American Folklore Studies

An Intellectual History

Simon J. Bronner

Folklore. Washington Irving and Mark Twain used it in their fiction; Sigmund Freud and William James incorporated it into their work; Henry Ford and Franklin Roosevelt promoted it. Their efforts were set against the background of folklorists who brought collections of traditional tales, songs, and crafts to the attention of a modernizing society. The ideas of these folklorists influenced how Americans thought about the character of their society and the directions it was taking.

Here for the first time is a history of American folkloristic ideas and the figures who shaped them. Simon Bronner puts these ideas in cultural context, showing the interconnection of folklore studies with historical events, social changes, and intellectual movements. He follows the beginnings of American folklore studies in the antiquarian literature of the 1830s through the rise of folklore societies in the 1880s to the emergence of an independent discipline in the 1950s. In this progression, Bronner identifies several major themes tying folklore studies to intellectual history: first, the unearthing of a hidden, usable past; second, the charting of time and space; and third, the structuring of communication. More than a chronological or biographical history, this book is an interpretation of folkloristic ideas and their relationship to American society.

“A superb sophisticated discussion of reigning folklore theories . . . stimulating and provocative. There is nothing like this book in print. It will inspire a good deal of discussion . . .”

—Alan Dundes, author of Interpreting Folklore and editor of The Study of Folklore

“Simon Bronner is the leading historian of the folklore studies discipline in America, and this book offers the richness of his knowledge. . . . Indeed, it is a landmark.”

—Howard W. Marshall, author of Folk Architecture in Little Dixie: A Regional Culture in Missouri