The Science of Folklore: Aurelio Espinosa on Spain and the American Southwest

By Limón, Renata | Journal of American Folklore, Fall 2014 | Go to article overview

The Science of Folklore: Aurelio Espinosa on Spain and the American Southwest


Limón, Renata, Journal of American Folklore


And what is the significance of folklore in the field of history? History, the materials that historians have documented over the ages, are coming to be in general solely the history of the nations or peoples who have achieved domination of others, the political history of certain monarchs and their family.... The study of the life of the people, of their mode of thinking, their art, their beliefs and practices, is a new thing for the field of history. And the result is that history, to remain true history, must acknowledge the worth of the other auxiliary sciences, among them the science of folklore.

-Aurelio M. Espinosa, La Ciencia de Folklore, 1928

The news from Spain is bad, very bad____Even the half-baked intellectuals are surprised at the turn of events. One thing seems perfectly clear. The attack was not specifically against the monarchy for the mere purpose of introducing a republican regime. It appears that a well-organized communistic program that was to advance step by step was arranged by the enemies of law and order and Catholicism. It was a pact with Satan and we should no longer be deluded.

-Aurelio M. Espinosa, The Monitor: The Official Organ of the Archdiocese of San Francisco, June 27, 1931

The following study examines the writings of Aurelio M. Espinosa (1880-1958), a scholar who studied Spanish language and folklore in the American Southwest and Spain. After completing his doctoral studies at the University of Chicago, Espinosa began teaching in the Romance Languages Department of Stanford University in 1910 (Brunvand 1996). He remained at Stanford throughout his career, until his re- tirement in 1947. Espinosa is best known for tracing what he asserted to be the Span- ish origins of folktales among the Spanish-speaking populations of New Mexico and Colorado. He was a member of the American Folklore Society and served as its president from 1923-1924. Espinosa also helped found the American Association of Teachers of Spanish (1917), the Linguistic Society of America (1925), and the So- ciété Internationale de Dialectologie Romane (1909).

Espinosa was one of the first systematic academic folklorists to work with Ameri- can materials. He introduced both a rigorous fieldwork methodology and a highly developed theoretical framework to folklore studies under the banner of the historic- geographic method. At the same time, Espinosa was one of the first academic schol- ars in what would later develop into a broad area of multidisciplinary scholarship on the people of Spanish/Mexican origin in the United States. He came to scholarly maturity a little more than half a century after the US-Mexico War and the occupation of Mexico's northernmost territories by Anglo-American military forces. During this period, the cultural identity and political citizenship of the indigenous and Mexican population of the now US Southwest were contested and redefined within a new national context. At the same time, placed in a global context, Espinosa's profes- sional activities spanned a period of intense ideological development and political mobilization of transnational movements of the left and right. This period coincided with the transformation of folklore studies, from its late nineteenth-century begin- nings with the founding of the American Folklore Society in 1888, into a full-fledged discipline with an institutional home. Espinosa conducted his research during a pe- riod that bridged the early professional activities of late nineteenth-century folklor- istics and the consolidation of the discipline in the 1940s. The establishment of the first major academic folklore program at Indiana University, the granting of degrees in folklore in the 1950s under Richard M. Dorson, and the establishment of the The Folklore Institute in 1964 all marked the gradual emergence of folklore as an aca- demic discipline.

Folklore as a discipline and practice was intimately involved in the ideological formations and disputations of the twentieth century, both in the United States and abroad. …

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