Kansas Folklore Society—the first fifty years
by Mike Watowa
The origins of this project developed over the period of years since I became a member of the Kansas Folklore Society -- intermittently attending meetings since 1994. Eventually, I helped with a statewide canvass of College and University educators concerning ongoing Kansas Folklore Society projects. There was one comment in particular returned from that canvass which prompted the research resulting in this bibliography.
I trust this detailing of the activities of the Kansas Folklore Society and the individual work of its members over the past fifty years can help Kansans begin to triangulate some understanding of “what folklore is” for themselves, so that no teacher, student, or enthusiast is ever forced to say “I don't think I can help you; I don’t know what folklore is.”
The first thing research for this bibliography indicated was that there may not be one specific definition that identifies the entire field of folklore and folk life -- aside from the ‘official definition’ set down by the U.S. government in The American Folk Life Preservation Act of 1976, which states; "American Folk life is the traditional expressive culture shared within the various groups in the United States familial, ethnic, occupational, religious, regional; expressive culture includes a wide range of creative and symbolic forms such as custom, belief, technical skill, language, literature, art, architecture, music, play, dance, drama, ritual, pageantry, handicraft; these expressions are mainly without benefit of formal instruction or institutional direction." The information available suggested that, over the past fifty years, many ‘lettered’ folklorists have offered their own variations to define the human experiences and expressions we generally refer to as “Folklore.”
Soon after the formation of the Kansas Folklore Society, members spent much time and energy establishing a distinction between ‘Folklore and Fake lore.’ This resulted in orientation/educational publications, intended to help encourage the consideration of authentic folklore in classrooms, and supporting open membership to the Kansas Folklore Society among enthusiasts in the general public. These considerations helped to insure quality assurance protocols and guidelines which made possible the collection of consistent data for the first two publications of folklore found in Kansas: KANSAS FOLKLORE in 1961 which was distributed to charter members of the society as a benefit of membership and again in FOLKLORE FROM KANSAS in 198 .
The process of data collection by students and members of the Kansas Folklore Society for these publications appeals to me for two reasons. First, of course, no one can be everywhere, or do everything; “many hands make light the work.” Secondly, the variety of personalities in the field helps insure the widest possible number of informants and groups were sampled and represented.In this bibliography, known records of field interviews among primary informants are listed under the heading of “FIELDWORK.” Many of the original field recordings are now fifty years old, and the tape they were recorded to is becoming unstable; I am advocating for the rescue of these artifacts before they are lost forever.
The Kansas Folklore Society has always supported the collection and documentation of folklore by Kansans. Incorporated into the Annual Spring meetings of the general membership have always been presentations, and presenting research papers has always held a primary focus. Over two hundred works, researched and presented to and by Kansas Folklore Society members at annual meetings, are listed in this bibliography under the heading of “DOCUMENTATION.” It soon became evident from this area of the research that many nationally known folklorists and their presentations, have found their way to Kansas Folklore Society annual meetings over the years. At present, this section of the bibliography is both exciting and disappointing to me. The number and variety of independent topics documented excites me but the absence of even modest abstracts of the work submitted is depressing. Discussion with past members and others suggests this void maybe the result of individual fears of losing control over intellectual property. This is one area of collection that I trust the Kansas Folklore Society may find a way to develop more consistently in the next fifty years.
From adequate documentation, analysis of its origins, meaning, purpose, and uses can begin. The Kansas Folklore Society has supported and encouraged comprehensive analysis by promoting the circulation of documented findings by publishing the work of the society’s members in regional journals such as KANSAS Magazine and the Texas Folklore Journal as early as 1958. Heritage of Kansas and the Western Folklore Journal published society members’ works from the 1960’s through the 1970’s. The Little Balkans Review and the Heritage of the Great Plains (which eventually replaced the Heritage of Kansas) published the work of Kansas Folklore Society members in the 1980’s and 1990’s. The Mid-American Folklore Journal became the primary medium of publishing the individual essays and articles of Kansas Folklore Society members during the 1990’s and continues (under an updated name “The Overland Review: the Journal of the Mid-America Folklore Society”) to serve today, as a primary journal for publishing the successful research of Kansas Folklore Society members. Listed in the “JOURNALS” section of this bibliography are over two hundred essays and articles written by Kansas Folklore Society members including the names of the journals in which they were published and where the volume and number of that journal can be found for individual perusal.
Locating this fieldwork, documentation, these journals, and books has led through libraries and archives across the State. In the “REGIONAL INTEREST” section of this bibliography can be found listings for important Resource Centers friendly to folklore research. Many of the listings in most sections of this bibliography can be found in more than one resource center, library or archive. In those cases, the location of the resource center, library or archive nearest the home of the author has been the one listed. If a particular volume is not available in the nearest library or archive, a very successful network of interlibrary loans can make it available to you in most cases (including the fragile original field documents) with appropriate arrangements.
It has been suggested that “90 percent of what we know is folklore“. From learning to tie our shoes, to hazing among college fraternities, and from Dot.Com jargon to superstitions, “folklore is multi-disciplinary field.” Listed in the section of this bibliography entitled “BOOKS” are over one hundred and eighty titles published by Kansas Folklore Society members. Not all subjects in these books directly relate to folklore, but do suggest the diversity of influences and interests that shape the perspective of Kansas Folklore Society member authors.
The quality of electronically recorded folklore has come along way from the trunk of the Lomax’s car. The “RECORDINGS” category of this bibliography currently contains over seventy listings, mostly: musical cassettes, vinyl 45 rpm, 78 rpm and 33 1/3 rpm LP’s, reel to reel tapes (many recommended by the early KsFS newsletters to its members) and the digital compact disc. The bibliography also includes educational videotaped and VHS recordings. I expect this section to expand, with continued research.
Newspapers are considered, by many, to be “…the most current ‘history books’ ever written.” By reflecting values among social, economic and ethnic groups and communicating variations among the communities they represent; I consider newspapers a consistent documentation of “traditional expressive culture.” It remains a test of time, the judgment of whether that daily documentation is folkloric, simply historic or merely sophomoric. The section of this bibliography titled “NEWSPAPERS” lists articles and available evidence of folklore presence in newspapers from throughout Kansas. Offering further validation of a common flattery for the Kansas History Center Library Archives comprehensive newspaper holdings. Items listed in this section include some articles written by, or about the Kansas Folklore Society and individual members, and general folklore topics.
I have included a “TIMELINE: and Statistics of Participation” to this bibliography, which is meant to be a quick reference record of activities and events sponsored and produced by the Kansas Folklore Society promoting appreciation for folklore among Kansans. These listings identify annual officers, dates, locations and presenters of annual meetings, publication of newsletters, as well as, listings of members when available. It now seems obvious to me that the Kansas Folklore Society has demonstrated that Folklore is not only “tall tales and ghost stories,” but includes the habits, practices, traditions, customs and expressions of ordinary people which are passed on with little benefit of formal written record.
My interest in encouraging the study of folklore seeks to identify the variations in those habits, practices, traditions, customs and expressions, and to suggest what we all share similarities through the differences we have in common. " …. so what has been and what must eventually be, may come together with fluid but deliberate momentum.”
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