Of Types, Motifs, Tropes

For our next class, we are going to go a-hunting, tale-type hunting. I am going to bring an assortment of texts, some folktales and some not, that I will give you to track down. Your means of determining the nature of the texts will be the Tale-Type Index and the Motif Index. You will, I think, fairly quickly figure out how to use those two instruments to your best advantage.

It might also be a good moment to think about the nature of such cataloging efforts. One place to begin, as a kind of quick review of the origins and development of the indices is the Wikipedia entry on the Aarne–Thompson classification systems. (There is a separate entry on motif worth reading.) Once there, you will see a reference to a rather recent, in terms of the indices themselves, consideration by Alan Dundes’ “The Motif-Index and the Tale Type Index: A Critique”. (There is also Hans-Jörg Uther’s assessment in “Classifying Folktales”.)

The two indices work together to catalogue those tales within their pages by their constiuent parts, motifs. As a number of observers have remarked, this is no small matter and has lead some to regard the entire enterprise as hopeless, given the seemingly endless variability of the human imagination.

And yet, as seemingly old-fashioned as the tale-type and motif indices would seem to be, we have re-created them in TV Tropes. And so, it would seem, some of you have already played a drinking game to tale types. Congratulations.

The Perils of “Folklore”

“That’s All Folks!” is a piece from a 1997 issue of Lingua Franca, for those who remember it fondly, about the perils of the name of “folklore”. The name of the field was enjoying a moment, in a larger cycle of such moments, of being debated. Should we switch to folkloristics to sound more, well, ic-ky, like linguistics or physics, or to ethnology to sound more like all the ologies (biology, psychology, sociology, etc.). I’m shortly headed to UCLA to join the Culture Analytics program, so I thought it was worth remembering that this nominal nom-nom, as the kids might say, has a history.

Folklore Studies and “Winged Words”

[Göttingen Centre for Digital Humanities is hosting a hackathon][] focused on automatic detection of various kinds of text re-use. As you might imagine, text re-use comes in a wide variety of forms: “Text re-use can take the form of an allusion, a paraphrase or even a verbatim quotation, and occurs when one author borrows or re-uses text from an earlier or contemporary author.” Most of these re-uses are *intentional*. Scholars of text re-use also have a category of *unintentional* re-use, which, from a folklorist’s point of view, seems fairly familiar: “Unintentional text re-use can be understood as an idiom or a winged word, whose origin is unknown and that has become part of common usage.” Winged words seems a particular form of traditionalizing, since they are “words which, first uttered or written in a specific literary context, have since passed into common usage to express a general idea—sometimes to the extent that those using them are unaware of their origin as quotations” (okay, [Wikipedia][]).

Interestingly, there doesn’t seem to be any interest in, or awareness of, words or phrases that are uttered within the vernacular domain, become widespread in usage, and achieve stickiness purely that way, or even get captured into a literary text. There is, however, a lovely illustration by Marco Büchler that graphs out the various possible kinds of text re-use:

Graph by Marco Büchler

Graph by Marco Büchler

[Göttingen Centre for Digital Humanities is hosting a hackathon]: http://etrap.gcdh.de/?p=669
[Wikipedia]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winged_word

The American Room

Paul Ford’s [“The American Room”][] (link is to Medium) should have been written by a folklorist, or, rather, it’s the product of the kind of careful observation that, I think (I hope), is the purview of folklorists. That is, when folklorists are at their best, they are simply paying attention, compiling an inventory of acts and artifacts, in order to allow us, potentially, insight into both the syntax and vocabulary of how others construct their world(s).

In brief, Ford’s essay begins with a (re)construction of the American room as glimpsed through Youtube videos — he notes at one point that he has friends who collect such videos (800 so far) and that he has watched 400 of them. It’s a familiar space, one which I have found myself considering through the windows of Reddit image posts or unboxing galleries on tech websites. The dimensions are familiar to anyone who has lived in — owned or rented — a tract home or apartment built in the last thirty years: white walls, carpets in an indeterminate range from beige to tan, eight foot ceilings, perhaps a sliding glass door giving onto a balcony or backyard. Ford notes two things about these rooms: their difference from other spaces, spaces of desire like those found on Pinterest or on webcams of sex workers, and how the space is now so conventional as to be available for faking or parody, e.g. “lonelygirl” of 2006 or Jimmy Kimmel’s fake twerking video.

I am reminded of a conversation with Henry Glassie twenty some-odd years ago. It was after the semester he taught his “American Home” course, and we were discussing the range of projects students had submitted. Glassie recalled that one student had, not knowing what else to do, described the living room of a couple, and then, sensing something was important in the collection of books that were tucked into a small bookcase along one way, inventoried the case’s contents. Each and every book. That list of titles, Glassie observed, really did tell its own story.

Who is [Paul Ford][]? He is a writer and programmer who is also a terrific observer of the American scene. A previous essay of his, [“It Is Impossible to Believe How Mindblowing These Amazing New Jobs Are”][jobs], is a list of job advertisements that were written to mock the contemporary era’s love of *social-data-media*. (You have to say it, and think it, as one word.) In doing so, he also effectively mimics the quackery that takes place on the educational side of the equation to take advantage of the current moment’s obsession. Like, cinema, no image, no media, no data arts! (Yeah, throw *arts* after it, it’s like adding *-lytics*: it makes everything better.)

On that note, I leave you with this:

Big Data!

Big Data!

[“The American Room”]: https://medium.com/message/the-american-room-3fce9b2b98c5
[Paul Ford]: https://medium.com/@ftrain
[jobs]: https://medium.com/message/it-is-impossible-to-believe-how-mindblowing-these-amazing-new-jobs-are-abf5f3fb39e9

Towards an Expanded Disciplinary History

Jonathan Goodwin and I had the chance to team up again at the [Texas Digital Humanities Conference][txdhc]. While our work began with the chronological topic models built last year, Goodwin has recently been experimenting with [co-citational network graphs][jg] based on data drawn from the Web of Science. (We had to depend upon the Web of Science data because the citational data from JSTOR is currently unavailable.)

While we contemplate how to integrate the co-citational data with the topic models, I found myself recalling that the American Folklore Society also has a collection of abstracts submitted for the annual meetings for at least the last few years. I wondered if that material was available through [Open Folklore][]. It isn’t, but the [program brochures and books][bb] produced for AFS annual meetings from 1949 are.

[txdhc]: http://txdhc.org/
[jg]: http://www.jgoodwin.net/folklore-network/slider/highlight.html
[Open Folklore]: http://openfolklore.org/
[bb]: https://scholarworks.iu.edu/dspace/handle/2022/13071

TEI for Folklore

As Elisa walked me through her TEI-encoded documents, and showed me the XSLT she uses to transform the TEI encoding into network files, I realized that I needed to start working on my own use of TEI. A quick search *ye olde web* for “TEI folklore” turned up … not much.

Two things occur to me: First, this represents an opportunity to be involved in getting TEI up and running in folklore studies, and, second, I need to start collecting useful links:

* So far, it looks like [oral history][] is leading the way.
* The [MLA][] recently received a grant from the NEH to “to begin development of Humanities Commons Open Repository Exchange, or Humanities CORE. Humanities CORE will connect a library-quality repository for sharing, discovering, retrieving, and archiving digital work with Humanities Commons, a developing platform for collaboration among scholarly societies and other humanities organizations.”
* There are [seminars][] on TEI encoding.

**Please note**: if you know of already extant implementations of TEI in folklore studies, please let me know! I don’t want to re-invent the wheel. Drop me a note, if you can, and I’ll add links here, with credits for contributors. (Or we can do this somewhere else, if you like. G+?)

[oral history]: http://www.cdlib.org/groups/stwg/OH_BPG.html
[MLA]: http://news.commons.mla.org/2014/03/27/grant-awarded-for-the-development-of-humanities-core/
[seminars]: http://www.wwp.brown.edu/outreach/seminars/