Alan Dundes Biography
Alan Dundes was a famous folklorist and professor of anthropology at the University of California at Berkeley. He was instrumental in developing folklore as a prominent academic discipline. As a scholar in folklore, he also worked on popular culture that consists of chain letters, light-bulb jokes and bathroom graffiti. According to him, folklore deals with the essence of life. Through his works, he explained the presence of folklore in every segment of society. He authored more than 250 scholarly articles and several books among which Parsing Through Customs: Essays by a Freudian Folklorist and The Vampire: A Casebook deserve special mention. One of his prominent articles includes Seeing Is Believing, in which he stated that Americans value the sense of sight more than other senses. He earned international fame for his Freudian analysis of a wide range of subjects ranging from fairy tales to football. His contribution as a folklorist has enriched the field of modern folklore studies. He even trained many distinguished personalities of this arena. He had vast knowledge on a number of topics like literature, games and different cultures. As a prominent folklorist, he was the recipient of several prestigious awards like the Pitre Prize and a Guggenheim Fellowship.
- Born in New York City, Alan Dundes was the son of a lawyer and a musician. He completed his bachelor and master degree in English literature from Yale University.
- After completing his education, he received training to become a naval communications officer. After completing two years of service maintaining artillery guns on a ship in the Mediterranean, he attended Indiana University and received a Ph.D. in folklore in 1962.
- Starting his career as a teacher at the University of Kansas, he joined the University of California, Berkeley, in 1963. Here he taught folklore as a part of anthropology. He remained in the same role for 42 years.
- In the folklore course which he taught, students were introduced to varied forms of folklore such as legends, myths, folk speech, folk belief and so on. He also gave lectures on American folklore and Psychoanalytic approach to folklore and its history on an international perspective.
- He earned popularity at the university for his wide knowledge of cultures. For his expertise in teaching and for his wit and charm, he became a favorite among his students and the media as well.
- He also supported New Student Orientation Program at Berkeley University and often gave opening address during the summer orientation programs where students’ opinion about the type of instruction was sought.
- Due to his initiative, Berkeley Universities’ Anthropology department set up a master’s degree in folklore program. As part of this program, an archive, which consists of more than 500,000 folklore items, was arranged.
- As a scholar of folklore, his writings, lectures or works often created controversies. Some of these works included the examination of New Testament and the Qur’an.
- One of his works, Into the Endzone for a Touchdown, which explores the homoerotic implications explicit in the rituals and terminologies surrounding American football, even earned him death threats.
- In 1980, he addressed the American Folklore Society annual meeting as president; his presentation was later published by the name, Life is Like a Chicken Coop Ladder.
- In the later phase of his life, he was awarded a cheque of $1,000,000 which enabled him to endow the university with a distinguished professorship in Folkloristics. This ensured that his retirement wouldn’t abandon folklore in the department.
- He published his book Never Try to Teach a Pig to Sing in 1991. In this book, he discussed about modern folklore which includes T-shirt slogans, ethnic sexual remarks and various types of exchanges shared through office photocopy machines.
- In 1993, he received the Pitre Prize for his lifetime achievement in folklore. For his excellent teaching ability he received the UC Berkeley Distinguished Teaching Award the next year.
- Alan Dundes married Carolyn with whom he had three children namely David, Lauren and Alison. His son David is an information technology manager, Lauren works as a professor of Sociology and Alison is a professor of political science and anthropology.
- In 2001, he became the first folklorist to be elected as a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Prior to his death, he was interviewed by Brian Flemming, the maker of the documentary, The God Who Wasn't There.
- While delivering a lecture at the University of California, Berkeley, he collapsed suddenly on account of a heart attack. He passed away at the age of 70.
- He faced criticism for his application of psychoanalysis in his works. Through one of his works, he offered a psychosexual reading of the Apollo moon landing. He established brother-sister relationship between the Sun and the Moon through this analysis.
- He was always eager to know his students individually. For that reason, students lined up to speak with him individually during office hours at the University of Berkeley.
- According to his wife, he was a workaholic. He loved to watch football and baseball. He was a voracious reader. Therefore, every nook and corner of his Berkeley home was full with books.
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