America in Legends Online and Off

Illustration of Digital Culture's Complex Networks

ENGL 432 / HLG 321 / W 17:30 – 20:15 / Schedule

Pr. John Laudun / HLG 356 / W 14:30 – 16:30 & by appt /

Course Description

The social transmission of knowledge is central to culture and to science, but the transmission process pays little heed to its contents, often placing more value on who shares as opposed to what is shared. The study of legends takes us increasingly online, but spillage from one arena to another is common, since social networks often bridge the gaps. America in Legends Online and Off introduces participants to the study of vernacular cultures. As an advanced course for undergraduates and a foundational course for graduate students, it attempts to address materials and dynamics in terms of rhetorical effectiveness, literary/generic structure, and cultural history. The theory used in this course is a mixture of folklore studies, information science, cultural studies, and network studies. The objects of study are those forms of cultural expression that pass through offline and online social networks.

The goal of this course is to examine those materials as texts in and of themselves and to understand the sources, both structural and referential, upon which they draw. Social media is broadly imagined here: the course highlights that all media, first, have always been social, and that, second, the social world has always been mediated. Because of the personal nature of much of social media, participants in this course will need to have an open mind about the nature of meaning, and, just as importantly, about the varieties of human experience and perception. Some of the material in this course reveals the anxieties and fears, the prejudices and blindnesses, that humans too often carry with them and rarely communicate directly, instead embedding them in stories and assertions that manifest what are often tangled knots of things thought and/or felt. In some cases, the knots are not pretty.

Course Requirements

For matters of daily comportment and responsibility, please see The Essentials.


A great deal of the readings are scholarly in nature and will be available either as links to JSTOR and Project Muse or through the course’s Moodle site, either as PDFs or as links to sites. In addition to the on-line materials, there is at least one book required for this course.

Shifman, Limor. 2014. Memes in Digital Culture. MIT Press.

Please arrange to purchase the book through your preferred vendor. (Please make sure you have a complete version of the book and can access it readily.) Depending upon the make-up of the class and emergent interests, there may be a second book to purchase, so be sure to set aside a portion of your budget for that expense, in addition to the cost of printing other materials as needed.


The assignment schedule for this course is simple:


Students in this course will receive and submit assignments using either markdown-formatted plain text or LaTeX through GitHub. GitHub accounts are free, and will continue to be so after you leave university, unlike Microsoft 365. Moreover, version control is a central focus of most professional endeavors, and getting a better grasp of it, even if you are forced to go back to Track Changes in Word, is an essential part of your education in this course.

Institutional Necessities

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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.

Accessibility Services, Disability Services, & Other Helpful People

The university maintains a wide variety of services and centers designed to help students who have either ongoing or emergent needs. Please do not hesitate to contact Academic Support Services, and don’t be embarrassed to talk to me.