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Native North American Studies at the AFS Annual Meetings of the 1980s

Less than 100 papers were presented at the American Folklore Society meetings in the decade of 1900-1909. More than 3500 papers and films were presented during the decade of 1980-1989. This huge number does not include forums and other discussion events where named participants were not identified with a titled presentation. That fact means that the programs for the meetings of the 1980s are still larger than the papers + films count suggests. And it is clear that attendance, as in earlier periods, was greater that the count of members and non-members on the program. This pattern will continue in the decades to come in this survey–the 1990s, 2000s, and 2010. What this means practically is that it is now taking me a long time to slog through each program for each year of each decade remaining to survey.

This post is the next in a series examining the presence and absence of Native North American/First Nations topics and scholars within the work of the American Folklore Society across its history since 1888. Anyone finding this post who might want more context can work their way backwards through the series. A partial index to the relevant posts is available here: One post fits in between that overview and this post, a combined treatment of the Journal of American Folklore (JAF) and the annual meeting for the decade of 1900-1909. Remaining to be done are the annual meetings for the most recent period in AFS history.

The amazing growth in involvement evoked in the prelude here should encourage anyone interested in the dynamic expansion of the field of folklore studies. Having just finished reading the titles for 3563 conference papers I can testify that the expansion of the society ran alongside an expansion of topical interests being pursued by folklorists. Exploring that in depth is off topic, but the bigger disciplinary picture is there to be seen. In discussing the 1970s I described that decade as the one where AFS got big. The big 1970s were basically doubled in the bigger 1980s. The number of papers and films nearly doubled between the 1980s. With an increase in forums, I think that it is safe to estimate that the 1980s simply doubled the 1970s in meeting participation. In discussing the 1970s, I highlighted the special impact of the bicentennial (1776-1976) of the present-day United States as a key historical factor for that decade. Here in the 1980s, the big story was the centennial of the AFS celebrated in 1988 and 1989. The table shows how those were big years.

All of that is good for an AFS and folklore studies partisan. It is somewhat beside the point for my topic. For the decade, a small overall increase (N=8) in papers related to Native North American/First Nations can be seen when comparing the 1980s (N=85) to the 1970s (N=77). But the great increase in overall participation means that as a percentage of program participation, Native North American studies work falls from 4% to 2% for the decade. Study of the table shows that the variation across the decade is very small, with the percentage ranging from 1% to 4%.

YearPresentations on Non-Native American TopicsPresentations on Native American TopicsPercentage on Native American Topics
Presentations on Non-Native North American- and Native North American-Related Topics at the Annual Meetings of the American Folklore Society During the 1980s.

The 1987 meetings were held in Albuquerque, thus close to a number of federally-recognized Native American nations. That fact did not register in a broad way on the program, but there were a noticeable number of presenters who are not regular AFS attendees and there were a several papers dealing specifically with issues relevant to the Pueblo of Zuni. Among the presenters was Calbert Seciwa (Zuni), a Zuni scholar and the Director of the Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals at Northern Arizona University at the time of his passing in 2009. He had previously served as he served as the Director of the American Indian Institute at Arizona State University from 1989 to 2007. (I am unaware of any other members of Federally recognized Native North American nations or First Nations participating in the annual meetings of the 1980s, but it would be easy for me not to catch some, particularly if they presented on topics outside Native North American/First Nations studies. I welcome information on this point.)

One final note. The overall numbers of presentations on Native North American/First Nations topics would be lower if papers in history of the field were excluded from the totals. The AFS centennial prompted historical research on the field and that led to scholars who are not themselves scholars of Native North American studies taking time to consider figures in the field whose focus was in this field. The paper most relevant to the project in these posts is a paper given by Claire Farrer at the centennial meetings in 1888. Her topic was “Reflections of Ourselves: Native American Folklore Scholarship 1888-1988.”

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