Stith Thompson

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Stith Thompson
Born (1885-03-07)March 7, 1885
Bloomfield, Kentucky, United States
Died January 13, 1976(1976-01-13) (aged 90)
Columbus, Indiana, United States
Nationality American
Fields
Institutions
Alma mater
Known for

Stith Thompson (March 7, 1885 – January 13, 1976) was an American scholar of folklore. He is the "Thompson" of the Aarne-Thompson classification system, which indexes certain folktales by their structure and assigns them AT numbers. He also developed an alpha-decimal motif-index system (A~Z followed by numeral) for cataloging individual motifs.

Biography[edit]

Early life[edit]

Stith Thompson, born in Bloomfield, Nelson County, Kentucky, on March 7, 1885 as the son of John Warden and Eliza (McCluskey) Thompson moved with his family to Indianapolis at the age of twelve. He attended Butler University and obtained his BA degree from University of Wisconsin.

For the next two years he taught at Lincoln High School in Portland, Oregon, during which time he learned Norwegian from lumberjacks. He earned his master's degree in English literature from the University of California, Berkeley in 1912.

Graduate education[edit]

He studied at Harvard University from 1912 to 1914 under George Lyman Kittredge, writing the dissertation "European Borrowings and Parallels in North American Indian Tales," and earning his Ph.D. (The revised thesis was later published in 1919).[1][2] This grew out of Kittredge's assignment, whose theme was investigating a certain tale called "The Blue Band",[a] collected from the Chipewyan tribe in Saskatchewan may derive from contact with an analogous Scandinavian tale.[3][4]

Post-graduate, tenure[edit]

Thompson was English instructor at the University of Texas, Austin from 1914 to 1918, teaching composition. In 1921, he was appointed associate professor at the English Department of the Indiana University (Bloomington), which also had the responsibility of overseeing its composition program.[1]

He collected and archived traditional ballads, tales, proverbs, aphorisms, riddles, etc. The parallels and worldwide distributions of these could be studied using his motif cataloguing apparatus. The first volume of his Motif-Index was printed in 1955.[3]

He organized an informal quadrennial summertime "Institute of Folklore" beginning in 1942 which lasted beyond his retirement from tenure in 1956.[5] In 1962, a permanent Institute of Folklore was established at Bloomington, with Richard Dorson serving as its administrator and chief editor of its journal publication.

In 1976, Thompson died at home of heart failure in Columbus, Indiana.[6]

While Thompson wrote, co-wrote, or translated numerous books and articles on folklore, he became arguably best known for his work on the classification of motifs in folk tales. His six-volume Motif-Index of Folk-Literature (1955-1958) is considered the international key to traditional material.

Miscellanea[edit]

Thompson's 1954 article for The Filson Club Historical Quarterly entitled "The Beauchamp Family" continues in use by genealogists as of 2011.[7] In this article Thompson states that he is descended from a Costin Beauchamp (b.1738) from Somerset Co., Maryland which extends back to John Beauchamp one of the members of the Plymouth Company.[8]

Footnotes[edit]

Explanatory notes[edit]

  1. ^ The tale that Pliny Earle Goddard collected and published in Chipewyan Texts (1912) is "The Boy who became Strong". The tale Kittredge refers to is the parallel, Müllenhoff (1845)'s tale "XI. Der blaue Band" from Marne in Dithmarschen, Schleswig-Holstein, Germany, translated by Benjamin Thorpe (1853) as "The Blue Riband".

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ a b Richmond 1957
  2. ^ Dundes, Alan (1966). "The American concept of folklore" (snippet). Journal of the Folklore Institute 3.3: 240. (pp. 226-249)
  3. ^ a b Thompson 1996, pp. 57–58=Thompson 1994, "Distinguished Service 1953-1955", pp.19-20
  4. ^ Thompson 1946, p. 114 (Repr. 1977, 2006)
  5. ^ Dorson 1977, p. 4
  6. ^ Warren 1976, p. 145
  7. ^ Genealogies of Kentucky Families, Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc, pages 9-47, 1981.
  8. ^ Genealogies of Kentucky Families, Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc, page 10, 1981.

References[edit]

works
biographies

External links[edit]