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C LIT 230 A: Introduction to Folklore Studies

Summer Term: 
Meeting Time: 
MTWThF 9:10am - 11:20am
* *
Joint Sections: 
Guntis Smidchens

Syllabus Description:

Scand/CompLit 230: Introduction to Folklore Studies
Summer Quarter 2020, B-term
Instructor: Guntis Smidchens,; Office Hours: daily 9:10-10:10 am PST, and by appointment

Please visit Modules, and look for the first recorded lecture 1-1, "How to Do this Course".
If possible, watch this video before our first class meeting (Thursday, July 23)

  • This is an intensive summer course. Material from a regular ten-week quarter will be covered in 4½ weeks.

  • Class meetings are scheduled online Monday thru Friday, 9:10-11:20 am
    • On the first day (July 23) and last day (August 21), class will meet live for the whole two hours. (All meetings will be recorded for review). 
    • On all other days, there will be two lectures per day, 
      One recorded (asynchronous), and one live (synchronous):  
      • You may watch the recorded lecture (usually 15-20 minutes long) any time, but preferably before that day's live meeting.  
      • 10:10-11:20 is a synchronous (live) lecture/seminar. Attendance is strongly advised.
        The live meeting will be recorded and available for review. If you can not attend live meetings, please discuss with the instructor. 
      • 9:10-10:10 is optional “open office hours”.  You may, for example, use this hour to watch the recorded lecture and then drop in for discussions about that lecture or other assignments.

Course Description

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 commonwidespread, and long lived, it is THE KEY to understanding who human beings are!

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. 
  • Legendsare 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".

Course Objectives

  • Learn classic examplesof folklore: folktales such as “Cinderella” and “Dragonslayer” along with their variants; legends about witches, ghosts, and folk heroes; the Finnish epic “Kalevala” and Lithuanian “dainos” (songs), etc.
  • Learn classic interpretations and research methodsrelated to the above examples. How did Grimm, Aarne, Thompson, Dorson, Hurston, Dégh, Brunvand, Wiggins and others collect and analyze folklore? 
  • DO folklore studies: Collect a traditional story and an oral poem. Compare folklore variants. Transcribe oral texts, and add the contextual information that will make them come alive for future readers of your essays. 


  • 25% Online multiple choice/short answer quizzes and final exam
  • 10% Three Contributions (assigned) to class discussions
  • 50% Five short weekly writing assignments  
  • 15% Peer review/responses to classmates’ written assignments

Required Readings

  • Film, Into the Woods. Directed by Rob Marshall. Disney Studios 2014. (2 hours) Rent online, $2.99: Disney, Amazon, Netflix, etc. (Read Assignment #1, due July 25, before viewing the film!)
  • 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] (for access, first log in to Library website)
  • Alan Dundes, International Folkloristics [e-book at the UW Library]
  • Other readings will all be available online or uploaded to the class website

Click here for a draft version of the full syllabus. [pdf copy]

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: 
June 8, 2020 - 9:12pm