International Scholarship And Applications Of Family Folklore
Obviously folklorists find many elements of family life under the rubric of traditional expressive behavior. Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, two brothers with a keen interest in their German language and traditions, encouraged collecting lore in the nineteenth century through their publication of household tales and legends. Scholars around the world became inspired to find and publish traditional materials. With brothers and other father-son or husband-wife pairs as founding figures, family has been an important aspect of folklore studies. However, family lore was not an early interest of scholars. Often folklorists collected tales, ballads, or games that belonged to a particular national group, or they tried to trace international similarities and differences. The focus on larger groups throughout the early twentieth century tended to obscure the traits and talents of individuals and specific families. Even when folklorists collected from family members, they focused on the songs, stories, or artifacts rather than on the function of lore in family life. Folklorist Mody Boatright has been identified by Yocom (1997) as one of the first to focus specifically on family folklore in his 1958 study of family sagas. By the 1970s, more folklorists studied and considered the family as the primary and essential group for the perpetuation and performance of folklore.
The traditional expressive behaviors studied by folklorists also have been researched as family ritual in other disciplines and presented in museum exhibits and web sites. Folklorists emphasize the description, function, and aesthetics of traditional behaviors, whereas family studies scholars tend to investigate the analytic, evaluative, and therapeutic elements. Family studies scholars may come to their study through clinical work with families, such as those dealing with alcoholism, and folklorists often study families who focus on artistic elements of family traditions. The folkloric approach can be enhanced by efforts to assess the efficacy of traditions in creating healthy family life, and the family studies approach can be enriched by attention to the artful and symbolic aspects of traditional behaviors. Folklorists teach community members how to document family lore through web sites, community organizations, and museums. The web site My History is America's History, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities, includes ways to document family traditions and artifacts. A traveling exhibit of the Vermont Folklife Center, Family Stories, Family Sagas, features six New England families from a variety of ethnic and religious affiliations. Units on family folklore, such as Louisiana Voices and FOLKPATTERNS, help school and community groups teach children how to interview family members and preserve artifacts and photos. Radio programs and scholarly research focus on family stories, on African-American family reunions, and on family, childhood, and material culture in Europe. Although family historian John Gillis (1996) asserts that families are a world of their own making, increasingly important and fragile in contemporary society, family folklore reminds that families connect with wider communities such as ethnic, religious, or occupational groups. Family traditions are performed as practical responses to daily demands of family life as well as hopeful bridges between generations of time and space.
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