You are here: American University University Library Archives Finding Aids Duncan Emrich Papers

Volume: 3 linear feet

Access: This collection is open to the public upon request.

Copyright: Please consult the archivist for information about duplication or publishing of any materials from this collection.

Biographical Note

Duncan Blackie MacDonald Emrich was born on April 11, 1908 in Mardin, Turkey of missionary parents. Prior to World War I, they returned to the United States. Emrich entered college preparatory courses at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts in 1926, and continued on to attain his BA at Brown University (1932), MA at Columbia University (1933), Doctor en Letras at the University of Spain at Madrid (1934) and a PhD at Harvard. He married Sally Richardson Seldon in 1955.

In 1939, Emrich became an English Professor at Columbia until 1942 when he served in the U.S. Army. He was assigned to Military Intelligence and later achieved the rank of major as the official American historian in the Secretary of the General Staff's office, Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force. In 1945 he was appointed chief of the Archives of the American Folk Song section of the Library of Congress. From 1955-66 he held various positions with American Embassies in Greece, India, Togo, then returned to a desk officer job in the U.S. Information Agency in Washington until 1969. In 1969, he returned to the teaching profession and was a Professor of American Folklore at American University until 1977. Emrich died on August 23, 1977.

For additional biographical information, consult Contemporary Authors, New Revision Series, volume 9 and Current Biography, 1955.

Scope and Content Note

Emrich's papers include his collection of folklore, broken down into 35 labeled binders. In addition to the actual folklore, he has collected important journal articles, newspaper clippings, speeches, and classroom notes. He was able to attain the assistance of students, colleagues and the general public in the acquisition of American Folklore. Between October 1953, and June 1954, he participated in a weekly NBC series called "Weekend". He appealed to people to send him their particular traditions, rituals, tongue twisters, and any other folkloric influence.

The papers have been kept as close to the degree of organization that Emrich used, except a few instances. His method was topical, and so they are arranged alphabetically by topic. The same headings have been preserved with the following changes.

Folklore had been named such because there was no title on that particular binder.

Intro-class has been renamed from Touchstones for clarity. Its contents relates to what seems to be his introductory lecture on folklore.

Names-more has been changed from Names so as not to be confused with the other folder on Names.


The Collection was given to the American University Library in September 1989 by Henry Taylor of the Department of Literature.

Box & Folder Listing

Box 1

Box and Folder Listing
Folder ID Description
Misc. Memorabilia Memorandums and documents
Photos Two military photos, one of Eisenhower
AU Folklore Correspondence regarding a book on campus folklore; misc. folklore at AU
Beans Compilation of folk recipes with beans as the main ingredient
Bibliography 1 & 2 List of references on folklore.
Body Collection of folklore regarding cures, parts of the body, sneezing, etc.
Christmas Legends and myths regarding St. Nicholas, the Christmas card, and other related customs; Journal and newspaper articles related to Christmas folklore.
College songs Words and music to college songs of Brown, Harvard, Yale, and Nevada
Cowboy Songs Collection of popular cowboy songs and Western oriented songs particularly related to 49'ers
Courtship Rough draft of book on love and courtship, article on the folklore of love, and collection of folklore from Adams County Illinois related to courtship
Etymology Definition and examples of folk etymology includes a student project on Children's definitions of big words
Excuses Beginning of a collection on the art and use of excuses-especially by college students
Folk Art Collection of drawings
Folk Art-Texts Articles and information on tattoos
Folklore Riddles of Texas Mexican Children, and other folklore
Folklore Book Beginning work on text for high school use
Frontier Child ballads-a paper
Hodgepodge book Draft of his book by that name
Intro. Information regarding definition and relating to his class at AU
Intro. Class. More specifically oriented to his class on American Folklore at AU; important points-touchstones, destructive forces and fields of folklore
Language, Speech, & Grammar Examples of various folk language and regional speech
Luck, Magic, and Astrology Collection of folklore related to topic.
Love Lyrics Songs related to love; arranged alphabetically
Marriage Folk customs related to marriage and weddings and rough draft of the Folklore of Brides and Bridals
Names-1 Statistics and facts regarding distribution and commonality of names
Names-2 Articles related to the regionality of place names
New Book Few papers of what might appear to be the beginning of a new book includes directory of colleges
Propaganda Articles against "psuedo-folk" singers; criticisms of Joan Baez and Pete Seeger
Rejects Mostly songs
Rhymes Teasing, ball bouncing and skip rope, and hopscotch rhymes
Riddles Collection of Riddles
Songs Collection of Folk Songs
Soups Risks, rituals, omens, etc

Box 2

Box and Folder Listing for Box 2
Folder ID Description
Superstitions Folklore of superstitions from Adams County Illinois file
Tongue Twisters Collection of Tongue Twisters
Wishes Collection of myths related to wishes and wish making

Books by Duncan Emrich on file:

  • Riddles and Jokes and Foolish Facts
  • Who Shot Maggie in the Freckle? and other ballads of Virginia City, Nevada
  • Casey Jones and other Ballads of the Mining West
  • Tongue Twisters and Tricky Tanglers
  • The Book of Wishes and Wishmaking
  • It's an Old Wild West Custom
  • The Whim Wham Book
  • American Folk Poetry, An Anthology
  • Nonsense Book of Riddles, Rhymes, Tongue Twisters, Puzzles, and Jokes from American Folklore

Articles by Duncan Emrich on File:

  • The Legend of Avicenna, The Moslem World October 1942
  • Duncan Emrich's Life of Happy Coincidences, Brown Alumni Monthly, October 1974
  • Yankee gift to a Calcutta merchant, Smithsonian February 1976
  • A Certain Nicholas of Patara, Catholic Digest December 1962