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BIC Excellence Award

The Folklore of Cornwall
The Oral Tradition of a Celtic Nation

By Ronald M. James

The Folklore of Cornwall
Hardback, 256 pages £45.00
ISBN: 9780859894703
Format: 234mm x 156mm
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Subjects: History, South-West Studies, University of Exeter Press

By considering Cornish folklore in a Northern European context with the methodology developed elsewhere, this book will raise awareness of the traditions of Cornwall. Scandinavian folklore studies have long considered Celtic material, but Cornwall’s historic collections of folklore have tended to be ignored, for want of a scholarly examination of the sources. The proposed book fills this gap, placing this aspect of Cornwall’s culture on a par with other regions where Celtic languages have deep roots.

Analysis using comparative material from elsewhere in Europe provides an opportunity to understand pre-modern Cornish society, placing it in context and reaching insights that rely on realistic questions rather than the fanciful, academic ambitions of a former time.  The analysis of a number of legend types demonstrates not only that Cornwall exhibits a distinct body of material but also that the means by which it achieved this unique pattern was remarkable. With this volume, it is possible for the larger folklore community to look to the peninsula beyond the Tamar River for comparative insight.

A very readable text with popular appeal, this book will provide an introduction to folklore studies for undergraduates and as an alternative means to consider Cornish studies for advanced scholars. There is a new approach to research in this area - comparative analysis and innovative methodology is not found in other treatments of the subject.


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‘His detailed research in the United States, for example, reveals how emigrant Cornish men and women took their folklore to the mining frontier of the American West, adapting it to local conditions (as in the ‘tommyknockers’), yet further evidence of the tradition’s continuing vitality and relevance.
‘Cornish folklore has been literally global in its impact and extent, and in this important book Ronald M. James encourages us to look at this fascinating subject in new and innovative ways. It is sure be the standard volume for many years to come.’
Philip Payton, Professor of History, Flinders University, Australia

‘Exploring a wealth of interesting and enjoyable tales, James sets the rich folklore of Cornwall – from the indigenous piskie to the emigrant tommyknocker – within a much wider historic and geographic context. This book is both highly informative and a real pleasure to read.’
Dr Ceri Houlbrook, Researcher in the History Group, University of Hertfordshire 


Ronald M. James is a historian and folklorist.  He was adjunct faculty at the University of Nevada, Reno, where he taught history and folklore. He is currently associated with the anthropology department at Iowa State University. He has authored or co-authored thirteen books and contributed chapters and articles to many more, including Cornish Studies: Second Series published by UEP.

He was the nation’s I.T.T. Fellow to Ireland in 1981-1982, where he conducted graduate studies at the Department of Irish Folklore, University College, Dublin, under the direction of Bo Almqvist (1931-2013). James was mentored by noted Swedish folklorist Sven Liljeblad (1899-2000), himself a student of the renowned Carl Wilhelm von Sydow (1878-1952).

In 2014, James was inducted into the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame. In 2015, he received the Rodman Paul Award for Outstanding Contributions to Mining History from the Mining History Association. In 2016 he was elected to the College of Bards of Gorsedh Kernow.

Publication Details:

 Hardback , 256 pages
 234mm x 156mm

BIC Code:
  HIS000000, SOC005000, SOC011000, SOC022000, SOC026000
 University of Exeter Press


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