Hall of Inspiration,Folklore Collectors

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National Collectors and Groups

The nationalism movement of the 18th and 19th centuries as well as the realization that older tales were disappearing as literacy spread led to efforts to collect folklore for specific nations, as the Brothers Grimm did in Germany. This effort continued in the 20th century as radio and movies increased the rate of change in entertainments. Below are a few of the individuals and groups who worked to preserve the old.

Note:Being a teller of Irish tales, that is what I know best. Other countries will be added as they are brought to my attention. (Or, you COULD start your own Hall of Inspiration that I can link to...just sayin')

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a literary movement known as the "Celtic Twilght" focused heavily on the folkways fo Ireland. Some of the more well-read collectors of the time include W. B. Yeats, Douglas Hyde, Lady Gregory, Jeremiah Curtin, Padraic Colum and Seumus MacManus.

As Ireland was transitioning to a republic, the Irish Folklore Commission was established and collected the largest and most important body of folklore in western Europe. In 1937-38, they enlisted the help of some 100,000 school children to gather tales and tidbits of lore throughout the Free State, resulting in more than half a million manuscript pages. Some of the Commissions collectors included Sean O'Sullivan, Kevin Danaher and Bríd Mahon

Currently, Eddie Lenihan (1950- ) continues to collect and share tales--he has the largest private collection of folklore in Ireland.      


In Scotland, we are indebted to the work of many authors and folklorists-- three important ones were John Campbell (1821-1885), Alexander Carmichael (1832-1912) and Calum Maclean (1950-1960)  Carmichael's Carmina Gadelica is one of the major texts in Scottish folklore. Maclean helped form the School of Scottish Studies, an important archive of field recording. American librarian and collector LeClaire Alger (1898-1969) who wrote as Sorche Nic Leodhas, passing along treaditional tales that has previously gone unwritten. 

Any list of Scots tellers would be incomplete without mention of the great Scottish Traveller, Duncan Williamson (1929-2007). A great teller, a great collector--to use the Irish phrase, we shall not see his likes again. 

Folklore in the United States

The American Folklore Society, founded in 1888, is involved in the study and promotion of folklore and traditional culture.

During the Depression of the 1930's, the Federal Writers' Project, part of the Works Progress Adminiostration (later Works Project Administration or WPA), paid workers to collect local and oral histories, songs and folklore from across the United States.One of the FWP's major folklorists was B.A. Botkin, and his Treasury of American Folklore is a major resource for tellers of American tales, with an "ever evolving" understanding of what constitues folklore. This approach was opposed by Richard Dorson who coined the term "fakelore". Since I think there is a place for both points of view in storytelling, I propose to honor both for their own contributions.

At around that same time, Alan Lomax was collecting folk music here and abroad. Lomax was a major force behind the folk revival of the 1940-60's in both the US and Great Britain.

A major contributor to the classification of folklore was Stith Thompson  whose motif index (based on Antti Aarne's work) is an international standard.

Among recent and current writers and collectors of tales, we have Richard Chase (1904-1988), collector of Appalachiana, especially Jack Tales;  Jane Yolen (1939- ), some of whose 318 books will be found in almost every American storyteller's collection; and Jack Zipe  (1937- ) who has written extensively on tales old and new.