William R. Bascom
was an American folklorist, anthropologist, and museum
A museum is an institution that cares for a collection of artifacts and other objects of scientific, artistic, cultural, or historical importance and makes them available for public viewing through exhibits that may be permanent or temporary. Most large museums are located in major cities...
Bascom completed his B.A.
A Bachelor of Arts , from the Latin artium baccalaureus, is a bachelor's degree awarded for an undergraduate course or program in either the liberal arts, the sciences, or both...
at the University of Wisconsin–Madison
The University of Wisconsin–Madison is a public research university located in Madison, Wisconsin, United States. Founded in 1848, UW–Madison is the flagship campus of the University of Wisconsin System. It became a land-grant institution in 1866...
, and earned his Ph.D.
A Ph.D. is a Doctor of Philosophy, an academic degree.Ph.D. may also refer to:* Ph.D. , a 1980s British group*Piled Higher and Deeper, a web comic strip*PhD: Phantasy Degree, a Korean comic series* PhD Docbook renderer, an XML renderer...
in anthropology at Northwestern University
Northwestern University is a private research university in Evanston and Chicago, Illinois, USA. Northwestern has eleven undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools offering 124 undergraduate degrees and 145 graduate and professional degrees....
under Melville J. Herskovits
Melville Jean Herskovits was an American anthropologist who firmly established African and African American studies in American academia. The son of Jewish immigrants, he obtained a Bachelor of Philosophy at the University of Chicago in 1923 and obtained his Master's and Ph.D...
in 1939. He taught at Northwestern, Cambridge University, and the University of California at Berkeley, where he was also Director of the Lowie Museum of Anthropology. During World War II, he joined the O.S.S.
The Office of Strategic Services was a United States intelligence agency formed during World War II. It was the wartime intelligence agency, and it was a predecessor of the Central Intelligence Agency...
and together with Ralph Bunche
Ralph Johnson Bunche or 1904December 9, 1971) was an American political scientist and diplomat who received the 1950 Nobel Peace Prize for his late 1940s mediation in Palestine. He was the first person of color to be so honored in the history of the Prize...
co-authored an unsigned volume, A Pocket Guide to West Africa
Bascom was a specialist in the art and culture of West Africa
West Africa or Western Africa is the westernmost region of the African continent. Geopolitically, the UN definition of Western Africa includes the following 16 countries and an area of approximately 5 million square km:-Flags of West Africa:...
and the African Diaspora
The African diaspora was the movement of Africans and their descendants to places throughout the world—predominantly to the Americas also to Europe, the Middle East and other places around the globe...
, especially the Yoruba
The Yoruba people are one of the largest ethnic groups in West Africa. The majority of the Yoruba speak the Yoruba language...
Nigeria , officially the Federal Republic of Nigeria, is a federal constitutional republic comprising 36 states and its Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. The country is located in West Africa and shares land borders with the Republic of Benin in the west, Chad and Cameroon in the east, and Niger in...
. Several of his articles on folkloristics
Folkloristics is the formal academic study of folklore. The term derives from a nineteenth century German designation of folkloristik to distinguish between folklore as the content and folkloristics as its study, much as language is distinguished from linguistics...
serve as texts in graduate courses in folklore.
Four functions of folklore
In a major article published in 1954, Bascom argued that folklore can serve four primary functions in a culture:
- Folklore lets people escape from repressions imposed upon them by society
- Folklore validates culture, justifying its rituals and institutions to those who perform and observe them.
- Folklore is a pedagogic device which reinforces morals and values and builds wit.
- Folklore is a means of applying social pressure
Peer pressure refers to the influence exerted by a peer group in encouraging a person to change his or her attitudes, values, or behavior in order to conform to group norms. Social groups affected include membership groups, when the individual is "formally" a member , or a social clique...
and exercising social control
Social control refers generally to societal and political mechanisms or processes that regulate individual and group behavior, leading to conformity and compliance to the rules of a given society, state, or social group. Many mechanisms of social control are cross-cultural, if only in the control...
- "The Relationship of Yoruba Folklore to Divining," Journal of American Folklore (1943)
- The Sociological Role of the Yoruba Cult-Group (1944)
- Ponape: A Pacific Economy in Transition (1947)
- "Four Functions of Folklore," Journal of American Folklore (1954)
- "Urbanization Among the Yoruba," American Journal of Sociology (1955)
- "Verbal Art," Journal of American Folklore (1955)
- co-editor, with Melville J. Herskovits, Continuity and Change in African Culture (1959)
- "Folklore Research in Africa," Journal of American Folklore (1964)
- "The Forms of Folklore: Prose Narratives," Journal of American Folklore (1965)
- The Yoruba of Southwestern Nigeria (1969)
- Ifa Divination: Communication Between Gods and Men in West Africa (1969, recipient Pitrè International Folklore Prize)
- African Art in Cultural Perspective: An Introduction (1973)
- "Folklore, Verbal Art, and Culture," Journal of American Folklore (1973)
- editor, African Dilemma Tales (1975)
- editor, Frontiers of Folklore (1977)
- Sixteen Cowries: Yoruba Divination from Africa to the New World (1980)
- Robert Georges & Michael Owen Jones, Folkloristics: An Introduction, Indiana University Press, 1995, pp. 171–192.
- Daniel Crowley and Alan Dundes
Alan Dundes, was a folklorist at the University of California, Berkeley. His work was said to have been central to establishing the study of folklore as an academic discipline. He wrote 12 books, both academic and popular, and edited or co-wrote two dozen more...
, "Obituary: William Russel Bascom," Journal of American Folklore 95 (1982): 465-7.
- Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology website - History page