Roger D. Abrahams

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Roger David Abrahams (June 12, 1933 – June 20, 2017[1]) was an American folklorist whose work focused on the expressive cultures and cultural histories of the Americas, with a specific emphasis on African American peoples and traditions. He was the Hum Rosen Professor of Humanities Emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania, where he taught in the Department of Folklore and Folklife. He was the author of a large number of books, among which Everyday Life: A Poetics of Vernacular Practices is a recent title,[2] and was the founding Director of Penn's Center for Folklore and Ethnography, a research and public outreach unit associated with the Department of Folklore and Folklife.[3]

Education and career[edit]

Abrahams was one of three children born to Robert D. Abrahams and Florence Kohn Abrahams, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His education included Swarthmore College in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, where he obtained a B.A. with Honors in English in 1955; Columbia University in New York, where he obtained a M.A. with Honors in Literature and Folklore in 1959; and the University of Pennsylvania, where he obtained a Ph.D. in Literature and Folklore in 1961.

Abrahams' career began almost immediately after he obtained his Ph.D., first at the University of Texas as instructor (1960–63), assistant professor (1963–66), and then associate professor (1966–69) in the Department of English. He became a full professor in 1969 in the departments of English and Anthropology and remained there for ten years. While a professor, he also served for two years beginning in 1968 as the Associate Director for the Center for Intercultural Studies in Folklore and Oral History and for five years beginning in 1974 as department chairman. From Texas he moved to Scripps College and Pitzer College in Claremont, California, where he was Alexander H. Kenan Professor of Humanities and Anthropology for six years. In 1986 he returned to the University of Pennsylvania, where he taught Folklore and Folklife and was named the Hum Rosen Professor of Folklore and Folklife, and founded the Center for Folklore and Ethnography.[3] Upon his retirement in 2002, he was named professor emeritus.

Research and publications[edit]

Abrahams published 21 books and monographs, 60 book chapters and introductions, 64 scholarly articles, and 10 review articles. He was also published in eight magazine articles, six encyclopedia and handbook entries, 25 “notes” sections, and as many as 55 reviews of his work were published by other authors. His books include: Everyday Life: A Poetics of Vernacular Practices (2005), The Man-of-Words in the West Indies: Performance and Emergence of Creole Culture (1983), Blues for New Orleans: Mardi Gras and America’s Creole Soul, coauthored with Nick Spitzer, John Szwed, and Bob Thomson (2006); and And Other Neighborly Names: Social Process and Cultural Image in Texas Folklore, coauthored with Richard Bauman (2011). Most of Abrahams' texts were dedicated to his study of African-American and Caribbean culture. Most notable were African Folktales (1983), African-American Folktales: Stories from Black Traditions in the New World (1999), After Africa and Singing the Master: The Emergence of African-American Culture in the Plantation South (1992). His research interests included folksongs and ballads from various cultures, numerous forms of African-American folklore, West Indian folklore, riddle study, proverbs, children's folklore, and festival and ritual.


Abrahams was a Fellow of the American Folklore Society[4] and served as its president in 1979. He was awarded the society's Kenneth Goldstein Award for Lifetime Academic Leadership in 2005.[5] In 1965, he received a Guggenheim Fellowship.


  1. ^ Grimes, William (June 29, 2017). "Roger D. Abrahams, Folklorist Who Studied African-American Language, Dies at 84". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 2017-06-30. Retrieved June 30, 2017.
  2. ^ Abrahams, Roger D. (2005) Everyday Life: A Poetics of Vernacular Practices. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
  3. ^ a b "Past Directors of the Center for Folklore & Ethnography", Accessed December 23, 2009.
  4. ^ "Fellows of the American Folklore Society",; accessed July 9, 2015.
  5. ^ "Kenneth Goldstein Award for Lifetime Academic Leadership",; accessed July 9, 2015.

External links[edit]