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C LIT 230 A: Introduction To Folklore Studies

Meeting Time: 
TTh 1:30pm - 3:20pm
PCAR 192
Joint Sections: 
Guntis Smidchens

Syllabus Description:

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 poetryProverbs 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. 

Course Objectives

  • 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 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%

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 [e-book in the UW Library]
  • Henry Glassie, All Silver and No Brass: An Irish Christmas Mumming [on sale at UW Bookstore]
  • Other readings online or uploaded to the class website

Syllabus, lectures and assignments



Catalog Description: 
Folkloristics combines the methods and ideas of Literature Studies and Anthropology. Folktales (fairy tales), legends, jokes, songs, proverbs, customs and other forms of traditional culture are studied together with the living people and communities who perform and adapt them. Students learn the folklorist's methods of fieldwork (participant observation), ethnography, comparative analysis, and interpretation. Offered: jointly with SCAND 230; AWSpS.
GE Requirements Met: 
Individuals and Societies (I&S)
Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts (VLPA)
Last updated: 
January 10, 2018 - 9:32pm