In 1888, George Lyman Kittredge became a faculty member at Harvard; Francis James Child was working on the English and Scottish Popular Ballads; Franz Boas published The Central Eskimo; and William Wells Newell succeeded in founding the American Folklore Society in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Perhaps it was a coincidence that these events should occur in the same year. More likely it was the confluence of forces and ideas at work during the 1880s, a dynamic time when new disciplines and organizations were being established. This creative energy carried over into the 1890s. Battles were waged over definitional disputes, disciplinary domains, and organizational boundaries. Strong, colorful personalities matched the challenge and fought with zeal to hold their positions.
A conflict in American folklore scholarship that emerged at this time, and was to continue in future decades, was the split between the literary folklorists and the anthropological folklorists. As a vortex for issues of power and control, territory and knowledge, status and prestige, the schism has had a formative influence on the development of folklore in the United States. To place these concerns in a broader context, they must be linked to the development of academic disciplines and the establishment of professional identity.
Not enjoying the supposed tranquility of the ivory tower, leaders of nascent disciplines have done battle to establish boundaries, to claim territory, and to chart the direction of the undertaking. The battle has been at times an intellectual blood-letting; at other times, a maneuvering of forces. Not for feeble souls of indecisive vision, it has required fortitude, a certain singleness of purpose, and dedication. The founding of disciplines has been intimately bound to the development of professionalism, which requires an increase of specialization, a standardization of training, a focus on research, a thrust toward institutionalization, and, at times, a claim to the legitimizing power of science.
The movement toward professionalism has been coupled with a movement away from amateurism. In place of the gentleman scholar who pursued numerous interests there came the specialist who focused intensively on one field of knowledge. This transition from the amateur to the specialist was highlighted in J. P. Lesley’s 1885 presidential retirement address to the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Lesley surveyed his 50 year involvement in science:
Science was then an early morning stroll with sympathetic friends, uncritical and inexpert, to whom suggestions were as good as gospel truths. Then such a reunion as this tonight was a sort of picnic-party at some picturesque place on the shore of the unknown, hilarious and convivial.
All that has passed way. The sun of science now rides high in heaven, and floods the earth with hot and dusty light. What was once play has turned to serious toil. . . . The few and early risers have become a multitude.
(Daniels 1967, 156)
When an intellectual endeavor was viewed as a hobby, it was not requisite to receive payment. As George Daniels discusses in “The Pure-Science Ideal and Democratic Culture,” in the mid-nineteenth century certain distinguished scientists refused government reimbursement for their services: one, because he was already engaged in the study of natural history and viewed it as unethical to receive additional payment; and another, to protest the necessity for entering into a contractual agreement with a government committee, “bargaining like a handiman for intellectual labor.”1 Charles Sanders Peirce decided against a scientific undertaking because “a saven is supposed to be doing that which he most delights to do, and he does it as the impulse of his rational nature directs and simply in order to satisfy his intellectual desires.” Peirce concluded that “it would be unreasonable for people to pay a man for simply doing what he liked, and that science was therefore meant for leisure” (Daniels 1967, 1700).2 However, while the amateurs were willing to work for free, the specialists would be paid. Full-time work had to be accompanied by a dependable, though not necessarily lavish, salary.
Inherent in the shift at the turn of the century from the nonacademic research of the nineteenth century—sponsored as it was by museums, by benefactors, or by the federal government—to the fledgling university departments, was a competition for limited teaching positions, dwindling research funds, and professional recognition. (See also Thoresen 1975a; Daniels 1967; Hinsley 1981.) Also part of this organizational shift was the change in learned societies from regional, isolated groups, to national, specialized groups (Oleson and Voss 1979, vii).
This realignment of power and reorganization of knowledge was definitely tied to the growth of professionalism and the eclipse of the amateur. Yet, in “The Matrix of Specialization,” John Higman (1979, 4) stresses the main element was not simply the reorganization of professions, but rather the specialization which so markedly increased in the second half of the nineteenth century. The identity of the academic came from specialized research which was judged by a community of disciplinary peers (Oleson and Voss 1979, xii). In the introduction to The Organization of Knowledge in Modern America, 1860-1920. Oleson and Voss represent the change from the local and the amateur to the national and the professional:
In the American order of learning, the displacement of regional societies of “generalists” by these national associations of specialists signaled the coming of age of self-conscious communities of peer groups, intent on securing for themselves and their branch of learning an identity and status that transcended institutional boundaries.
(Oleson and Voss 1979, xiv)
In addition to changes in the professional power structure, the latter part of the nineteenth and the first part of the twentieth century exhibit a movement toward scientism, a view that science had the answer for the modern world.3 As W. J. McGee stated it in 1898:
America has become a nation of science. There is no industry, from agriculture to architecture, that is not shaped by research and its results; there is not one of our fifteen millions of families that does not enjoy the benefits of scientific advancement; there is no law on our statutes, no motive in our conduct that has not been made juster by the straightforward and unselfish habit of thought fostered by scientific achievements.
(McGee 1898, 320)
Yet science—defined here as a systematized body of knowledge and the techniques for acquiring it—did not spring full-blown into the nineteenth century. Scientific study had been an important part of the intellectual life of the seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries. It was viewed as one way of extending the knowledge of God’s works (Rosenberg 1961, 2). But in the latter part of the nineteenth century and the first part of the twentieth, science became equated with fact, with pure knowledge. If it was scientific, it was true. This equation of science with truth is part of the metaphor of science. As Charles Rosenberg writes in No Other Gods, On Science and American Social Thought. “Science has lent American social thought a vocabulary and a supply of images; it has served as a source of metaphor and . . . the similes of science have variously suggested, explained, justified, even helped dictate social categories and values” (Rosenberg 1961, 1). Additionally, science became equated with professionalism. It was associated with dispassionate inquiry, rejection of preconceived notions, a free and open mind. A scientific approach also entailed systematic inquiry and persistent study. Scientific rigor and thoroughness were to be the mark of the professional.
The latter part of the nineteenth and the first part of the twentieth century was a period of growth in science, of the establishment of rational scientific methods of study for numerous disciplines. And it was definitely a time for the social sciences to claim a place in academia. This did not occur without a complex struggle and shifting among the disciplines of social science and the humanities. For the consideration at hand, it was not a simple head-on conflict between those in anthropology and those in literature over the affiliation of folklore studies, but rather a struggle among various disciplines to carve up and claim intellectual domains. (See Miller 1975; Becker 1971; Shils 1972.) Perhaps for the social scientists, this process was facilitated by the lack of unity among those in the humanities. As Oleson and Voss (1979, xv) note, the humanities were “the oldest subjects in the curriculum, yet the last to develop a sense of identity as a concrete grouping of academic disciplines.”4
However, this trend toward scientism was not an intellectual one-way street. The end of the nineteenth century was the time when the intellectual framework was right for a focus on science as an answer to modern problems. But this is not to say that other intellectual frameworks were suddenly dropped. A unilinear intellectual theory is not suggested here. Instead, the complexity of the situation must be acknowledged. Within anthropology itself there was continuing discussion about the relationship of the discipline to science and humanities. Kroeber, Radin, Benedict, and Sapir stressed the link with humanities. Boas and Lowie worked within a scientific frame. So the shifting forces of what C. P. Snow (1964) has called the two cultures of science and humanities were not merely external to disciplines but featured in the process of self-definition. Certainly Alfred Louis Kroeber gave voice to this when he remarked, “Being the kind of anthropologist who is 40% natural history in bent and 40% humanities, I know little about ‘social science’ ...” (Kroeber Papers, Kroeber to Berelson, 9/16/1956). It is this tension between science and the humanities—more specifically, in the case of this study, between anthropology and literature—that brings forth the dialogue of dissent and sets up the battleground for institutionalization of new disciplines.
It is possible to view the struggle for professional territory and for identity within the frame of the disciplinary matrix. As explained in “Post script—1969,” Thomas Kuhn chose the term “‘disciplinary’ because it refers to the common possession of the practitioners of a particular discipline [and] ‘matrix’ because it is composed of ordered elements . . .” (Kuhn 1970b, 182). He lists four components: (1) symbolic generalizations which are not questioned by members of the group, (2) shared commitment to beliefs or models, (3) accepted values which extend to a wider community than do the previous two categories, and (4) exemplars, or “the concrete problem-solutions that students encounter from the start of their scientific education” (1970b, 182, 184, 187).
For the establishment and continuation of such a community, Kuhn posits, it is necessary for “the practitioners of a scientific speciality” to have had “similar educations and professional initiations.” They must be exposed to a shared body of technical information. “Usually the boundaries of that standard literature mark the limits of a scientific subject matter, and each community ordinarily has a subject matter of its own.” Through similar training and study, these people also pursue “a set of shared goals, including the training of their successors” (Kuhn 1970b, 177). Kuhn designates the markers for community membership as “subject of highest degree, membership in professional societies, and journals read.” To isolate even more specialized groups, he includes the “attendance at special conferences . . . the distribution of draft manuscripts or galley proofs prior to publication, and . . . formal and informal communication networks” (Kuhn 1970b, 177-78).
Due to the common body of literature and the shared training, communication is facilitated within the scientific community However, Kuhn adds, because different scientific communities are concerned with other problems, “professional communication across group lines is sometimes arduous, often results in misunderstanding, and may, if pursued, evoke significant and previously unsuspected disagreement” (Kuhn 1970b, 177).
According to Kuhn’s concept of disciplinary matrix, the establishment of intellectual boundaries requires a statement of field. The continuation of the group depends on the socialization to the shared values and commitments, and the passing on of the body of knowledge, whether this be symbolic generalizations and exemplars, or another agreed upon corpus of information. Validation of the group is achieved through its professional societies, conferences, and journals. Indeed, as Kuhn emphasizes, the “recognition of the existence of a uniquely professional group and acceptance of its role as the exclusive arbiter of professional achievement” is so vital that the entire professional identity is linked to it. Kuhn continues:
The group’s members as individuals and by virtue of their shared training and experience, must be seen as the sole possessors of the rules of the game or of some equivalent basis for unequivocal judgments. To doubt that they shared some such basis for evaluations would be to admit the existence of incompatible standards of scientific achievement.
(Kuhn 1970a, 168)
What is included as part of the disciplinary matrix also delineates what will be excluded. And the establishment of intellectual territory must be accompanied by its defense from encroachment of others who would also like to stake their claim. Thus, conflicts between professional groups can result from differing interpretations of what comprises the disciplinary matrix.
As Kuhn remarks, when people are striving for the inclusion of a discipline as a science, “great energy is invested, great passion aroused, and the outsider is at a loss to know why” (Kuhn 1970a, 159). Much of the controversy is generated due to a concern for scientific status. And the conflict over definitions—in essense, what is to be included or excluded in the discipline—dissolves “when the groups that now doubt their own status achieve consensus about their past and present accomplishments” (Kuhn 1970a, 159-60).
In the nineteenth century when folklore was established as a subject worthy of investigation, the orientation of American scholars to the study of folklore was greatly influenced by the presence of the American Indian. The collection of American Indian mythology was deemed a proper enterprise for folklorists. (See Dundes 1966a; Newell 1888a.) On the Continent, the study of folklore was defined as the study of the peasant populations of Europe while the study of American Indians or other non-European peoples who were classified as savages or primitives was considered to be the domain of the ethnologists. The differing orientation was critical for the development of American folklore scholarship since it designated the study of native peoples as a suitable subject for folklore as well as for anthropology.
The shared field and divided loyalties lead to definitional disputes between the literary folklorists and the anthropological folklorists. Anthropologists, in carving out their discipline, developed a more restricted definition of folklore than did those in literature, but a more inclusive view of the folk. Folklore was given a specific place within anthropology, that of oral literature. Anthropologists, who traditionally worked in cultures without writing, could not designate folklore as that which is oral since that would include all aspects of the culture. As Voegelin elaborated, orally transmitted prose and verse forms were “myths and tales, jests and anecdotes, dramas and dramatic dialogs, prayers and formulas, speeches, puns, riddles, proverbs, and song and chant texts” (Voegelin 1949-50, 403). Bascom simply designated it verbal art. The folk could be Euro-American, Afro-American, or American Indian (Newell 1888a), though the anthropological folklorist usually studied the latter to the exclusion of the two former groups. The literary definition was more inclusive in subject matter, but more limited as to who comprised the folk. For the literary folklorists, folklore was part of the unlettered tradition within literate European and Euro-American societies. This included verbal art and traditional lifeways. As Archer Taylor said,
It may be traditional tools and physical objects like fences or knots, hot cross buns, or Easter eggs; traditional ornamentation like the Walls of Troy; or traditional symbols like the swastika. It may be traditional procedures like throwing salt over one’s shoulder or knocking on wood. It may be traditional beliefs like the notion that elder is good for ailments of the eye. All of these are folklore.
(Taylor 1965, 34)
Francis Lee Utley remarked on the dispute between the literary folklorists and the anthropological folklorists over the definition of folklore. He said, though he had “no quarrel” with Bascom’s delineation of folklore for the anthropologist as verbal art, he thought Bascom “through a courteous desire not to favor anthropology over ‘humanistic’ folklore” acquiesced too quickly to the protests that greeted his definition. “At the time  I told him privately that ‘the anthropologist’s way of pigeonholing is a satisfactory one,’ and added that ‘all a definition can do is help us to work better; nature has no fixed categories unless one is a Platonist’ ” (Utley 1965, 12). However, for the folklorists battling for influence in the discipline, Utley’s definitional pigeonholes held keys of power. One could not afford to be either sanguine about content or magnanimous about territory.
A difference between the literary folklorists and the anthropological folklorists was in their choice of folk. For the literary approach, the folk were a part of a marginal society that was dependent on a larger society. As Robert Redfield described it, this was the little tradition within the great tradition. For the anthropological approach, the folk were part of non-Western, small-scale societies. Significantly, the anthropological folklorists merely by the choice of the group to be studied had succeeded in broadening the concept of folk to include a non-European component.
There emerges here a seeming contradiction. For the literary folklorists, the field of study was broad. Folklore could include all aspects of the traditional lifeways of the people. It held promise of an ethnography of the folk. For the anthropological folklorists, folklore was verbal art or oral literature. Thus, one might surmise that the literary folklorists adopted an anthropological approach, and the anthropological folklorists adopted a literary one. To gain a perspective on this, one must anchor the approaches in the disciplinary matrix. The anthropological folklorists centered their work on the concept of culture. Folklore could be only a portion of the culture. The literary folklorists, whose scholarly world was written literature, could open the domain of the folk to unwritten tradition, the life-ways of the people. Where the anthropological folklorists were exclusive in material considered, the literary folklorists were inclusive. However, where the literary folklorists were narrow in their consideration of the folk group, the anthropological folklorists broadened the concept of folk. The contemporary American approach to the study of folklore combines the expansive aspects of both. Thus, from the literary comes the focus on traditional lifeways, and from the anthropological comes the inclusive concept of folk.
The stark division between the literary and the anthropological has diminished since the appearance of the professional folklorist. The first Ph.D. in folklore was awarded to Warren Roberts in 1953 from Indiana University. Presently there are four programs in the United States that grant doctorates in folklore. In 1949, Stith Thompson succeeded in establishing the first doctoral degree program at Indiana University (Dorson 1973b, 193), which operated as an interdepartmental committee with faculty located in departments of anthropology, English, history, Slavic languages and literature, Spanish, and linguistics (Dorson 1963a, 444). As Dorson noted, in 1962, “Indiana University made its first appointment entirely within its folklore programme” to Jerome R. Mintz, who had an Indiana doctorate in folklore (Dorson 1963a, 443). In 1963, the Folklore Institute achieved departmental status (Dorson 1972c, 3; 1973b, 193; Baker 1971). The Department of Folklore and Folklife at the University of Pennsylvania, known as the Folklore Program, was empowered to grant a doctoral degree in the academic year of 1962-1963 (Ben-Amos 1983; Dorson 1963a, 442). The Center for Intercultural Studies in Folklore and Oral History at the University of Texas, Austin announced the beginning of its program in 1971. And the Center for the Study of Comparative Folklore and Mythology at the University of California, Los Angeles was authorized to grant the doctorate in folklore in 1980. There are several hundred students pursuing advanced degrees in folklore. And there are numerous professors trained in folklore and teaching still more students across the country. Though there is still a division between the anthropological and the literary in folklore studies, it is no longer the acute division that it once was. It is now more a filigree, a complex pattern of scholarly study, with the underlying historical division overlaid by the new framework of folklore studies.
Folklorists and anthropologists have, in recent years, become aware of the implications of classification for structuring the outcome of research. (See Gossen 1971, 1974; Goodenough 1956.) It has been suggested that the categories used for gathering and analyzing information tell as much about the researcher as about the people studied. (See Rabinow 1977, 1979.) Thus, it is appropriate to examine these two categories, the literary folklorists and the anthropological folklorist. Who uses these terms? And do the terms reflect the categories of the folk—in this case, the folklorists—or of the researcher?
These two categories, that of the anthropological folklorists and the literary folklorists, are recognized by folklorists themselves as an important and significant division in the discipline. McNeil (1980), in “The History of American Folklore Scholarship to 1908,” mentioned the rivalry between the literary folklorists and the anthropological folklorists as the most persistent historical theme in the development of the discipline. Susan Dwyer-Shick (1979) traces the effects of this division on the organization of the American Folklore Society. Alan Dundes (1966a), in “The American Concept of Folklore,” examines both the literary and anthropological orientations to folklore, and discusses how these have shaped the current state of the discipline. Dan Ben-Amos (1973) has identified the differing centers of activity for the literary and the anthropological folklorists, the former in the universities and the latter in the American Folklore Society. Clearly, the leading scholars in the history of American folkloristics use this classification of the literary folklorists and the anthropological folklorists. It is, as it were, a folk category of classification.
In a letter to Alfred Kroeber, Richard Dorson used a variation of the categories:
Dear Professor Kroeber:
The first volume of Stith Thompson’s expanded Motif-Index of Folk Literature is now published, and it occurred to me that you might be willing to review it for the Journal of American Folklore, to signalize the partnership of our Society between anthropologists and literary folklorists. It would be fitting for our foremost anthropologist to review the major work of our foremost literary folklorist.
(Kroeber Papers, Dorson to Kroeber, 5/28/1957)
And finally the emergence of a new identity is emphasized in a letter from Dorson to Archer Taylor: “Dundes goes from Kansas to Berkeley as a folklorist, in the anthropology department. It’s not even official yet, I understand” (Taylor Collection, Dorson to Taylor, 12/10/1962; his emphasis).
In order to distinguish between the anthropological folklorist and the literary folklorist, it is perhaps more correct to refer to the period before the founding of the Ph.D. programs in folklore. A crucial factor, then, in the past division between the two groups had to do with an obvious and immediate distinction, their department of affiliation. Thus, the literary folklorists were usually located in departments of literature, and the anthropological folklorists in the departments of anthropology. Indeed, this was the case with the literary folklorists who will be discussed in chapter 4. Francis James Child became the first professor of English at Harvard in 1876 (Hyder 1962, 28). George Lyman Kittredge succeeded Child as chair of modern languages in 1894-1895 (Hyder 1962, 41). Stith Thompson, who was to become the first professor of folklore and English in the country, maintained his primary identity as a professor of English. And Archer Taylor went from the German Department at Washington University in St. Louis (1915-1925) to the University of Chicago (1925-1939), and finally to the German Department at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1939, where he taught for eighteen years (Hand 1974, 4-6).
The anthropological folklorists who will be discussed in chapter 5 were often the same people responsible for founding the departments of anthropology. Franz Boas established anthropology at Columbia University, and trained the other anthropologists who then fanned out across the country to found or to strengthen centers of study. Kroeber established anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley (1901); he was later assisted by another of Boas’s students, Robert Lowie who joined the faculty in 1921. Speck went to the University of Pennsylvania initially to help and later to battle with Gordon. Herskovits went to Northwestern (1927). Benedict, Reichard, Parsons, and Bunzel worked closely with Boas at Columbia.
A clear exemplification of these two approaches, the literary and the anthropological, can be found in work of Francis James Child and of Franz Boas. Child spent much of his scholarly life collecting and annotating ballad texts. His years of work resulted in The English and Scottish Popular Ballads (1882-1898), a five volume work. Child examined the texts of all the ballads he was able to collect, and thoroughly annotated them. His was the literary approach, a concern with ballad as popular poetry. Ballads were best captured from time past, in manuscript texts, and not from the people themselves. As he said, “No Scottish ballads are superior in kind to those recited in the last century by Mrs. Brown of Falkland” (Child  1962, vii). For Child and for the literary folklorists, this was a legitimate enterprise, to study folklore as a literary form apart from the people and their culture. A perusal of the table of contents of the first volume will illustrate this. It is a numbered listing of the ballads considered, fifty-three in all. For each of the ballads, Child endeavored to give every available version. Thus, for Lord Randal, there were fifteen versions printed. Child advised the reader, “To forestall a misunderstanding which has often occurred, I beg to say that every traditional version of a popular ballad is desired, no matter how many texts of the same may have been printed already” (Child  1962, ix).
In 1883-1884, Boas conducted the fieldwork which resulted in The Central Eskimo. To introduce his work, Boas said, “The following account of the Central Eskimos contains chiefly the results of the author’s own observations and collections made during a journey to Cumberland Sound and Davis Strait” (Boas 1888, 409). Boas attempted to describe the whole life of the Eskimos of Baffinland. He described the “distribution of the tribes,” the geographical conditions, the “trade between tribes,” hunting and fishing, the material culture. Included in this description was a consideration of social and religious life, tales and traditions, science and arts. Boas’s anthropological approach to folklore necessitated a consideration of the culture and the people.
The key distinction, then, between Child’s approach to folklore and Boas’s lay in their disciplinary bent. For Child, folklore was studied as the remnants of the unlettered portion of the European literary tradition. For Boas, folklore existed as a part of the culture and a reflection of the culture. This, in essence, was the line of division between the literary folklorists and the anthropological folklorists.
For both the literary folklorists and the anthropological folklorists the source of major intellectual influence can be traced to seminal figures and to centers of academe. Using the metaphor of diffusion theory, one can visualize the spread of the anthropological folklorists and of the literary folklorists like waves moving out from a center point. For the literary folklorists, the center of distribution was Harvard; for the anthropological folklorists, it was Columbia. But like diffusion theory, this is a metaphor of movement and not a representation of fact. One should not be surprised by irregularities in the pattern. When, for instance, a major literary folklorist like MacEdward Leach came to folklore through his study at the University of Illinois, the Johns Hopkins University, and the University of Pennsylvania, one must recognize that there were centers of influence for literary folklorists other than Harvard. The pattern is there, but the mistake would be in expecting it always to shape the course of folklore studies.
Thus, in distinguishing between the literary folklorists and the anthropological folklorists, the primary criterion is the department of affiliation. And from this—be it in literature or in anthropology—the scholar’s identity lies. He/she has received training in a certain orientation to the material. For the literary folklorists, obviously the orientation is toward literary works and the unwritten tradition from which they derived. The focus has also been on the study of literary types or genres. Child and Kittredge studied the ballad; Thompson, the folktale; Taylor, the riddle and the proverb. In anthropology, the orientation of study was directed toward cultures without writing, and the emphasis was on fieldwork. Boas, in his own work and in training his students, stressed collection of every aspect of the life of the people. And part of the material collected was folklore. The emphasis for anthropological folklorists, then, was on folklore as part of the cultural whole, as a reflection of a way of life.
To simplify, it could be said that the literary folklorists looked at literary forms for folklore; and that the anthropological folklorists looked at the life of the people and saw folklore as part of it. In the beginning, there were the seeds of the present controversy: the literary folklorists were concerned with text; the anthropological folklorists, with context. This, like the metaphor of intellectual diffusion, is a condensation of a complexity. Still the threads of the current theoretical controversies are woven into the intellectual past. And when tugged a bit, these threads do show the tensions of time.
It could be said that a sense of history emerges from an identity, and that history is written only when there is a sense of the past. Thus, a discipline without a written history is a thing of new creation. American folklore, until the last decade and a half, has been such a discipline. Richard Reuss remarks on this, “Curiously, it has taken American folklorists a full three generations before any ground swell of interest in our professional folklore study antecedents has emerged” (Reuss 1973, 3).
In the afterword to the Journal of the Folklore Institute devoted to “American Folklore Historiography,” Richard Dorson discussed a session on the methods and aims of the history of folkloristics: “I presented remarks on the writing of my history of The British Folklorists, after which Richard Reuss asked me why I, as an American folklorist, had deserted my own country to pursue a transatlantic trail” (Dorson 1973a, 125). His response to Reuss’s question certainly conveyed his enthusiasm for his British research:
The answer is that the English folklorists, whose works I stumbled on accidentally in the summer of 1948 on a chance visit to the Folklore Society library in London, immediately fired my imagination by the verve, the excitement, the intellectual rigor, the scope and sweep of their vast output of books, essays reviews, and editions. . . . Nothing comparable to the productions of Lang, Gomme, Hartland, Clodd, and Nutt and their associates and predecessors, exists in American folklore both in terms of their theoretical emphasis and of their intellectual interrelationship. The history of American folklore discloses no books of theory, no continuity, no consensus, no high order of polemics such as distinguished the British nineteenth-century folklorists, for there was not enough of a common platform to lead to disagreement.
(Dorson 1973a, 125-26)
Dorson’s evaluation of the history of American folklore scholarship illustrates a view that was prevalent for many years—that American folklorists should look to Europe for their models, be it in method, theory, or history. Further, his appraisal also brings to the fore a possible explanation for the paucity of research in this area. If American folklore scholarship is considered to lack continuity, theory, and vitality, why, indeed, should anyone attempt to write its history?
Obviously, there were those who disagreed with Dorson on this point. Reuss raised the issue of Dorson’s neglect of his own folklore history. And Dan Ben-Amos suggested that there was a trend in American folklore scholarship. Dorson acknowledged this: “Yet, as Dan Ben-Amos whispered to me during the panel, there is a history of discontinuity as well as of continuity” (Dorson 1973a, 126). He continued:
If no firm consecutive narrative can be constructed from the history of our subject in this country, episodic chapters, passing currents, and arresting personalities command our interest, and we live in the midst of a great upsurge of enthusiasm and achievement in our field. Just in my own lifetime I have witnessed, and participated in, the rise of the American Folklore Society from the doldrums of the 1940’s when it seemed on the verge of dissolution to its present spectacular successes of four-day independent conferences.
(Dorson 1973a, 126).
He remarked on the growth of the Folklore Institute at Indiana University, from a sparse half dozen students to “one hundred and fifty higher degree candidates in the past fifteen years” and on the development of a new undergraduate folklore major in 1970, at a time when all other new programs were being curtailed.
The contemporary situation in American folklore scholarship is one of vibrance and life. With the 1988 Centennial of the American Folklore Society, the discipline has gained a sense of its intellectual history and a feeling of independence as a community of scholars. This is certainly reflected in the recent research on the history of American folklore scholarship, and most specifically in the dissertations completed in the last decade.5 As Dan Ben-Amos says, “If nobody else does so, at least students of folklore claim an intellectual and scholarly tradition for their discipline that sanctions its scientific identity and confirms its position in academe” (Ben-Amos 1973, 113-14).
But still with this vibrance, with this growth, and with this recognition of tradition, there remain the scars of the old division. There is a sensitivity—an almost defensive stance—on the part of some American folklorists. And this sensitivity or defensive posture will come forth when there is a perceived challenge to the legitimacy of folklore studies, to the respectability of the enterprise. Folklore is a young discipline, protective of its territory and defensive of its identity.
Now, after this perusal of the development of professions, the boundaries of the disciplinary matrix, and the categories of the literary and the anthropological folklorists, the past—when the field of folklore was carved out as an intellectual domain—beckons.