Publication Date


Degree Program

Department of Folk Studies and Anthropology

Degree Type

Master of Arts


In this thesis, I examine the relationship between folklore and nationalism in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Germany. More specifically, I focus on how the Nazis used folklore and the work of folklorists in their propaganda. The first chapter documents the development of nationalism and the creation of the discipline of folklore based on the theories of Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803) and Wilhelm Riehl (1823-1897). Herder wanted the Germans to rediscover their national heritage through folklore materials, and Riehl argued that folklore and folklorists should serve the Fatherland. In the 1930s, the Nazi Party used the discipline of folklore as a tool for their cultural policies and ideological education because the discipline had such close associations with nationalism and anti-Semitism. In Chapter Two, I trace the development of the National Socialist ideology from the conservative revolution and the Volkisch movements of the nineteenth century. National Socialism was akin to a religion and in Chapter Three, I document the careers of two of its "priests": Alfred Rosenberg, the philosopher of the NSDAP, and Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS. Both men created folklore organizations and employed folklorists to support the Nazi ideology. In Chapter Four, I analyze the festival theory of two folklorists employed by Rosenberg and then examine the Nazi festival calendar, which was based on both traditional holidays and the new celebrations of the Nazi Party. The annual Reichsparteitag (Reich Party Day), held in 1923, 1926, 1927, 1929, and then from 1933 to 1938, was the most important holiday on the Nazi calendar and I analyze it as a folk festival in Chapter Five, using the theories of Victor Turner, Alessandro Falassi, and Barbara Myerhoff. In addition, I use the theories of John Dorst concerning ethnography in a postmodern society and performance folkloristics to analyze the verbal art and performances at the rallies. Finally, I conclude with an overview of how German Volkskunde has changed after the Nazi era and discuss how the issue of folklore and ideology in Germany relates to the American discipline of folklore with a brief look at American festivals like the White Top Music Festival in Virginia (1931-1939) and the current Festival of American Folklife in Washington D.C. Three themes inform this analysis: 1.) Both folklore studies and National Socialism have a common background in the issues of the nineteenth century: nationalism, irrationalism, and the notion that Germany was a nation with a special destiny; 2.) The Nazi Party was unique in comparison with other political organizations because it made such conscious use of folklore materials. The Nazis' active use of folklore in all of its forms attracted ordinary Germans who had suffered great losses in the First World War, felt threatened by the radical modernity of the Weimar Republic, suffered through the Depression, and wanted to feel good about their nation again; and 3.) By examining specific issues like folklore and festivals, we can gain a deeper understanding of why Germans accepted Adolf Hitler and National Socialism.



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Folklore Commons