SCAND 230 A: Introduction to Folklore Studies

Summer 2021 B-term
MTWThF 9:10am - 11:20am / * *
Section Type:
Joint Sections:
C LIT 230 A
Syllabus Description (from Canvas):

Welcome to "Introduction to Folklore Studies!" 

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

Questions? Write to me:  Guntis Šmidchens,

  • This is an intensive summer course. Material from a regular ten-week quarter will be covered in 4½ weeks.
  • Class meetings are scheduled online Monday thru Friday, 9:10-11:20 am (Zoom links are in your Canvas website)
  • Here is a copy of the full syllabus: Word doc or pdf copy. Small changes are possible. Look to the Modules section for the most up-to-date schedule of meeting topics and readings

Course Description

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!

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, a song, a 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. 
  • Legendsare 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.
  • Oralpoetry.  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".

Course Objectives

  • Learn classic examplesof folklore: folktales such as “Fox and Bear,” “Dragonslayer,” “Beauty and the Beast” and their variants; legends about witches, ghosts, and folk heroes; the Finnish epic “Kalevala”, Danish ballads and Lithuanian “dainos” (songs), etc.
  • Learn classic interpretations and research methodsrelated to the above examples. How did Aarne, Brunvand, Dégh, Dorson, Grimm, Hurston, Lomax, Thompson, Wiggins and others collect and analyze folklore? 
  • DO folklore studies: Document and annotate some traditional stories and an oral poem. Compare folklore variants. Transcribe oral texts, and add the contextual information that will make these texts come alive for future readers of your essays, a window (or portal) into the world of the people who created the texts.  

Required Readings

  • Henry Glassie, All Silver and No Brass. Various editions available at UW Bookstore and online sellers.  Not available as e-book. 
  • 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 at UW Library] (for access, first log in to Library website)
  • Henning Sehmsdorf & Reimund Kvideland, ed. and transl., Scandinavian Folk Belief and Legend [e-book at UW Library]
  • Alan Dundes, International Folkloristics [e-book at UW Library]
  • Other readings and films will all be available online or uploaded to the class website


  • 20% Five online multiple choice/short answer quizzes
  • 10% (assigned) Contribute to at least two in-class discussions, plus short summary posts after class
  • 10% (assigned) Contribute to at least one online discussion about folklore films (plus followup later in the week)

  • 50% Five short weekly writing assignments  
  • 10% Four peer review/responses to classmates’ written assignments

Five quizzes (20%)

Remember (1) examples (story plots, key characters, etc.); (2) folklorists & ideas; and (3) definitions of basic concepts.

Two contributions to class discussions (10%)

You will be assigned two lectures.  In the live meeting, you’ll be asked to summarize and respond to assigned readings, helping prompt discussions. After the meeting, post a short (50-100 word) summary of a topic discussed that day. 

One contribution to online discussion about folklore films (10%)

You will be assigned one of the five film discussions. Respond to the prompts, and to ideas posted by other students. The films will be discussed later that week; revisit your post after we discuss a film in class, adding ideas to what you and others wrote earlier.  (You are welcome, but not required to also post in other discussions)

Four peer reviews (10%)

After you post your weekly essay (see below), read a classmate’s essay assigned to you by Canvas. In the comments section in the right margin, post a response to parts B and C as outlined below: In one sentence, summarize the folklore text they are analyzing (for example, “The essay analyzes a variant of “Dragonslayer”, as told by John Doe”). Then respond to their observations related to part C. Do you agree?  Do you see other interesting details in the text? 

  • Do this as soon as possible, while the assignment is fresh on your and your classmate’s mind. If they missed critical directions, please let them know (for example, in Assignment 1, maybe they forgot to compare individual and group tradition; in assignment 2, maybe they forgot to discuss the Type number, etc.). Your classmate may fix mistakes in the essay before I read it; and your comments will help them improve the essay before they hand in the final portfolio. 

Five Written Assignments (50%):

You will get a detailed prompt for each assignment. For each assignment, Part A is a summary (125 words) of that week’s lecture takeaways; Part B presents a folklore text, and Part C analyzes that text. You may keep these parts separate, or melt them into a single essay. 

Lecture and meeting schedule

Please see the planned meeting topics in the attached copy of the syllabus. 

Small changes are possible in the schedule: The most up-to-date version of the lecture plan is in the "Modules", which also include links to assigned readings.  

Access and Accommodations:

Your experience in this class is important to me. It is the policy and practice of the University of Washington to create inclusive and accessible learning environments consistent with federal and state law. If you have already established accommodations with Disability Resources for Students (DRS), please activate your accommodations via myDRS so we can discuss how they will be implemented in this course.

If you have not yet established services through DRS, but have a temporary health condition or permanent disability that requires accommodations (conditions include but not limited to; mental health, attention-related, learning, vision, hearing, physical or health impacts), contact DRS directly to set up an Access Plan. DRS facilitates the interactive process that establishes reasonable accommodations. Contact DRS at .

Washington state law requires that UW develop a policy for accommodation of student absences or significant hardship due to reasons of faith or conscience, or for organized religious activities. The UW’s policy, including more information about how to request an accommodation, is available at Religious Accommodations Policy. Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course using the Religious Accommodations Request form.

Faculty members at U.S. universities – including the University of Washington – have the right to academic freedom which includes presenting and exploring topics and content that other governments may consider to be illegal and, therefore, choose to censor. Examples may include topics and content involving religion, gender and sexuality, human rights, democracy and representative government, and historic events.

If, as a UW student, you are living outside of the United States while taking courses remotely, you are subject to the laws of your local jurisdiction. Local authorities may limit your access to course material and take punitive action towards you. Unfortunately, the University of Washington has no authority over the laws in your jurisdictions or how local authorities enforce those laws.

If you are taking UW courses outside of the United States, you have reason to exercise caution when enrolling in courses that cover topics and issues censored in your jurisdiction. If you have concerns regarding a course or courses that you have registered for, please contact your academic advisor who will assist you in exploring options.


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)
Last updated:
February 25, 2024 - 10:22 am