Academic journal article Ethnologies

Academic Folklore Research in Canada: Trends and Prospects Pt1

Academic journal article Ethnologies

Academic Folklore Research in Canada: Trends and Prospects Pt1

Article excerpt


The following essay -- which will appear over the next two issues of Ethnologies -- is somewhat different from other contributions that appear in this journal. My discussion was written originally as a report for the Department of Canadian Heritage, completed during February and March, 1998. I was approached by Katherine Spencer-Ross of the Department's Heritage Policy Branch; they wanted a background paper which outlined the history and current status of the academic preservation and study of folklore in Canada. Specifically, my report had to address the UNESCO declaration of 1989 on the Safeguarding of Traditional Culture and Folklore, a proclamation of which Canada was a signatory (Honko 1990). I was asked to discuss, where appropriate, how the Federal Government has facilitated the implementation of the major recommendations of the UNESCO declaration.

Katherine Spencer-Ross knew of my work because I had acted as a consultant for the Department of Canadian Heritage before. In 1995, I had been contracted by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada (HSMB, part of Canadian Heritage) to investigate a group of buildings used in the smoked herring industry on Grand Manan, New Brunswick. In this report, as in all HSMB reports, I had to give evidence as to whether the buildings in Seal Cove, Grand Manan, were of national historic importance, and whether they should be designated a National Historic Site. Through this report, the Policy Branch knew some of the skills of professional folklorists, and thought I might be able to offer advice on a more academic topic.

As I prepared my report on academic folklore work, I knew that in other countries intangible resources were designated as of national historic importance. Clearly, then, the earlier work I did on built heritage for the HSMB might enable me to offer recommendations involving intangible heritage that would follow Departmental policy and practices.

Knowing the similarities between tangible and intangible cultural resources, and the work that the Department of Canadian Heritage (and the HSMB) might do, I asked if I might make recommendations for future work that could shape government policy. This I was encouraged to do. But it is important to note that the recommendations which appear in the latter part of my report do not necessarily reflect the views -- past or present -- of the Department of Canadian Heritage. The Department received this report originally on a "policy advice basis," and my recommendations will not necessarily be converted to policy or ministerial initiatives.

My report as it appears in Ethnologies is basically the exact document I submitted to the Government of Canada in 1998 (omitting the initial executive summary). I have not edited it, nor have I updated any sections to reflect current work. I thought it best to keep it as I had written, reflecting my assessment of academic folklore work in 1998. I feel that this can serve as an example of a consultancy report prepared for a government agency in this country. Folklorists working as consultants in Canada are few and far between, and part of the difficulty of securing such work is how to adapt to existing bureaucratic frameworks that exist within organizations such as Canadian Heritage or the HSMB of Canada.

I would like to thank Katherine Spencer-Ross of the Policy Branch of Canadian Heritage for her help in preparing this study. Charles-Henri Roy of the same branch graciously gave me permission to publish this report. Much of what I outlined in this essay had already been discussed in Carole Carpenter's Many Voices (1979). My task in many ways was simply to update her important work, point to more recent trends, and add my own critique and recommendations.


This report profiles the academic study of folklore in Canada, specifically addressing the various activities outlined in the 1989 UNESCO Declaration on Folklore. …

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