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Title: Readers' Lore: Media, Literature, and the Making of Folk-Lore
Authors: Mandel, Hannes
Advisors: Wegmann, Nikolaus
Levin, Thomas Y
Contributors: German Department
Keywords: Folklore
Knowledge Production
Media History
Media Studies
William John Thoms
Subjects: Literature
English literature
Issue Date: 2018
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: The origin of German folk tales, folk songs, and folk legends has been thoroughly investigated by German literary studies. Unknown, so far, is the history of an offshoot of the German “Volk” concept on the other side of the English Channel. In 1846, it was the antiquary and clerk in the Printed Paper Office at the House of Lords, William John Thoms, who successfully established a neologism modeled explicitly after similar German compounds: “Folk-Lore.” Folklore, however, differs significantly from, say, the “Volksmärchen” of German Romanticism. While the latter, even after their transmutation into various degrees of “Kunstmärchen” at the hands of German philology continued to be what they had been before, i.e. recognizable material texts; it is much more difficult to determine, in the light of post-Romantic sobriety: what, after all, had been “Folk-Lore”? The present dissertation undertakes to answer this question by investigating for the first time the material basis of folklore at the outset of its conceptual history. Contrary to all existing accounts, the concept was anything but an instant success: Rather, it was only by means of a unique and strikingly modern journal project that Thoms eventually succeeded in actuating the circulation of both folklore and its designation. Precisely where one would have expected decidedly antiquated, backward-looking forms of knowledge, one discovers in the largely forgotten amateur Thoms a technology-savvy media expert, whose journal – enabled by the contemporary innovations of the railway and the Uniform Penny Post – is strongly reminiscent of modern-day Internet phenomena (such as online communities, crowdsourcing, or user-generated content), yet predates all of them by about 150 years. This study, however, does more than set a narrative straight. Informed by the ‘Potsdam School’ of Media Studies’ focus on “media usages,” as developed in their recent Historisches Wörterbuch des Mediengebrauchs, the dissertation offers insights into the non-linearity of the evolution of media, into the currency of anachronicity, and the affordances of tradition and innovation. It suggests that media theory cannot dispense with the constitutive dimension of media usage, and reconfirms, once more, that the New is best understood by means of the Old and vice-versa.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:German

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