The Challenge of Folklore to Medieval Studies

Olaus Magnus Historia om de nordiska folken. Bok 3 - Kapitel 21 (On the Punishment of Witches) 1555.

The Challenge of Folklore to Medieval Studies

By John Lindow

Humanities, Volume 7, Number 15, 2018

Olaus Magnus Historia om de nordiska folken. Bok 3 - Kapitel 21 (On the Punishment of Witches) 1555.
Olaus Magnus Historia om de nordiska folken. 1555.

Abstract: When folklore began to emerge as a valid expression of a people during the early stages of national romanticism, it did so alongside texts and artifacts from the Middle Ages. The fields of folklore and medieval studies were hardly to be distinguished at that time, and it was only as folklore began to develop its own methodology (actually analogous to medieval textual studies) during the nineteenth century that the fields were distinguished.

During the 1970s, however, folklore adopted a wholly new paradigm (the “performance turn”), regarding folklore as process rather than static artifact. It is here that folklore offers a challenge for medieval studies, namely to understand better the oral background to all medieval materials and the cultural competence that underlay their uses.

Introduction: Writing about Herder’s pleas to his fellow countrymen to collect folklore and thus to document the unique nature and history of the nation that then existed only theoretically and philosophically, William A. Wilson wrote:

‘Two of the first to respond to Herder’s call were Friedrich David Gräter and Christian Gottfried Böckh who, inspired by Herder’s writings, founded a periodical called Bragur, ein literarisches Magazin fur deutsche und nordische Vergangenheit, which was dedicated to the collection and publication of folklore. In the ensuing years others joined the cause. In 1803 Ludwig Tieck published Minnelieder aus dem Schwäbischen Zeitalter. From 1805 to 1808 Clemens Brentano and Achim von Arnim published three volumes of folksongs entitled Des Knaben Wunderhorn: alte deutsche Lieder.

In 1807 Josef Görres published the results of his studies of almanacs and old storybooks. In 1812 Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm edited ancient fragments of the Hildebrandslied and the Weissenbrunner Gebet and then from 1812 to 1815 published their famous collection of folktales, Kinder- und Hausmärchen. In 1815 they brought out a volume of the Poetic Eddas and from 1816 to 1818 published Deutsche Sagen, an analysis of the oldest Germanic epic tradition.’

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