By Rebecca Snetselaar, Folklife Specialist, Nevada Arts Council
Before there was folklore, there was lore, something that was taught.
The English word “folklore” appeared in 1846, describing “traditional beliefs and customs of the common people” that were shared by word of mouth. As a field of academic study, it focused at first on oral traditions and was associated with the study of language and literature.
By the middle of the 20th Century people in America had come to understand folk music, folk dance, folk tales, folk art, and folk medicine as old-fashioned or primitive art forms to be preserved intact as unchanging artifacts of cultural heritage.
Meanwhile American folklorists – scholars who study and document folklore – were coming to new understandings about what they were studying. Their interests had begun to shift from the “folklore” itself to the way it was passed on, and to the cultural communities in which it was shared.
The word “folklife” came into common usage in the 1960s to describe the living traditions, activities, skills, and products (such as handicrafts) of any particular people or group that are […]