Brewster, Paul G. (1898–?). Encyclopedia of American Folklore

Folksong and folk-game scholar. Born in Stendal, Indiana, he earned a B.S. degree from Oakland City College in Indiana in 1920 and an M.A. from the University of Oklahoma in 1925. Most of Brewster’s teaching career was at Tennessee Technological University. American folklorists are mostly familiar with Brewster’s folksong scholarship. His historic-geographic emphasis, conclusions, collection techniques, presentation style, and perceptions of who constitutes “the folk” and what constitutes “folklore” are typical of his better contemporaries. Brewster’s sixty-five publications on folk games are likewise typical of his time. However, his continual, extensive, and intensive research in this genre is atypical and, thus, ultimately more significant to folklore studies. While adding little theoretically to the study of games, Brewster’s American Nonsinging Games (1953) is probably his most important work because it does not focus on games widi music as many preceding studies had. Brewster published on a wide variety of other genres, including folk medicine, riddles, narratives, jokes, and rituals, and on such exotic topics as snake handling and fire walking. During the middle of the 20th century, Brewster became better known internationally than in America by often cowriting works with foreign folklorists, having these works published overseas, and writing about such people as Czechoslovaks, Hungarians, East Indians, Nigerians, Malaysians, Egyptians, Russians, Iranians, and Tibetans, among others. Although Brewster, along with Robert E.Allen, was a founding member of the Hoosier Folklore Society in 1937, he was not a member of the American Folklore Society. Instead, he belonged to the Gypsy Lore Society (a folk group on which he never published) and the American Dialect Society. Despite Brewster’s early promise, competent scholarship, and more than 100 publications, he never completed his Ph.D. in folklore at Indiana University, he lacked professional advancement, and he shifted to international contacts in midcareer. American folklorists tend to explain these anomalies through multiple and inconsistent stories—none verifiable—usually involving some type of scandal. Thus, the folklorist himself, in this case, has become the subject of folklore. Janet M.Cliff


Brewster, Paul G. [1940] 1981. Ballads and Songs of Indiana. New York: Folklorica. ——. [1952] 1976. Children’s Games and Rhymes. New York: Arno. ——. 1953. American Nonsinging Games. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. ——. 1953. The Two Sisters. Folklore Fellows Communications No. 147. Helsinki.