Open Folklore

Everything that AnthroSource was supposed to be, Open Folkore is — and more.

In his recent entry on the future of AAA publishing Chris Kelty linked to a long memo by Kim Fortun which quotes one anthropologist’s condensed history of AnthroSource:

When AnthroSource was first unveiled I… fell in love with it. If AnthroSource meant that all members of AAA had electronic access to all AAA publications, then we could ditch paper copies… and that would mean that institutional subscriptions and perhaps even membership fees could have been lowered. But none of that happened. Now, when I try to use AnthroSource, I discover that I am better off going through my university library which takes me right to the Wiley-Blackwell site. And I now frankly find the Anthrosource search function useless. Do you use it? I have gone to AnthroSource and put in the search field a word that I KNOW appears in a wide range of articles – yet the search returns with no matches… I do not know what is the cause of it going from a great resource with yet untapped potential to a useless piece of junk.

Anthropology had a vision to create a sustainable, open, and innovative publishing system — and we’ve ended up buying our own work back from Wiley-Blackwell. The folklorists, on the other hand, seem on the verge of bringing this ideal to fruition.

OpenFolklore is — or is going to be — an online portal connecting folklorists with… well, pretty much everything. The project has several interrelated components: Flagship journals are being made available online through JSTOR, while other journals will be available open access. Content of all sorts — published or not — will be put in institutional repositories, including the massive IU Bloomington collection, which Google has digitized. Its a very, very impressive project that is already well underway.

OpenFolklore’s MO appears to be: get it online, by any means necessary. And their means do vary — in some cases, they are using traditional “we’ll let you market our content if you digitize it for us” methods by working with Google and JSTOR, but they are also using institutional repositories based out of libraries and open access journals run using open source software. As a result the project hardly seems to be one seamless, flawlessly machined whole. Rather, it is made up of many components, each one using a method appropriate to its goal and relying on mechanisms and models whose drawbacks and advantages are by now reasonably well-understood in scholarly publishing.

How has OpenFolklore gotten on the road to success when AnthroSource has fallen so, so far off of it? To be honest, I don’t know the answer, but I can make several guesses: the association is much smaller, and probably much less controlled by non-academic executive officers. They probably recognize that they are in it for the love it, and that folklore is always going to be a marginal proposition, budget wise. The result is a small, relatively agile, values-driven group run by academics with their heads screwed on straight and willing to get their hands dirty. On other words, very very different from the AAA.

This work is relavant for anthropologists — just the other day I was stuck in the reading room of my library reading a non-circulating book and dreading the costly xeroxing I would have to do when I suddenly saw in the introduction that the papers originally appeared in Oral Tradition — a journal whose website I’ve visited before. As a result instead of photocopying South Pacific Oral Traditions I was able to check out the original special issue from over 20 years ago, including Papua New Guinean scholar John Waiko’s “Head” and “Tail”: The Shaping of Oral Traditions Amongst the Binandere of Papua New Guinea . And indeed, if I wanted a printed copy of the published book for myself, Indiana University Press is selling print-on-demand paperbacks for US$15. How rad is that?

Of course like all great ideas, OpenFolklore still has plenty of time to utterly crash and burn — to this extent its only difference from AnthroSource is that it is newer. But I think — and hope! — that it will be a huge success. The project certainly has the potential to transform folklore and to lead the way for the social sciences and humanities. It looks likely that OpenFolklore is going to be a model for other scholarly societies to emulate in the future.


Alex Golub is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. His book Leviathans at The Gold Mine has been published by Duke University Press. You can contact him at

8 thoughts on “Open Folklore

  1. Yeah, AnthroSource search is terrible. I only use AnthroSource if I already know the article I’m looking for. Even then it doesn’t always turn up and you have to browse through a journal issue until you find it.

  2. @Kerim Anthrosource is getting nothing here. The reboot is Wiley’s digital content management system (formerly Interscience, now Wiley Online LIbrary), which is what people are accessing via anthrosource. I don’t actually think anthrosource exists anymore, so I don’t think it can be rebooted.

  3. I must be missing something about AnthroSource. Why do you folks want to search it so badly? Won’t Google Scholar get what you want, plus other, non-anthropology, sources that might be relevant? Is it really so important to search only anthropology content (and only one portion of that content)? Doesn’t this contribute to disciplinary tunnel-vision? What am I missing here?

  4. Michael, I think it’s because anthrosource is more of a way to actually gain access to these articles. Something like google scholar give you the articles, but then you have to have access to the online journal or publisher. What was supposed to make anthrosource so great was that it was one stop shopping for exclusively anth material in a way that was searchable and goes back to the original journal documents, unavailable elsewhere. I’m glad others where also having disdain for the search engine; I thought I just sucked at it.

    Previously I got into the habit of use tools like Anth-abstracts, which gave you a list of abstracts and a link to another cite to bring it out. Or a Federated search. They have so may new tools now that I which I had in grad school. Just found out today that you can search Time magazine for articles going back to the 40’s! I typed in US propaganda and got an article about propaganda against the Germans. It took me a second to figure out what was going on.

  5. Google scholar is ok for basic searching, but of course it only finds articles others have (heavily) cited, and yes, it is ‘interdisciplinary’ in the sense that you must wade through tons of chemistry papers which have been dragged into the search results because of an author’s name or a phrase.

    In the course of putting together my tenure application, for instance, I recently had to go back and find citations for all of the book reviews I’d published. I knew (usually!) the journals they appeared in. A quick search of AnthroSource for my name should have provided all the citations I needed while a Google Search would have required an elaborately formatted query to weed out all other Golubs. As it happened it ultimately proved easier to just go to Wiley Blackwell’s site and do the search there.

  6. Well, this may be just a matter of habit and preference. From Google Scholar I can access anything found in AnthroSource. And careful attention to search terms weeds out irrelevant chemistry citations. It’s just that I can’t imagine a reason why I would want to search AnthroSource. But then most of my work these days is in fields other than anthropology.

  7. Thanks for discussing the Open Folklore project so prominently. The AFS appreciates the work of our partners at the Indiana University Bloomington Libraries, and of everyone in our field who is working to make folklore scholarship more accessible. We look forward to more dialogue and feedback, in Savage Minds and elsewhere, as we develop this resource.

    Tim Lloyd, AFS

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