SCAND 543 A: Folk Literature

Winter 2024
MW 12:30pm - 2:20pm / SAV 140
Section Type:
Joint Sections:
Syllabus Description (from Canvas):

pdf copy of the syllabus

Class meets MW 12:30-2:20, Savery Hall 140*

Instructor: Guntis Šmidchens,; 
Office Hours: MW after class, and by appointment

Course Description

The social sciences currently define “Institutions” as “changing patterns of behaviour based on relatively more stable value systems.”

Three institutions provided “stable value systems” which shaped the study of folklore in the USA and northern Europe: (1) academic societies and their peer-reviewed publications; (2) archives and museums; and (3) university programs. How did the institutions shape “changing patterns” of scholarly behavior? And how did folklorists engage the institutions to change them, and to change other institutionalized patterns of behavior in their societies?  

This course’s philosophical starting point is the new biography of Franz Boas (parent of American anthropology), written by folklorist Rosemary Lévi Zumwalt, who prompts our discussion of institutional contexts in which folklorists do their work (universities and archives, funding agencies, governments, social prejudices etc.)

Students will encounter the craft of collecting and analyzing folklore (verbal, belief, customary and material traditions), with special attention to international comparative methods that emerged from folkloristics in the Nordic and Baltic region.

Students will:

  1. present short oral and written responses to weekly readings;
  2. write an essay about folklore studies institutions in their country of specialization;
  3. complete three short exercises in collection and analysis of folklore texts. Folklore studies can best be understood "from inside."  Students who complete these exercises will earn the title of "folklorist". 



* 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 (


Catalog Description:
This course surveys theories and methods for interpreting folk literature (folk tales and legends) in a variety of contexts, from oral performance through modern literary and film adaptations.
Last updated:
June 22, 2024 - 6:57 pm