Museum folklore

Museum folklore is a domain of scholarship and professional practice within the field of folklore studies (folkloristics).


Some museum folklorists work full-time in museums of ethnography, ethnology, cultural history, or folk art, often as educators, curators, and directors. Others work in other settings, such as in public folklore programs, academic departments, community-based organizations, and consultancies. Such folklorists either partner with museums in the development of scholarly and public programs or study the history and impact of such work.[1]

Key themes in museum folklore include policies and practices relating to tangible and intangible cultural heritage,[2][3] museums as sites of conscience,[4] museums and cultural tourism,[5] and museums as sites of innovation relative to the digital preservation, presentation, and access to cultural heritage collections.[6] Museum folklore practice has often focused on ways of animating the object-centered nature of the museum through events and activities that bring the people behind heritage collections into engagement with museum audiences, as through such activities as museum-based artist in residency programs, folk festivals, and art and craft sales markets.[7]

There is significant interaction and overlap between museum folklore and the neighboring field of museum anthropology, as well as the interdisciplinary field of material culture studies.[8][9][10][11] Museum folklore is often understood as a sub-area of the wider realm of public folklore.[12] In North America, the historical connections linking anthropology and folklore studies more broadly are of particular relevance to museum folklorists because many early leaders of the American folklore society were also anthropologists active in museums.[13] In Europe, what is here referred to as museum folklore would often fall within the field of European ethnology.[14] Museum folklore is also often understood as a part of the sub-field of folklife studies.[15]


An organizational home for the sub-field in the United States and Canada is the Folklore and Museums section of the American Folklore Society. Among folklorists, this section is cognate to the Council for Museum Anthropology among museum anthropologists.

Important personsEdit

Prominent figures in the history of museum folklore include:

Leading senior scholar-practitioners in the field today include Marsha Bol, C. Kurt Dewhurst, Rayna Green, Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, and Marsha MacDowell.[23][24][25][26][27]


  1. ^ Dewhurst, C. Kurt (2014). "Folklife and Museum Practice: An Intertwined History and Emerging Convergences". Journal of American Folklore. 127 (505): 247–263. doi:10.5406/jamerfolk.127.505.0247. Retrieved 11 October 2015. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  2. ^ "China-US Folklore and Intangible Cultural Heritage Project". American Folklore Society. Retrieved 11 October 2015. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  3. ^ "Intangible Cultural Heritage and Ethnographic Museum Practice". American Folklore Society. Retrieved 11 October 2015. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  4. ^ "Museum of International Folk Art (USA)". International Coalition of Sites of Conscience. Retrieved 11 October 2015. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  5. ^ Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Barbara (1998). Destination Culture: Tourism, Museums, and Heritage. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 0520209664.
  6. ^ Bol, Marsha; Dewhurst, C. Kurt; Hertz, Carrie; Jackson, Jason Baird; MacDowell, Marsha; Seeman, Charlie; Seriff, Suzy; Sheehy, Daniel (2015). Rethinking the Role of Folklore in Museums: Exploring New Directions for Folklore in Museum Policy and Practice. Bloomington, IN: American Folklore Society. Retrieved 11 October 2015. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  7. ^ Hall, Patricia; Seeman, Charlie (1987). Folklife and Museums: Selected Readings. Nashville, TN: American Association of State and Local History. ISBN 0910050856. Retrieved 11 October 2015. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  8. ^ Berlinger, Gabrielle A. (2015). "Ethnography as a Strategy in Museum Preservation". Practicing Anthropology. 37 (3): 34. doi:10.17730/0888-4552-37.3.34.
  9. ^ Dewhurst, C. Kurt; MacDowell, Marsha (2015). "Strategies for Creating and Sustaining Museum-Based International Collaborative Partnerships". Practicing Anthropology. 37 (3): 54–55. doi:10.17730/0888-4552-37.3.54.
  10. ^ Hertz, Carrie (2015). "Finding the Local in the Global in the 21st Century". Practicing Anthropology. 37 (3): 56. doi:10.17730/0888-4552-37.3.56.
  11. ^ Jackson, Jason Baird (2015). "Interconnections: Folklore Studies and Anthropology at the Mathers Museum of World Cultures". Practicing Anthropology. 37 (3): 20–23. doi:10.17730/0888-4552-37.3.20.
  12. ^ Baron, Robert; Spitzer, Nicholas R. (2007). Public Folklore (3rd ed.). Jackson: University Press of Mississippi. ISBN 9781604733167. OCLC 607552460.
  13. ^ Darnell, Regna (1973). "American Anthropology and the Development of Folklore Scholarship: 1890-1920". Journal of the Folklore Institute. 10 (1–2): 23–39. doi:10.2307/3813878. JSTOR 3813878.
  14. ^ Niedermüller, Peter; Stoklund, Bjarne (2004). "Special Issue: Museum and Modernity". Ethnologia Europaea. 33 (1): 1–93.
  15. ^ Bronner, Simon J. (2006). Encyclopedia of American Folklife. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe. ISBN 9780765680525.
  16. ^ Lurie, Nancy (1932). "A Lesson for Curators". African Arts. 16 (2): 90. JSTOR 3335845.
  17. ^ Crowley, Daniel; Dundes, Alan (1982). "William Russel Bascom (1912-1981)". Journal of American Folklore. 95 (378): 465–467. JSTOR 540751.
  18. ^ Redman, Samuel J. (2015). "Museum Tours and the Origins of Museum Studies: Edward W. Gifford, William R. Bascom, and the Remaking of an Anthropology Museum". Museum Management and Curatorship. 30 (5): 444–461. doi:10.1080/09647775.2015.1076708.
  19. ^ Stocking, George (1988). Objects and Others: Essays on Museums and Material Culture. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.
  20. ^ Becker, Mary Druke (2006). "William N. Fenton (1908–2005): Relationships, Research, and Museums". Museum Anthropology. 29 (1): 44–49. doi:10.1525/mua.2006.29.1.44.
  21. ^ Bronner, Simon (1985). "Stewart Culin, Museum Magician". Pennsylvania Heritage. 11 (3): 4–11.
  22. ^ Stoklund, Bjarne (2004). "Between Scenography and Science: Early Folk Museums and their Pioneers". Ethnologia Europaea. 33 (1): 21–36.
  23. ^ "Museum of International Folk Art Director, Marsha Bol Announces Retirement". New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs. Retrieved 11 October 2015. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  24. ^ "C. Kurt Dewhurst". Michigan State University Museum. Retrieved 11 October 2015. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  25. ^ "Rayna Green". National Museum of American History. Retrieved 28 October 2015. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  26. ^ Hoffman, Allison (April 10, 2013). "The Curator of Joy and Ashes". Tablet. Retrieved 11 October 2015. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  27. ^ "Marsha MacDowell". Michigan State University Museum. Retrieved 11 October 2015. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)