English 335: Louisiana Folklore
Meetings: 11:00–11:50 MW(F), HLG 321
Instructor: Pr. John Laudun, HLG 356, MW 9:00–11:00 and by appointment.
For better or worse, folklore in Louisiana has been and is subject to a great deal of attention by scholars and citizens, tourists and natives. This course encourages students to take a closer look for themselves not only at the folklore that surrounds and shapes each of us but also at the various ways it has been and is currently being represented. Taking a closer look requires students to go out and observe and document for themselves various aspects of Louisiana folklife and to participate in the expansion of the archeological/historical record of the region.
The goal of this course is for each student to produce one archive-quality piece of documentation of a traditional practice that occurs in Louisiana, or, in the case of historical practices, that used to occur in the region. Archive quality will be discussed in some detail in the course, but in this initial moment it includes, in addition to the item itself, which can be a text or an artifact, all appropriate and necessary documentation. The complete record will be ready to be uploaded into a digital archive by the end of the semester.
Course Texts & Materials
The primary texts for this course are both the books listed below as well as a number of PDFs.
Ancelet, Barry Jean. 1994. Cajun and Creole Folktales: The French Oral Tradition of South Louisiana. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi.
deCaro, Frank and Rosan Jordan. 1998. Louisiana Sojourns: Travelers’ Tales and Literary Journeys. Louisiana State University Press.
Other course expenses may or may not include admission fees to area folklife parks and/or supplies for recording and producing documentation projects. Most modern devices are sufficiently general purpose in nature to provide the ability to record audio, video, or images of sufficient quality for our purposes, but it will require proficiency and deliberation on your part to do so. If you currently do not possess that proficiency, please make sure to set aside the time to acquire it—and do be sure that you comfortable establishing your own needs and shepherding your education according to your resources. (This assumption of your competence, and interest in developing, your own education is a requirement of this course.)
The books listed below offer a general background and some specific treatments of topics central to the study of south Louisiana’s folk cultures. They operate in the background, with suggested readings timed to make your understanding of particular lectures, discussions, or activities more profound and complete.
Ancelet, Pitre, Edwards. 1986. Cajun Country. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi.
Brasseaux, Carl. 2005. French, Cajun, Creole, Houma: A Primer On Francophone Louisiana. Louisiana State University Press.
Please note that in addition to the texts above, I am also experimenting this semester with the posting of a small collection of documentary films on our course’s Moodle site. Some viewings will be required in advance of a particular class, so that we may focus our discussion in the wake of the viewing. Other viewings will operate as background material for our discussions, but do be aware that they will be on the exams. In all cases, these documentaries are copyrighted materials that we are allowed to use in educational contexts thanks to the Fair Use provision of the copyright laws. Do not under any circumstances copy these materials in any fashion. Doing so risks more pain, bad feelings, and perhaps legal penalties than any of us can imagine. All you need to do is find yourself a reasonably good network connection and the time that viewing and note taking requires. Open your browser, click on the link, take notes. Nothing more.
To meet the course objectives enumerated above, students must attend both in-class lectures and discussions as well as engage a number of materials made available to them as part of this class and engage themselves in a number of assignments outside of the classroom. Thus, this course is best enjoyed, and profited by, when taken by independent, self-motivated learners. This course also requires a reasonable level of emotional maturity, since folklore is “equipment for living” and materials we deal with come from life itself, where lines are often not clear-cut and, sometimes the matters with which we deal are inflammatory or embarrassing. Participants must be prepared for this. Intolerance will, as it were, not be tolerated. For more on what is required for this course, please see The Fine Print document.
PARTICIPATION & QUIZZES (20%). Regular participation means being in class (on time), prepared, and participating actively both through listening and through talking. No more than two absences will be excused without consent of the instructor. As noted above, the chief delivery vehicle for information in this course is in class. From time to time, to check for comprehension and currency, I give in-class quizzes, which are folded into your participation grade. Unlike the exams, which are scheduled in advance and can also be made up, quizzes are one-time-only affairs. I take role for the first few weeks of class in order to learn your names, after that, you will often see me taking role as class begins and/or making notes about someone who has made a contribution to class, a plus (+), or someone who is clearly studying for the exam in their next class, a minus (–). (You would be surprised how much one can see while standing in the front of the room.)
EXAMS (30%). There are two exams in this course, which cover materials from lectures, discussions, readings, and viewings. The purpose of the exams is for you to demonstrate to me and to yourself your knowledge and comprehension of the theoretical and historical material presented in class. Without that foundation, then much of the rest of the course will do you little good.
FOLKLORE DOCUMENTATION (50%). This course has at its core a collaborative project: an encyclopedia of Louisiana folklore collected, compiled, and crafted by you. Some parts of it will be straightforward data entry. Other parts will be based on your own research. The nature of your contribution is to be decided in consultation with me and your fellow classmates. Typically, the latter include interviewing someone about their life, collecting a recipe, collecting a number of a certain kind of genre, and/or photographing a house or collection of houses.
e.g., 2011 August 14 (Sunday). Overheard in the bathroom at Green Room last night: (girl on phone) “Hey. What’s up? Wait, you're drunk. Like, Mamou drunk.”
Emergency Evacuation Procedures
A map of this floor is posted near the elevator marking the evacuation route and “Designated Rescue Area.” Students who need assistance should identify themselves to the instructor.
Do not hesitate. Immediately look around where you are sitting and get the name and number of two responsible looking people. Not the cute one — because getting his or her number that way would be just creepy, but someone who has at least your level of maturity, if not higher. Write that information below so that when you do have to miss class, then you can contact them about what you missed.
Kniffen, Fred. 1963. The Physiognomy of Rural Louisiana. Louisiana History 4(4): 291-299. JSTOR
Gaudet, Marcia. Cultural Catholicism. PDF
Robinson, Herbert. 1991. "Family Sayings from Family Stories: Some Louisiana Examples." Louisiana Folklore 6(4): 17-24. PDF
Jamison, C. V. 1905. A Louisiana Legend concerning Will o' the Wisp. Journal of American Folklore 18(70): 250-251. DOI: 10.2307/533148 JSTOR.
The essay by Roberts is really a collection, a really large collection that runs 65 pages. Please do print, and read, the first ten pages of the essay. Then find a section of the collection that you find appealing and print it, preparing yourself to discuss that section in class.
Roberts, Hilda. 1927. Louisiana Superstitions. Journal of American Folklore 40/156: 144-208. DOI: 10.2307/534893. JSTOR.
Bascom, William. 1965. The Forms of Folklore: Prose Narratives. Journal of American Folklore 78: 3-20. JSTOR.
Laudun, John. 2012. "Talking Shit" in Rayne: How Aesthetic Features Reveal Ethical Structures." Journal of American Folklore 125.497: 304-326. Project MUSE.
All the treasure legends are collected in a single document for your reference PDF. Please note the following:
The seven legends at the end of the document represent student work (ULS 1-7).
The first four legends (marked ANC) were documented by Barry Jean Ancelet and appear in Cajun and Creole Folktales.
The next two legends (LAU 13 and LAU 14) are from my own field research.
The LOH texts are from the Swapping Stories text edited by Carl Lindahl, Maida Owens, and C. Renee Harvison, which is still available for purchase. (Here's a link to the Amazon Page.)
All these materials, but especially those drawn from the two books (and mine drawn from the essay in JAF) are under copyright: their use for your education is allowed, but no other uses. (Various lawyers insist that I include such things.)
Please be sure to print the 6 legends PDF as well as the 1 Legend Worksheet PDF.
Ancelet, Barry Jean. 1994. Cajun and Creole Folktales: The French Oral Tradition of South Louisiana. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi.
Your goal for this course, for your term project, is to document an instance of Louisiana folk culture for yourself. Or, maybe, it would be better to think about it as just culture, and, even then, think about it as things people say and do every day. If you begin there, then in a dialogue with the rest of us, we can decide on what would be more significant and/or important to document and what would be less significant.
The end result of your work will be both a report with a proper documentation of the text(s) and the context(s) within which it/they occurred. The context will be not only the immediate social context but also the larger cultural and historical context for the individuals involved, as we have seen already in a number of examples -- and there will be more examples either discussed in class or posted on-line. The paper detailing all this particular information will be held in private in the archive of Louisiana folk culture that we are building together. The documentation of the text itself, and those dimensions of the context that can be properly abstracted so as to be useful to other/future researchers, will be in the form of a TEI document.
For reference, a basic TEI version of the "The Spirit Controller and the Bull" drawn from Barry Ancelet's Cajun and Creole Folktales would look something like this:
I went to meet an old man in Marrero,
and he told me a story.
He went to look for a treasure with some other men.
And there was a controller
who had brought a Bible to control the spirits.
And when they arrived at the site,
they saw a big horse coming through the woods with a man riding it,
and when he dismounted,
it was no longer a man on the horse.
It was a dog.
And he said the dog came and rubbed itself against his legs.
He said it was growling.
He said he knew the dog was touching him,
but he didn't feel anything.
It was like there was just a wind.
And he said they all took off running.
He lost his hat and his glasses
and he tore all his clothes.
And even the controller ran off
and he never saw his Bible again after that.
Considerably more elaboration is possible, and we will explore what elaborations are necessary and/or preferable as we work through your projects both individually and communally. I present this simple instance of TEI here for you to begin to become familiar, and comfortable, with it.
Many of you have never seen the HTML that powers the websites on which you depend – try finding View Source in one of the menus of your browser. TEI is like HTML, in that it is a markup language in which a great deal of metadata can be supplied and acted upon. Another powerful markup language, of which some of you may have heard that developed as TEI developed, is XML. All of these markup languages depended upon extensive uses of tags that are marked by being inside angle brackets, < and >, that are usually paired, such that, as above, a tag that marks the beginning of a text, , is accompanied by one that marks the end, .
None of this is hard in and of itself. What is challenging is the application of tags that are relevant to the material at hand. In most instances, these tags are analytical in nature, meaning they are the product of an analyst tackling a particular dimension of a text, and so what tags that are included in these documents will be a mix of those required and those you find interesting. An example of what a marked up text looks like can be found at TEI by example.
The report and the TEI transcript are complementary as well in terms of requirements: shorter transcripts will require longer reports, and vice versa. Your goal for this project is some combination of documents that result in approximately 3500 words. Before you ask, yes you can go over, and the more you go over with reasonably good material, the higher your grade is likely to be. Like in the real world, high performance receives high marks.
On Recording Equipment
Because this is a class within a literature department, we are focused mostly on verbal texts. Other kinds of “texts” are not off-limits, but they do, in having different dimensions, present different issues when it comes to data capture. While we must recognize that there is more to any text than simply its words and the vocal medium in which it is conveyed – that is, the linguistic and paralinguistic dimensions of a spoken text – it is also the case that written texts and audio recordings are much smaller in size than video recordings, and much easier to handle as a result.
For most of us, the voice memo app that comes with most smart phones will do the trick, so long as your clear on how to get recordings off the device: in most instances, it should be fairly easy to email the recording to yourself, or, in the case of the Voice Memos app in iOS, to sync them to off-device storage. (iOS’s Voice Memos will sync audio files to the Notes application, for example, which you should then be able to open on your Mac, provided you have a Mac and you have signed up for their iCloud service.)
There are a lot of other sound recording apps available for smart phones. I have used a few, including both FiRe (Field Recorder) and CaptureAudio. I use the latter more often these days, but both are fine. I prefer to use dedicated audio recording apps because they allow you to choose the format in which you record your audio. Like almost all digital media formats, audio recordings come in both uncompressed, or “raw”, and compressed forms. Most of you are familiar with, and indeed rely upon, a compressed format known as MP3. For my own fieldwork, when it is my research (and my reputation) on the line, I use an uncompressed format known as AIFF.
See the note about CODECS below.
Some of you may own and use, or have a friend or family member who uses, a dedicated camera, either a point and shoot or what is known as a DSLR. You are thus familiar with the idea that while the audio capture capabilities of your smart phone is “good enough” for most purposes, it is not terribly good at it in particular. There are a couple of ways to improve this situation, and they involve purchasing additional equipment (or hardware).
The simplest, and least expensive, option to enhance your audio recording capabilities is to purchase a microphone: almost any external microphone will be better than the one built into your smart phone, which, to be honest, wasn’t chosen for the quality of its audio capture so much as its ability to fit into the small case of your phone and that it didn’t cost very much.
Please be careful when buying a microphone to purchase the appropriate cable that will link it to your device. Most professional recording equipment uses a grounded connection known as XLR, which is a three-prong connector. Most consumer devices, especially small devices, use an eighth-inch or “mini” jack with a TRS (Tip-Ring-Sleeve) or TRRS (Tip-Ring-Ring-Sleeve) arrangement for stereo audio input and output. (And do be aware that an XLR to mini-jack cable loses its grounded nature, which means that other electrical fields in an environment can affect your recording.)
Moving away from using your smart phone, the next step you can take is to invest in a separate device. I generally advise against this for a couple of reasons: mostly because with a good microphone and a good audio recording application, your smart phone or tablet or computer is an awfully good portable sound studio and one you already own. (So, something you already own is good, and, perhaps just as importantly, something you already carry around.)
For some, however, a separate device is preferable. Perhaps your phone is really old, or maybe it’s already crammed full of data and apps – remember, using any device to capture data means you are going to increase your storage needs. Or perhaps you would just have a separate device to do this kind of thing. If that’s the case, then I have a couple of suggestions to make.
Let me begin with the device that I use, an Roland R-09 recorder, which is no longer available, but the Roland R-05 is, and it is cheaper and better than the R-09. Both units have built-in microphones that are better than most smart phones, and they are both lightweight and dependable. They both also use widely available standard batteries (2 AA) and SD cards. You can plug an external microphone, and you can also attach either device directly to your computer for transferring files via a USB mini cable.
Smaller in size, and in price, than the Roland units and also widely popular is the TASCAM DR-05. The TASCAM DR-05 gives you much the same functionality and flexibility. Most people I know who use one don’t even bother to use a microphone, but the unit does accept one.
Both of these devices make it dead simple, thanks to their removable media, to move your audio recordings from the device itself to your computer. That’s an important feature. Less expensive devices can sometimes make this more difficult. Here’s a quick summary of other options:
The Olympus voice recorders, like the Olympus VN-2700 for example, are very inexpensive and work well – but you must remember to turn off voice activation! – but getting the recordings off the device requires some work on the user’s part. (And it’s not a digital transfer but a matter of playing the audio into the computer.)
The SONY ICD PX333 Digital Voice Recorder uses AAA batteries and removable media, but it only records in mono MP3 format. (That’s an allowable option for this class, and for voice recording in general, but it is a limitation, and the Sony is a little more expensive.)
The iGearPro Voice Activated Audio Recorder does allow you to turn the voice activation off, and it also allows you to connect the device directly to your computer in order to transfer files from the device.
I have never used the MaxPro-Best USB Flash Drive Voice Recorder but it looks dead simple and it’s very inexpensive.
￼ PDFs must be printed out — the most recommended option because paper is rugged and lightweight — or available on a large tablet (a 10” screen or larger) or laptop. Consulting a PDF on a smart phone is not an option. Not having the relevant text in class on the day it is to be discussed results in a lowered participation grade. Please budget/plan appropriately.