Folklore and Mythology

Dr. Ruth Goldstein, Head Tutor
Professor Stephen Mitchell, Chair

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 local, regional as well as national levels) is to understand how that group or 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 others. Concentrators conduct independent research on the material, oral, written, or performed 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 and ethnography 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 the student's own Plan of Study with the Head Tutor or 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 tutorials being either devoted largely to developing a senior thesis, or to a senior project. During the senior year, we expect students concentrating in Folklore & Mythology to demonstrate their command of cultural theory and analysis. In the senior project option, Folklore and Mythology 96r, such competence may be demonstrated through, for example, a performance, exhibit, or written analysis, usually in connection with specific Folklore and Mythology courses (or related courses approved by the Head Tutor). Students who wish to be considered for high honors or highest honors write a Senior Honors Thesis, an extended research project carried out over two semesters as Folklore and Mythology 99, under the supervision of a faculty adviser.

Students interested in concentrating in Folklore and Mythology should make an appointment with the Head Tutor or Assistant Head Tutor to discuss the concentration and special field interests. Joint concentrations with other fields are possible and students should discuss their interests of combining fields with the Head Tutors or Directors of Undergraduate Studies of both Folklore and Mythology and the allied program to discuss options.

14 courses (56 credits)

  1. Required courses:
    1. Culture and Belief 16.
    2. Folklore and Mythology 97, Folklore and Mythology 98a and b, and either Folklore and Mythology 96r (one term, repeatable) or Folklore and Mythology 99 (two terms). See item 2 below.
    3. Folklore and Mythology 90: One course from among the Folklore and Mythology 90 series, or an approved seminary-type substitute.
    4. Five courses in a special field to be selected with the advice of the Head Tutor or a committee member in that field.
    5. Two courses outside the special field, to be selected from among such courses as the committee may designate.
  2. Tutorials:
    1. Sophomore year: Folklore and Mythology 97 required. Letter-graded.
    2. Junior year: Folklore and Mythology 98a and b required. Letter-graded.
    3. Senior year: Folklore and Mythology 99 (two terms), graded SAT/UNS; or Folklore and Mythology 96r (one term, repeatable), letter-graded.
  3. Thesis or Senior Project: 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:
    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. 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 courses of language study may, in individual cases and with the approval of the Head Tutor 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 and the adviser in the concentrator’s special field.


Students planning to concentrate in Folklore and Mythology should consult with 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 or senior project and general examination, and for his 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 Loeb Music Library constitute a rich source, not only for ethnomusicologists but for folklorists in general.


Students are invited to consult the Head Tutor, Dr. Ruth Goldstein ( or 617-495-4788); the Chair, Professor Stephen Mitchell (; or the Program Administrator Holly Hutchison ( or 617-495-4788).

Please see our website (

Number of Concentrators as of December

Concentrators 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
Folklore and Mythology 13 18 10 14 12 14 9 11 10
*Another field + Folklore and Mythology 3 1 2 0 0 1 1 2 3

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