Folklore and Mythology

Dr. Deborah D. Foster, Head Tutor

Concentration in Folklore and Mythology is a liberal education in and of itself. The program encourages the study of any given society through its language and culture, offering an array of choices for drawing on a variety of disciplines in the humanities and social sciences. To focus on the folklore and mythology of a society (at regional as well as national levels) is to understand how that society defines itself through epics, music, folktales, legends, dramas, dance, rituals, “beliefs,” proverbs, customs, law codes, festival celebrations, “wisdom literature,” and many other forms of expressive culture. To study the folklore and mythology of any group is to discover how that group identifies itself in relation to other groups.  Concentrators conduct independent research on the oral or written forms of folklore and mythology in a variety of cultures, among them African, North and South American, Celtic, Chinese, English, German, Greek, Indian, Japanese, Scandinavian, and Slavic.

The purpose of the basic courses outlined below is to provide concentrators with a general knowledge of the materials of folklore and mythology, its genres and divisions, and the various kinds of intellectual approaches to the materials that have been, and still are, used to understand and interpret them. The course on fieldwork continues this purpose of providing general background by critiquing and applying various anthropological methods of interpreting cultural expressions. In these basic courses and early tutorials, materials from many cultures are used.

The special fields are designed to assure that the concentrator has an in-depth knowledge of folklore and mythology in one given area. There is considerable variation in the special fields administered by the Committee on Degrees in Folklore and Mythology, and the specific requirements vary from field to field. They can be roughly divided between those that are language and literature based and those that are not, such as music or social anthropology. Sample programs for the several special fields are available through the head tutor’s office, but each student should work out the details of his or her own Plan of Study with the committee member or members representing the particular special fields. The tutorials in the second half of the junior year and throughout the senior year are in the special field, the senior tutorial being devoted largely to developing the thesis required of all concentrators.

Students interested in concentrating in Folklore and Mythology should make an appointment with the head tutor to discuss the concentration and special field interests. Although occasionally joint concentrations with another department have been approved, the very nature of our system of special fields is in substance a joint concentration, and special arrangements are ordinarily unnecessary.

14 half-courses

  1. Required courses:

    a. Culture and Belief 16.

    b. Folklore and Mythology 97, Folklore and Mythology 98a and b, Folklore and Mythology 99 (two terms). See item 2 below.

    c. Folklore and Mythology 90: One half-course from among the Folklore and Mythology 90 series, or an approved substitute.

    d.  Five half-courses in a special field to be selected with the advice of a committee member in that field.

    e.  Two half-courses outside the special field, to be selected from among such courses as the committee may designate.

  2. Tutorials:

    a. Sophomore year: Folklore and Mythology 97 required. Letter-graded.

    b. Junior year: Folklore and Mythology 98a and b required. Letter-graded.

    c. Senior year: Folklore and Mythology 99 (two terms) required. Graded SAT/UNS.

  3. Thesis: Required of all concentrators in the senior year.

  4. General Examination: Required of all concentrators in the final term of the senior year.

  5. Other information:

    a. Pass/Fail: Courses counting for concentration credit may not be taken Pass/Fail, except that one Freshman Seminar may be counted for concentration credit if the student received a positive evaluation and if permission to do so is obtained from the head tutor.

    b. Special Fields: Before or during fall term of the junior year each concentrator must choose a special field in consultation with the head tutor and an appointed adviser.

    c. Language Study: Proficiency in a language other than English, equivalent to that acquired by two years of college study, is highly recommended. Up to three half-courses of language study may, in individual cases and with the approval of the head tutor or chair in consultation with an adviser in the relevant special field, be counted toward concentration. The specifics of language study within the concentration should be discussed at an early stage with the head tutor or chair and the adviser in the concentrator’s special field.


Students planning to concentrate in Folklore and Mythology should see the head tutor and a faculty member in the student’s prospective special field, normally a member, or affiliated member, of the committee. Concentrators are required to see the head tutor at the beginning of each term about selection of courses and tutorials, preparation for the senior thesis and general examination, and for her signature on study cards.

For up-to-date information on advising in Folklore and Mythology, please see the Advising Programs Office website.


The Milman Parry Collection of Oral Literature is one of the largest and best of its kind in the world. It contains unpublished epics, ballads, songs, tales, and other kinds of lore from Europe, Africa, Asia, and North America in the original languages. Students interested in folk life or ethnography will find the superb collections in the Peabody Museum of value. The Archives of World Music in the Music Building constitute a rich source, not only for ethnomusicologists but for folklorists in general.


Students are invited to consult Dr. Deborah Foster, Head Tutor, Barker Center (Warren House), 12 Quincy Street, 617-495-4788.

Please see our website.


Non-exempt areas:

Exempt areas:

Historical Study A

Foreign Cultures

Historical Study B

Literature and Arts A

Literature and Arts B

Literature and Arts C

Moral Reasoning

Social Analysis

Quantitative Reasoning


Science A


Science B


For more information on fulfilling the Core requirement, see the Core Curriculum Requirement.

All students—regardless of concentration—planning to graduate under the requirements of the Program in General Education must complete one letter-graded course in each of the eight categories in General Education. The Class of 2013 is the first to enter the College under these requirements. Students who entered Harvard College in September 2008 or earlier are expected to fulfill the requirements of the Core Curriculum, but will be permitted to switch to the Program in General Education if such a change is possible and advisable given their overall schedule and plan of study. For more information on the requirements of the Program in General Education and the possibility of switching to it, please see The Program in General Education in Chapter 2 and the General Education website.


Number of Concentrators as of December







Folklore & Mythology






*Another field + Folklore and Mythology






* Folklore and Mythology participates in joint concentrations only when the other concentration is the primary concentration.