Forms of Folklore

Course Number: 
Charles Briggs


“Traditionalizing” cultural forms by projecting them into the past or attributing them to country people, the working class, or ethnic Others has enabled members of dominant social groups to rationalize social hierarchies for over three centuries. But it turns out that folklore is woven into the fabric of daily life for everyone, right through the present. Indeed, folklore shapes social identities and conceptions of the natural environment, how humans relate to members of other species, views of health and the body, and more.

            This course focuses on how all of us construct notions of difference—racial, ethnic, gender, sexuality, class, age, and nation—through folklore. The scholarly perspectives it presents show how legends, myths, proverbs, riddles, folksongs, folk art, festivals, and other forms are used in producing and enforcing social boundaries and hierarchies as well as challenging “official” discourses and institutions. The course thus provides a unique basis for developing a critical multiculturalism in the United States and beyond through work on African American, Asian American, Latino/a, Native American, and other folklore.

            Readings and lectures will explore how folklore shapes and is shaped by relations with the environment, non-human animals, and digital technologies.

            The course project turns each student into a contributor to the field of folklore by collecting and documenting cultural forms and placing them in the Berkeley Folklore Archive.

This course meets the Social/Cultural core requirement, the Methods requirement, or may be used as an elective. 

F 295 Haas
TTH 3:30-5