432 Agenda

Please note two things: while the table below suggests that this course follows a fixed, calendrical schedule, it is labeled an agenda for a good reason: sometimes discussions move more quickly or more slowly and schedules change. If you miss class, reach out to one of your fellow participants to ascertain where we are in the agenda.

In most cases, the direct link to an article or other kind of resource is posted below, save items on Moodle. In a number of instances, the direct link is to JSTOR, since that is where a number of folklore studies journals are archived. Please see the note on accessing materials for more information on successfully accessing databases and data repositories.

Aug 24. Introduction to the Course includes review of the syllabus, foundational lecture on folklore studies, and introduction to plain text and Git. Assignment: read syllabus.

Aug 31. GitHub Essentials. A link will be provided to you.

Sep 7: Satanic Panic Redux With the Satanic Panic being back in the news, one good way to start this course is by tracing the history of these panics and by talking about rumors and panics in general.

Ellis, Bill. 1989. “Death By Folklore: Ostension, Contemporary Legend, and Murder.” Western Folklore 48 (3): 201–20. DOI: 10.2307/1499739.

Victor, Jeffrey. 1990. “Satanic Cult Rumors as Contemporary Legend.” Western Folklore 49 (1): 51–81. DOI: 10.2307/1499482.

Xiao, Q, W Huang, X Zhang, S Wan, and X Li. 2021. “Internet Rumors During the Covid-19 Pandemic: Dynamics of Topics and Public Psychologies.” Frontiers in Public Health 9: 788848. DOI: 10.3389/fpubh.2021.788848.

Sep 14. Conduits and Cascades.

Dégh, Linda, and Endre Vázsonyi. 1975. The Hypothesis of Multi-Conduit Transmission in Folklore. In Folklore. Performance and Communication, edited by Dan Ben-Amos, and Kenneth Goldstein, 207–55. Den Haag: Mouton.

Tangherlini, Timothy. 2017. Toward a Generative Model of Legend: Pizzas, Bridges, Vaccines, and Witches. Humanities 7 (1): 2017. 10.3390/h7010001.

Laudun, John. 2020. The Clown Legend Cascade of 2016. In Folklore and Social Media, edited by Andrew Peck and Trevor J. Blank, 188–208. University Press of Colorado. 10.2703/j.ctv19fvx6q.14.

Sep 21. It’s Folklore All the Way Down.

Jakobson, Roman, and Petr Bogatyrev. 1971. On the Boundary Between Studies of Folklore and Literature. In Readings in Russian Poetics: Formalist and Structuralist Views, 91–93. Edited by Ladislav Matejka, and Krystyna Pomorska.

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

Sep 28. Case Studies.

Ellis, Bill. 2015. What Bronies See When They Brohoof: Queering Animation on the Dark and Evil Internet. Journal of American Folklore 128/509: 298-314. muse.jhu.edu/article/589182.

Bock, Sheila. 2017. “Ku Klux Kasserole and Strange Fruit Pies: A Shouting Match at the Border in Cyberspace.” Journal of American Folklore 130 (516): 142-165. muse.jhu.edu/article/657563.

Klein, C, P Clutton, and AG Dunn. 2019. Pathways to Conspiracy: The Social and Linguistic Precursors of Involvement in Reddit’s Conspiracy Theory Forum. PLoS One 14 (11): e0225098.

Oct 5. More Case Studies.

Blank, Trevor. 2015. “Faux Your Entertainment: Amazon.com Product Reviews as a Locus of Digital Performance.” Journal of American Folklore 128 (509): 286–97. https://doi.org/10.5406/jamerfolk.128.509.0286.

Oct 12. Mid-Term Assignment: research proposal that includes 100-200 words of proposal; 100-200 word description of data collected so far or plans for data collection; and 3-5 scientific/scholarly publications upon which you might draw for insight into your materials.

Oct 19. TBD. Both this week and next we will read materials that are drawn from convergences in your research projects. (Don’t worry: we will engage in an in-class activity that will help to determine what these are.)

Oct 26. See above.

Nov 2. Course Project 1. Basic corpus of materials due.

D’Ignazio, Catherine, & Klein, Lauren. 2020. The Numbers Don’t Speak for Themselves. In Data Feminism. Retrieved from https://data-feminism.mitpress.mit.edu/pub/czq9dfs5.

Nov 9. Course Project 2. Annotated bibliography of scholarly sources due.

Nov 16. Course Project 3. Draft body paragraphs due.

Nov 30. Course Project 4. First draft of analytical essay due.

Dec 7. Course Project 5. Final draft of essay due.


A lot of collections of “American folklore” have been published over the years, each with its own assumptions about both “America” and “folklore” as well as what the purpose of such a collection should be. Typical of one kind of collection are those by Charles Skinner, whose Myths and Legends of Our Own Land reaches 9 volumes. A more synthetic, and more contemporary, reference can be found in the American Folklore: An Encyclopedia, edited by Jan Brunvand, a copy of which is available in the university library (Reference GR101.A54). While dated by contemporary scholarly perspectives, the collection of essays in Don Yoder’s American Folklife (GR105.A6) is still quite useful, and foundational in many ways.

In addition to reference works focused on the topic of American folklore, there are a myriad of other specialist reference works, many of which are available either in electronic formats or in the library for your use. Consider the following titles: The Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Folklore, Encyclopedia of Asian American Folklore and Folklife, the Encyclopedia of Life Writing, The Greenwood Encyclopedia of World Folklore and Folklife are all the kinds of entry-level texts, being encyclopedias, that will be familiar to your freshman/sophomore self but will also get your junior/senior/graduate self on the road to more serious and substantial work. That is, in addition to a synthesis/summary of a topic from a particular perspective, most scholarly encyclopedias also offer a small number of suggested readings. Please follow through on those readings the way you would a link on a web page.

Possible Readings

Perceptive readers have, no doubt, noted to themselves that there appears to be a hole in the middle of the agenda/schedule/whatever: a whole series of class periods with no topic nor readering assigned. That gap is assignments is meant as an opening for the class, as a group, and me, as an instructor responding to the nature of that group, to decide where our interests lie. Online vernacular cultures cover a wide gamut of forms and the theory required to understand and analyze them is, if anything, even wider, including as it does work in anthropology, cognitive science, data science, folklore studies, information science, linguistics, and network science to name just a few of the fields active in this area (and naming them alphabetically at that).

What follows below is something of a list of the possible things we might read.

Online Folklore / Vernacular Expression

Fine, Gary Alan and Bill Ellis. 2010. The Global Grapevine: Why Rumors of Terrorism, Immigration, and Trade Matter. Oxford University Press. DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199736317.001.0001.

The chapter on conspiracy theories in Ellis and Fine 2010 seems almost precognizant of the current moment.

Peck, Andrew, and Trevor J. Blank, eds. 2020. Folklore and Social Media. University Press of Colorado. http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctv19fvx6q.

Peck and Blank 2020 is composed of 12 chapters, each of which is on a different topic in online vernacular culture. For those interested, two of those essays are computationally-driven, the one on “Bridges, Sex Slaves, Tweets, and Guns: A Multi-Domain Model of Conspiracy Theory” by Tim Tangherlini, Vwani Roychowdhury and Peter M. Broadwell and the one on “The Clown Legend Cascade of 2016” by yours truly. The chapter on “Overt and Covert Aspects of Virtual Play” by Bill Ellis pairs really well with a presentation by the at-the-time CEO of Cambridge Analytica.


Shannon, Claud and Warren Weaver. 1949. The Mathematical Theory of Communication. University of Illinois Press.

Shannon and Weaver 1949 is the foundational mathematical treatment of information.

Gleick, James. 2011. The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood. Vintage Books.


Golub, Benjamin, and Matthew Jackson. 2012. How Homophily Affects the Speed of Learning and Best-Response Dynamics. Quarterly Journal of Economics 127 (3): 1287–1338.

Ferguson, Niall. 2017. The Square and the Tower: Networks and Power, from the Freemasons to Facebook. Penguin Books.

Ferguson is a bit out of his depth, and the book’s argument doesn’t really hold together – but, hey, when you’re Niall Ferguson, you don’t need cogent arguments any more – but the first few chapters are useful condensations, by a non-network scientist, of developments in network studies.

Cultural Analytics

Computational approaches to humanities topics and objects go by a number of different names for various historical, political, and weird reasons. The usual umbrella term is digital humanities, and if you are interested you might start there. Cultural analytics, sometimes also culture analytics (because feudalism is still rampant), is a subset of digital humanities focused on computational analyses, some of which seek to re-create conventional or traditional humanities studies but many of which seek to ask new kinds of questions. You may also find work with computational added in front of a well-established domain: e.g., computational folkloristics, computational literary studies, computational social sciences. In linguistics, a lot of this work has been pioneered within corpus linguistics and/or corpus stylistics – the latter is particularly worth exploring because a lot of interesting experiments have occurred under its aegis.

For those curious to survey what has been done and what is being done, there is no better place to start than with the journals:


Traditional: Underwood, Jockers,

Online and pedagogical: https://melaniewalsh.github.io/Intro-Cultural-Analytics/welcome.html