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The South: Culture and History: Folklore and Oral Traditions

This library guide is designed for researchers studying any topics related to the South's culture and history.

Oral History

You use oral histories, or interviews, as primary sources for Southern history, especially for 20th century topics.  Sometimes, oral histories have been transcribed by other historians, and we can search for and read their transcriptions.  Some resources to find transcipts as well as recordings of interviews with Southerners are:

Southern Oral History Program

American Slave Narratives: An Online Anthology

American Rhetoric

Historical Voices 

American Memory

Documenting the American South

Making of America 

Smithsonian Folkways

You can sometimes pinpoint oral histories on the internet or in general  collections by using search terms like "oral history" in quotation marks, or the keyword interview.  Narrow your search to interviews on a specific topic with search statements like interview and "civil rights".  Or, focus your search on interviews with people from a specific region with search statements like interview and Alabama.  


Folklore is the set of stories, songs, legends, riddles, and jokes of a culture.  Folklore was originally unwritten, and meant to be orally passed on from generation to generation. 

The South has a vibrant folklore tradition.  On porches, around campfires, and over suppertables, Southerners have handed down tales that reveal their values, morals, and history.  For introductions to the study of folklore, please see these resources:

Library of Southern Literature: Folklore in Literature

Folklore and Folk Art Resource Education Guide

Folklore: An Encyclopedia

What is Folklore?

Swinging in Place: Porch Life in Southern Culture / Jocelyn Hazelwood Donlon (electronic book)

Criticism about Folklore

America: History and Life--the premier database for secondary sources in American history, covers folklore and its historical context.

Literature Online (LION)--click "Criticism" on the left sidebar to find scholarly works about Southern folklore. 

Literature Resource Center--another great database for criticism.

MLA International Bibliography--From the Modern Language Association of America, find articles "about literature, language, linguistics, and folklore."

You can find articles about Alabama history and folklore in Alabama Heritage.  The last few years are available online.  Older issues are available in print at Gorgas Library on Floor 4M at call number F321 .A45x.