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SCAND 230 A: Introduction to Folklore Studies

Meeting Time: 
MW 12:30pm - 2:20pm
SIG 134
Joint Sections: 
C LIT 230 A
Photo of Guntis Smidchens
Guntis Šmidchens

Syllabus Description:

Instructor: Guntis Šmidchens, office hours Raitt 305V, M and W after class

TA: David Whitlock, office hours Raitt 108A, 2:30-3:30 T and Th


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 three 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 classic examples of folklore: folktales such as “Beauty and the Beast” 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 Jacob Grimm, Antti Aarne, Linda Dégh, Jan Brunvand 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. 


  • (30%) Three tests (2 midterms and a final exam) on assigned readings and lectures.
  • (15%) Participation in class discussions - both in person and online
  • (10%) Four reports on small-group discussions about writing assignments (submitted by the groups)
  • (30%) Three short writing assignments during the quarter, revised and resubmitted in the final week.
  • (15%) peer reviews of classmates’ writing assignments

Required Readings

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 C LIT 230; AWSpS.
GE Requirements: 
Individuals and Societies (I&S)
Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts (VLPA)
Last updated: 
September 27, 2019 - 9:22pm