This book traces the search for defining American tradition through folklore and folklife from the nineteenth century to the present. The lively, engaging essays in Folk Nation show how America thinkers and leaders used folklore to express the meaning and mystique of America. Much more than a collection of examples of folklore, this book focuses on the idea of folklore. It investigates the thinking about folklore and the related concept of folklife instead of the content or method of folklore. Statements by public intellectuals and popular writers as well as folklorists and American Studies scholars are included. The readings have been chosen for their significance as intriguing texts during their eras as well as their readability. The value of folklore to express or deny an American national tradition is the common theme tying the selections together. Included are the writings of major critics such as Constance Rourke, Mary Austin, Benjamin Botkin, James Stevens, and Richard Dorson. This book raises timely issues about the character of American culture and the direction of American society.
The essays illustrate the development of views on American nationalism, multiculturalism, and commercialism. The book also examines the controversy over who conveyed the myth of America and looks at debates among writers and thinkers about the authenticity and worthiness of certain symbols of America.
Simon J. Bronner is Distinguished Professor of American Studies and Folklore at Penn State Harrisburg.