The American Folklore Society is a scholarly association that exists to further the discipline of folklore studies. The society was founded in Boston in 1888 by such luminaries as Francis James Child, William Wells Newell, Daniel Garrison Brinton, and Franz Boas, with its principal emphasis directed toward the publication of a “scientific” journal and the convening of an annual meeting.
Generations of scholarly theories and approaches are reflected in the society’s publications, revealing the sometimes partisan leanings of its members toward folklore as literature or folklore as a subfield of anthropology. The Journal of American Folklore (JAF) has been published quarterly since 1888. It includes articles, notes, and commentaries; reviews of publications, films and videotapes, audio recordings, and exhibitions and events; and obituaries. The Centennial Index (1988; vol. 101, no 402 of JAF) provides a serial listing of all Journal entries from 1888 to 1988, with author, title, and subject indexes.
Additional publications of the society include a Memoir Series of book-length monographs (1894-1975), a Bibliographical and Special Series (1950-1978), and a New Series (1980-). Titles in the New Series, judged by a publications series editor and outside readers to be outstanding in the field, are issued with the imprimatur of the American Folklore Society through various university presses.
The American Folklore Society Newsletter has been published bimonthly since 1971. This publication carries official news and reports of the society’s business, as well as a wide range of information relevant to the field generally. Regular features include listings of academic meetings, publication news, job notices, grant announcements, a cooperation column, prizes, and information on electronic media. Special features include columns on computer applications in folklore study, career opportunities, the status of funding for folklore in federal agencies, and folklore studies outside the United States. The preliminary program of each year’s annual meeting is published in the August issue of the Newsletter.
In recent years, the society has moved beyond the early dichotomy between literary and anthropological folklorists working in academic settings and those working in the “public sector,” a term broadly applied to folklorists. It provides a common forum for folklorists working in nonacademic positions such as federal, state, and local government agencies (such as arts or humanities funding agencies) or private non-profit organizations (such as museums or historical organizations). The need to bridge the academic and public sectors has prompted the society to sponsor an annual public-sector internship for a graduate student to gain experience working in a public-sector agency and a public-folklorist-in-residence program, which places experienced public folklorists in an academic setting to pursue individual research and interact with faculty and students. The residency program was developed in cooperation with Indiana University’s Folklore Institute. Subsequent partners for this residency program have been Utah State University and Western Kentucky University.
The society’s annual meeting takes place in October in cities throughout the continental United States and occasionally Canada. The five-day gathering offers panels, forums and workshops, film and video screenings, book exhibitions, special events, and tours of folklorist interest. The society offers several prizes to honor outstanding work in African American folklore studies, public folklore, and Francophone folklore studies. Additionally, sections of the AFS, which are interest groups of society members, offer separate prizes. In 1995, there were approximately thirty such sections, addressing folklore genres (such as dance, folk arts, folk belief, folk narrative, foodways, and music), folklore of particular folk groups (such as African, American Indian, Baltic, British, Catholic, children, gay and lesbian, Italian, Jewish, Latino, occupational, and women), and professional issues (such as computer applications, graduate students, journals, social justice, and public programs). Sections meet at the annual meeting. Many of them sponsor sessions, offer prizes, and issue newsletters or journals of their own. Several sections maintain electronic bulletin boards, as does the society itself, available via a gopher at the University of Texas-Pan American.
The American Folklore Society is governed by an executive board composed of nine members plus the president and the president-elect, as set forth in the society’s by-laws. An executive secretary-treasurer is responsible for the day-to-day administration of the society’s business. The society’s papers and records are archived at Utah State University’s Library, Special Collections Division. These archives are indexed and are accessible for research.
Additional information about the society can be obtained by contacting the American Folklore Society, 4350 North Fairfax Drive, Suite 640, Arlington, VA 22203.
(From American Folklore: An Encyclopedia, edited by Jan Harold Brunvand. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc. 1996)