C LIT 230 A: Introduction to Folklore Studies

Summer 2023 B-term
to be arranged / * *
Section Type:
Joint Sections:
Guntis Smidchens
Syllabus Description (from Canvas):

"Introduction to Folklore Studies"
Summer Quarter 2023

Instructor: Guntis Šmidchens, guntiss@uw.edu

(A printable copy of the syllabus will be posted here)

Course 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: Passing from person to person, from generation to generation, from place to place, folklore adapts to new contexts. 

Folklore has existed since humans began talking many thousands of years ago... It is widespread, performed by millions of humans in all 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! This class will focus on traditional literature:

  • Traditional Poetry:  Proverbs are short traditional poems that encapsulate deep, powerful advice.  Folksongs, 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"
  • 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 a hook man or  alligators in city sewers...  Legends are tightly bound to human beliefs and worldviews.
  • 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 widely shared literature in the world. We’ll encounter classic tales retold from Greek Antiquity to current American films. 

The instructor’s home department is Scandinavian Studies. Case studies discussed in the course are usually from that eight-country region of Northern Europe (Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Sweden). You are encouraged to also explore folklore from any culture, in any language, in independent assignments (33% of the grade!).

Course Objectives

  • Learn classic examples of 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 methods related to the above examples. How did Grimm, Aarne, Thompson, Hurston, Dorson, Dégh, Wiggins, McNeill and others analyze folklore? 
  • DO folklore studies: Collect traditional stories and an oral poem. Transcribe oral texts, and add the contextual information that will make them come alive for future readers of your essays. 

Course Organization


  • All Silver and No Brass, by Henry Glassie (paper copy only, available at the UW Bookstore)
  • Folklore Rules, by Lynne McNeill (paper copy at UW Bookstore, also an e-book at UW Libraries)
  • Other assigned course resources will be available on this page. 

Course Grading

Course grades are based on

  • (Participation 25%) - How you help classmates learn:
    • about two posts due each week in small-group online discussions; and
    • three peer-reviews of classmates' field assignments, due two days after the assignment's due date.
  • (quizzes 25%) - What you know and remember:
    • quizzes ("polls") during the recorded lectures (redo these for full credit);
    • weekly online quizzes (10 points each, multiple choice/short answer, due each Friday evening), covering that week's lectures and reading assignments. 
  • (Field Assignments 50%) - What you can do:
    • Three field assignments submitted during the quarter (for feedback and tentative grades), and
    • revised and resubmitted in your final portfolio; (final grades replace the tentative grades). 

Late work: If you are not able to submit work by the due date and time,
write to your instructor before it is due, to arrange for late submission. 

You are strongly encouraged, but not required to post in the "General Discussion" forum!

Course Policies

Religious Accommodations


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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:
Social Sciences (SSc)
Arts and Humanities (A&H)
Last updated:
May 16, 2024 - 11:38 am