Folklore and Mythology

Folklore is a body of traditional belief, custom, and expression, handed down largely by word of mouth and circulating chiefly outside of commercial and academic means of communication and instruction. Every group bound together by common interests and purposes, whether educated or uneducated, rural or urban, possesses a body of traditions which may be called its folklore. Into these traditions enter many elements, individual, popular, and even "literary," but all are absorbed and assimilated through repetition and variation into a pattern which has value and continuity for the group as a whole.

-Benjamin A. Botkin, 1938.

Folklore and mythology as a discipline focuses on the study of society, past or present, through its cultural documents and artifacts—its folklore—and uses a variety of methodologies drawn from the humanities and social sciences to understand them. To concentrate on a society's folklore and mythology (at regional as well as national levels) is to understand its traditional self-definition through its myths, epics, ballads, folktales, legends, beliefs, and other cultural phenomena, including music, song, and dance. Studying a group's folklore shows how it identifies itself in relation to other groups.

Inherently interdisciplinary, the study of folklore and mythology often draws resources from several disciplines, while maintaining its own methodological lens. Students wishing to meet the requirements for a secondary field in Folklore and Mythology (F&M), therefore, have a few options as delineated below. All options (or tracks) require Culture and Belief 16 (formerly F&M 100), F&M 90 (topical seminar in the field), and three other courses chosen from the subject-focused lists below.

Requirements: 5 half-courses

  1. Culture and Belief 16: Performance, Tradition and Cultural Studies: An Introduction to Folklore and Mythology. Surveys the major forms of folklore (e.g., myths, legends, epics, beliefs, rituals, festivals) and the theoretical approaches used to understand and interpret “texts” drawn from the world of traditional expression and ritualized behavior. (Mitchell)

  2. One Folklore and Mythology 90 seminar, each of which examines a specific topic in the field, such as:

    • FM 90a: Studies in Mythology (Harris)

    • FM 90b: African Oral Narrative Traditions (Foster)

    • FM 90c: Tolkien's Sources in Folkloristic Perspective (Harris)

  3. Three courses from one of the areas listed below:

Other Information

With the exception of approved Freshman Seminars, all courses must be taken for a letter grade. Grades should be B- or above. Harvard Summer School courses and study abroad courses taught by department faculty may count towards the secondary field. Students may petition the program to count, at most, one study abroad course taught by non-department faculty by presenting the syllabus and papers from the course to the head tutor or chairperson.

Secondary field students will not be granted preferential access to limited enrollment courses. Individual faculty members will determine the priority of enrollment.

Advising Resources and Expectations

Students are encouraged to meet with the head tutor, Dr. Deborah Foster (103 Warren House, 617-495-8056), to discuss their plans for pursuing a secondary field in Folklore and Mythology. By doing so and by notifying the program using the secondary fields web tool, they will not only receive advice on courses, they will also be invited to concentration activities and event.