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Folklore and Folklife Studies: The Discipline of Analyzing Traditions (May 2013): Home

By Simon J. Bronner


This bibliographic essay originally appeared in the May 2013 issue of Choice (volume 50 | number 9).


A popular television show, Once Upon a Time, blares across the screen, and a number of viewers feel compelled to look up the many sources on folk and fairy tales that drive the plots.  Other library patrons doing research on communities might go to bookshelves to locate ethnic, family, and regional customs and ask how widespread, evolved, or old they are.  Writers might come in looking for legends to inspire novels or check out folk speech dictionaries for local color, while musicians hunt down documentation of global folk song traditions.  Curators of a nearby folk museum mine historic sources for building and cooking practices.  Professors and students alike find provocative parallels among troves of sagas and epics in folk literature, or check out whether a recently heard rumor fits the profile of an “urban legend.”

Integrating these different topics in the library is the subject heading of folklore and folklife studies, a scholarly pursuit in many universities as independent majors and minors and curricula embedded in anthropology, English, communications, and area, cultural, heritage, and ethnic studies.  Folklore and folklife studies also is evident in popular discourse on cultural heritage and its conservation, and in the public sector, organizations, businesses, museums, galleries, historical societies, arts councils, governmental agencies, and cultural centers collect and disseminate information on folklore and folklife studies.  At the national level, the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage in Washington, DC, and the American Folklore Society based in Columbus, Ohio, as well as the International Society for Ethnology and Folklore and the International Society for Folk Narrative Research on a global level offer resources to folklorists and ethnologists, the terms typically used to refer to professionals devoted to the subject.

This essay suggests books in English that cover traditions internationally, with a concentration of works on the U.S. scene published since 1993.  This date marks the publication of the second of two bibliographic essays in American Studies International on American folklore and folklife studies.[1]  Folklore and folklife studies has grown considerably since the late twentieth century, with topics, groups, and genres not previously covered, such as digital and visual culture, bodylore, and computational folkloristics.  The main online bibliographic resource for the discipline is the MLA International Bibliography covering folklore books and periodicals published since 1884.  Open Folklore, an online resource created by the American Folklore Society and Indiana University Libraries, is also useful to provide access to scholarship in books, journals, websites, and gray literature.

[1] See Simon J. Bronner, “Exploring American Traditions: A Survey of Folklore and Folklife Research in American Studies,” American Studies International 31 (1993): 4-36; Richard M. Dorson, “American Folklore Bibliography,” American Studies International 16 (1977): 23-37.

Simon J. Bronner, PhD, is distinguished professor of American Studies and folklore and chair of the American Studies Program at the Pennsylvania State University, Harrisburg.  He can be contacted at