Folklore and Anthropology in Conversation
(a joint one-day seminar with the Folklore Society)
Thursday 27 October, 10.00am to 5.00pm
Dr David Shankland, Director (Royal Anthropological Institute) - The RAI and the Folklore Society: or Anthropology and Folklore
The RAI and the Folklore Society have often worked closely together, and on at least one occasion, debated whether to join forces. However, eventually the two institutions drifted apart, reflecting a wider separation between the two disciplines. Why should this be so? In this paper, I consider the example of several researchers who worked through the British School at Athens, beginning with John Linton Myres (1869-1954) who was president of both the RAI and the FLS, who also became Chairman of the BSA. Encouraged by Dawkins, who was Director at the time, Frederick Hasluck (1878-1920) and Margaret Hasluck (nee Hardie) (1885-1948), both developed their interest in folklore in the field before the Great War whilst they were at the School. The career of neither of these researchers was straightforward, but it is highly instructive to contrast them with Myres, and helps us consider the way that disciplinary trajectories came to coalesce and separate in the twentieth century.
Professor Richard Jenkins - Emeritus Professor of Anthropology (Department of Sociological Studies, The University of Sheffield) - 'Anthropology and the Future of Folklore as a Discipline in Britain'.
With the closure, a few years ago, of the National Centre for English Cultural Tradition in Sheffield, England was left with no full-time academic programmes training folklorists. In Wales there are only some life-long learning modules at the University of Cardiff, and in Scotland a Scottish Ethnology degree at Edinburgh and a Postgraduate certificate in Scottish Culture and Heritage with the University of the Highlands and Islands. The British future of folklore studies as a discipline, as opposed to a leisure pursuit, looks grim. What, if anything, can anthropology and other disciplines such as sociology do to remedy this situation? Should they, in fact, do anything?
Prof. Patricia Lysaght - Emeritus Professor of European Ethnology (School of Irish, Celtic Studies and Folklore, University College, Dublin) - "The Banshee: The Irish Supernatural Death-Messenger'.
The banshee of Irish folk belief is a supernatural messenger of death. Perceived as a female spirit, she is regarded as a foreboder of death in certain Irish families. Recourse to early and medieval Irish literature allows us to make suggestions as to the origin of belief in the banshee, while the rich and varied oral traditions about her enable us to indicate the life cycle and social contexts of the belief over time. Relevant and resilient down the centuries, belief in the banshee has declined. It is suggested that this is due especially to change in attitudes to death and the settings and conditions in which people die. These and other aspects of belief in the banshee will be discussed in the course of the presentation.
Prof. James H. Grayson - Emeritus Professor of Modern Korean Studies (School of East Asian Studies, The University of Sheffield). - 'Tales in Textual Transmission and Oral Transmission: The Story of the Indian Water Monster, and the Korean Tortoise'.
Professor Grayson will trace out the origin of a popular folktale which is perceived to be quintessentially Korean but which actually has roots in India and in Buddhism. The talk demonstrate the constant interplay between textual and oral transmission of the folktale as it grows and develops. The talk will show how the function of the tale has changed substantially over the centuries while the essential narrative structure has remained stable.
Jamshid Tehrani (Durham). Folktale phylogenetics: an evolutionary re-boot of the “historical-geographic method”
Since the time of the Brothers Grimm, researchers have speculated that similarities among folktales told in different cultures could be explained by common descent. The development of the “historic-geographic method” sought to trace these relationships back to their common sources, but the conclusions that emerged from these studies were often difficult to verify due to the lack of a sufficiently deep historical/literary record on the early forms and cross-cultural distributions of tales. Here, I will outline an alternative, but sympathetic, approach that uses “phylogenetic comparative methods”, which were originally developed to reconstruct the evolution of biological organisms and have recently been adopted by anthropologists to study a wide range of cultural traits. I will demonstrate how phylogenetics can be applied to the analysis of oral tradition and explore its potential for re-connecting historical, comparative studies of folklore to anthropological research into human cultural, linguistic and genetic diversity.
Refreshments will be provided.
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Royal Anthropological Institute
The Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland (RAI) is the world's longest-established scholarly organisation dedicated to the furtherance of anthropology (the study of mankind) in its broadest and most inclusive sense.