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C LIT 230 A: Introduction To Folklore Studies

Meeting Time: 
MTWThF 12:30pm - 1:20pm
SAV 260
Guntis I. Smidchens

Syllabus Description:

230syllabusheader.jpgScand/CompLit 230: Folklore Studies

Autumn Quarter 2014

Class meets Monday through Friday, 12:30-1:20 pm, Savery Hall 260


  • Guntis Šmidchens, office hours: daily 11:30-12:00 noon, and by appointment;
    Office: Raitt Hall 305 V;  e-mail:;  Phone:  (206) 616-5224 
  • Britt Lewis, office hours Tuesday and Thursday 1:30-2:30 pm
    Office Raitt Hall 108 B; e-mail:

Course Description 

Folklore (traditional stories, beliefs, songs, customs, and material culture) is a rich resource for remembering and understanding people and their worldviews.  This course will survey genres of folklore: Folktales, legends and oral poetry, as a window into the lives of the people who perform them. A variety of theories and methods applied in folklore studies during the past two centuries will be introduced in readings and lectures.  

Course Objectives

  • Learn “classic” folklore examples: variants of legends, folktales and songs in Northern Europe & America  
  • Learn methods of collecting & analyzing folklore, with particular attention to folkloristics in North Europe
  • Do folklore studies:  Collect, describe and interpret items of folklore from oral tradition
    • practice folkloristic methods of observing & rigorously describing & understanding living humans!


See UW grading guidelines here. What grade do you plan to get?

  • Class discussion of assigned readings (face-to-face and online) 10%
  • Four exams on reading assignments and lectures (Oct 8, Oct 28, Nov 18, Dec 11), 50%
  • Three ethnographic (folklore collection) projects and portfolio: 30%
  • Peer review of classmates’ ethnographic projects 10%

Required Readings 

  • Lynne S. McNeill, Folklore Rules: A Fun, Quick, and Useful Introduction to the Field of Academic Folklore Studies. Utah State University Press, 2013 [This is an e-book in the UW Library]
  • Additional required readings include websites and selected articles as listed in the printed syllabus or the Lecture schedule.  Links and copies are available in the discussions sidebar.

How to Succeed in Reading Assignments

Jot down assignment numbers, and write notes as you read.  Some items will not have all of this information:

  • Remember folklore texts:
  1. Note some typical examples of folklore; summarize in one sentence. 
  2. How do these folklore texts relate to other items discussed today and this week? 
  • Remember folklore contexts:
  1. Who performed this text to a folklorist? 
  2. What was this text’s “natural context”?  (traditional time & place, audience)
  • Remember folklorists: 
  1. Who is the folklorist?  (Who collected, edited, and printed the text that you’re reading?)
  2. How did the folklorist collect, edit and present folklore texts? 
  3. Sketch out an outline of the assigned chapter. What is this folklorist’s analytical “point”?  Does she or he describe texts and contexts?  Compare variants?  Analyze function and/or meaning? 
  4. Do you agree with the folklorist? (is the discussion of social and cultural contexts complete)?


Class Discussion of reading assignments (10%)

  • Bring ideas you’ve jotted down in your reading notes, and discuss them with your classmates!  You will be assigned one of the assigned readings for which you must (1) lead off the class discussion, and (2) post a short (1-2 paragraph) summary on the class website. Add comments to posts by other students.


Four Exams on reading assignments (50%)

  • These multiple-choice choice tests will check if you have learned basic concepts and classic examples in folklore studies, as discussed in assigned readings and lectures. 


Ethnographic projects (30%), peer review of classmates’ projects (10%)

  1. Due Sunday, October 5, 8:00 pm: (1 page) Photograph and describe a traditional object, if possible, in its natural context.  Who made it and who used it, how, where, and when (date?). What meanings did the person attach to the item?

*****Upload your project on the class website.
*****Critique a classmate’s project, as assigned on the website (Did they follow directions?  Do you see connections to ideas from readings or lectures? Do you see ideas that need to be added?). 

  1. Weekend fieldwork, due Sunday, October 26, 8:00 pm: (1-2 pages) Document an oralpoem or song sung in unofficial oral tradition. Describe the natural context: Who sang it to whom, where, when? Transcribe the words. Describe the poetic form. Analyze the song’s function (what does singing do for the singers?) and meaning (what do singers think about?)
    ***** Upload your project on the class website.
    ***** Critique a classmate’s project.
  2. Weekend ethnography, due Tuesday, Nov. 25, 8:00 pm: (2-3 pages) Document a folk narrative (folktale, legend or joke) that you have encountered in oral tradition. Describe context and function.  Identify a traditional motif(s) at the core of this story, and interpret its meaning in this context.  
    ***** Upload your project on the class website; critique a classmate’s project.
  3. Due Friday evening, December 5:   Revise projects 1-3, and combine everything into one file.  Write a one-page introduction:  What do these examples of folklore reveal about humans and their traditions?

Click here for a pdf file of the printed syllabus for this class

Catalog Description: 
Comprehensive overview of the field of folkloristics, focusing on verbal genres, customs, belief, and material culture. Particular attention to the issues of community, identity, and ethnicity. Offered: jointly with SCAND 230.
GE Requirements Met: 
Individuals and Societies (I&S)
Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts (VLPA)
Other Requirements Met: 
Last updated: 
April 28, 2016 - 9:20am