Folklore studies combines the methods and ideas of Anthropology and Literature studies.
A folklorist is interested in describing and understanding living people and their traditions. Every item of folklore (a story, song, custom, or material culture) exists in variants: As it passes from person to person, from generation to generation, from place to place, folklore adapts to new contexts.
This class will focus on traditional literature:
- Folktales (sometimes called fairy tales) have existed for thousands of years. The Brothers Grimm started the academic study of tales in 1812. Since then, many of the world's leading thinkers have been attracted to tales. We will survey two hundred years of ideas about this, the oldest and most widespread form of literature in the world. We will encounter classic tales as retold from Greek Antiquity to current American films.
- Legends are also both old and new. Stories about ghosts and the supernatural world; rumors about witches and demons among us (Slender Man!!); urban legends about alligators in city sewers... Legends are tightly bound to human beliefs and worldviews.
- Traditional poetry. Proverbs are short traditional poems that encapsulate deep, powerful advice. Longer poems, songs, may be familiar as "Happy Birthday" or as foreign as the long mythological epic poem from Finland, Kalevala, which inspired Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings".
Folklore has existed since humans began talking many thousands of years ago... It is widespread, performed by millions of humans in all of the world's cultures. But it is usually overlooked, trivialized, or marginalized in "serious" study of literature and culture. This course will add an alternate perspective: Because folklore is common, widespread, and long lived, it is THE KEY to understanding who human beings are!
- Grades will be based on four multiple choice exams about class readings and lectures; and four short writing assignments written during the quarter, revised and resubmitted in the final week. Participation in class discussions - both in person and online - is also required.
- We will read traditional stories and poems, and investigate the relation between these texts and their contexts - living people who maintain the traditions. We will attempt to interpret meanings and identify functions of folklore for human individuals and societies.
- Learn some "classic" folklore examples: variants of folktales, folk songs and legends in Northern Europe and America.
- Learn some methods of collecting and analyzing folklore, with particular attention to folkloristics in Northern Europe.
- Do folklore studies: Collect, describe and interpret items of folklore from oral tradition
- Four multiple choice / short answer exams about assigned readings and lectures 40%
- Class discussion (face-to-face and online) 10%
- Four folklore collection projects 40%
- Peer reviews of classmates' projects 10%
- Lynne S. McNeill, Folklore Rules: A Fun, Quick, and Useful Introduction to the Field of Academic Folklore Studies. Utah State University Press, 2013 [paper copy optional, on sale at UW Bookstore; also available as an e-book in the UW Library]
- Other readings online or uploaded to the class website