Date of Award

Spring 5-9-2024

Document Type

Honors Thesis



First Advisor

Dr. Robert Welch

Second Advisor

Dr. Shane Nordyke

Third Advisor

Dr. Crystal Sheedy


Folklore, Generational differences, American identity

Subject Categories

American Studies | Comparative Literature | Curriculum and Instruction | History | Literature in English, North America | Music


The popular folklore of a region can clearly reflect how its citizens understand themselves and their nation. The goal of this study was to determine the number of individuals who can be considered “well-versed” in traditional folklore and to speculate on the possible reasons for the differences in recognition that arise. Five figures (Johnny Appleseed, John Henry, Paul Bunyan, Annie Oakley, and Rip Van Winkle) were selected to serve as a representative sample of folk characters that have been historically significant to the country. An online survey of 279 Midwesterners and interviews with various age groups in South Dakota, found that younger generations have much lower levels of recognition of traditional pieces of American folklore compared to older individuals. Several interrelated factors contribute to this decline, including changing national values, inundation with other types of popular content, and a reduction of schools including cultural history in their curriculum.



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