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New York Folklore Vol. 4. Nos. 1-4, 1978
Utica Project Issue
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Cover of Vol. 19, Nos. 1-2, New York Folklore


Vol. 4, Nos. 1-4, 1978

by Susan G. Davis, Special Issue Editor

Only in recent years have folklorists found the city an appropriate field for study. Since folklore studies have usually dealt with country people and survivals from preindustrial, agrarian societies, most fieldwork has been conducted in rural surroundings. Yet we know that there is folklore in the city, and as Richard Dorson has pointed out, it seems likely that urban, industrial life gives rise to new forms of tradition. Certainly if lore and custom spring from the specific conditions of group existence, then life and work in the city—different in many ways from the patterns of rural society—will generate new urban folkways and develop new meanings for old forms. But so far, few surveys have been made to test this proposition, and folklorists are only beginning to identify the kinds and varieties of traditions bred by urban life.

This special issue of New York Folklore is made up of papers written by folklore seminar students at the Cooperstown Graduate Programs during 1978, the first year of a survey of urban and ethnic group folklore in Utica, New York. Supervised by Dr. Bruce R. Buckley and Dr. Roderick J. Roberts, the Utica Project is a departure from the Cooperstown emphasis on rural fieldwork, and the first year’s students found that the urban field demands new approaches to collecting as well as a reassessment of our definitions of folklore. The short articles presented here are reworkings of field reports; they indicate the variety of urban culture we observed in Utica during our first tentative explorations.

Fieldwork in a city unfamiliar to the students posed the fundamental problems of identifying areas for study and locating informants. In the fall of 1977 Dick Axt, Intern at the Archive of New York State Folklife, conducted preliminary research and fieldwork to prepare for the survey in the spring. Dick had grown up in the Utica area and knew that a survey of traditional cultures must deal with the city’s immigrant and ethnic group history. He began by compiling a bibliography of works on Polish- and Italian- American culture and local history.

Utica was a major Northeastern manufacturing center until the 1930s; its mills and factories employed thousands of European immigrants. Italians and Poles were the two largest national groups to arrive in Utica; the Italians settled in East Utica, the Poles in West Utica and nearby New York Mills....

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