AMST 196 Sample Lesson

Lesson 1: What is Folklore and Who are the Folk? What is Not Folklore?

We begin with the history and definition of the key term "folklore" at the heart of this course. More than just giving you a dictionary entry, I want you to think about why the category for a type of expression was introduced in the first place and why it continues to hold significance as an analytical concept for scholars as well as a popular term in the American imagination. There are distinctions you will learn between early narrow (folklore as a relic or survival) and more elastic modern academic definitions (expressions shown to repeat and vary), and between scholarly (i.e., folklore as an expressive culture) and vernacular (i.e., folklore as falsehood) conceptualizations, of the term folklore. Then we'll break the term down into its parts - folk and lore - and find distinctions there, too. Folk, you'll find, stands for the social aspect that we all share and lore represents the material of tradition. Especially important is the modern definition proposed by Alan Dundes for a "folk group" and you'll read his justification for his broad-based conceptualization and some criticism to invite your own judgment. If folklore is broadly defined in contemporary usage, then the question is raised of what it is not, and we will make some distinctions between folk, popular, and elite culture to guide you through the literature on folklore.


In Lesson 1 you will learn to recognize what folklore is, and distinctions that have arisen over time between early and modern usage and the scholarly (representing folklore as tradition) and vernacular (perceiving it as falsehood) conceptualizations. You will also learn to comprehend what is included in the category of folk culture and what is excluded, or overlapping with popular culture. By the end of Lesson 1, you should be able to explain definitions of folk and popular culture and their analytical purposes.

Student Tasks (see Section 1 folder - Lesson 1 folder):

  1. View: Powerpoint presentation
  2. Read: Folk Groups and Folklore Genres, pp. 1-23
  3. Read: Dundes, "Who are the Folk?"
  4. Read: Bronner, "Folklore" and "Folklorist"
  5. Complete: Learning Assessment 1

Questions to answer in Learning Assessment:

  1. What is the origin of the term “folklore”?
  2. Contrast the differences between the nineteenth-century perspective of folk as a level of culture and the “modern” view of folk as a social process.
  3. What is the difference in transmission between folk and popular culture?

Lesson Wrap Up:

A summary of student responses to the Learning Assessment will be shared, with opportunities for additional discussion will be given.