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Recentering Anglo/American Folksong

Sea Crabs and Wicked Youths

Roger deV. Renwick

Publication Year: 2001

A wealth of texts of British and Anglo/North American folksong has long been accessible in both published and archival sources. For two centuries these texts have energized scholarship. Yet in the past three decades this material has languished, as literary theory has held sway over textual study. In this crusading book Roger deV. Renwick argues that the business of folksong scholars is to explain folksong: folklorists must liberate the material's own voice rather than impose theories that are personally compelling or appealing.

To that end, Renwick presents a case study in each of five essays to demonstrate the scholarly value of approaching this material through close readings and comparative analysis. In the first, on British traditional ballads in the West Indies, he shows how even the best of folklorists can produce an unconvincing study when theory is overvalued and texts are slighted. In the second he navigates the many manifestations of a single Anglo/American ballad, "The Rambling Boy," to reveal striking differences between a British diasporic strain on the one hand and a southern American, post--Civil War strain on the other.

The third essay treats the poetics of a very old, extremely widespread, but never before formalized trans-Atlantic genre, the catalogue. Next is Renwick's claim that recentering folksong studies in our rich textual databanks requires that canonical items be identified accurately. He argues that "Oh, Willie," a song thought to be a simple variety of "Butcher's Boy," is in fact a distinct composition. In the final essay Renwick looks at the widespread popularity of "The Crabfish," sung today throughout the English-speaking world but with roots in a naughty tale found in both continental Europe and Asia.

With such specific case studies as these Renwick justifies his argument that the basic tenets of folklore textual scholarship continue to yield new insights.

Roger deV. Renwick, a professor of English at the University of Texas at Austin, is the author of English Folk Poetry: Structure and Meaning and of the supplement to The British Traditional Ballad in North America. He has been published in Journal of American Folklore and Southern Folklore Journal.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. 6-7

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pp. vii-viii

This book explores a topic that not too many years ago was favored in folklore scholarship but that has now declined significantly from its privileged position...

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pp. ix-xviii

"I have yet to find an approach to folksong from which I have not learned something" D. K. Wilgus first wrote over thirty-five years ago (1964: 39). Only someone...

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1. On Theorizing Folksong: Child Ballads in the West Indies

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pp. 3-24

As folklorists increasingly attempt to address their current crisis of identity by, for example, adopting the terminology of other disciplines (we seldom seem to "collect folklore...

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2. From Newry Town to Columbus City: A Robber's Journey

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pp. 25-58

This chapter offers a study which avoids weaknesses that arise when we draw too restricted a set of boundaries around folksong's textual subject matter. It accepts the premise...

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3. The Anglo/American Catalogue Song

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pp. 59-91

A survey of the more significant studies of Anglo/American folksong published over the last decade or so would reveal the ballad to be still by far the genre of scholarly...

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4. "Oh, Willie": An Unrecognized Anglo/American Ballad

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pp. 92-115

The most important step in the establishment and legitimation of folksong as a scholarly field was to amass a substantial body of data. In Britain, proponents of the emerging...

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5. "The Crabfish": A Traditional Story's Remarkable Grip on the Popular Imagination

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pp. 116-150

At the address http://www.harrier.net/hashes/, an internet surfer will find the website of the Pike's Peak, Colorado, chapter of the Hash House Harriers, an organization...

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pp. 151-152

D. K. Wilgus was actually one of my teachers when, in 1969,I enrolled in UCLA's graduate folklore program and learned a healthy respect not only for texts but for lots of...


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pp. 153-164

Works Cited

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pp. 165-176


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pp. 177-179


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pp. 180-181


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pp. 182-183

E-ISBN-13: 9781621036647
E-ISBN-10: 1578063930
Print-ISBN-13: 9781578063932

Publication Year: 2001

OCLC Number: 817902245
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Recentering Anglo/American Folksong

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Subject Headings

  • Folk songs, English -- Great Britain -- History and criticism.
  • Folk songs, English -- United States -- History and criticism.
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