Folk cultures around the world (including in Appalachia) have been built primarily around oral, rather than written, tradition. In song, story, and lore, truths and values were conveyed to the next generation and maintained over centuries. But to us rationalist moderns, this ancient way of recordkeeping seems imprecise and vague. Folklore scholar Richard M. Dorson describes our rather haughty perspective: “To the layman, and to the academic man too, folklore suggests falsity, wrongness, fantasy, and distortion. Or it may conjure up pictures of granny women spinning traditional tales in mountain cabins or gaily costumed peasants performing seasonal dances.” Dorson, a defender of the value of folklore, invokes in these words the unconscious bias that many today harbor toward indigenous, poor, and traditional cultures and lifeways. We look down on such “superstitious” people with condescension, forgetting that the foundation of all cultural knowledge is ancient oral tradition. Long before pen was ever put to paper, it was the stories and songs that began to make us who we are.
–Michael Updegraff, excerpt from “Mountain Music: The Story of Foxfire’s 50 Years of Appalachian Handcraft,” in Issue Eleven