Skip to main content
Indiana University Bloomington

HomeFolklore InstituteEthnomusicology Institute

About the Folklore Institute


The Folklore Institute grew out of a shared interest in folklore topics among the faculty at Indiana University. This shared interest, manifested as early as the 1920s, gave rise to a series of Summer Institutes organized by Professor Stith Thompson (later dean of the Graduate School), starting in the 1940s and continuing into the 1960s. In 1962, under the dynamic leadership of Professor Thompson and Professor Richard Dorson, Indiana University formally established the Folklore Institute as an academic department within the 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 the teaching mission at the undergraduate and graduate levels, and the Special Projects unit, which promotes and organizes a variety of research and outreach activities


The Folklore Institute traces its origins back to the path-breaking efforts of Stith Thompson, who began teaching folklore classes in the English Department and then organized a series of highly successful Summer Folklore Institutes. Later Richard Dorson fashioned from these beginnings a major university department. 

Stith Thompson, brought to IU in the early 1920s to refurbish the program in English composition, nurtured a love of traditional ballads and tales partly instilled through his graduate work with George Lyman Kittredge at Harvard. His 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, Warren Roberts (who later became a much loved professor in the Folklore Institute) obtained the first folklore degree in the United States. He studied with Professor Thompson in the English Department and wrote a dissertation that compared numerous versions of a well-known international folktale.

Richard Dorson came to Bloomington in 1956 to take charge of 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. 

The Folklore Institute Today

Today, the Folklore Institute consists of a 14 professors, 2 senior lecturers, approximately 120 graduate students, nearly 100 undergraduate majors and minors, a dedicated support staff, the Folklore Students Association, and outlying units such as Traditional Arts Indiana, Journal of Folklore Research, and Trickster Press.

We seek to provide in-depth coverage of selected forms of traditional artistic expression, culture groups and world areas, as well as of major theoretical approaches to the study of folklore. Specialties within our program include language and literature, folk and traditional arts, and ritual and belief. We are currently expanding our commitment to an area we call public arts and culture, exploring with colleagues in other departments and with individuals and groups outside the university this intersection of academic and community concerns.  

In January 2000, the Folklore Institute partnered with the Ethnomusicology Institute as the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology. Given the good history of interaction between these two fields at IU, this was a natural development. We have constructed several institutional linkages, in curriculum and other areas, to 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.