Introduction to Folklore and Folklife (ENGH 315)

This course offers students an advanced introduction to folklore. It explores central concepts and approaches in contemporary folklore study. During the semester we’ll study folktales, legends, jokes, and handmade objects, and together develop ways of understanding what lies beneath the deceptively simple surface of traditional materials such as songs, stories, quilts, and festivals. We will draw upon theoretical perspectives from folklore scholarship, literature, and anthropology. The class explores the concept of tradition and asks why some traditions have lasted into the present, how others have changed, and what their changes signify. We’ll also ask what functions traditions serve for the people who maintain them, what factors influence their content and their performance, and how people manipulate and invent traditions for their own ends.

The Ethnography of Communication (ENGH 591)

This course examines speech as social action. We’ll draw on the work of folklorists, anthropologists, and anthropological linguists to think through how everyday communicative practices are constitutive of human social life. Using ethnographic case studies, we’ll investigate the interrelationships between verbal expressive forms and their social functions across a number of speech communities. We’ll pay particular attention to how these communities negotiate cultural meaning, social relations, ideological orientations, etc. through the performance and interpretation of culturally-specific ways of speaking. Students will learn about the theoretical background of Dell Hymes’ interdisciplinary “ethnography of speaking” approach and various methods for researching and analyzing speech events. This course will be valuable to those interested in folklore, the study of verbal art, oral communication, and anyone conducting speech-based ethnographic research.

Personal Experience Narrative (ENGH 412/590)

Telling stories is central to human communication; we narrate our existence, shaping our world through the stories we tell. The focus of this course is on these stories, the stories we tell in conversations, to our friends, and about ourselves. Hannah Arendt argued that storytelling is a strategy for transforming private into public meanings.  Indeed, storytelling mediates our relationships with worlds that extend beyond us and enables us to negotiate a balance between the self and these worlds of otherness. Over the course of the semester, we’ll think about the social functions of personal narrative. In particular, we’ll explore how personal narratives provide their tellers with coherence and work as resources for navigating the ambiguities and messiness of experience.  We’ll also study how narratives operate as presentations of self and work to create and maintain personal and group identity. Finally, we’ll discuss the politics of storytelling; we’ll think about how storytelling functions as a vital strategy for sustaining a sense of agency in the face of disempowering circumstances.

Folklore and the Supernatural (ENGH 414/591)

This course attempts to chart the uncanny—the inexplicable, the numinous, the spiritual even—in our everyday lives. Our title is Folklore of the Spirit World, but we might more appropriately call our emphasis folklore and the supernatural. We’ll think about ghosts, spirits, hauntings, visions, communion with the dead, monsters, encounters with the divine, UFOs, dream interpretation, magic, and more, not with the object of proving or disproving their existence or veracity, but rather to understand people’s lived experiences and how individuals attempt to make sense of the uncanny around them.

Folklore in the Middle East and Central Asia (ENGH 412/591)

This course surveys folklore and expressive culture in the Middle East and Central Asia, from Egypt, Palestine, and Turkey to Iran, Afghanistan, and the former Soviet Central Asian republics. Topics will include oral epic and storytelling, graffiti of the Arab Spring, Qurʿanic chants, dream interpretation, popular theater, wedding customs, and more. We’ll pay special attention to the politics of traditional culture and investigate how folklore is central to negotiations of power, resistance, and identity.