Looking for Lost Lore: Studies in Folklore, Ethnology, and Iconography

Looking for Lost Lore: Studies in Folklore, Ethnology, and Iconography

Looking for Lost Lore: Studies in Folklore, Ethnology, and Iconography

Looking for Lost Lore: Studies in Folklore, Ethnology, and Iconography

Excerpt

Lore gets lost. Even today, specific contemporary information about human behavior and its effects on social structure is sometimes hard to gather. Part of the problem is that there is simply too much information, and sifting through documentary records is so arduous and time-consuming that few undertake the task of locating the data and understandings that will make sense of our own time.

When the goal is to understand earlier societies and their cultural perspective the task is equally difficult. While the available data are fewer, both because of loss through time and the lack of documents, the understanding of them is even more difficult. Those societies are gone. Even the descendants of the players on those former human stages are puzzled about their past. Perhaps of greatest importance is the fact that we cannot assume that people of earlier days thought and behaved in the same way we do. One recent historian found a line from a novel that succinctly expresses the problem of doing history, and he used it as the title of an excellent book on historiography: The Past Is a Foreign Country (Lowenthal 1985). The full quotation completes the point: “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there” (Hartley 1953).

When this problem of “doing history” is shifted from societies that commit everything to paper, whether contemporary or past, to societies that left only objects in the ground and oral traditions among their descendants, the foreignness of the country becomes truly daunting. Archaeologists are called to the arena, and anthropologists and ethnohistorians work with them to create models of the past that make explanatory sense. Even folklorists, wrestling with their own peculiar problems of establishing the historical background of traditional belief and narrative, get involved in the multidisciplinary work.

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