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The 1950s from the Perspective of the Journal of American Folklore

In this post, I continue the work of assessing the presence and absence of Native North American and First Nations studies in the work of the American Folklore Society. In this series of post I have also been tracking the (near) absence of Native North American and First Nations scholars in the field as represented by the society. In this post, my focus is the Journal of American Folklore (JAF) during the 1950s. In this focus, the post is a companion to the first in the series, wherein I considered the presence and absence of Native North American and First Nations work at the annual meetings of the 1950s.

The JAF in the 1950s did not call many specific stories to my attention. The total number of papers getting published increased relative to the 1940s. The number of papers on Native American topics remained roughly the same in this context, resulting in a smaller percentage.

Study of the percentages in the right column may strike readers as particularly variable. Particularly instructive is the case of 1958 and 1959. In 1959, the editors of JAF seemingly intervened in the general trend, producing a special theme issue (#284) focused on Native North American and First Nations folklore studies. From the perspective of an editor’s desk, the particularly thin situation in 1958 may have been born out of plans to produce the issue in 1959. Alternatively, 1958 may have set off an alarm relative the decline of this historic area of strength, motivating a special effort in 1959. More study would be required to figure this out. (If this special issue were subtracted from the decade, the picture overall would be even more dramatically impacted.)

Another noteworthy year is 1951. In a way, my count for 1951 is very misleading and the picture is worse than it seems, from a Native North American studies focus. I coded two items in 1951. One is a single page note in Native North American studies. The other is an obituary for a scholar and AFS leader–Frank G. Speck–who devoted his life to work in Native North American studies.

When we look at the papers that were published in JAF during the 1950s related to Native North American studies, it is important to note that such works continued then to be authored by anthropological folklorists trained in, and based in, anthropology. Related is the pattern, continuing in the 1950s, of anthropological folklorists working in other parts of the work (in an ever growing range of settings) publishing in JAF. The 1950s represents a time still preceding autonomous the rise of folkloristics in the United States, although the seeds of that transition were then being planted.

The final point that I will make, in parallel with other posts in the series, is that none of the authors appearing in the JAF in the 1950s are known to me to be citizens of Native North American/First Nations nations. If you know me to be in error on this point, please correct me.

YearPublished Papers and Notes on Non-Native American TopicsPublished Papers and Notes on Native American TopicsPercentage on Native American Topics
JAF Publications on Non-Native North American- and Native North American-Related Topics at During the 1950s.

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