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Fall Term 2022:

Tradition, Performance, and Culture

GENED 1097 - Stephen Mitchell
What is culture, and how does it shape us? This class explores how folklore (a broad term meant to include all aspects of tradition, custom, and heritage) and its expressive manifestations shape national, regional, and ethnic identities. In particular, we examine the function of folklore within the communities that have, perform and use these cultural goods, as well as the ways traditions are expressed and performed in daily life. In this course, you will study major forms of folklore (e.g., myths, legends, beliefs, rituals, festivals), as well as the theoretical approaches (e.g., performance theory, the ethnography of communication) used to interpret cultural documents drawn from the world of traditional expression and ritualized behavior.

Tattoo: Histories and Practices

FOLKMYTH 176 - Felicity Lufkin
Tattooing has been practiced in many different social and cultural settings, in many different time periods, to different ends. In the United States, tattooing was long associated with marginalized and stigmatized groups, but since the 1970s, has become increasingly popular and even mainstream. This seminar style class will explore distinct regional histories of tattoo, the development of tattooing in the US, and the different ways that contemporary tattoo practitioners situate themselves historically and negotiate boundaries of race, class and gender. We will also consider tattoo as an art form that both invites and resists aesthetic judgments.

History and Theory of Folklore and Mythology

FOLKMYTH 98A - Stephen Mitchell, Daniel Frim
Examines the development of folklore and mythology as fields of study, with particular attention to the methodological approaches suited to their areas of enquiry. Considers the study of folklore and mythology in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but focuses especially on theoretical contributions to the study of folklore, mythology, and oral literature in recent decades.







Spring Term 2023:


Fieldwork and Ethnography in Folklore

FOLKMYTH 97 - Stephen Mitchell  

Introduces concentrators to the study of traditions - their performance, collection, representation and interpretation. Both ethnographic and theoretical readings serve as the material for class discussion and the foundation for experimental fieldwork projects.

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.






History of Witchcraft and Charm Magic

FOLKMYTH 106 - Stephen Mitchell  
This course examines witchcraft (and the "magical world view") from cross-cultural, historical, and literary perspectives. Although witches and witchcraft are considered in their non-Western settings, the course focuses on the melding of Christian and pagan views of witchcraft and magic in the European Middle Ages, and the evolving construction of witchcraft ideologies through the witch crazes of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to the rise of modern paganism.


Quilts and Quiltmaking

FOLKMYTH 172 - 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.


Courses Offered in Future Terms:



Assertive Stitches: Domestic Arts and Public Conflict

FOLKMYTH 177 - Felicity Lufkin  
In January 2017, the Pussy Hat Project turned the Women’s March on Washington into an eye-catching “sea of pink,” but this is not the first time that needlework has played an important role in a political demonstration. Needlework’s traditional associations with femininity and domesticity have made it a potent symbol in protests that are critical of traditional gender roles, or that evoke domestic morality to challenge public policy, or in some cases, both. In addition to the 2017 Pussy Hat project, we will look at cases like the ongoing NAMES Project AIDS memorial quilt, and the anti-nuclear-arms Piece Ribbon project of the mid-1980s within broader historical and theoretical contexts of needlework, of protest and demonstration, and of collective and/or community-building artistic practices.

The Celtic Arthur

CELTIC 110 - Joseph Nagy  
We will be reading, in translation, the earliest surviving British Celtic texts featuring the figure of Arthur as well as the prototypes of the legendary figures (such as Merlin, Tristan, Isolde, and Guinevere) popularly associated with him.  We will also study the historical context behind the evolution of Arthur from Roman Britain to the era of the Norman Conquest and its aftermath; possible analogs to "Celtic Arthur" and Arthurian tales in Irish tradition; reflections of Arthur in Celtic folklore; and Celtic elements in the treatment of Arthurian story in more recent cultures, including operas and films.

Celtic Mythology

CELTIC 137 - Joseph Nagy  
Medieval Irish and Welsh texts reflect underlying story patterns, characters, and motifs that are rooted in pre-Christian tradition and in some cases witnessed in the archaeological evidence and in the ethnographic writings of ancient Greek and Roman authors.  We will examine these texts in translation and track the reconstruction of the “pagan past” undertaken by medieval Celtic writers, as well as the new mythologies they developed to suit the evolving ideological agenda of their world, from ca 600 to 1500 CE.

Food and Fantasy in Irish Tradition

CELTIC 120 - Joseph Nagy  
Many aspects of food—growing, cooking, eating, drinking, and distributing it—have served as powerful cultural symbols in Irish oral and literary tradition from medieval to modern times.  A survey of the environmental, historical, and economic background to food and its production in Ireland of the early Middle Ages will lead to the close reading of medieval texts (in translation) such as “News about Mac Dathó’s Pig,” “The Vision of Mac Conglinne,” and “The Battle of Mag Tuired,” in each of which the “what,” “why,” and “how” of eating determine the outcome of the story.  In addition, we will examine the lively symbolism of food as perpetuated in Irish legend and folktale, and also in post-medieval Irish literature.

The Vikings and the Nordic Heroic Tradition

SCAND 150R - Stephen Mitchell  
Examines the historical events in Europe A.D. 800 to A.D. 1100, and the resulting heroic legacy in medieval poetry and Icelandic sagas. The course focuses on Viking Age figures as warriors, kings, poets, outlaws and adventurers; pre-Christian religion, the Viking raids and the Norse experience in "Vinland" carefully considered.

Scandinavian Folklore: Trolls, Trolldom and the Uses of Tradition

FOLKMYTH 160 - 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.