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Sunday 24 August 2014

Folklore as a Tool

I am currently reading "Dracula: Prince of Many Faces - His Life and Times" by Radu Florescu and Raymond McNally and I came across this wonderful passage:

"Although folklore has to be used with caution by the historian, it can be a legitimate tool. There are perhaps more reason to trust collective folk wisdom, because people can be more discriminating on what they chose to remember, than the memoirs of statesmen, diplomats, and kings, who often to chose to deceive posterity to enhance their reputation."

It reminded me of my deceased writing colleague, Heather Vallance's urge to look to culture and tradition as much as cold hard data. We need to have the tools of logic and rationality to hold information together. We must use critical thinking as a filter, but Richard J. Evans did a sound job of showing us why the historical document-based approach to researching history is fallible.

As the BBC Radio series, "This Sceptred Isle" stated in its opening premise, the history of people really starts with people. When I was researching "The Legend of Salt and Sauce" I certainly went through my fair share of frustration disentangling apocryphal tales and filtering out exaggeration, but collective tradition can often do a lot of valuable work in helping shape the picture of our research. In "Dracula: Prince of Many Faces" the authors explain that only by using information taken from passed down oral traditions did chroniclers learn of the story behind the creation of Dracula Castle by enslaved boyars. According to the story, these were the boyars who betrayed and killed Dracula's elder brother and were worked to death in the construction of his castle. Also the story of the suicide of Dracula's first wife (or mistress), which became a key point of Francis Ford Coppola's "Bram Stoker's Dracula", came from similar tales.

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