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 (on sub-national 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 must take GENED 1097: Tradition, Performance, and Culture, one of the F&M topical seminars in the field, and three other courses chosen from Folklore and Mythology and/or cross-listed courses as listed in and on the Folklore and Mythology website. 

To guarantee a focused and coherent program of study in Folklore and Mythology as a Secondary Field, interested students should make an appointment with the Head Tutor as soon as possible. Students who notify the Head Tutor early on of their intention to pursue a secondary field in Folklore and Mythology will ensure that they are invited to special lectures, film showings, lunches, excursions, and receptions. 

REQUIREMENTS: 5 courses (20 credits) 

  1. GENED 1097: Tradition, Performance, and Culture. Explores major forms of folklore (e.g., myths, legends, beliefs, rituals, festivals), as well as the theoretical approaches (e.g., performance theory, the ethnography of communication) used to interpret cultural documents drawn from the world of traditional expression and ritualized behavior. (Mitchell) 
  2. One Folklore and Mythology seminar, each of which examines a specific topic in the field. 
  3. Three courses from among those offered in Folklore & Mythology or the cross-listings. 


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 Chair. 

Secondary field students, who have officially recorded their intention, are often granted preferential access to limited enrollment courses. Individual faculty members will determine the priority of enrollment. 


Students are encouraged to meet with the Head Tutor, Dr. Lowell Brower ( or the Chair, Professor Stephen Mitchell ( 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 events. Students may also contact Department Administrator Holly Hutchison at for information.