Past Courses

Fall 2020

ENGH 315: Folklore and Folklife

This course equips students with the tools to identify, document and analyze folklore’s role in our everyday lives. Rather than simply a checklist of cultural artifacts or genres – stories, customs, handcrafts – we explore how folklore operates as an unofficial body of cultural knowledge and aesthetic practices, and as a communicative process that incorporates both continuity and creativity. We consider how folklore serves not only to create, maintain and express senses of identity among groups, but also to communicate social difference, tensions and resistance.

ENGH 412/ 591: Material Culture and Museums

This course explores material culture and museums within their cultural contexts. We will study the materials, forms, and meanings of handmade cultural artifacts and look at the production, circulation, and use of the objects in communities. We will examine how the objects communicate shared experiences, express community ideas and values, represent group identities, and mark difference. This course will also address the question of how museums collate and share human experiences through objects and familiarize students with the collection, documentation, preservation, display, and interpretation of objects in museums.


ENGH 412/ 591: Folklore Gender and Sexuality

This course explores relationships between folklore, gender, and sexuality. We will use theories from folklore, feminism, and gender studies to analyze the role of folklore in the construction and negotiation of gender and sexual identities, how folklore can contribute to gender conflict, and how people use folklore forms to resist and contest gender and sexual inequities. We will take an intersectional approach, understanding that multiple axes of identity intersect in each individual to shape their distinct experiences with gender and sexuality.

ENGH 591: Graduate Introduction to Folklore and Folklife

This course offers a graduate-level introduction to the discipline of folklore studies. Students will begin by exploring the basic definitional characteristics of folklore and the concepts that form the foundation for folklore research. Students will go on to survey the major genres that folklorists use to classify the materials they study. The second half of the course looks in more depth at eight “keywords” for the study of expressive culture: art, genre, text, context, tradition, performance, group, and identity. Students will explore the significance and influence of each of these keywords on folklore scholarship and use them as lenses through which to investigate case studies of students own choosing.


Spring 2020

ENGH 315: Folklore and Folklife

This course provides an introduction to different forms of vernacular culture, including oral/verbal, customary, and material folklore, and consider various interpretive and theoretical approaches to the examples of folk culture discussed. We will explore how folklore as both (1) an unofficial body of cultural knowledge and aesthetic practices and (2) as a communicative process shapes and reflects everyday experience. We will also learn methods of ethnography and field collection that we can use to uncover structures, functions, and meanings in expressive culture.


ENGH 412/ 591: Folk Narratives: Past and Present

This course will introduce students to the diversity and dynamics of the main genres of folk narratives, including folktale, legend, and myth. we’ll dive into these stories to discuss what they reveal about the people who tell them, receive them, and share them. We will also introduce some important frameworks for interpreting, analyzing, and talking about folk narratives. Some questions we will address over the course the term are: what are “folk narratives”? What function do they serve? How to interpret and analyze them? In what way are folk narratives still meaningful today? How folk narrative is represented and reinterpreted broadly in different literary and artistic genres across time and space? We will assume a critical stance in our study of folk narratives and look at them from an interdisciplinary perspective that will include folklore studies, history, religion, literature, art, performance studies, and anthropology.

ENGH 484: Writing Ethnography

Ethnography has famously been termed “writing about culture.” Over the course of the semester, you will do precisely that: write about places, communities, or individuals who share common experiences, interests, and concerns. Your task this semester will be to conduct close research with some local culture, likely one of which you are already a part. All of our class activities—readings, writing exercises, discussions, fieldwork, writing workshops, etc.—will culminate in a final written product, an ethnographic research paper in which you will use rich, detailed descriptions to explore the experience of being a part of your chosen community. You will go beyond surface understandings to expose the complexities of local contexts and the deeper meanings of social interactions.


ENGH 591: Folklore and Festival Management

The first of a new two course sequence, Folklore and Festival Management is a collaboration between Mason’s Folklore and Arts Management Programs and the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. The spring course offers instruction in the history and methods of folklore and the production of cultural festivals. It is a prerequisite for the summer course that will give students hands-on training while working the Smithsonian Folklife Festival 2020.


Winter 2020

ENGH 591: Irish Folklore and Ethnography

Irish Folklore & Ethnography takes students into the heart of Irish traditional culture. Traveling to communities from Dublin to Donegal this course allows students to engage with local communities where a variety of traditional artists live and work. Using ethnographic methods, students will document Irish cultural traditions using participant observation and in-depth interviews with musicians, storytellers, and craftspeople.

Fall 2019

ENGH 315: Folklore and Folklife



ENGH 412: Folklore and True Crime


ENGH 412/ 591: Public Folklore

This course explores the theory and practice of arts and cultural programming in the public sphere. Readings, guest speakers, and focused discussions will illuminate a range of professional opportunities available to cultural workers of varied backgrounds: folklorists, museum specialists, community arts managers, or arts advocates. Readings, guest speakers from local non-profits and state and federal agencies, focused discussions, and hands-on assignments will augment skill building and provide opportunities for networking and professional development.


ENGH 591: Ethnography of Communication

This course examines speech as social action. We will draw on the work of folklorists, anthropologists, and sociolinguists to think through how everyday communication constitutes social life. We will pay particular attention to how communities create meaning through culturally-specific ways of speaking. Students will learn methods for researching and analyzing speech events. This course will be valuable to anyone conducting speech-based research.

Spring 2019

ENGH 315: Folklore and Folklife

ENGH 412/ 591: Folklore, Gender and Sexuality 

This course explores relationships between folklore, gender, and sexuality. We will use theories from folklore, feminism, and gender studies to analyze the role of folklore in the construction and negotiation of gender and sexual identities, how folklore can contribute to gender conflict, and how people use folklore forms to resist and contest gender and sexual inequities. We will take an intersectional approach, understanding that multiple axes of identity intersect in each individual to shape their distinct experiences with gender and sexuality. The focus will be primarily on diverse peoples within the U.S., though course discussions and assignments will expand to global perspectives. A particular emphasis this term given the Me Too Movement and the current public debates around gender and sexuality will be exploring ways that folklore forms and concepts from the field of folklore studies are used in efforts to effect positive social change related to a variety of gender and sexuality issues.

ENGH 681: Pathways to Folklore Scholarship

Pathways to Folklore Scholarship introduces theories and approaches that are central to the practice of folklore. We will consider not only what folklore is, but also how it emerged and developed as an academic discipline since its inception in the late 19th century. Pathways to Folklore Scholarship will also introduce you to the wide variety of work that folklorists do in academic and public sector settings.

Fall 2018

ENGH 315: Folklore and Folklife

ENGH 412: Personal Narrative & Storytelling

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 and how they are told: the stories we tell in conversations, to our friends, and about ourselves. We will look at storytelling as a creative act and explore techniques that transform day-to-day stories into performance art.

ENGH 414/ 591: Folklore and the Supernatural

Examines the role of supernatural phenomena in individuals’ everyday lives. Introduces folkloristic approaches to the study of belief, paranormal experiences, and popular spirituality. Topics may include ghosts, spirit possession, superstitions, visions, near death experiences, dream interpretation, magic, the commodification of belief, and the supernatural and new media.

ENGH 681: Public Humanities

This course will examine Public Humanities through digital storytelling and public folklore. Students will collaborate with regional folklife organizations to create short podcasts and promotional videos about outstanding practitioners of folklife and folk art in the Mid-Atlantic region. In today’s communication environment, arts and cultural organizations need to produce programming for digital platforms that dynamically presents the work of folk artists, expands audiences, and supports organizations’ objectives. This course will provide students with hands-on opportunities to develop digital production skills while simultaneously helping folk artists and contributing to the missions of regional folklife organizations. By the end of the term, students will have developed skills in interviewing, documenting using audio and video digital editing, and visual storytelling. Students will also expand their networks and add to their professional experience.  


Spring 2018

ENGH 315: Folklore and Folklife

ENGH 417/ 591: Appalachian Folklore

ENGH 484: Writing Ethnography

Fall 2017

ENGH 315: Folklore and Folklife

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

This course surveys folklore and expressive culture across the greater Middle East and Central Asia, from Egypt and Palestine to Iran, Afghanistan, and the former Soviet Central Asian republics.  We'll explore a range of expressive forms by reading ethnographic case studies about oral poetry and epic, graffiti, dream interpretation, popular theater, storytelling, foodways, wedding customs, popular religious life, and more. Through course readings, lectures, discussions, and written assignments, we'll pay special attention to the politics of folklore and investigate how expressive culture is central to negotiations of power, strategies of resistance, and constructions of identity.  You'll gain an understanding of folklore's foundational importance both reflecting and shaping how individuals and states across the Middle East and Central Asia imagine the self and nation.


ENGH 412: Digital Storytelling

Digital Storytelling (DTS) is a nascent field in Folklore Studies. It combines the craft of traditional narrative storytelling with photographs, video, animation, sound, music, text, and a narrative voice to produce multimedia narratives. Because this is a folklore course, DTS will emphasize the art and craft of the storytelling process and traditional storytelling techniques (narrative form, 3-Act Structure, performance) and conventional ethnographic collection techniques. We will consider how stories transform from conventional face-to-face interactions to audio and video presentations. You will work individually and collaboratively to produce your own digital stories (film and podcast).

ENGH 681: Folklore and Folklife

Summer 2017

ENGH 417/ 591: Field School for Cultural Documentation

This Field School for Cultural Documentation, a partnership between the Folklore Studies Program and the Library of Congress-American Folklife Center, offered a National Park Service Program, Summer in the Parks option to graduate students seeking hands-on learning, rigorous training in oral history collection, and instruction on archiving in Library of Congress methods.

Spring 2017

ENGH 315: Folklore and Folklife

ENGH 414/ 591: Folklore of the Spirit World

ENGH 417/ 681: Folklore, Tourism, Heritage

This course offers an advanced introduction to cultural tourism and heritage as areas of study in folklore and related disciplines. While tourism is often blamed for destroying local culture and perpetuating “fakelore,” we adopt a more nuanced approach to the connections between folk, heritage, and touristic cultures. In classes, readings, and discussions, we investigate how folklore is used in touristic contexts and how, conversely, tourism influences local folklore. We go on to explore the folk culture of tourism itself. As assignments, you’ll observe and report on a tourism or heritage event, participate in designing a tour, and conduct a research project on a relevant topic of your choice.

Fall 2016

ENGH 315: Folklore and Folklife

ENGH 412/ 591: Folk Custom and Festival

ENGH 417/ 591: Bodylore

We will begin the semester with a brief overview of the field of folklore and the emergence of bodylore as a field of study. As part of this process, we’ll consider the transformation of ideas of the body as an “object” or “image” in the mind to that of a subject, thus capable of being the locus of culture. We’ll also consider a number of theoretical perspectives of the body in feminist theory, phenomenology, the social sciences and humanities as well as the more recent developments in the field of cognitive neuroscience, and the implications for these developments to critical theory. Interwoven with these theoretical considerations, we will also explore selected ethnographic case studies and literary works that explore problems of embodiment, and seek to provide real-life applications of embodiment theory to quotidian experience.


Summer 2016

ENGH 417/ 591: Field School for Cultural Documentation