English, Department of


First Advisor

Amanda Gailey

Second Advisor

Kenneth M. Price

Third Advisor

Tom Gannon

Date of this Version

Summer 7-31-2017

Document Type



Little, Kirby. "Living Lore: B. A. Botkin, Folklore, and the State." 2017. Web


A THESIS Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Master of Arts, Major: English, Under the Supervision of Professors Amanda Gailey and Kenneth M. Price. Lincoln, Nebraska: August, 2017

Copyright © 2017 Kirby Little

This digital project is hosted at https://livinglore.space


This digital project explores government surveillance and political action through folklore. The project focuses on the unpublished essay of folklorist Benjamin Botkin titled “Progress: Negroes and Everybody, From Folk Tale to Science Fiction.” Botkin was a prominent academic in his field, and created the theoretical approach to folklore he termed “applied folklore.” Botkin’s approach to folklore gained considerable attention, both positive and negative, due to his unique emphasis on the present time and the ever-changing nature of folklore, and his politicization of folklore as a method for uniting working class citizens. For decades, Botkin was under clandestine surveillance by the F.B.I. for being suspected of communist ties and actions. In January of 1954, F.B.I. agents appeared unannounced at Botkin’s home to interview him. The event left Botkin shaken and altered his outlook on American politics and community. Botkin’s daughter Dorothy Botkin reflected on this change in Botkin’s demeanor later in her life and believed that this event caused a major shift in Benjamin Botkin’s activities and intellectual pursuits.