American Folklore consists of traditional knowledge and cultural practices engaged by inhabitants of the United States below Canada and above Mexico. American folklorists were influenced by nineteenth-century European humanistic scholarship that identified in traditional stories, songs, and speech among lower class peasants an artistic quality and claim to cultural nationalism. The United States, however, appeared to lack a peasant class and shared racial and ethnic stock associated in European perceptions with the production of folklore. The United States was a relatively young nation, compared to the ancient legacies of European kingdoms, and geographically the country’s boundaries had moved since its inception to include an assortment of landscapes and peoples. Popularly, folklore in the United States is rhetorically used to refer to the veracity, and significance, of cultural knowledge in an uncertain, rapidly changing, individualistic society. It frequently refers to the expressions of this knowledge in story, song, speech, custom, and craft as meaningful for what it conveys and enacts about tradition in a future-oriented country. The essay provides the argument that folklore studies in the United States challenge Euro-centered humanistic legacies by emphasizing patterns associated with the American experience that are (1) democratic, (2) vernacular, and (3) incipient.
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