The traditions of narrative, song, belief, custom, and world view reflect undercurrents of history long ignored by the professional historian preoccupied with famous personalities and national events. Yet, in recent years, chiefly through the work of America's most distinguished folklorist Richard M. Dorson, American historians have become increasingly aware of the rich possibilities of folklore and of the millions of Americans left in obscurity because their history is expressed in elusive oral traditions.
American Folklore and the Historian presents a theoretical and methological complement to Mr. Dorson's many field studies and narrative histories of American folklore. These essays—unique in their comprehensiveness, originality, and vigorous good sense—discuss techniques and concepts with which the historical scholar must familiarize himself in making use of folk sources. They present a theory of folklore and suggest historical areas that are particularly rewarding for the folklore approach—slavery, colonization, regionalism, and mass culture; and, equally important, they consider the pitfalls and misconceptions that can trap the unwary user of folk materials.
As Mr. Dorson demonstrates, the capturing and interpreting of oral folk traditions is not a simple matter. The folklorist is the seeker of elusive and ephemeral impressions, while the historian has traditionally been concerned with documentary sources and with establishing a factual record of the past. Mr. Dorson has achieved a synthesis of two disciplines—folklore and history—ordinarily regarded as having little in common. American Folklore and the Historian stands as the only volume on American folklore theory; it will be the starting point for a vivid and human kind of historical writing.
|Publisher:||University of Chicago Press|