NEW YORK FOLKLORE
Vol. 4, Nos. 1-4, 1978
INTRODUCTION TO THE UTICA PROJECT ISSUE
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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