On Friday, April 5, 1940, the University of North Carolina published a catalogue advertising for the first time the existence of the Curriculum in Folklore and the possibility of earning an MA in folklore. Folklorist and professor of Spanish linguistics Ralph Steele Boggs was instrumental in organizing the curriculum, the first academic unit in the United States to offer a graduate degree in folklore.
The photo shows the carbon copy of his October 3, 1939 letter to Dean Pierson of the Graduate School arguing for the establishment of the curriculum. As Boggs explained, the curriculum could draw on a broadly interdisciplinary faculty: Dramatist Frederick H. Koch, who had his students write “folkplays” about life in their home towns; Howard Odum and Guy Johnson in Sociology, who had published collections of African American song and legend as early as the 1920s; Medievalist Urban Tignor Holmes, Jr., who taught French literature and Romance philology; Arthur Palmer Hudson in English, who was interested in Southern folksong and humor; proverb scholar Richard Gente in German; and Musicologist Jan Schinhan, described by Boggs as “well trained in Vienna, where Volksleid was a highly respected term,” who taught primitive and world music and who, according to subsequent curriculum chair Dan Patterson, “directed probably the first and third theses on American Fiddle Tunes.”
A lot has changed in eighty years, but then, as now, UNC Folklore combined a Southern focus with a cosmopolitan outlook and what Glenn Hinson calls a commitment “to doing ethnography and bringing it to the public conversation” through popular and creative as well as scholarly media. Join us in raising a glass to our founders and to all the exciting work that our current and future students and faculty will create to carry on the UNC folklore tradition.
Boggs, Ralph Steele. 1981. “Reminiscences on the Prenatal Care and Birth of the Curriculum by Its Father, Ralph Steele Boggs.” Newsletter of the Curriculum in Folklore, 1-2. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Glenn Hinson, personal communication to Patricia Sawin, February 2, 2018.
Patterson, Daniel W. 2015. Interview with Elijah Gaddis and Patricia Sawin, November 4. UNC Folklore Program Records (40362). Wilson Special Collections Library. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.