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In the Beginning: Native North American Studies in the American Folklore Society to 1899

The two most recent posts in this series considered the state of Native North American and First Nations studies within the American Folklore Society (AFS) through the lens of the Journal of American Folklore (JAF) for the 1980s and 1990s and then the 2000s and 2010s. While the meetings for those years still need attention, I here jump back to the first years of the society to consider both the annual meetings of the AFS and the JAF from the society’s founding in 1888 to 1899. To preserve the decade by decade approach taken in the series, I will tackle 1888 and 1889 first and then 1890 to 1899. In these early years, meetings were small and they were reported on directly within a comprehensive annual report of the AFS published right in the pagers of the journal, making it very easy to tackle the meetings while surveying the JAF.

Readers of these posts will have noted the two story lines–the story of presence and absence of Native North American folklore studies content within the meetings and journal on the one hand and the presence and (mostly) absence of Native North American scholars present within these two AFS domains. Before getting to the meetings and journal overall, I can note that one Native American scholar, Francis La Flesche of the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska and Iowa, appears prominently in this period, authoring major articles for the JAF in 1889 and in 1890. While a large proportion of the papers appear in JAF during this time period were also presented at the annual meetings, this is not the case for Frances La Flesche. If he attended any AFS meetings in this period, it is not evident from the annual reports. It is important to note that in this period the membership was surprisingly large and attendance at the meetings was not. There were many regional societies and La Flesche could have attended meetings of these at various points. I am unaware of other Native North American JAF authors or annual meeting presenters for these years. I welcome additional information on this point.

Because in this time period, meetings presentations often went quickly into the journal, I will present meeting data first and the JAF data. Founded in 1888, the first AFS meeting happened in 1889.

YearPresentations on Non-Native American TopicsPresentations on Native American TopicsPercentage on Native American Topics
188911215%
Total11215%
Presentations on Non-Native North American- and Native North American-Related Topics at the Annual Meetings of the American Folklore Society During the 1880s.

Here is the meeting data for the 1890s.

YearPresentations on Non-Native American TopicsPresentations on Native American TopicsPercentage on Native American Topics
189012737%
189141173%
18927956%
18931019%
189411635%
189581158%
18969431%
189717419%
18987542%
18997542%
Totals926341%
Presentations on Non-Native North American- and Native North American-Related Topics at the Annual Meetings of the American Folklore Society During the 1890s.

Late in the meetings of the 1890s, we see the person whom I think is the first true folklore graduate student enter the scene. If one attends an AFS meeting today, one will encounter a lot of graduate students and many of them will be presenting on the conference program. One might wonder if students always did this. I cannot answer that question here beyond noting that in 1998 and again in 1899, we see precedent in the person of A. L. (Alfred) Kroeber. Then a doctoral student working with Franz Boas at Columbia University, Kroeber presented on Inuit tales in 1898 and on his own studies among the Arapaho in 1899. He earned his PhD at Columbia in 1901, the first granted in anthropology from that university. He would go on to publish many items in JAF over the years and that first paper would be his first published in JAF, a year later in 1899 (#44) Just eight years later, in 1906 (five years past his PhD) he would serve as AFS President.

In later years, the issue of joint meetings and the ways that they would serve different parts of the society more or less well would become an issue. For the initial years, this does not seem to have been an issue. Most meetings seemed to happen independently, but in 1891 the AFS met in Washington in partnership with the Anthropological Society of Washington and the Women’s Anthropological Society. AFS returned to Washington with similar partners in 1894. In 1893, the branch of AFS in Montreal hosted. In 1899 AFS met at Yale at the same time as a large group of scientific societies. As in other early decades of the AFS, meetings were frequently rotated between a small number of cities in the Northeast.

Reporting on the JAF in the early years is difficult because in those days regular papers were published but so were very short notes, questions, and ephemeral observations, including sometimes items noticed in the popular press. I have not carefully studied every item, leaving room for mis-codeing. For most of this period, AFS is in a pre-professional or proto-professional state, with some professionals (like Boas) holding advanced degrees and some not doing so. Some folklorists were professionals in other fields, such as medicine. There is variability that would diminish after 1900. The anthropologists/literature scholar division is present in a more nebulous form and the interests of the early 20th century are all present, with an anthropological approach underpinning the extensive amount of work on Native American topics being addressed, with missionaries and travelers reporting on other parts of the world, and literary-minded scholars and antiquarians mainly working on the traditions of other peoples within the present-day United States. The anthropological scholars did also do work on non-Native cultural traditions, as when James Mooney published on the European settlers of Western North Carolina as an adjunct to his work among the Cherokee there. The numbers below reflect the presence of all of those small items in the journal. Such small bits tended to relate to non-Native peoples more than Native ones and Native studies work tended to appear in more fully formed papers.

YearPublished Papers and Notes on Non-Native American TopicsPublished Papers and Notes on Native American TopicsPercentage on Native American Topics
1888243156%
1889474045%
Totals717150%
JAF Publications on Non-Native North American and Native North American-Related Topics During 1880s.

The 1890s for JAF follow.

YearPublished Papers and Notes on Non-Native American TopicsPublished Papers and Notes on Native American TopicsPercentage on Native American Topics
1890502231%
1891492231%
1892542128%
1893461828%
1894421019%
1895451120%
1896321126%
1897331125%
189832922%
189953915%
Totals43614425%
JAF Publications on Non-Native North American and Native North American-Related Topics During 1890s.
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