The study of Folklore focuses on creativity in everyday life, looking to the worlds of creative action—everything from quilt-making to hip-hop free-styling—that communities fill with meaning. The undergraduate major invites students to critically explore these worlds, coming to understand how identity finds voice in performances and things. The graduate program—which offers an MA in Folklore—challenges students to consider how folklore practice can become a vehicle for addressing the most pressing social issues of our times.
The area in Folklore emphasizes the study of creativity and aesthetic expression in everyday life and the political implications of that expression as it unfolds in contested arenas of culture. The study of folklore focuses attention on those expressive realms that communities infuse with cultural meaning and through which they give voice to the issues and concerns that they see as central to their being. These realms are often deeply grounded in tradition, yet as community self-definitions develop and change in light of shifting social, political, and economic realities, community-based artistry likewise evolves. Folklore thus moves beyond the study of the old and time-honored to explore emergent meanings and cultural forms.
The primary vehicle for the exploration of contemporary folklore is ethnographic fieldwork, the real-world study of people’s lives in everyday settings, grounded in conversation and participatory engagement. In Folklore courses, students often move beyond the university to engage experts of the everyday in the communities they call home. Given this focus, the Folklore Program emphasizes North Carolina and the American South and encourages students to draw upon the University’s archival holdings and related strengths in the study of Southern history, literature, and culture. The expertise of our core faculty offers broad coverage of the expressive realms of music, narrative, festival, architecture, belief, language, food, and art as articulated in communities defined by race, gender, class, ethnicity, region, faith, and occupation.
The Folklore Program offers an MA that readies students for either employment in the public sector or further academic study. We also offer a minor in Folklore for students earning a BA or PhD in other departments and a BA major in American Studies with a Concentration in Folklore.
Founded with an eye to regional study, and deeply integrated with the University’s long-standing focus on the South, the study of Folkore at UNC maintains its commitment to the study of regional folklife. This commitment, however, in no way limits our vision. Students and faculty still do much of their fieldwork in the South, with recent theses on pimento cheese, the different ways several generations of a Tennessee family engage in the performance of Country music, the verbal and visual artistry of homeless men in Chapel Hill, the re-emergence of women’s roller derby, the memories of place that sustain the African American community in Natchez, and a multi-ethnic low-rider car club near Greensboro. Other students have found it productive to work on topics as varied and far-flung as the artistry of master-level science fiction costumers in Boston, the folksong revival in Albanian-speaking communities in Southern Italy, and the practice of contemporary shamans in Siberia. Program members work extensively in the public sphere, pursuing projects with museums, arts councils, media production companies, and a range of grassroots organizations.
The major concentration in folklore emphasizes the study of creativity and aesthetic expression in everyday life. The study of folklore focuses attention on those expressive realms that communities infuse with cultural meaning and through which they give voice to the issues and concerns they see as central to their being. These realms are often deeply grounded in tradition, yet as community self-definitions develop in light of shifting social, political, and economic realities, community-based artistry likewise evolves. Folklore thus moves beyond the study of the old and time-honored to explore emergent meanings and cultural forms. The primary vehicle for the exploration of contemporary folklore is ethnographic field work, the real-world study of people’s lives in everyday settings, grounded in conversation and participatory engagement.
Students who major or minor in Folklore explore the variety and significance of vernacular and traditional cultural expression, learn techniques for conducting their own ethnographic field research, and embark upon projects to document and analyze the informal expressive forms–from music, narrative, and craft to festival, food, and architecture–in which communities manifest their skills and values.
You may look through a list of undergraduate courses for this major. You can also look through the course offerings by year and complete course listings. Contact the Director of Undergraduate Studies, or the Coordinator of Folklore Program, with any questions.
The MA program enables students both to gain a broad appreciation of the discipline of Folklore (including the complex history of the study of “traditional” or “vernacular” culture in a self-consciously “modern” and “global” world) and to develop expertise in a particular area of interest. Graduates of our program take jobs in the public sector, bring their folklorist’s eye to work in other professional fields as diverse as museum curatorship and medicine, and go on to further graduate work in Anthropology, Communication Studies, Film Studies, and Information and Library Science as well as in Folklore.
Courses taught by the core Folklore faculty offer students a perspective on the breadth of genres and issues addressed by our discipline. The three additional courses allow students to explore interdisciplinary connections and historical contexts for their thesis topics. These additional courses may be taught by Folklore faculty or may come from a variety of associated graduate programs, including Anthropology, Communications Studies, English and Comparative Literature, History, and Music. Students may also arrange to take courses at Duke University, including courses in the Department of Cultural Anthropology, ethnomusicology courses in the Department of Music, and courses offered by the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University.
Students pursuing the PhD in another department at UNC may qualify for a minor in Folklore by completing six courses, chosen in consultation with the Coordinator of the Folklore Program.