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Man I hate that kind of comment. It trivializes the very notion of truth.

I was just at the USU Special Collections library and got to spend some time with one of the faculty in Folk Lore. It was simply wonderful...and talk about access...

I think a problem of folklore is that it seems to be the genre of fiction which most commonly disguises itself as fact. I think it would be more valueable if it came with a disclaimer noting it as an allegory or a parable, etc. To tune the listener for gleaning the value of the story.

I guise there is a good percentage of folklore that has history in it theough, and it is a murky line, at best.

The problem with folklore is that it is usually a distillation of stories handed down through the generations, each generation re-telling the story with a little added something. At a family reunion this last summer my family retold the story of a valued ancestor who "rescued" a handcart company on the Sweetwater River in Wyoming in the late fall of 1849. Family lore had it that our relative was the rescuer while another man was less that heroic, but later got most of the credit. It so happened that a descendent of the "other man" had recently married one of my nephews and she told the story from her families perspective. Of course it was completely different from my family's perspective. So much for folklore. The "hero" with the most descendants will get the credit. In that case, my family will come out as the family with the hero antecedent.

Hm. I'm not so certain that these descriptions of folklore are all that accurate. Certainly, there are rumors and legends that are folklore, but there is also a tremendous amount of experience and religious belief. IF you go to USU or BYU and crack open the Folklore archive, there are a tremendous amount of stories; all attained by solid ethnographic fieldwork, of which are included many testimonies and first hand recollections.

J.: Yes, but "solid ethnographic fieldwork" speaks to what they think, cultural beliefs; not to what really happened in the past, history. That's why historians prefer historical documents, the more contemporary the better, over memories recounted forty years later, even by eyewitnesses. Recall how Bushman in RSR declined to use those sort of reports about the life of Joseph Smith (although many LDS authors are quite happy to use those sorts of reports).

A couple of other angles on this: Economists have a strong bias against survey data because real data (showing how people actually behave) often tell a different story. There's also Leone's book Roots of Modern Mormonism that talks about how incomplete and flawed were the memories of living Mormons about events from thirty or forty years earlier in the Arizona towns that he studied as part of his field work.

So I see folklore as revealing things about those who transmit and retell the stories, and about the culture that such stories become embedded in. I don't see them as reliable reports of events that actually happened (although in some cases there were events of some sort that intiated a chain of storytelling).

I'm not so pessimistic as you, Dave. I think that your comment is applicable to much of what is considered folklore. Contemporary historical documents are indeed, way better; but, better a couple of years later than never. As I didn't keep much of a journal through-out my life, much of my own life is now folklore.

Clark said:

Man I hate that kind of comment. It trivializes the very notion of truth.


Brings to recollection a few choice lines from Paul Newman in "Absence of Malice"...

You don't write the truth. You write what people say. What you overhear, you eavesdrop.

You don't come across truth that easy.

Maybe it's just what you think, what you feel. I don't need your ***** newspaper to decide what they're gonna do with me.

- Or who I am.

J.Stapley, Well that is the point, isn't? Folklore isn't that reliable. What we learned from our parents is colored by their interpretation of what they learned form their parents. The actual truth is most likely lost to history, or non-history's never-never land.
If we can't be certain what our grandparents knew, or experienced, how can we be sure of what transpired 2,000 years ago? If we are going to "know" anything, I suggest we use the scientific method, which as Richard Feynman pointed out is simply a process we use to keep us from fooling ourselves.

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