Lilly Library Manuscript Collections

DORSON MSS.

Dorson mss., 1925-1981, consist of the correspondence, writings, research materials, fieldwork notes, and academic files of Richard Mercer Dorson, 1916-1981, Indiana University professor and internationally renowned folklorist.

Dorson was born in New York City, studied at Phillips Exeter Academy, 1929-1933, earned his A.B., M.A., and Ph.D. degrees from Harvard University, and began his teaching career as an instructor of history at Harvard in 1943. He moved to Michigan State University in 1944 where he stayed until 1957 when he accepted a position at Indiana University as professor of history and folklore as well as that of chairman of the Committee on Folklore. When the Indiana University Folklore Institute was established in 1963 Dorson became its first director, and in 1978 he was named the first chairman of the Folklore Department. Dorson also held a variety of visiting professorships, including a year at the University of Tokyo as a Fulbright Visiting Professor in American Studies (1956), a semester at the University of California, Berkeley (1968), and a semester at the University of Pennsylvania (1980).

A tireless scholar and researcher, Dorson received many awards and honors over the years, beginning with the Harvard Sheldon Traveling Fellowship for 1942-1943. Other awards include a Library of Congress Fellowship in History of American Civilization, 1946; three Guggenheim Fellowships, 1949, 1964 and 1971; fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies in 1952 and 1961; and a year as fellow at the National Humanities Center in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, 1978-1979. His many grants from a variety of foundations and institutions include the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Smithsonian Institution, and the U.S. Department of Justice.

He was an active member of professional societies and organizations, serving as editor of the American Folklore Society's Journal of American Folklore, 1957-1962, as president of the society, 1966-1968, and as the Society's delegate to the American Council of Learned Societies, 1969-1973. Dorson also served terms as vice president of the International Society of Folk Narrative Research from 1959 to 1964 and of the International Society of Ethnology and Folklore, 1964-1971. In 1973 he was elected to honorary membership of the English Folklore Society on whose Council he had been serving since 1969. In 1981 Dorson retired as chairman of the Folklore Department but remained director of the Folklore Institute and professor of folklore and history until his death a few months later.

The correspondence section, consisting of approximately 14,500 items arranged chronologically, documents Dorson's determination to turn the American Folklore Society and American folklore studies away from amateurism toward rigorous scholarship. He set standards for folklore scholarship on all levels—research, documentation, writing, and the material to be studied. The correspondence also shows Dorson's wide network of national and international contacts, including personal relationships established with numerous scholars over the years.

Writings in the collection are divided into those by Dorson and those by other folklorists, historians, and colleagues. Materials for the following books by Dorson are represented here: African Folklore (1972), America Begins (1950), America in Legend (1973), America Rebels (1953), American Folklore (1959), American Folklore and the Historian (1971), American Negro Folktales (1967), Bloodstoppers and Bearwalkers (1952), The British Folklorists: A History (1968), Buying the Wind (1964), Davy Crockett, American Comic Legend (1939), Folk Legends of Japan (1961), Folklore and Fakelore (1976), Folklore and Folklife: An Introduction (1972), Folklore and Traditional History (1973), Folklore in the Modern World (1974), Folklore Research Around the World: A North American Point of View (1961), Folklore: Selected Essays (1972), Folktales Told Around the World (1975), Handbook of American Folklore (1983), Jonathan Draws the Long Bow (1946), Land of the Millrats (1981), Man and Beast in American Comic Legend (1982), Negro Folktales in Michigan (1956), Negro Tales from Pine Bluff, Arkansas and Calvin, Michigan (1958), Peasant Customs and Savage Myths: Selections from the British Folklorists (1968) and Studies in Japanese Folklore (1963). He edited and wrote the forward to all the volumes of the Folktales of the World series, and both drafts and/or final manuscript copy of many of these volumes are in the collection.

The type of material present for Dorson's publications varies but most often includes research materials, drafts of manuscripts, galleys and page proofs, corrected proofs, book production materials, publicity and reviews. There are also materials for about ten other books which he was considering publishing.

Dorson also wrote approximately 200 articles, most of which are represented in the collection in various phases of development from notes to final printed item. He prepared numerous reviews for printed works and frequently provided critical evaluations of the items that had been submitted for publication, and many of these are present or are represented in these files. Papers and/or notes for papers presented at seminars and conferences, as well as materials relating to several journals (especially the Journal of the Folklore Institute), and series (particularly the Indiana University Folklore Institute Monographs Series), which he edited are also here.

Fieldwork and research materials in the collection include notes, transcriptions, and field tapes from Dorson's work in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in the 1940's; in Calvin, Michigan, and Pine Bluff, Arkansas, in the early 1950's; in Jonesport, Maine, 1956; and in northern Indiana, 1968 and mid 1970s. These files highlight areas of special interest to Dorson—early American heroes; Black, immigrant, occupational (lumberjacks, cowboys, miners, railwaymen, steelworkers), and urban lore; as well as lore of the youth and counter cultures of the 1960s.

Dorson's Indiana University related files include materials for the Folklore Department, the Folklore Institute, the Folklore Archives, the Archives of Traditional Music, the History Department, and various University committees. Also here are papers of folklore and history students, dissertation materials, and Dorson's class notes.

The remaining files in the collection are a miscellany of materials pertinent to Dorson's career, including his testimony in 1970 Senate hearings for an American Folklife Bill. The many societies and councils of which Dorson was a member and the many conferences which he attended are also represented. Dorson's personal files, in addition to regularly updated vitae, include materials on grants and fellowships. Other files contain materials on a film about the Northeast Sea Community, photographs, and printed items. Among the latter are journals, newsletters, and clippings on Dorson, on the Folklore Institute and Department, and on folklore in general.

The collection is organized into the following series: I. Correspondence; II. Writings; III. Research and fieldwork; IV. University materials; V. Miscellaneous; VI. Additions.

Gift. 1977, 1978, 1982, 1984, 2005

Collection size: 67,500 items

For more information about this collection and any related materials contact the Public Services Department, Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405. Call (812) 855-2452 or send an email using our Ask a Question form.