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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Folk history in a small Canadian Community Laforet, Andrea Lynne


This is a study of folk history in Yale, British Columbia, a small community with a population that is part of western Canadian society. Folk history, which encompasses those aspects of a society's past which are socially and intellectually important to its members, and the organization and social use of knowledge of the past within the society, has been studied in some non-literate societies, but never in a literate society. In carrying out this study I have concentrated on elucidating the features of Yale's past considered significant by residents of Yale, the characteristics and qualifications of custodians of knowledge of the past, and the social contexts of transmission of such knowledge. In societies without writing, history is closely integrated with the identity of the social group. Custodians of knowledge of the past are instructed formally or informally, and exercise their knowledge by virtue of this instruction and of other characteristics, such as position in the social structure or relatively advanced age. History in such societies is highly political in content and function. The principal vehicle for oral transmission of knowledge of the past in literate societies has been assumed to be the legend but the characteristics of custodians of knowledge and the social contexts of transmission have not been investigated. Orally transmitted knowledge of history in Yale incorporates some of the characteristics of history in non-literate societies and some of the characteristics of North American folklore, but differs from both in important ways. The legend, in the sense of a narrative which is believed and has a knowable historic setting exists, at least ideally, among the genres of folklore to be found in Yale. However, I have not concentrated on a description or analysis of this or other genres. The people of Yale are highly conscious of the importance of the community's history and history is closely related to the identity of the community. There are custodians of knowledge of history, old-timers, who as a rule have not been instructed formally by previous old-timers, but are expected to have knowledge and to dispense it by virtue of characteristics such as advanced age, birth in Yale, long residence in the community and the possession of artifacts and books. There are three types of people who participate in Yale's folk history: outsiders who come to Yale with an amateur or professional interest in the past, and constitute the principal audiences for old-timers' knowledge, the old-timers, and other people of Yale, whose participation in history consists of spontaneous participation in community festivals in which historical themes are interpreted freely, and in being aware of landmarks and artifacts with historic significance. There is no public occasion during which old-timers transmit their knowledge of the past to other residents of Yale. Generally the knowledge of old-timers is not fully known to the people of Yale and is formally transmitted only to outsiders, although old-timers may be consulted by Yale people if specific need arises, and informal transmission of knowledge occurs in the course of work, travel and the meetings of friends and acquaintances at community festivals. Story-telling sessions are comparatively rare. History in Yale is not political in content or in function. Old-timers do not exercise political power by virtue of their status as old-timers and political activity is based on different information; politically active people are generally persons who are not old-timers. Formal written history is a part of the culture of the people of Yale, and they are aware of it. Formal histories of Yale can be based on fairly rich documentation, especially for several specific periods of intense activity during the nineteenth century. The folk history of the community overlaps to some extent with formal history, especially with regard to the themes of Yale's development and decline. Books, both scholarly and popular publications, are seen as sources or potential sources of knowledge by old-timers, but they are more frequently used as symbols of knowledge. The accumulated records on which written history is based are not accessible to most Yale people, and folk history is an activity separate from formal history.

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