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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
195031821%
19515024%
195242613%
195325722%
195430923%
195539919%
195633718%
195737512%
19584512%
1959191341%
Totals351679%
JAF Publications on Non-Native North American- and Native North American-Related Topics at During the 1950s.

The 1940s: JAF and Zumwalt’s American Folklore Scholarship

This series of posts are not attempting to achieve the rigor of a formal article or book. I am working in incremental bits for myself looking at some of the easier-to-see data so as to better understand the changing state of Native North American studies within folklore studies in North America as reflected in the work of the American Folklore Society. The basic dichotomy at issue is Native North American Studies vis-a-vis studies of other peoples and topics. Because at the founding of the AFS in 1888 and throughout much of its history, there was a disciplinary division of labor and an internal bifurcation of the society between “anthropological” and “literary” folklorists, with most (but not all) students of Native North American topics within folklore studies coming from the anthropological side, it may seem as if I am emphasizing this aspect of the story. To a degree this is unavoidable, but it is not my purpose. When Aurelio Espinosa or Stith Thompson, for instance, spoke or wrote about Native North American topics, they produce hash marks in the Native North American studies column just as Frank Speck or Edward Sapir do and when Paul Radin wrote about Mexico, Elsie Clews Parsons wrote about the Bahamas, or Berthold Laufer spoke about China, they added hash marks to the non-Native North American studies column. But, the two issues (1) anthropological/literary and (2) non-Native North American studies/Native North American studies are closely linked.

I note this at the start because I am overdue pointing to Rosemary Levy Zumwalt’s 1988 book American Folklore Scholarship: A Dialogue of Dissent. Happily for me, the Indiana University Press has just released a beautifully produced open access edition of this key text. You can find it online here: https://publish.iupress.indiana.edu/projects/american-folklore-scholarship. The book blurb for her book fits in here, with this post. I quote it here to both motivate you to consider the book and as a set up for this post, which is about the Journal of American Folklore in the 1940s. I will get into the details after the blurb.

Rosemary Zumwalt examines the split between the literary folklorists and the anthropological folklorists during the period from 1888, when the American Folklore Society was founded, to the early 1940s, when control of the Journal of American Folklore by the anthropologists was ended. At the center of the conflict were concerns of professionalism, science, and academic discipline.

For the literary folklorists, the orientation was toward literary works and the unwritten tradition from which they derived. Folklorists also focused on the study of literary types or genres. Child and Kittredge studied the ballad; Thompson, the folktale; Taylor, the riddle and the proverb. In anthropology, study was directed toward cultures without writing, and the emphasis was on fieldwork. Boas in his own writings, and in training his students, stressed collection of every aspect of the life of a people. And part of that material collected was folklore. The literary folklorists looked at literary forms for folklore while the anthropological folklorists looked at the life of the people and saw folklore only as part of it. Although this discipline-bound focus of the two factions created friction and led the two groups in different directions, it helped shape the development of the discipline in the United States.

I hope that the connection to the issues examined by Zumwalt are clearer, even on the basis of just this blurb. I certainly urge you to read the book. For my scrap paper project, this post on JAF in the 1940s is a companion to the earlier post on AFS meetings in the 1940s. In that post, I flagged the “Report on the Committee on Policy” that was “approved by the Council of the Society, 20 December 1940” and published as the first section of the report on the “Fifty-Second Annual Meeting of the American Folklore Society” in JAF volume 54, number 211/212, the double issue covering January to June 1941. As reflected in the blurb for Zumwalt’s book, this was the watershed moment for AFS. The JAF volume for 1940 (53) was edited by anthropological folklorist Ruth Benedict, who was, in a great many ways, Franz Boas’ successor. This was her final volume as JAF editor. Volume 54, for 1941, not only published the “Report on the Committee on Policy,” it reflected the re-ballancing that that report called for. Archer Taylor (a literary folklorist working outside Native North American studies) was the new editor and older practices that Boas had emphasized, such as using JAF to publish large text collections (both Native North American and non-Native North American) were now officially off of the agenda, replaced by a formal mandate to publish shorter and more general-purpose works (theory, method, etc.).

It is easy to see (as Alan Dundes does in his Foreword to Zumwalt’s book), this shift as a positive advancement for folklore studies–particularly for his goal of an autonomous (from other disciplines) folklore studies. I am not going to argue the opposite perspective here, but I am going to keep assessing its consequences for the presence and absence of Native North American and First Nations studies within folklore studies and especially for the (virtual) absence of Native North American individuals in the AFS scholarly community. (If you have never read the report of the Committee on Policy, find it in JSTOR here: https://www.jstor.org/stable/535805.)

With all that windup, it may be surprising that I do not have a ton to say about the content analysis presented in the JAF table for 1940. The sky did not fall in 1941. Native North American-relevant content retained a place in the journal during this decade. As a matter of raw counts (which can still be deceiving, even in a era in which gigantic text collections and long dissertations are now longer being published), the 1940s are not that different from the 1930s in terms of numbers. Hiding here though is the fact that the Native North American studies works in the 1940s were smaller and, in my view, more minor works than what would have been seen earlier. Such works are more likely to be weighted towards short notes and to less prominent authors. I think that there really is a trend setting in in the 1940s. It can be seen if one looks more closely at 1949. Notice the big jump in published works overall and the new low water mark for Native North American studies in JAF (7%). I could think differently later, after more study, but I think that this is emblematic of the new normal that the 1940s initiated.

YearPublished Papers and Notes on Non-Native American TopicsPublished Papers and Notes on Native American TopicsPercentage on Native American Topics
19409110%
194118522%
194217211%
194323928%
194424927%
194529617%
1946431120%
1947281839%
194832514%
19494337%
Total2666921%
JAF Publications on Non-Native North American- and Native North American-Related Topics at During the 1940s

On the subject of Native American folklorists in the 1940s, the only data point to flag from the tables of contents of JAF in 1940 is that Gladys Tantaquidgeon (Mohegan) was back in the pages of JAF with a small note titled “How the Summer Season was Brought North.” This less than two page note summarized a Montagnais tale that she collected from Joseph Kurtness of the Lake St. John Band of Montagnais. I believe that she was the only Native American folklorist published in the pages of JAF during the 1940s. Please correct me if you know me to be in error on this point.

Native American and First Nations Studies in the Work of the American Folklore Society During the 1910s

Here we go again, this time looking at the 1910s. This post is the eighth in a series considering the absence and presence of Native North American and First Nations studies work (and individuals) within the life of the American Folklore Society (AFS). For a summary of the previous posts, check out the opening passages in the seventh post. As with that post, I will be combining a survey of the annual meetings for the 1910s with a review of articles and notes published in the Journal of American Folklore (JAF) for the same decade. For the present-day United States, the AFS is the main organization for the discipline of folklore studies.

As in other early decades, knowledge of what happened at the annual meetings of the AFS, including the titles and speakers for presentations given, is derived from annual reports of the society published in JAF. These can be consulted in JAF today and they have also been made available in an open access way by the AFS in IUScholarWorks. While the AFS annual reports do not seem strikingly different between the two decades, comparison of meeting presentations of the 1910s and the 1920s reveals a key pattern. In the 1910s, presentations on non-Native topics (N=45) outnumbered presentations on Native North American studies topics (N=27), as is shown in the table below (compare with the first table in the preceding post). For the 1920s, this pattern was reversed, with fewer papers on non-Native North American topics (N=28) than for Native North American studies topics (N=40).

YearPresentations on Non-Native American TopicsPresentations on Native American TopicsPercentage on Native American Topics
19108111%
19116333%
1912500%
19136650%
19144343%
19154233%
19163563%
19175550%
1918000%
19194233%
Totals452738%
Presentations on Non-Native North American- and Native North American-Related Topics at the Annual Meetings of the American Folklore Society During the 1910s

When considering this, keep in mind that the nature of the presentations on non-Native North American topics is heterogeneous. That group usually includes literary folklorists working on topics such as ballads and tales from European settler, Black, “Hispanic” (Latinx), etc. communities in the US and the Americas, but also anthropological folklore studies works related to peoples outside the settler states of the United States and Canada. Finally, this grouping sometimes includes work of a theoretical or comparative character that by scholars who were otherwise deeply involved in Native North American studies.

We still need to get back to 1888, but from the vantage point of the meetings of the 1910s, it would appear that Native American studies work within folklore studies, as represented by meeting participation, is working towards a peak that is still to come in the 1920s. (As discussed in the earlier post on the meetings of the 1930s, that decade presents a muddled picture, but it seems clear that the 1920s were the high water mark for Native North American studies work within the society’s meetings as distinct undertakings. In the 1910s, like the 1920s, but not like the muddled 1930s, there was generally a distinct AFS meeting program, even though the society was meeting in partnership with the American Anthropological Association (AAA), the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and other organizations. This fact helps this inquiry greatly.

Unlike the 1920s, there is no recorded moment of participation in the meetings of the 1910s by a Native North American/First Nations scholars. If I am mistaken about this, please alert me.

What about the view from JAF? The table below reflects my quick coding of articles and notes in JAF during the 1910s. As in later decades, the journal presents a more moderate picture than the meetings relative to balance. Things said about the journal in the 1920s and 1930s generally hold true for the 1910s. These decades fall into the long period of (first) Franz Boas’ and then (second) Ruth Benedict’s editorships. The stability of norms and practices in this period is very noteworthy. Throughout, there was a significant group of associate editors mapping onto the major interest groups within the society and published content reflected these interests and their constituencies.

For anyone who was very committed to Native North American and First Nations studies (particularly studies of verbal art/narrative), JAF would have been essential reading in the 1910s. For such a scholar, there would be people to talk to if one made it to the annual meetings, but it is clear that one could be active in the AFS via the journal and an associated state and local society “branches” and never make it to one of the anthropology-inflected national meetings (often held in association with the AAA and related organizations). An elite of literary folklorists working on non-Native American materials found their way to the meetings in order to engage with and shape the organization, but such scholars really shone in the pages of JAF, where their works constituted a majority of what was published in the 1910s. Consider folk song scholar Phillips Barry, for whom the Phillips Barry Lecture*, given each year at the AFS meetings is named. There are stretches in the 1910s where he seems to be present in every issue of JAF, sometimes more than once in the same issue.

(*Wasn’t Dom Flemons an incredible Phillips Barry presenter at this year’s [2020] meeting!)

Below the table, I offer a few more observations, but for Native North American studies in folklore, I want to record here that the 1910s saw JAF publish two papers by William Jones (Sauk). I cannot do justice to Jones’ amazing story here, but I note that the two papers from the 1910s were published posthumously after his tragic murder in the Philippines. Many others have written of the terrible, sad story of his death while doing fieldwork in Luzon. It is likely that Jones, if one were to do the archival work carefully, would turn out to be the first Native North American member of the AFS. I may discover new things when I look at the remainder of the meeting reports and journal issues, but for now, this is a reasonable proposition. (I will make a correction here if I discover something different. Having published many books and articles while still young and having earned one of the first PhDs in anthropology (the first Native American do to so), it is overwhelming to think what he might have accomplished had he not died so young (at age 38). (See his “Ojibwa Tales from the North Shore of Lake Superior in JAF #113 (1916) and his “Notes on the Fox Indians” in JAF #92 (1911).

YearPublished Papers and Notes on Non-Native American TopicsPublished Papers and Notes on Native American TopicsPercentage on Native American Topics
191013941%
191112529%
191220829%
191316936%
191419932%
191519932%
191613424%
191722929%
191827516%
191922621%
Total1837329%
JAF Publications on Non-Native North American- and Native North American-Related Topics at During the 1910s

While Native North American studies were not dominant in the journal, it was (like the 1920s and 1930s) an era in which Boas’ students published often in the journal on both Native North American and theoretical topics. A few dissertations were published as long articles and there were many text collections from both anthropological folklorists and literary folklorists concerned with non-Native North American peoples, particularly from the western hemisphere. Boas’ editorial system of making sure that every volume, for the most part, included materials related to English-speaking European settler, Spanish-speaking settler, French-speaking settler, Black diaspora, and Native American/First Nations (here including the Indigenous peoples of the Americas as a whole) was evident as was his efforts to balance short items with the very long ones that he also was keen to publish.

Native American and First Nations Studies in the Work of the American Folklore Society During the 1920s

This is a seventh post in a series on the presence and absence of Native American and First Nations studies within the life of the American Folklore Society (AFS). So far, the series is as follows.

First, a post considered the presence and absence of Native American and First Nations studies within the AFS conference programs of the 1950s.

Second, I moved back a to the AFS conference reports for the 1940s.

Third, I considered the distribution of interest and work among the original group of AFS Fellows at the moment of the Fellows beginning in 1960, a moment that represented a kind of capstone for the state of things at the end of the 1950s.

Fourth, I moved forward to consider the annual meetings of the 1960s.

Fifth, I went back and assessed Native American and First Nations Studies at the American Folklore Society Meetings During the 1930s

Sixth, I dug deeper for the 1930s, looking at the content of the Journal of American Folklore (JAF) for that decade.

Here in a combined post, I look at Annual Meetings and the JAF for the 1920s.

While the published AFS Annual Reports for the 1920s have the same format and style as those crated and published in the 1930s, for the 1920s there is, for each year, an accounting of the papers presented at the Society’s annual meeting. There are indicators that the AFS was then meeting with the AAA and other organizations, but the picture in the 1920s is one of autonomy and in each instance there are is a small but clear and substantive group of papers presented at the annual meeting. The data on these presentations is given below. For the tracking of presentations relative to Native North American and First Nations topics, 1924 will look a anomalous, especially in the context of the decade. In addition to two papers presented on other topics, there was that year a round table event on European tales taken up by Native North American peoples. Below the table I touch on a highlight and assess the data.

YearPresentations on Non-Native American TopicsPresentations on Native American TopicsPercentage on Native American Topics
19201686%
19211686%
19226225%
19232467%
192420* (Roundtable)0%
19254450%
19264969%
19272360%
19285229%
19291480%
Total284059%
Presentations on Non-Native American- and Native American-Related Topics at the Annual Meetings of the American Folklore Society During the 1920s

For me the highlight is seeing, in the program for the 1926 meeting held at the University of Pennsylvania, Gladys Tantaquidgeon (Mohegan). Born in 1899, she would have been 27 years old at the time of the AFS meetings. The annual reporting tells us that her presentation was “Notes on Mohegan Folklore.” Based on my knowledge of the people involved, she was the only Native North American person presenting during the 1920s. If you know me to be in error on this point, please correct me.

Before turning to the JAF in the 1920s, I can say that the picture that the 1920s presents is pretty consistent. Editorial matters are a dominant concern of the society. To achieve its publishing goals, financial and membership issues were very prominent. Franz Boas was a very active presence in the life of the society in the 1920s and his students were central to its work, but well-known literary folklorists maintain their place in the society and Stith Thompson in particular can be seen rising through the ranks throughout the 1920s. The other key leaders among the non-anthropologists included Louise Pound, Phillips Barry, Frank Doby, Aurelio Espinosa. I tend not to enumerate them, but nearly everyone in ethnology/anthropological folklore studies generally associated with Franz Boas is present among the anthropological folklorists of AFS, with Ruth Benedict, Gladys A. Reichard, and Ruth L. Bunzel consistently playing key roles. I should have mentioned this previously, but throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Elsie Clews Parsons (herself a student of Native American topics) really was the patron saint of the AFS, consistently providing major donations to advance large projects and to patch holes in the society’s finances during difficult moments.

The meetings were small but those who gathered at them and served as officers, including as councilors, were major figures in the field. As I discuss below, the picture from JAF is much larger. Here is the basic count for the 1920s.

YearPublished Papers and Notes on Non-Native American TopicsPublished Papers and Notes on Native American TopicsPercentage on Native American Topics
19202214%
1921211032%
19221317%
1923151448%
19242250%
192511945%
192611842%
1927900%
192891155%
192914318%
Total1275931%
JAF Publications on Non-Native North American- and Native North American-Related Topics at During the 1920s

As in the 1930s, review of the content published in the JAF during the 1920s presents a more balanced perspective on the field, both in terms of literary vis-a-vis anthropological folklore studies and in terms of Native North American and First Nations studies vis-a-vis the study of other peoples and traditions.

Key to contextualizing the JAF data is remembering, as in the 1930s, that the journal regularly published huge text collections from various peoples of the world (particularly of the Western hemisphere). While these were sometimes collections related to Native North American and First Nations peoples, there were also frequently devoted to other groups that were prominent in the concerns of the broader membership–European American settler populations in rural North America, European immigrant populations in cities, African American populations in the U.S. and elsewhere in the Americas, French Canadian groups. As in the 1930s, a there is non-trivial amounts of work published related to Africa and Asia (particularly Chinese) and a significant amount of material related to both Indigenous groups and settler populations in the Spanish-speaking Americas. (A lot of work on the Spanish-speaking Americas is present in JAF during the 1920s. Put another way, the diversity of the field is much clearer in the pages of JAF than it is in the meeting halls where AFS leaders gathered for a business meeting and a small group of papers.

[Before moving on, a comment here on the studies of the Spanish-speaking Americas. Many people contributed to this work, including even Boas himself. But the central figure is Aurelio Macedonio Espinosa, Sr. He is clearly the star figure in this corner of the field and it is evident that he was greatly respected overall. He served as AFS President in 1924 and was reelected for 1925. His role, and that of other folklorists who might be identified as Latinx today is important in its own terms, but it is also important to keep this other thread in mind as we search the annals of the society for Indigenous and Black scholars.]

As noted previously, an assessment by pages published rather than by itemized articles and notes would generate a different picture. While very large articles are devoted to all groups (and the 1920s saw a huge amount of text material published on Puerto Rico), a page approach would shift perceptions of Native American studies in the AFS. As in the 1930s, JAF as a key location for the publication of Native North American text collections. 1929, for instance, looks different on the table above than it does on the tables of contents in JAF. Among the three Native North America-related publications for that year is a huge Hopi text collection.

Noting Gladys Tantaquidgeon, above, at the 1926 meeting was a relief in the face of the absence of Indigenous scholars at the decades and decades of meetings already surveyed. As noted in an earlier post, the 1920s also feature a paper in the JAF by Ella Deloria (Yankton Dakota), her “The Sun Dance of the Oglala Sioux” published in number 166 in 1929. (She was age 40 at the time.) While both Tantaquidgeon and Deloria did research with other Indigenous peoples it is perhaps relevant to note that their 1920s AFS contributions were reflections on studies undertaken among their own peoples.

What provisional patterns stick out from the 1920s survey, here combining JAF and the annual meeting in one post? If a scholar were interested in Native American expressive culture, particularly verbal art, in the 1920s, JAF would be essential reading. If such a scholar had the means and ability to travel to the (usually Northeast US) cities where the AFS met during this decade, they would find fellow scholars with which to converse and from which to learn. But the AFS was not at all reducible to the annual meeting. The journal represented and presented a bigger and more complicated scholarly world. Separate from Native North American studies concerns, it is strange to note that the difference between the 1920s and the 2020 on this point is basically an inversion. In 1920, the JAF involved more people and a more diverse set of concerns. In 2019 and even in virtual COVID-19 reshaped 2020, the annual meetings are simply bigger and more diverse than the content of the JAF. It has been thus for a long time. JAF is great, but it is a a very partial slice of the AFS today, whereas in 1920, the annual meeting was a tiny slice of the membership and of the journal as a community.

It is painful to contemplate that the 1920s might have been more inclusive than many later decades in terms of the involvement of women scholars and also of BIPOC scholars. I am not combing through this data just for kicks, although it is good to learn more about my fields. I am trying to get a better handle on just such painful questions as this one. I have not surveyed all of the data yet. There are later decades (ex: 1970s, 1980s, etc.) to consider as well as earlier ones (ex: 1900s, 1910s, etc.) to look at. But the patterns are starting to emerge more sharply.

The 1930s from the Perspective of the Journal of American Folklore

This is the sixth post in the series looking at the presence and absence of Native North American and First Nations scholars and scholarship from the work and life of the American Folklore Society (AFS). To get a recent recap of the series, look at the start of the post preceding this one.

If the annual meetings of the 1930s presented a picture of anthropological hegemony within the American Folklore Society, the published issues of the Journal of American Folklore (JAF) present a somewhat less stark picture. As the focus of this series is on the presence and absence of Native (North) American and First Nations studies within the work of the AFS as a community of scholars, the notes and articles published within the JAF, as the journal of the AFS, present a more harmonious picture with studies of diverse peoples of the Americas and of the wider world appearing in its pages. JAF also represents a less-skewed disciplinary balance between anthropological folklorists (working not only in Native North American but around the world and with other non-Native peoples of North America) and of non-anthropological (primarily literary) folklorists

As the question of Native American and First Nations scholars active within the American Folklore Society community is not disconnected from the openness of the society to BIPOC scholars in general, I note that the 1930s is the decade in which Zora Hurston published her two JAF papers. (“Dance Songs and Tales from the Bahamas” in 1930 and “Hoodoo in America in 1931”. (Writing from Honduras in 1947, she would later publish one of the most awesomely vehement negative reviews that I have ever read. You should go find it in JAF #238).

As noted previously, Gladys Tantaquidgeon (Mohegan) published two articles in JAF, the first appearing in 1932 (“Notes on the Origins and Uses of Plants of the Lake St. John Montagnais”) and a second one to appear later, in 1941.

I am going to share the raw counts for JAF publications dealing with non-Native and Native topics, but a few points should be kept in mind. This count combines shorter notes with full articles. I do not think that the two genres were used equally across these two areas of interests, which skews the overall count in a way that increases the proportion of non-Native North American content. The counts also do not take into account page counts. During this period, articles could be very brief or they could be huge text collections that occupy full numbers. Thus an assessment by page count might lead to very different results. While the Boasian scholars (in this period still working under Boas’ leadership) used the JAF in this way actively, text collections for varied peoples produced by scholars with different orientations did so also. More likely imballanced though in this period (and earlier) was the publication of full theses as articles in JAF. This is another kind of long-form work that impacted distribution of topics vis-a-vis page counts. Anthropological folklorists in the Boasian circle were more likely to see their theses and dissertations published in this way. This is no small matter, as in this era, publication of the dissertation was a requirement for the bestowal of the degree. The rise later of University Microfilms as a means of publication aimed to solve the problem that scholars of this earlier era faced around dissertation publication. Boas and his students used JAF towards this end in cases where the topics could make sense within its pages within an anthropological definition of folklore studies.

YearPublished Papers and Notes on Non-Native American TopicsPublished Papers and Notes on Native American TopicsPercentage on Native American Topics
193012529%
193118728%
19326440%
193314526%
19342614%
193515421%
19369640%
19373350%
193814318%
193914422%
Totals1314224%
JAF Publications on Non-Native North American- and Native North American-Related Topics at During the 1930s

To illustrate the way that page counts rather than presence/absence can offer a richer view, consider 1934, as presented above. This could seems like a bad year for a partisan whose interests were solely in anthropological folklore studies work related to Native North America. But the single item shown there, accounting for the 4% figure, is Diamond Jenness’ “Myths of the Carrier Indians of British Columbia” in JAF #184-185. At 160 pages, it represents 40% of the total pages published in JAF in 1934.

What is the take away? Native North American and First Nations studies was a vital part of the work of the American Folklore Society during the 1930s. The previous post suggested that the topic was a dominant factor when it came to AFS meetings and this one shows that the area of concern was prominent, but not hegemonic from the perspective of the society’s journal during this decade.

A very large group of scholars published on Native North American and First Nations topics in JAF during the 1930s. At least one of them–Gladys Tantaquidgeon–was member of a Native North American society that had then, or would later have, government-to-government relations with the United States. If readers know of other Native North American scholars present in JAF during the 1930s, please point this out to me.

Native American and First Nations Studies at the American Folklore Society Meetings During the 1930s

This is a fifth post in a series on the presence and absence of Native American and First Nations studies within the life of the American Folklore Society (AFS). So far, the series is as follows.

First, a post considered the presence and absence of Native American and First Nations studies within the AFS conference programs of the 1950s.

Second, I moved back a to the AFS conference reports for the 1940s.

Third, I considered the distribution of interest and work among the original group of AFS Fellows at the moment of the Fellows beginning in 1960, a moment that represented a kind of capstone for the state of things at the end of the 1950s.

Fourth, I moved forward to consider the annual meetings of the 1960s.

In this post, I go back and consider the 1930s. In the post on the 1940s, I noted how that decade began with a report and recommendations aimed at re-balancing emphasis between literary and anthropological folklorists in a situation in which the AFS had, the report suggested, marginalized literary folklorists and become dominated by anthropological ones. Looking at the 1930s helps make this clearer while also speaking to the focus of this series on the place of Native American and First Nations studies within the society.

In the first, second, and fourth posts, I presented a table showing the numbers of conference papers devoted to Native North American and non-Native North American topics. That is not really possible for the 1930s for reasons that are related to the resolution to change AFS processes reported on in 1940. It would be possible to study the conference programs and archival materials related to the American Anthropological Association (AAA), Modern Language Association (MLA), and the AFS to sort out the details at issue, but the annual reports of the AFS do not alone provide all of the information that would be required.

As implied in the 1940 report, the meetings of the AFS seem to mainly have happened on the sidelines of the meetings of the AAA. While the AFS reports are full of rich details on budgets and (extensive) publication activities and while they contain much that is of human interest, including the birth of the Hoosier Folklore Society, the death of specific members, and the strains caused by the Great Depression and the war in Europe, they usually do not present an AFS meeting program in the way that was true for the reports of the 1940s. Readers of the 1936 AFS report were, for example, sent to the pages of the American Anthropologist where they could find a listing of the AAA conference program, with the AFS report treating that AAA program as equal to the AFS one. There were leading non-anthropological folklorists (Archer Taylor, Stith Thompson, Aurelio Espinosa, etc.) involved actively in this period, including as officers. It is easy to see where this dynamic, unfolding in the final decade of Franz Boas’ life, would have been, to a greater or lesser degree, irritating to them.

In this period, it is particularly clear that AFS membership, JAF authors and readers, and AFS meeting attendees represented quite different communities. The AFS in this period had a membership in the lower hundreds and a very active publishing program that included both the Journal of American Folklore and many monographs. A all-star cast was involved in a large range of leadership roles. There were key roles filled by the leading literary folklorists of this era, but they were outnumbered by Boasian anthropologists for whom the AFS was a key node in a larger network of organizations. Even if I had fuller information on papers presenting, the information that I have would have been hard to parse because the main differences that show up in the 1940s and 1950s are not as relevant here. Because of anthropology-centrism, AFS meetings, such as they were, might parse more easily into anthropological folklore work with Native North American peoples and anthropological folklore work with other non-European peoples of the world. The journal will surely show the presence of the literary folklorists concerned with other peoples of the United States and Canada (and the world, especially Europe)–the business of the society shows their importance–but the AAA-meeting-centrism problem makes the meeting program-as-data a different kind of thing.

For my inquiry, the following points can be made about the meetings of the 1930s. A scholar interested in Native American expressive culture would have found plenty of (non-Native) scholars of the topic to talk to at an AFS (business) meeting. With the exception of Stith Thompson, they would be anthropologists and they would be numerous and they would be European and European American settlers.

Ella Delora (Yankton Dakota) published in the Journal of American Folklore in 1929 and I took up study of the 1930 AFS reports hoping to find evidence of her attending meetings in the 1930s. She very well may have attended AFS meetings in this time, but I did not see her named (even though many of her close associates within anthropology are named) in the reports for the decade. She published in the International Journal of American Linguistics (with Boas) in 1933, and in the Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society in 1944, and again in the International Journal of American Linguistics in 1954. I note this to suggest that she COULD have published again in JAF during the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. I certainly wish that she had and I wish that there was more easy-to-access data to suggest that she attended AFS meetings. That is a mater for deeper study than is underpinning these blog posts.

As with Ella Deloria’s paper in 1929, study of the pages of JAF for each of the decades will complexify the picture provided by the meetings. Gladys Tantaquidgeon (Mohegan), for instance, published in JAF in 1932 and again in 1941. Full consideration of this matter will have to wait, but it is foreshadowed here. Anthropological folklorists who were members of Native American Nations that were, or would become Federally recognized, were part of the community of folklorists in the first half of the 20th century. When the time comes, the story of William Jones (Sauk) will push this story back to the turn of the 20th century. The presence and then the absence of Native Americans individuals who were (anthropological) folklorists is the fundamental tragedy of the story that I am working out bit by bit in these posts.

(Note: I should have been clear in my earlier posts that I was limiting inclusion to the Indigenous peoples of the colonized United States and Canada when parsing earlier meeting programs. Thus the occasional paper presented on Indigenous peoples in so-called Latin America were categorized, artificially for sure, with those dealing with Non-Native American peoples. This mechanical step was only done to allow for a focus on scholarship related to Indigenous peoples in the settler states of Canada and the United States. My reasoning for this relates to the underlying purpose of this series, which is to sort out what happened to both Native North American studies and Native North American folklorists within the AFS and the field. The presence of Native American and Indigenous scholars and scholarship on a hemispheric basis is a very important consideration and deserves careful study.)

Native American and First Nations Studies at the American Folklore Society Meetings During the 1960s

In a fourth series post on the presence and absence of Native American and First Nations studies within the life of the American Folklore Society, I pick up with the meetings of the 1960s. The first post focused meeting presentations during the 1950s. The second post focused on meeting presentations during the 1940s. The third post considered the founding cohort of AFS Fellows and their relative placement among anthropological and literary folklore studies and their relationships to Native American studies.

For AFS members of my own generation, the 1960s is the period in which the present state of the society and of the field as it has been practiced in recent decades in present-day “North America” starts to look familiar. After discussing my narrower by primary interest in the presence and absence of Native American and First Nations work, I will make some general comments arising from study of the conference programs of the 1960s.

I can get the reoccurring observation out of the way at the start. None of the ten (out of 397) presenters sharing studies related to Native North America at the meetings of the 1960s are known to me to have been citizens of Native American or Canadian First Nations. If you know me to be wrong about this, please let me know. (Joann Kealiinohomoku [née Wheeler] is among the presenters in this group of ten, but my understanding is that the [Hawaiian] last name by which she was widely known was a married name.)

Relative to the main topic, I make some observations sequentially and then in a more summary mode. The decade began not only with the start of the Fellows of the American Folklore Society, as noted previously, but with the presidency of William N. Fenton. At the 1960 meeting, there were nineteen regular papers, all on topics outside of Native American studies. The exception was Fenton’s presidential address, which considered Haudenosaunee cosmology and that was published in the Journal of American Folklore (JAF) afterwards. The key thing is that, while he continued to be active as a scholar for many decades to come, he does not again appear on the meeting programs of the 1960s. It is my impression that, like fellow President Erminie Wheeler-Voegelin, he shifted his attention to the American Society for Ethnohistory meetings. (I met him once at the 1993 ASE meetings in Bloomington.)

Gertrude Kurath, who was a regular presenter on Native American-related topics in the 1950s returned to the program in 1963 and two key figures who would remain associated with folklore studies, inclusive of Native American studies, appear for the first time on the programs of the 1960s. Dell Hymes presented once on Native American narrative in 1965 and once on the contributions of folklore studies to sociolinguistics in 1969. Both of these presentations went on to become widely discussed publications. Also emerging in the 1960s is Barre Toelken, who presented variously on non-Native topics and who gave a paper related to Navajo narrative in 1967–the only paper on a Native North American studies topic (out of 57) at that transformational meeting. A fourth leading figure in this cluster is Alan Dundes, who presented one Native North America-related paper in 1964.

There continued to be scholars at the meetings of the 1960s whose work, outside their program participation, sometimes touched on Native American studies topics and who clearly kept up with the field in a general way. Examples include Fred Kniffen, Richard Bauman, and Weston LaBarre.

A noteworthy story for this investigation is the case of (very anthropological) Melvile Jacobs and the 1964 meeting in New York. His presidential address is listed on the program without a title. I could not remember the specifics of it and I looked it up in JAF, presuming that he would have incorporated some of his ethnographic work within it. While he devoted a great proportion of his career to Native North American studies, his presidential paper (unlike Fenton’s) does not touch on this. It is a theoretical assessment of verbal art studies in general, inclusive of, but not limited to, those of folklorists. It will not venture a summary of it, but I think that it can be characterized as quite critical of the field and very anthropological in orientation. It feels like a another key marker in a story of transition to something else. It feels like the end of an era in a way that I cannot put my finger on.

Almost every history of the discipline as practiced in the present-day United States locates key shifts–intellectual and organizational–in the 1960s. I think that that reading is true in general. As related to Native American studies, the 1960s represents a special case. As a concern of members-at-large as represented on meeting programs (and I think also in general) Native American studies topics continued to wane. The 1960s show explosive growth in program participation (concurrent sessions were born in Toronto in 1967), but this sector continues its decline, both proportionally and in terms of total papers. I will leave the Native American and First Nations studies story there, but below the table, I touch on some of the general trends revealed in the programs. These general trends shape the specific ones that I have just noted.

YearPresentations on Non-Native American TopicsPresentations on Native American TopicsPercentage on Native American Topics
19601915%
19612100%
19621500%
1963 (Emancipation Centennial)2714%
1963 Special Summer Meeting at Utah State (The West)2129%
19643126%
1964 Special Spring Meeting at Duke 3100%
19652129%
19663800%
19675712%
19684612%
19697000%
Totals397102%
Presentations on Non-Native American- and Native American-Related Topics at the Annual Meetings of the American Folklore Society During the 1960s

The preserved program available in IUScholarWorks show two bonus meetings during the 1960s, one held in the spring at Duke University in 1964 and one held at Utah State University in the summer of 1963. Those two meetings were large by the standards of the 1950s and early 1960s and they were a prelude to the growth that becomes obvious in the second half of the 1960s. As noted above, this is when the concurrent panel era opened up. There were two concurrent sessions for most of the meetings of 1967 (Toronto) and 1968 (Bloomington) and 1969 (Atlanta) saw the move to three concurrent sessions.

The 1960s saw other developments. Thematic panels focused on material culture (not just individual papers) become normal in the 1960s. Panel discussions also become common in this decade. (Where panelists had a set title for their assigned discussion topic, I treated these as papers. When a group of names were gathered together under an theme, but without a specific assignment, I did not count them in the totals above.) Students-as-students appear in the 1960s in panels concerned with student topics, although it is clear that students presented classic papers at an earlier point. Perhaps this was not just an outgrowth of the growth of folklore graduate programs but of the student movements of the later 1960s.

For anyone involved in AFS now, the 1960s programs produce a host of debuts for people central to the field in recent decades. For example, Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Richard Bauman, Michael Owen Jones, and Henry Glassie are among those who begin appearing in the 1960s. Others, such as Américo Paredes, move from presence in the 1950s to prominence in this decade.

The old AAA/MLA dynamic seems to fully disappear in this decade, although, as today, clearly there were AAA and MLA attendees among those also gathering at AFS meetings. In is place is the stronger and growing presence of people trained in folklore programs who lacked an identities as something other than as a folklorist. The programs of the 1960s are also full of people with complicated and plural professional identities to be sure, but increasingly these diversities were being shaped by complex alignments with fields and interdisciplinary areas such as history, geography, American Studies, sociolinguistics, and semiotics and they were not a clean inheritance of the literature/anthropology binary of the founding decades. In the later 1960s, the AFS meetings (from my point of view) got a lot more interesting but at the same time, and for interconnected reasons, they got a lot less relevant for those whose studies were concerned with the Indigenous societies of the colonized U.S. and Canada.

For the broader issue of actual involvement in the field by Native American and First Nations scholars, the 1960s continued the dismal record already underway in the 1940s and 1950s. As Native American studies went from small to smaller as an AFS concern, the prospects of attracting the interests of those Indigenous scholars in the humanities and social sciences who would, or could have, become folklore scholars and public humanists in the 1970s also shrank.

Emerging folklore studies stars such as Dell Hymes and Barre Toelken may have done particularly prominent work in Native American studies and, in doing so, kept the concern within the canon, but there was no longer a critical mass of scholars involved in such work. I will be considering this lack of critical mass–and its effects–in later posts. Here it is enough to reflect that an AFS meeting in the 1960s, while more lively than one of the 1940s or 1950s, was not likely to offer much to an Indigenous scholar eager to connect with at least some other scholars (Native or not) also working in Native American studies.

A Pack Basket Among the Lisu in Yunnan, 2004

If you click here, you will be taken to a Getty Images photograph by Zhang Peng/Light Rocket. The image shows a Lisu woman on her way to a market in Liuku, the prefecture seat for Nujiang Lisu Autonomous Prefecture in Yunnan, China. This autonomous prefecture is located northwest of Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture, where a group of research collaborators and I visited in 2013 and 2019. Nujiang Lisu Autonomous Prefecture is bordered on the west by Myanmar (Burma), on the north by Tibet Autonomous Region, on the Northeast by Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (Yunnan), and by Lijiang Prefecture-Level City (Yunnan) to the east and Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture (Yunnan) to the southeast.

Go look at the basket. I’ll wait.

Work on the manuscript dealing with basketry in Southwest China is, happily, now underway. While the study draws on work in communities that my collaborators and I have visited in Yunnan, Guizhou, and Guangxi, I am working to gather information from other parts of the Southwest. I am reading the ethnographies available in English (the Chinese language sources will come later) and finding what I can in museum databases and on the Internet. As I am reading Michele Zack’s The Lisu: Far From the Ruler (Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2017) at present, I have been looking for Lisu examples online. This Getty photograph provides a particularly useful example to consider.

The woman in the picture is wearing a pack basket. She is about 250 kilometers west (and a little north) of the Erhai Lake/Old Dali area where our group has documented and collected pack baskets among the Bai. (There are some Bai, speaking a different Bai dialect, among the Lisu in Nujiang Lisu Autonomous Prefecture.)

The basket that she wears is different from those of the Dali area in a number of ways. Even using just the picture, some of these can be observed. In common with Dali-area backpacks, hers is also generally “square” (/rectanguar) in profile rather than having a round opening, as among the Baiku Yao in Nandan County, Guangxi. But the two Northwest Yunnan types are different in several other ways. Dali-area backpacks have four sturdy bamboo feet, which hold the backpack level and off of the earth when it is set down. The Liuku are example lacks this feature.

Such feet would not work with the Liuku example because it is less of a rectangular solid and more of a trapizoidal prizm (if I am remembering my geography properly), with a rectangular opening at the top that is larger than the rectangular base at the bottom. This is a feature (manifest more generally in narrowing-to-the-bottom forms) seen in pack baskets from (nearby) highland Myanmar and elsewhere in mainland Southeast Asia.

In addition to differing in shape, the weave of the Liuku area basket is also very different. It is more open, with larger bamboo strips but also larger spaces in between them. The key difference is the way that the vertical elements that run from the base to the rim work. A proper analysis of the weaving techniques in both types would be instructive, but the provisional way to put this is that the Liuku basket seems dependent on these vertical elements, which weave in and out around the static horizontal elements. In Dali-area baskets, in contrast, the vertical elements are static and the weaving is primarily done with very thin horizontal strips that encircle the basket, working upward from the base and producing a basket without large openings.

Comparing the Liuku basket with my own market shopping basket from Xizhouzhen near Dali, I see that the two use the same olive green commercial fabric straps. This commonality is very different, again, from the pack baskets of Nandan County, Guangxi, where the straps are themselves woven out of narrow strips of bamboo.

I wish I could have included the photograph here, but the whole point of Getty Images is to sell use rights to images. I hope that you went and checked out the picture. The picture is worth more than my words, but these words help move the basket study along.

Native American and First Nations Studies in the American Folklore Society: The Founding AFS Fellows

As I noted in the previous post in this series on the presence and absence of Native American and First Nations studies work within the American Folklore Society, the 1940s began with a political intervention aimed at resolving tensions within the AFS between anthropological folklorists and humanistic, particularly, literature-oriented, folklorists. That moment of crisis is of focused interest here because those folklorists most consistently concerned with Native American and First Nations issues were anthropological in orientation. Most were concurrently active in the American Anthropological Association and, unlike the more literary folklorists, were unlikely to be involved in the Modern Language Association. The broader take away in the second post, which reflected meetings organized in the wake of this anthropology/literary studies intervention, was that in the 1940s, AFS meetings were, in general, very small and that Native American and First Nations-focused scholarship was regularly, but not consistently, present as a small slice a among a collection of small slices within a small field characterized by relatively small meetings even in relationship to the size of the community of folklorists then active in settler colonized North America.

The first post saw similar trends continue into the 1950s–small meetings featuring a small amount of work in Native American and First Nations content. It will be necessary to study other documents beyond the 1950s meeting programs to determine if the pattern seen in the 1940s–of a sizable number of anthropological folklorists working in, and sometimes with, First Nations and Native American communities continuing as a background phenomena to a greater extent that modest program participation would suggest.

One point of data available for the end of the 1950s is the story of the Fellows of the American Folklore Society, which was founded in 1960 (thus, effectively reflecting the state of affairs at the end of the decade. Information of the AFS Fellows can be found on the current AFS website, where all Fellows, past and present, are noted by name. Those who are deceased are so noted and, most relevantly for this project, those who were founding fellows are so noted. If one pulls the names of these first fellows out of the larger list, one can assess the orientation and work focus of this group of disciplinary leaders on colonized Turtle Island at the end of the 1950s. Rather than presenting the names is alphabetical order, I present them here in series of groupings. (For those interested in gender inbalance, I mark men and women in different colors. I also note the gender parity found among the anthropological folklorists.*

The first grouping represents scholars whose primary scholarly involvements concerned Native North America. This first cluster is comprised of two men and two women. In each case, there is nuance that can be added. Each of these four worked fully or significantly in Native American studies as anthropological folklorists. Anna Gayton also did work with Azorean Portuguese immigrants in California. Morris Olpler was also involved in work with Japanese Americans disgracefully interned during WWII and pursued work in East Asian studies also.

  • William Fenton (Ph.D. in Anthropology, 1937)
  • Anna H. Gayton (Ph.D. in Anthropology, 1928)
  • Morris E. Opler (Ph.D. in Anthropology, 1933)
  • Erminie Wheeler-Voegelin (Ph.D. in Anthropology, 1939)

Two other anthropological folklorists can be found in the initial Fellows, one man and one woman. Melville Herskovits was trained in, and worked in, the Americanist anthropological milieu, but was himself a student of African and African American societies. Katherine Luomala had research experience among Native American peoples and was involved, like Morris Opler, in applied work with interned Japanese Americans, but her primary work was set in Hawaii and the Pacific more generally. From the perspective of present-day work in Native American and Indigenous Studies, her involvements in Hawaii would readily move her to the first group.

  • Melville Herskovits (Ph.D. in Anthropology, 1923)
  • Katherine Luomala (Ph.D. in Anthropology, 1936)

Standing somewhat alone as the singular individual that he was, is Thomas Sebeok. Trained in Oriental languages he engaged with anthropology, linguistics, and folklore and was a pioneer in semiotics. His work related to a boundless range of topics, but included Uralic and Altaic languages.

  • Thomas Sebeok (Ph.D. in Oriental Languages, 1945)

The final group is comprised of scholars primarily focusing on European and European American expressive cultures. Most did so on the basis of training in English or another European language, but I note that Halpert held an M.A. in anthropology. Stith Thompson bridged Native and European tale traditions in his dissertation on European tales found among Native American peoples. George Korson rose to a position of prominence on the bases of his research and writings without a university degree. Thelma James held the M.A. degree but did not complete her doctoral studies, although she accomplished much within the discipline. Warren Roberts, from whom I took a class, earned the first Ph.D. in folklore in the United States, at Indiana. He would go on to pursue material culture research in the folklife/European ethnology tradition, but he was trained in the English language studies-informed mode of his mentor and fellow fellow Stith Thompson, as was Herbert Halpert.

  • Tristram P. Coffin (Ph.D. in English, 1949)
  • Herbert Halpert (Ph.D. in English, 1947)
  • Wayland Hand (Ph.D. in Germanic Languages, 1936)
  • Arthur Palmer Hudson (Ph.D. in English, 1930)
  • George Korson
  • Thelma G. James (M.A. in English, 1923)
  • W. Edson Richmond (Ph.D. in English, 1947)
  • Warren Roberts (Ph.D. in Folklore, 1953)
  • Stith Thompson (Ph.D. in English, 1914)
  • Francis Lee Utley (Ph.D. in English, 1936)
  • D.K. Wilgus (Ph.D. in English, 1954)

If we divide the group in to those affiliated with anthropology (including Sebeok), there are seven on this side of the binary divide and eleven on the other side. Of the eighteen founding fellows, four are generally understood as engaged participants in Native American studies, with Stith Thompson maintaining an interest in the field going back to his dissertation and non-trivial ongoing relationships with anthropologists.

How to read this data? I know that the matter is more complex than the following, but by 1960, I think that the days of parity of engagement between literary and anthropological folklore studies were over and that anthropological engagement was significantly diminishing as a growing sense of autonomy for folklore studies as an independent discipline in colonized North America had taken root. There would be re-connections to come (with the influence, for instance, of Dell Hymes and a broader re-connection under the auspices of the ethnography of speaking), but the old relationships of the pre-war era and the Boasian Americanist tradition mainly existed in individualized commitments (Ex. Fenton’s this period, my own in the current one) not as a wholesale collective enterprise in which AFS involvement was simply normative for anthropological ethnographers. As for Native American studies work in folklore, key individuals would come on the scene and do noteworthy work–Barre Toelken provides a clear example–but again, the field was about to grow both in numbers of participants and in diversity of interests and Native American studies would, I anticipate, continue to become a smaller and smaller part of the whole. Study of the meeting programs and JAF for the 1960s may prove me wrong in this anticipation.

* Beyond throwing shade, which I totally am, there are real reasons, both biographical and structural, in the history of American anthropology and the history of American literary studies for this gender difference.

No founding member of the AFS Fellows is known to me to have been a citizen of a Native American Nation. Please correct me if you know me to be in error on this point.

Native American and First Nations Studies at the American Folklore Society Meetings During the 1940s

Here is a second quick post on the presence and absence of Native American and First Nations studies at the American Folklore Society Meetings. Here the focus in on the 1940s. For most current members of the society, the surprise and interest in my report will not actually have much, if anything, to do with my specific topic. Likely to be of greater interest is simply the tiny number of presentations given at AFS meetings in this earlier era. To take the densest year for which I have data–1948–there were sixteen “regular” papers given at the annual meeting. On Friday, October 18, 2019, between 8 am and 10 am, thirty-seven classic papers were delivered. This number does not include more informal panel discussions and other special events that are now very common at AFS meetings. Thus, through the rise of concurrent sessions and especially the tremendous expansion of the field and society, we do more than twice in a single session block than was done at an entire large meeting in the 1940s. For 1941, I record a total of six presentations all together. This is the equivalent of one and a half or two present-day AFS panels. This is a dramatic change and when younger members of the society are exposed (endlessly) to elders droning on with declensionist post-golden age, narratives of disciplinary contraction and woe, consider treating their stories not as history but as a kind of sacred narrative doing a different work–for good or for ill–than descriptive history in a documentary mode. The American Folklore Society today is a juggernaut compared to seventy-five years ago.

As noted in the first post in this series, to know about the meetings in the 1940s, the easiest source to access are the reports of the meetings then-published in the Journal of American Folklore. Past AFS Executive Director Tim Lloyd, working with the librarians at the Indiana University Libraries, worked to make these reports available in IUScholarWorks and everyone can access them there. For 1948 and before, we have these post-meeting reports rather than the kinds of printed programs available for 1949-present.

An upside of the reports is that one gets a much richer sense of the society and its meetings outside of the presentations. The data in my first post should be considered in light of this lesson. Where we have reports of the meetings in the 1940s, one can learn about who presented what talk, by title. But the 1940s reports in JAF (available in the journal itself and excerpted in IUSW) also make clear that many active members were attending these meetings but not presenting lectures. The 1940s reports show that the expectation that a person would formally present at the meetings as a normal outgrowth of attending those meetings was absolutely not in effect, in sharp contrast to present-day norms in which presentation by attendees is very (I would say excessively) common. There are structural as well as ethos reasons for this and I do not foresee any likely change on this point, even in a post-COVID world.

Percentages are ratios and thus are only instructive in relation to the data on which they are based. (One paper on a given topic can represent 50% of the content at a meeting comprised of two papers…) With this caveat in mind, the picture for Native American and First Nations studies work at the meetings during the 1940s does not look much different than during the 1950s. For those with an interest in this field, a full program would boil down to two papers among a overall group of fourteen to sixteen presentations (ex: 1945, 1948). For at least two years (the data is incomplete at present, with gaps for 1940, 1942, and 1943) there were no papers related to Native American and First Nations studies work. As in the 1950s, none of the presenters working in this field are known to me to have been members of Indigenous Nations encompassed by the present-day settler states of Canada or the United States. Please correct me if you know this statement to be wrong.

Illustrating the way that presentation is a very incomplete measure of engagement and presence, I can note that the 1940s was the crucial decade for Erminie Wheeler-Voegelin, whom I mentioned in my previous post. She was editor of the Journal of American Folklore for much of this decade and she was AFS President at the end of the period. As I noted previously, her work was fully engaged with Native American studies and in the 1950s she would be central to not only the founding of the American Society for Ethnohistory and founding and editing its journal, Ethnohistory, she was central to the land claims work arising from the Indian Claims Commission in the United States. Another key scholar present at the meetings and on the program in this period was Gertrude Kurath, known for her extensive studies of dance throughout the Americas among both Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.

Looking to the reports beyond the meeting, it becomes clear that in the 1940s a large number of anthropological folklorists working in (sometimes also with) Native American communities were active presences within the society and its activities. Continuing from an earlier period, the publishing work of the society was clearly one key aspect of this. The society published monographs alongside the journal. Illustrating this nexus is anthropological folklorist Gladys A. Reichard. She served as AFS President in 1943 and the Society published her monograph An Analysis of Coeur D’Alene Indian Myths in the Memoirs of the American Folklore Society in 1947. A. Irving Hallowell, Frank G. Speck, and Morris Opler were among the the anthropological folklorists working in Native American studies (still) active in the 1940s.

Returning to the experience of the meetings from the perspective of the what one might hear in the lecture hall, reality is complicated. The range of topics under discussion in general in the 1940s was extremely narrow if judged by the standards of an AFS meeting held in the 21st century. Native American expressive culture was included in that narrow band. AFS members in that time clearly deemed work on Native American and First Nations topics (especially verbal art, but including dance) to be relevant. The attendance of a significant number of members working in this area implies that the value of attendance lay in informal discussion rather than formal presentation. Attendees today know this value too, but in relationship to the present state of Native American and First Nations studies in folklore studies, the question then becomes how large of a critical mass of attendees with shared interests are enough to sustain community of scholars.

For three years, the set of annual reports published in JAF seem to lack meeting data. If I can fill in the holes in the following, I will do an update later.

YearPresentations on Non-Native American TopicsPresentations on Native American TopicsPercentage on Native American Topics
1940???
1941600%
1942???
1943???
19446114%
194512214%
19461218%
1947900%
194812214%
19491900%
Totals for Available Data6968%
Presentations on Non-Native American- and Native American-Related Topics at the Annual Meetings of the American Folklore Society During the 1940s

As in the 1950s, the joint meeting arrangements remained varied and in flux. The society met alone as well as with partners. Those partners included the American Anthropological Association (and those other societies who also met with it) and also the Modern Language Association.

If I can recommend any document from the 1940s set, it is the crucial report from 1940. That document reports on work and proposals trying to resolve critical tensions between the “humanities” (MLA-minded) and anthropological (AAA-minded) AFS members. Because of the different disciplinary roots, research foci, and community engagements at play in this contest, the conflict directly links to my interest in the presence and absence of Native Studies in folklore studies. The larger colonial, racialized, and nationalist contexts at a deeper level relate to the adjacent issue of the absence of Native American and First Nations AFS members/participants. Here is the evocation preceding the structural reforms intended to re-balance relations between the two interest blocks:

It is clear that the major difficulty facing the Society arises from a fail- ure to assess the importance of the fact that, by its very nature, the Society and its Journal are peripheral to two major concerns-those of anthropolo- gists and those of persons in the humanities. It is the opinion of the Com- mittee that in the future the Society should recognize more explicitly than in the past the importance of this fact, attempting by active encourage- ment to underscore those points at which fields of interest converge. On the basis of this fundamental assumption, the following proposals are put forward to implement this position:

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