The Folklore Institute grew out of shared interests in folklore topics among the faculty at Indiana University starting in the 1920s, giving rise to a series of Summer Institutes in the 1940s and through the 1960s. In 1962, the Folklore Institute became an academic department within Indiana University’s College of Arts and Sciences. Today, the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology consists of both the Folklore Institute and the Ethnomusicology Institute, which carry out undergraduate and graduate teaching missions, and organize a variety of research and outreach activities.
The Folklore Institute traces its origins back to the path-breaking efforts of Stith Thompson who was brought to Indiana University in the early 1920s to refurbish the program in English composition. Thompson nurtured a love of traditional ballads and tales instilled in part by his graduate work with George Lyman Kittredge at Harvard. Thompson’s interest in the international folktale led him to become the leading exponent of comparative tale analysis in the United States. In the 1940s, he began organizing Summer Folklore Institutes in Bloomington that attracted both seasoned and novice scholars from around the United States and from other parts of the globe.
In 1953 at Indiana University, Warren Roberts earned the first doctoral degree in folklore in the United States. A student of Professor Thompson in the English Department, Roberts successfully defended a dissertation comparing numerous versions of a well-known international folktale, and later became a much-loved professor in the Folklore Institute.
In 1956, Richard Dorson came to Bloomington to lead the emerging Folklore Institute. An Americanist steeped in historical approaches, he channeled his vast store of energy and savvy to establish the Folklore Institute, in 1965, as an academic department granting Bachelor's, Master's, and Doctorate degrees.
Initially, Dorson drew upon a cohort of scholars in various departments known as the Folklore Fellows to staff his ambitious program. Starting in the 1960s, he began to hire folklorists who became tenured in the Folklore Institute. Graduates of his program fanned out to stock universities around the country and around the world with freshly-minted academic folklorists who often founded folklore programs and departments in their new settings.
In January 2000, the Folklore Institute partnered with the Ethnomusicology Institute as the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology. Given the history of productive interaction between these two fields at Indiana University, this was a natural development. Several institutional linkages, in curriculum and other areas, insure that the two institutes remain vitally connected. Major decisions affecting hiring, tenure and promotion, and resource allocation are handled at the departmental level. But within their immediate spheres of activity, the two institutes are semi-autonomous.
Folklore Institute today
Today, the Folklore Institute consists of 8 professors, 2 lecturers, approximately 65 graduate students, nearly 75 undergraduate majors and minors, a dedicated support staff, the Folklore Student Association, and affiliated entities including Traditional Arts Indiana, Journal of Folklore Research, Folklore Forum, and Trickster Press.