SCAND 230 A: Introduction to Folklore Studies

Autumn 2021
MW 10:30am - 12:20pm / SAV 260
Section Type:
Joint Sections:
C LIT 230 A
Syllabus Description (from Canvas):


Course Description, Autumn Quarter 2021

[download the syllabus here as pdf or docx - there will not be a paper copy!]


  • Guntis Šmidchens (office hours MW outdoors after class, and by appointment)
  • Elizabeth Stang (office hours Tues and Thursday 11-12 - click on "Zoom" for a link)

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:

  • Traditional Poetry.  Proverbs are short traditional poems that encapsulate deep, powerful advice.  Longer poems,  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 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. 

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 the great folklorists, Grimm, Aarne, Thompson, Hurston, Dorson, Dégh, Wiggins, 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. 
    • Case study: The author of our textbook, Henry Glassie's thoughts on fieldwork and folklore studies (the full film is assigned this weekend)


  • 25% Weekly online multiple choice/short answer quizzes (open book) and final exam (closed book).
  • 10% Contributions to class discussions, one assigned post
  • 15% Peer review/responses to classmates’ written assignments:
  • 50% Three written assignments, revised and submitted as a final portfolio
  • Self-grades matter, too. How do you evaluate yourself in each area listed above? (suggested UW guidelines)

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 Met:
Social Sciences (SSc)
Arts and Humanities (A&H)
Writing (W)
Last updated:
February 25, 2024 - 8:30 am