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SCAND 230 A: Introduction To Folklore Studies

"Look at them, mother Troll said. Look at my sons! You won't find more beautiful trolls on this side of the moon", John Bauer, 1915, watercolor
Summer Term: 
Meeting Time: 
MTWThF 9:10am - 11:20am
* *
Joint Sections: 
C LIT 230 A
Photo of Guntis Smidchens
Guntis Šmidchens

Syllabus Description:

Welcome to "Introduction to Folklore Studies!" 

  • (class meets B-term, July 22 to August 20)

Questions? Write to me:  Guntis Šmidchens,

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. 

  • 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!

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 widely shared 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".

We will read three textbooks:

  • Henry Glassie, All Silver and No Brass.  Available at the UW Bookstore - check also online booksellers for used copies! This book is not available as an e-book. 
  • Henning Sehmsdorf, ed., Scandinavian Folk Belief and Legend. Available at UW Bookstore, and also as an e-book at the UW Libraries.
  • Lynn McNeil, Folklore Rules. Available at UW Bookstore, and also as an e-book at the UW Libraries.
  • We will also read other materials available in this Canvas website.

Please watch the 2-minute trailer of a recent film about the author of our textbook, Henry Glassie
(The film's release in the USA was delayed because of the pandemic).

Henry Glassie: Field Work

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: 
April 7, 2021 - 6:52pm