Folklore (folk lore or folk-lore, 1846)

What is folklore? Marius Barbeau (1884-1969) Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore

Whenever a lullaby is sung to a child; whenever a ditty, a riddle, a tongue twister, or a counting-out rhyme is used in the nursery, or at school; Whenever sayings, proverbs, fables, noodle-stories, folktales, reminiscences of the fireside are retold; Whenever, out of habit or inclination, the folk indulge in song or dances, in ancient games, in merry-making, to mark the passing of the year or the usual festivities; Whenever a parent shows a child how to sew, knit, spin, weave, embroider, make a coverlet, braid a sash, bake an old fashioned pie;


Whenever a farmer on the ancestral plot trains young helpers in the ways long familiar, or shows them how to read the moon and the winds to forecast the weather at sowing or harvest time; Whenever a village craftsperson trains the apprentices in the use of tools, shows them how to…raise a frame house, or a barn, how to carve…how to shoe a horse or shear a sheep;


Whenever in the many callings the knowledge, experience, wisdom, skill, the habits and practices of the past are handed down by example or spoken word, by the older to the new generations, without reference to book, print or schoolteacher;


Then we have folklore in its own perennial domain, at work, as ever, alive and shifting, always apt to grasp and assimilate new elements on its way. And the door remains wide open to the comparative study of the folklore harvest…for it all forms part of the culture of man [civilisation] from the remote past to the present.


Some Milestones in International Folklore Scholarship

  • 1846: ‘Folk-lore’ gained international currency.
  • 1850s: John F. Campbell of Islay began writing down Gaeelic folktales he heard.
  • 1864-1890s: Alexander Carmichael began to write down songs, poems, prayers, cures from Gaelic oral tradition.
  • 1877: Thomas Edison (Ohio USA) invented the phonograph machine, wax cylinders.
  • 1878: Foundation in London of The Folk-lore Society (many Scottish members).
  • 1882: Francis James Child, Harvard College (Boston) began to publish The English and Scottish Popular Ballads.
  • 1888: Foundation of the American Folklore Society, publication of the Journal of American Folklore.
  • 1893: International Folk-lore Congress held in Chicago.
  • 1899: English musician Cecil Sharp began collecting dances and tunes in the south of England.
  • Journal of the Folk-Song Society, later (1932) Journal of the English Folk Dance and Song Society.
  • 1904-1914: Rev. J.B. Duncan and Mr. Gavin Greig began collecting songs in the north east of Scotland.
  • 1905-1906: English folklorist Lucy Broadwood began to audio-record began to record folksongs on a Edison phonograph.
  • 1906-1909: Australian composer Percy Grainger used a wax-cylinder machine to record songs in England. He transcribed them for the Folk-Song Society.
  • 1909-1914: Scottish opera singer Marjorie Kennedy Fraser visited the Hebrides to record Gaelic songs.
  • 1910: Finland: Foundation of the International Folklore Fellows, Finnish Academy of Sciences.
  • 1910: Cecil Sharp began collecting ballads in the Southern Appalachians (most were Scottish).
  • 1923-1939: Sam Henry’s newspaper column “Songs of the People” in the Northern Constitution [Northern Ireland; many Scottish connections].
  • 1928: Archive of Folk Song established in the Music division of the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
  • 1929: American Margaret Fay Shaw went to south Uist to record Gaelic folk songs.
  • 1930: John Lorne Campbell went to Barra to record Gaelic songs; 1932 and 1938 to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.
  • 1934: American folklorists John A. and Alan Lomax began recording songs in Texas (prisons; chain gangs; blues singers; cotton pickers, etc.)
  • 1938: Herbert Halpert made 800+ vinyl discs in Kentucky and Tennessee (including many Scots songs dating to the 1700s).
  • 1935: Foundation of the Irish Folklore Commission.
  • 1945: Calum Iain Maclean sent by IFC to the Hebrides to collect Gaelic songs.
  • 1945: William and Norah Montgomerie recording songs, ballads, and childlore on a ‘Wirex’ machine.
  • 1950: Iona and Peter M. Opie began their UK-wide collection of the folklore of children.
  • 1951: School of Scottish Studies founded at the University of Edinburgh (Hamish Henderson and Calum Maclean).
  • 1951: Alan Lomax visited Scotland; recorded over 400 songs assisted by Henderson, Maclean and Montgomerie.
  • 1958: American folklorist Kenneth Goldstein (1932-1995) in the northeast of Scotland.
  • 1968: Herbert Halpert founded Department of Folklore at Memorial University of Newfoundland.
  • 1999: Folklore course began at RSAMD (now RCS).