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revival


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A deceptively simple term which has excited protracted debate in the folklore world, primarily because its meaning shifts with the perspective of each onlooker. In the folk song and dance world, ‘the Revival’ usually refers to one of the two major upsurges of popular interest in those topics, which became national movements.

In other spheres, the term is used to cover both the restarting of a custom after a temporary lapse, and the deliberate introduction of a custom into a different community or social context. Clearly, few if any local customs can prove an unbroken record of performance throughout their history, and folklorists normally accept any revival in this sense as part of the traditional nature of things. Problems of definition start to occur when others start a new series of performances which they have copied from elsewhere, and this is particularly noticeable in genres which have strong regional or local characteristics. The morris dancers of Bampton stopping and restarting, for example, is a different matter from the people of Burnley or Bridgwater starting to perform the Bampton dances. It is clear that the dissemination of traditions in the past must have included precisely this kind of ‘copying’ of others' existing traditions, by communities or individuals, and new performers may thus be seen to be starting a tradition of their own, in time-honoured fashion. This debate brings into the open the further notion of ‘authenticity’, and the question of who ‘owns’ folklore. A common-sense argument that folkloric traditions, as part of our common heritage, belong to everybody and therefore to nobody, often fails to appease those who see their own local customs or traditions appropriated by others, whether for pleasure or for profit. As noted under regional folklore, fierce local pride is often attached to a community's customs and traditions.

It is not only in the geographic sense that the appropriation of others' traditional lore can be seen as contentious. Songs collected from working-class singers by middle-class collectors turn up in different guise in the latter's compositions, on the concert stage sung by professional singers, or on commercial recordings by folk or pop groups, very often with no acknowledgement of their original source, or payment of any sort of ‘royalty’. Even without the moral/legal questions involved, the relationship of these performances to ‘folklore’ is at best ambiguous and open to further debate.

Victorian and Edwardian reformers were expert in the art of ‘revivals’ which, while claiming to be genuinely traditional, were either invented or changed so radically as to retain only a tenuous connection with the original source (see Merrie England), but which helped to create a generalized notion of a ‘national’ traditional culture belonging to all. At the end of the 20th century, the same processes appeared to be still in force.

See also DANCE, FAKELORE, REGIONAL FOLKLORE, SONG REVIVAL, TOURIST LORE.


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