Folklore & Mythology

Dancer in Morelos, Mexico

The concentration and secondary field in Folklore & Mythology focuses on the study of society, past or present, through its cultural documents and artifacts, and uses a variety of methodologies drawn from the humanities and social sciences.

Head Tutor: Lowell Brower 

Gateway Courses

Spring 2022

FOLKMYTH 97: Fieldwork and Ethnography in Folklore
Lowell Brower

This tutorial introduces students to the study of cultural traditions, beliefs, and artistic expressions—their performance, collection, representation and interpretation—through the practice of ethnography. Both ethnographic and theoretical readings serve as the material for class discussion and the foundation for ethnographic fieldwork.

At once a crash course in ethnographic theory and ethics, and a practicum in qualitative methods, FM97 weds scholarly inquiry and academic study to practical experience in cultural documentation and personal involvement with local tradition bearers and folk communities. Guided by an interdisciplinary collection of texts, students will have the opportunity to study folklore from the ground up, not only through an academic lens, but through personal relationships, cultural participation, and inquisitive explorations of local communities. Throughout the semester you will be invited to develop skills in qualitative research, cultural documentation, proposal design, interviewing, and the arts of interpretation as you try your hand at fieldwork and ethnography. By examining folkways, expressive culture, traditions, and performances, and interrogating their import in the daily lives of individual and groups, we will aim to bridge the divide between grand theories and everyday practices, between intellectual debates and lived experiences, between the academic institution and the vernacular world. Ultimately, this course aims to bring “the folks” themselves into the center of the academic study, discussion, and debate. And it aims to give you the tools to help amplify and illuminate their voices, traditions, practices, and lore.

FOLKMYTH 150: Internet Folklore, Online Communities, and Digital Storytelling
Lowell Brower

That that conspiracy theory you read while scrolling through your Twitter feed last week...that subversive meme just posted to Harvard Memes for Elitist 1% Tweens...that spooky contemporary legend circulating on Creepypasta...that hilarious prank you just saw on TikTok...that infuriating “fake news” your uncle keeps amplifying on Facebook...that 4-Chan board that you wish you hadn’t read...your frenemy’s latest Instagram post: all of these and more comprise our consequential objects of study in this course. Exploring the wild world- wide-web of "informal vernacular culture" being created, transmitted, and adapted by deterritorialized online communities of 21st century folk, we'll think through the powers, potentials, and peculiarities of online storytelling in relationship to community- building, political engagement, social change, and everyday negotiations of individual and group identity. Investigating online discourses is especially important in a “post truth” age, in whose popular discourse “witch hunts,” "internet trolls, “deep state cabals,” “occult economies,” “fake news”, ethno-nationalist myths, and salacious sex rumors, regularly collide with international politics, climate catastrophes, violent conflicts, economic crises, mass migrations, social justice movements, and everyday life in villages and cities across the globe.

Our journey to the depths and heights of the contemporary online world will introduce us to viral videos, dank memes, contemporary legends, fantastical folk beliefs, conspiracy theories, and a whole host of folk-communities-in-the-making, allowing us to think though the relationship of everyday online culture to ancient storytelling traditions, folkloric motifs, and pre-internet ways of knowing, being, and interacting. What new folk groups, storytelling genres, intersubjective possibilities, and political potentialities are arising as a result of online engagement? What kinds of connections are people seeking, and what kinds of meaning are they making through memes, TikToks, “Finstas”, Facebook posts, Twitter DMs, Slack channels, Snapchats, and other forms of digital storytelling? What are the powers and potentials of online communities and internet folklore and how are they being harnessed in projects of future-making? This course invites students to research, analyze, and participate in digital storytelling in an attempt to better understand ourselves and our historical moment through folkloristic engagement. Course texts include ancient myths, Twitter threads, trickster tales, ethnographic essays, dank memes, theoretical articles, YouTube videos, your friends’ folkloric repertoires, and your own wild imaginings. Course work will include discussion posts, training in online ethnographic methods, a folklore collection and documentation project, and an analytic essay with a creative option. 

FOLKMYTH 172: Quilts and Quiltmaking
Felicity Lufkin

Are quilts the great American (folk) art? From intricately stitched whole-cloth quilts, to the improvisational patchworks of Gee's Bend; from the graphic simplicity of Amish quilts to the cozy pastels of depression-era quilts; from the Aids Quilt to art quilts; quilts have taken on extraordinary significance in American culture. This class surveys the evolution of quilt-making as a social practice, considering the role of quilts in articulations of gender, ethnic, class and religious identities, and their positions within discourses of domesticity, technology, consumerism, and cultural hierarchy.

SCAND 102: Scandinavian Folklore: Trolls, Trolldom and the Uses of Tradition
Stephen Mitchell

Examines Nordic folklore and folklife, with an emphasis on narratives, supernatural beliefs, and material culture from the 17th to the early 20th centuries, interpreted against additional sources of information drawn from the archaeological and historical records. Key strategies used in the fields of folklore, literature, and cultural history to interpret such texts discussed in detail, and applied in analyzing our materials. Also carefully considered, the history and development of folklore studies in Scandinavia and the role of folklore (and folklore studies) as, and in, anti-colonial and nation-building movements.