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SCAND 230 A: Introduction to Folklore Studies

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

Syllabus Description:

Scand/CompLit 230: Introduction to Folklore Studies
Autumn Quarter 2020

Instructor: Guntis Smidchens, e-mail:; Office Hours by appointment

  • Class meetings are scheduled Monday and Wednesday, 12:30-2::20 pm, Sieg Hall 134
  • Autumn 2020 plans regarding in-class or online instuction have not been confirmed. If you have questions regarding class meetings, please write to the instructor, 
  • Please keep the scheduled time slot open in your calendar, and watch this website for updates. 
    • It is likely that some, maybe all class meetings will be online. 
    • It is likely that some, maybe all lectures will be recorded and available to students who cannot attend in-person meetings at the scheduled time.   

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: 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 poetry Proverbs 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!

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, Dorson, Dégh, 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. 


  • The grading rubric will be announced soon.  Grades will be based on the following:
  • Take-home / open-book essay exams;
  • Class discussion (face-to-face and online);
  • Folklore collection projects and portfolio

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]
  • Other readings to be announced soon, available online or uploaded to the class website
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: 
June 28, 2020 - 9:22pm