Abstract

This address represents an attempt to sketch a history of academic folklore in the United States as a way of understanding the difficulties that the field has experienced in achieving and sustaining an identity as an independent discipline in colleges and universities. In developing its argument, the essay draws an analogy between folklore’s struggle to achieve individual disciplinary status and the struggle for individual identity by the protagonist in Ralph Ellison’s novel Invisible Man. For both folklore and Ellison’s protagonist, membership in communities historically perceived in stereotypical terms becomes viewed as "the problem" in achieving individuality rather than a source of identity. Therefore, folklore’s "identity problem" is examined in terms of both external and internal factors that have influenced it over time. By understanding this history, one is better able to understand what many currently perceive as an institutional crisis surrounding some folklore departments and programs.

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