Yoder is Emeritus Professor of Folklore and Folklife and Religious Studies at
the University of Pennsylvania and is currently pursuing a very active schedule
of lecturing, writing, and traveling.
Yoder received his B.A. in History from Franklin and Marshall College in 1942
and his Ph.D. in American Church History from the University of Chicago in
1947. He taught at Union Theological Seminary, New York City; at Muhlenberg
College; and at Franklin and Marshall College before joining the faculty of the
University of Pennsylvania as Assistant Professor of Religious Thought in 1956.
He taught within the newly formed graduate department in Folklore in the 1960s
and soon expanded the discipline to include the study of folklife, based on his
knowledge of European scholarship in folklife and regional ethnology. He was
chairman of the Department of Folklore and Folklife at the University of
Pennsylvania from 1966 to 1969, and co-chair from 1969 to 1971. He was promoted
to full professor of Folklore and Folklife in 1975, and was named professor of
American Civilization in 1990. He has continued his distinguished career
teaching and researching American ethnic and regional cultures, American
immigration history; genealogy, particularly of German and Swiss families in
Pennsylvania; folk religion, sectarian cultures, religious folk music, folk
medicine, folk costume, folk cookery, foodways, folk arts, and material culture
after his formal retirement from the University of Pennsylvania in 1996.
was cofounder and a director of the Pennsylvania Folklife Society beginning in
1949. He served as co-editor of the Pennsylvania
Dutchman, 1949-1958; and of Pennsylvania Folklife, 1958-1962, when
he became editor, serving until 1978. He was elected Fellow of the American
Folklore Society in 1972, and elected president of the American Folklore
Society from 1981 to 1982. He was elected to membership in the American
Antiquarian Society in 1988, and is a member of many historical and
folk-cultural research societies.
testified before the Committee on Labor and Public Welfare of the United States
Senate in 1970 in favor of the establishment of the American Folklife Center at
the Library of Congress. From 1976 to
1978 he served on the first Board of Trustees of the American Folklife
Center. His was one of the strong voices
that supported the idea of creating the American Folklife Center, where I have
the privilege of working today. In 1980 he was co-director with Wayland Hand at
the Washington Conference on American Folk Custom at the Library of Congress,
and lectured there on Fraktur in 1986.
At the American Folklife Center, we hold the valuable field recordings
made by Dr. Yoder of Pennsylvania spirituals.
The Don Yoder Collection of Wire Recordings has recently been digitized
and while listening to this fascinating collection of Pennsylvania German hymns
that Dr. Yoder recorded in the early 1950s, I felt as if I had a transcendent
experience, when I heard him interviewing a practitioner of Pennsylvania German
powwowing, a healing tradition. At the
time, 1952, she was 82, and she describes learning this tradition as a young
woman in the nineteenth century.
academic travels have taken him to every major archives and institute of
regional and ethnic culture in Western Europe and Latin America. In this, he has been a pioneer in developing
scholarly contacts between international folklife scholars and folklife
scholars in the United States.
As one of
his students, I can attest to the extraordinary gift Dr. Yoder has for
teaching. He received the Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching at the
University of Pennsylvania in 1986. He has directed more than 50 dissertations
in four academic disciplines – Folklore and Folklife, Religious Studies, American
History, and American Civilization. And
best of all, generations of his students, including me, benefited from the
unforgettable field trips he has led in the Pennsylvania countryside to Amish
farms, Mennonite churches, historic graveyards, and to meet Pennsylvania German
Yoder’s publications, numbering in the hundreds, include Pennsylvania
Spirituals, 1961; American Folklife, 1976; The Picture-Bible of Ludwig Denig: a
Pennsylvania German Emblem Book,
translated and edited by Don Yoder, 1990; Discovering American
Folklife: Studies in Ethnic, Religious,
and Regional Culture, 1989, reprint 2001; Discovering American Folklife: Essays
on Folk Culture and the Pennsylvania Dutch,
Day, 2003; and recently, The Pennsylvania German
Broadside : a History and Guide, 2005.
We look forward to Dr. Yoder’s lecture today,
especially, we look forward to his slides, and on behalf of my co-chair Leonard
Primiano, who made this lecture possible by arranging it with Dr. Yoder earlier
this year, and on behalf of all of the members of the Folk Belief and Religious
Folklife Section of AFS, we congratulate you on receiving the Lifetime
Scholarly Achievement Award of the American Folklife Society.