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Doctoral Concentration in Folklore

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Folklore Studies at UL

If you are pursuing a concentration in folklore studies within the graduate program of our Department of English, then you’re going to explore the range of human expressivity between vernacular texts made by ordinary people and the literary texts made by published authors. In many cases, authors have drawn upon the deep well of folk culture from their own period or region; in other cases, vernacular discourse formations shape or are shaped by mass media productions; and in still other cases, the very scale and scope of analysis is adjusted to answer questions about the nature of fan fiction, the relationship of legends to fake news, the creation of communities — both online and offline —  through focus on particular topics or texts.

Our folklore faculty, both the principals Shelley Ingram and John Laudun, as well as adjacent faculty working in ethnic literature, linguistics, and reception studies, offer courses that allow you to pursue your own particular research projects. The goal of the concentration is to provide a foundation for your path in the wide and deep intellectual history of folklore studies but have that foundation be oriented toward particular interests and outcomes.

This focus on individualized intellectual history and on outcomes has meant that students who pursued a concentration in folklore studies have gone on to a range of compelling academic and non-academic positions: a number of our students are tenured faculty who enjoy teaching folklore courses of their own design, and a number of our students work in NGOs that seek to address the particular needs of the communities they serve. Some of our graduates are:

  • Wanda Addison (PhD, 2007) is a professor in the Department of Arts and Humanities at National University. Currently, her writing and research interests involve black storytelling, concepts of home and belonging in African American literature and narrative, oral history, intangible cultural heritage, and Ernest J. Gaines. Her article “Black History Month Programs: Performance and Heritage,” published in Material Culture Review (2015/2016), examines the concept of home and cultural connection and sustainability in Black History Month storytelling performances. A forthcoming chapter in Advancing Folkloristics from Indiana University Press in 2021 entitled “Standing with Others: Folklorists in the Midst of Home” explores life as a lone folklorist in a higher education institution and the impact such folklorists can play through community engagement, cross-disciplinary projects, and administrative roles. She is currently working on an edited collection entitled Reimagining Ernest J. Gaines for the 21st Century for University Press of Mississippi. She teaches undergraduate and graduate courses on the Harlem Renaissance, African American literature, James Baldwin, and gothic studies.
  • K. Brandon Barker (PhD, 2012) is a lecturer in the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology at Indiana University, Bloomington. He teaches and publishes on topics at the intersections of embodiment, cognition, and folklore. His work appears in a range of folkloristic journals and scientific magazines, including Journal of American Folklore, Journal of Folklore Research, Journal of Folklore and Education, The Psychologist, Scientific American: Mind, and Current Biology. He is coauthor of the book Folk Illusions: Children, Folklore, and Sciences of Perception (with Clai Rice, Indiana University Press, 2019). Brandon received an Indiana University Trustees Teaching Award in 2017 and 2019. He teaches courses on Children’s Folklore, Folklore of the South, American Foodways, Bodylore, American Country Music, and a college-wide course Embodying the Humanities. Before taking the job with IU, he served as Folklorist and University Liaison for the Evangeline Area Council, Scouts of America’s Swamp Base.
  • James Reitter (PhD, 2006) is a professor of English at Dominican College. His scholarly work includes articles and chapters on Charles Dickens, Civil War poets, human/animal interaction and symbolism, and zombies in film. His poetry has appeared in Verse Wisconsin, Tree Killer Ink, Nefarious Ballerina, and Breadcrumb Scabs and Scratched Records, a book of poetry, was recently published (Alien Buddha Press, 2019). He is Editor-In-Chief of Masque & Spectacle.
  • T. J. Smith (MA, 2005; PhD, 2008) is the executive director of The Foxfire Fund, Inc. in Mountain City, GA, a nonprofit heritage preservation organization focused on the documentation and interpretation of Southern Appalachian culture. T. J. oversees the Foxfire Museum and Heritage Center, The Foxfire Magazine, and the Foxfire Approach to Teaching and Learning. Additionally, he co-facilitates the Foxfire Fellowship program, through which local high school students explore, document, and interpret the increasingly-diverse Southern Appalachian community through grassroots, cultural journalism. T.J. is the editor for The Foxfire Book of Appalachian Cookery (2019, UNC Press) and Foxfire Story: Oral Tradition in Southern Appalachia (2020, Anchor Books) and is cohost of the It Still Lives podcast. Twitter. Instagram. Facebook.


Shelley Ingram

Shelley Ingram writes about folklore and literature, from foodways in southern fiction and ritual in the novels of Shirley Jackson to the postmodern storytelling strategies of Randall Kenan. Literature lives in a world with people who have folklore, and that folklore invariably makes its way into our texts; and because reading and writing takes place within a world so full of folklore, the dynamics of old and new, of inert and enacted, are always part of the processes of fiction. Her research thus focuses primarily on the relationships between folklore and literature, including its connections to ethnography and race, folk narrative, food, and audience. She teaches undergraduate and graduate courses that explore such topics as the American gothic, crime fiction, popular culture and fandom, food and food culture, and metafiction and ethnographic theory. Her co-written book, Implied Nowhere: Absence in Folklore Studies, was published by the University Press of Mississippi in 2019. She is currently at work on an edited collection called Wait Five Minutes: Weatherlore in the Twenty-first Century and an essay on the fetish and the crime novel.

Take a look at Dr. Ingram’s recent publications:
  • Ingram, Shelley, Todd Richardson, and Willow G. Mullins. Implied Nowhere: Absence in Folklore Studies. With University Press of Mississippi, 2019.
  • Ingram, Shelley and Willow G Mullins. Would You Like a Cup of Tea?: Food, Home, and Mid-Century Anxiety in the Later Novels of Shirley Jackson. In The Routledge Companion to Literature and Food. Edited by Lorna Piatti-Farnell and Donna Lee Brien. New York and London: Routledge, 2018. 342-50.
  • Ingram, Shelley. Postmodern Storytelling in John Dufresne’s Louisiana Novels. Louisiana Folklore Miscellany 26.1(2016): 36-49.
  • Ingram, Shelley. Food and the Autobiographical Self in Harry Crews’s A Childhood: The Biography of a Place. Food & Foodways. 24.1-2 (2016): 30-47.
  • Ingram, Shelley. Speaking of Magic: Folk Narrative in Hangsaman and We Have Always Lived in the Castle. In Shirley Jackson: Influences and Confluences. Edited by Melanie R. Anderson and Lisa Kröger. London and New York: Routledge, 2016. 54-75.

John Laudun

After publishing The Amazing Crawfish Boat, a book that addressed the nature of embedded creativity, John Laudun has turned his attention to folklore studies’ contribution to cultural analytics, with a particular focus on understanding the role that discourse plays in the nature and spread of online and offline texts. His principal interest is in narrative texts, in understanding how they are constructed, deployed, and received both because of the ways narrative activates our imaginations and the ways that narrative as one of many modes of discourse seems able to make words stick together as they travel across social networks. His focus on the somewhat larger horizon of discourse, as opposed to strictly narrative, is the outcome of years of close examination of actual vernacular texts as they passed between individuals both in face-to-face interaction and online. He is currently at work on a book, The Shape of Small Stories, and with his collaborator, mathematician and data scientist Katherine M. Kinnaird of Smith College, a book, Me Think Pretty One Day, which charts how data scientists and humanities scholars can work together. He teaches undergraduate and graduate courses on folk narrative, online folk culture(s), and the intellectual history of folklore studies.

Dr. Laudun has recently published:
  • Laudun, John. 2019. Folklore as a Networked Economy: How a Recently-Invented-but-Traditional Artifact Reveals the Way Folkloric Production Has Always Worked. In Folklorists in the Marketplace, 26-46. Ed. Willow Mullins and Puja Batra-Wells. Utah State University Press.
  • Kinnaird, Katherine and John Laudun. 2019. TED Talks as Data. Journal of Cultural Analytics (19 July). DOI: 10.31235/
  • Laudun, John. 2019. Trucks under Water: A Legend from the 2016 Flood. Louisiana Folklore Miscellany 28: 20–36.
  • Laudun, John. 2018. Tallying Treasure Tales: A Reconsideration of the Structure and Nature of Local Legends. Contemporary Legend 3(7): 1-27.
  • Laudun, John. 2016. The Amazing Crawfish Boat. In the “Folklore Series in a Multicultural World” series (sponsored by the Andrew Mellon Foundation). University Press of Mississippi.

In addition to the two principals, other faculty members in the department teach and research in areas that many students find either match or model their interest in charting their own particular research / intellectual / professional journey. Take a look at the current and upcoming course offerings, as well as other faculty profiles, for more information.

Things You May Want to Know

In addition to the many courses offered in literary studies, linguistics, and rhetoric and composition, the concentration in folklore studies typically offers one 400-level course, which includes advanced undergraduates, and one 500- or 600-level course designed for graduate students only. The regular 400-level offerings are: Folklore and Literature, America in Legend Online and Off… Seminar offerings focus on topics in folklore and literature, narrative studies, and the proseminar in folklore studies.

After completing your coursework, you may opt to make the folklore studies concentration your primary area or your secondary area. For those electing it to be a secondary area of concentration, the comprehensive exam is part of the regular schedule of exams and consists of three sections—theory, interpretation, and application—with an essay written in each section in response to a chosen prompt. Students pursuing the concentration in folklore studies as a primary area assemble a portfolio consisting of an essay, a bibliography, and a list of research questions. The purpose of the portfolio is to establish a writer’s broad familiarity with the scope and sweep of folklore studies from its roots in the Enlightenment to the present moment as well to establish her/his engagement in a particular topic or thread within that history. To do this, you will need to:

  • Write a comprehensive essay of approximately 5,000 words. The essay should be clear to articulate a larger understanding of the domain of folklore studies as well as the writer’s place within it. Paths through periods are perfectly acceptable, with a focus on predecessors encouraged.
  • Compile a bibliography of no less than 50 items, divided into sections of your own devising with each section possessing a head note of 250 words or more. The bibliography should be wider in scope, and perhaps deeper in places, than those sources cited in the essay and could very well include work not yet read or not yet fully digested.
  • Enumerate a series of research questions that identify both future research opportunities and gaps in the domain that you argue should be addressed, either by yourself or others. (Depending upon the complexity of the questions, these could be as few as half a dozen or as many as a dozen.)
For more about plans of study and the various exams offered by the Department of English, click here.