More Resources


For those interested in exploring the materials drawn upon for the introductory lecture, and the founding assumptions of this course, the following brief bibliography offers some first steps:

And to begin the semester with our central question firmly before us:

Matters of “Fact”

As Wikipedia notes:

The Day the Universe Changed is a British documentary television series written and presented by science historian James Burke, originally broadcast on BBC1 in [Spring] 1985 by the BBC [and rebroadcast on PBS in Autumn 1986]. The series’ primary focus is on the effect of advances in science and technology on western society in its philosophical aspects. The title comes from the philosophical idea that the universe essentially only exists as one perceives it through what one knows; therefore, if one changes one’s perception of the universe with new knowledge, one has essentially changed the universe itself. To illustrate this concept, James Burke tells the various stories of important scientific discoveries and technological advances and how they fundamentally altered how western civilization perceives the world. The series runs in roughly chronological order, from around the beginning of the Middle Ages to the present.

(Wikipedia also has a nice entry on the printing press.)

Legend Foundations

Bascom, William. 1965. The Forms of Folklore: Prose Narratives. Journal of American Folklore 78: 3-20. JSTOR.

For more on possible ways to consider the inter-relationships of the forms of folklore see also: Littleton, C. Scott. 1965. A Two-Dimensional Scheme for the Classification of Narratives. Journal of American Folklore 78(307): 21-27. DOI: 10.2307/538100. JSTOR.

Another essay that works well with Bascom’s “Forms of Folklore” is his essay on the four functions of folklore: Bascom, William. 1953. Four Functions of Folklore. Journal of American Folklore 66(262): 333-349. DOI: 10.2307/536411. JSTOR.

Langlois, Janet. 2005. “Celebrating Arabs”: Tracing Legend and Rumor Labyrinths in Post-9/11 Detroit. Journal of American Folklore 118/468: 219-236. JSTOR.

If you’re observant, then you might have noticed that Langlois’ essay is tagged as part of JSTOR’s Security Studies collection. It’s worth taking a look: the landing page is not very informative, but if you search for something like rumor than you get a very nice history of its study represented in the search results. (If you are interested in the history of Arab-Americans in Louisiana, see “Roots of the Cedar: The Lebanese Heritage in Louisiana”.)

Ellis, Bill. 1989. Death by Folklore: Ostension, Contemporary Legend, and Murder. Western Folklore 48 (3): 201-220. JSTOR.

Legends as Performances

In addition to thinking about folklore qua texts, folklorists have also developed a robust model of folklore as transactional in nature: folklore was “equipment for living” (Kenneth Burke) or folklore as a way to get social business done. Some describe this as a contextual approach, but the term most often associated with it is performance. The articles below focus on the nature of contexts:

Bauman, Richard. 1972. The La Have Island General Store: Sociability and Verbal Art in a Nova Scotia Community. Journal of American Folklore 85(338): 330-343. JSTOR.

Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Barbara. 1975. A Parable in Context: a Social Interactional Analysis of Storytelling Performance. In Performance and Communication, 105-130. Ed. Dan Ben-Amos and Kenneth Goldstein. Mouton. doi:10.1515/9783110880229.105. PDF is on Moodle.

Shuman, Amy. 1992. “Get Outa My Face”: Entitlement and Authoritative Discourse. In Responsibility and Evidence in Oral Discourse, 135–160. Ed. Jane Hill and Judith Irvine. Cambridge University Press. PDF

Laudun, John. 2012. Talking Shit in Rayne: How Aesthetic Features Reveal Ethical Structures. Journal of American Folklore 125(497): 304–326. DOI: 10.5406/jamerfolk.125.497.0304. Project MUSE. JSTOR.

Bennett, Gillian. 1996. Legend: Performance and Truth. In Contemporary Legend: A Reader, 17-19. Ed. Gillian Bennett and Paul Smith. Garland Publishing.

Understanding the Information Age

To understand the what we think of as the information age, we’ll need to go back a bit and make sure we understand the previous era, The Media Age, for lack of a better name. And that’s why we begin with Marshal McLuhan.

Carpenter, Edmund, and Marshall McLuhan. 1956. “The New Languages.” Chicago Review 10(1): 46–52. DOI: 10.2307/25293194 JSTOR.

McLuhan, Marshall. 1959. “Myth and Mass Media.” Daedalus 88(2): 339–48. JSTOR.

McLuhan, Marshall. 1968. “Instructional Media: Is Book Dead.” The Clearing House 42(7): 447–48. JSTOR.

Ong, Walter J. 1971. “The Literate Orality of Popular Culture Today.” In Rhetoric, Romance, and Technology: Studies in the Interaction of Expression and Culture. Cornell University Press. JSTOR.

Dégh, Linda, and Endre Vázsonyi. 1975. The Hypothesis of Multi-Conduit Transmission in Folklore. Mouton. Moodle.

Granovetter, Mark. 1978. “Threshold Models of Collective Behavior.” American Journal of Sociology 83(6): 1420–43. JSTOR.

Dorst, John. 1990. Tags and Burners, Cycles and Networks: Folklore in the Telectronic Age. Journal of Folklore Research 27(3): 179–90. JSTOR.

In the essay, Dorst references the film Style Wars. There is both an official Youtube video, as well as a range of unofficial videos, one of which seems to include outtakes from the film.

Bikhchandani, Sushil, David Hirshleifer, and Ivo Welch. 1992. “A Theory of Fads, Fashion, Custom, and Cultural Change as Informational Cascades.” Journal of Political Economy 100(5): 992–1026. JSTOR.

Fake News

Temming, Maria. 2018. People are bad at spotting fake news. Can computer programs do better? Science News (July 26). URL.

Some Case Studies to Get You Working

Do not forget that while a particular article may not be useful to you, articles in the same journal may very well be. Always browse. (And that includes this syllabus! Consider looking at some of the links below for Ellis or on Fake News or on Slender Man – there’s a lot here for you to consider.)

Limor Shifman, Hadar Levy, Mike Thelwall. 2014. Internet Jokes: The Secret Agents of Globalization? Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 19/4,1: 727–743. URL.

Shifman has also worked on memes: this review will tell you more, and you can follow the leads to get access to the text. Folklorists have long worked on memes, and you might consider the results of this search.

If you’re interested in fake news, then you are in luck. There was an entire issue of the Journal of American Folklore focused on fake news: JAF 131/522. For another approach, see:

Murphy, G., Loftus, E. F., Grady, R. H., Levine, L. J., & Greene, C. M. 2019. False Memories for Fake News During Ireland’s Abortion Referendum. Psychological Science 30(10): 1449–1459. DOI.

Evans, Timothy H. 2018. The Bowling Green Massacre. Journal of American Folklore 131(522): 460-470. Project Muse.

Blank, Trevor J. 2015. Faux Your Entertainment: Product Reviews as a Locus of Digital Performance. Journal of American Folklore 128(509), 286-297. Project Muse.

Other Things Possibly of Interest

Why Moral Emotions Go Viral Online - Scientific American:

Attentional capture helps explain why moral and emotional content go viral.

Prof Limor Shifman - Internet Jokes: the Secret Agents of Globalisation? - YouTube

[Folklore doesn’t meme what you think it memes Lynne McNeill TEDxUSU - YouTube](

‘Because Internet’ By Gretchen McCulloch Tracks The Evolution Of Language Online : NPR

Interlude: Ellis’ Aliens, Ghosts, and Cults

Greste, Peter. 2017. Facebook: Cracking the Code. ThoughtMaybe. Link.

Facebook is an enormously powerful corporation, harnessing both the self-disclosed and gleaned personal data of over 2 billion people. Its user-base is larger than the population of any country. The company is all pervasive online, tracking and profiling users and non-users alike. Cracking the Code looks at the insides of this giant machine and how Facebook turns your thoughts and behaviours into profits—whether you like it or not. And it’s not just a one-way transaction either. Cracking the Code also explains how Facebook uses vast troves of web data to manipulate the way you think and feel, as well as act—all in the sole interests of Facebook, masquerading as “community.” What are the social implications of this—when one company basically controls the insights and experiences of the entire online world, with extremely personalised and targeted social and behavioural engineering on a scale never before seen?

Origgi, Gloria. 2018. Say goodbye to the information age: it’s all about reputation now. Aeon (March 14). URL.

We are experiencing a fundamental paradigm shift in our relationship to knowledge. From the ‘information age’, we are moving towards the ‘reputation age’, in which information will have value only if it is already filtered, evaluated and commented upon by others. Seen in this light, reputation has become a central pillar of collective intelligence today. It is the gatekeeper to knowledge, and the keys to the gate are held by others. The way in which the authority of knowledge is now constructed makes us reliant on what are the inevitably biased judgments of other people, most of whom we do not know.

Introduction to the Study of Legend

Fine, Gary Alan. 1992. Introduction. Manufacturing Tales: Sex Money Contemporary Legends, 1-40. University of Tennessee Press.

Ellis, Bill. 1989. Death by Folklore: Ostension, Contemporary Legend, and Murder. Western Folklore 48(3): 201-20. JSTOR.

Seemann, Charlie. 1981. The “Char-Man”: A Local Legend of the Ojai Valley. Western Folklore 40/3: 252-260. JSTOR.

For more on haunted bridges:

As a nice follow-up to the Satanic Cult legends that were widely popular in the U.S.A. during the late eighties, and continue to bubble up even to the present moment, take a look at this post on Cracked. While the post itself obviously has a good deal of fun at the expense of the video it examines, the video itself is an interesting document.

For more on Satanic cult rumors: Victor, Jeffrey. 1990. Satanic Cult Rumors as Contemporary Legend. Western Folklore 49/1 (Contemporary Legends in Emergence): 51-81. DOI: 10.2307/1499482. JSTOR.

Introduction to the Study of Narrative

Labov, William, and Joshua Waletzky. 1967. “Narrative Analysis: Oral Versions of Personal Experience.” In Essays on the Verbal and Visual Arts: Proceedings of the 1966 Annual Spring Meeting of the American Ethnological Society, 12-44. Edited by June Helm. American Ethnological Society. Moodle.

Active Legends


Slender Man

Parkinson, Justin. 2014. The origins of Slender Man. BBS News Magazing (June 11). Link.

Peck, A. 2015. Tall, Dark, and Loathsome: The Emergence of a Legend Cycle in the Digital Age. Journal of American Folklore 128/509: 333-348. MUSE.

Tolbert, Jeffrey. 2013. “The sort of story that has you covering your mirrors”: The Case of Slender Man. Semiotic Review 2 (Monsters). Link.

Frank, R. 2015. Caveat Lector: Fake News as Folklore. Journal of American Folklore 128/509: 315-332. MUSE.

Ellis, B. 2015. What Bronies See When They Brohoof: Queering Animation on the Dark and Evil Internet. Journal of American Folklore 128/509: 298-314. Muse.

Of Orality and Literacy

Coming Up

Jason, Heda. 1971. Concerning the “Historical” and “Local” Legends and Their Relatives. Journal of American Folklore 84/331: 134-144. JSTOR.

Baker, Ronald L. 1972. The Role of Folk Legends in Place-Name Research. Journal of American Folklore 85(338): 367-373. DOI: 10.2307/539325. JSTOR.

Bennett, Gillian. 1989. “Belief Stories”: The Forgotten Genre. Western Folklore 48/4: 289-311. DOI: 10.2307/1499544. JSTOR.

Turner, Patricia. 1993. I Heard It Through the Grapevine: Rumor in African-American Culture. University of California Press. PDF.