The Landscape of our Discipline: Folklore and the Study of the Built Environment
Co-Sponsored by the Austin E. Knowlton School of Architecture
Folklorists have played a key role in the development of vernacular architecture and landscape studies in the United States in the past fifty years. However, many of the first generation of folklorists who studied vernacular architecture have become disenchanted or alienated from the discipline of folklore. Why has this been the case? The 1960s and 70s, the era in which material culture studies found acceptance within American folkloristics, was also a time of turning away from historically situated studies within the field. Therefore American vernacular architecture scholars who were academically trained as folklorists soon felt themselves dismissed as antiquarians within the field. Developments within graduate training in folklore in the past two decades have also generally not supported the enrichment of material culture studies. The shifting sands of doctoral training have largely returned folklore to the purview of English departments, despite the expansion of the field to include belief and material culture studies. At best, material culture studies have been shoehorned into textual and performance models. This presentation will explore both the role folklorists played in the development of the study of the vernacular landscape, as well as the future role of vernacular architecture scholarship within the context of academic folklore studies.
Michael Ann Williams is Department Head of Folk Studies and Anthropology at Western Kentucky University and outgoing President of the American Folklore Society.