be this volume. And as American folklorists take pleasure in celebrating the centennial of the American Folklore Society in 1988, they may also feel justifiable pride in having this survey of American folklore scholarship to stand on the same shelf as such works as: Inger M. Boberg, Folkemindeforskningens Historie (1953); Juan Alfonso Carrizo, Historia del Folklore Argentino (1953); Giuseppe Cocchiara, Storia degli studi delle tradizioni popolari in Italia (1947); Richard M. Dorson, The British Folklorists: A History (1968); Ruth Finnegan, Oral Literature in Africa (1970); Jouko Hautala, Finnish Folklore Research 1828-1918 (1968); Michael Herzfeld, Ours Once More: Folklore, Ideology, and the Making of Greece (1982); Chang-tai Hung, Going to the People: Chinese Intellectuals and Folk Literature, 1918-1937 (1985); Mazharul Islam, A History of Folktale Collections in India and Pakistan (1970); Gustav Jungebauer, Geschichte der deutschen Volkskunde (1931); Leopold Schmidt, Geschichte der Österreichischen Volkskunde (1951); and Gheorghe Vrabie, Folcloristica românâ (1968).
All folklorists, whatever their genre specialization, if any, and whatever their academic affiliation, if any, ought to find this pioneering historical overview of great interest. One cannot function in the future effectively without knowing the past. Zumwalt has made available for the first time much of the intriguing past of American folklore scholarship.