Is the lecture dead?

[Is the lecture dead?][] asks _The Atlantic_. The answer is no, but perhaps the penchant journalists have for writing needlessly provocative headlines should be. What makes it worse is the clichés to which the lecture, apparently, must be subjected:

> A great lecturer’s benefit to learners extends far beyond preparing for an exam, earning a good grade, or attaining some form of professional certification. The great lecture opens learners’ eyes to new questions, connections, and perspectives that they have not considered before, illuminating new possibilities for how to work and live.

Or, worse, in my view — but perhaps better because it becomes grist for the mill:

> A great lecturer tells a story.

To be fair, and to have more context for later, here is that paragraph in its entirety:

> A great lecturer tells a story. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It poses problems that it proceeds to address, and it keeps learners in suspense, waiting to see how they can be worked out. Great lecturers often share responsibility for solving these problems with learners, working with them in real time to find a solution. Learners are not merely sitting and passively listening. Far from it, they are challenged and engaged, actively thinking and imagining right along with the lecturer as both struggle toward new insights.

That’s right, kids. Don’t forget that stories have beginnings, middles, and ends. And that they are moral, or at least heuristic, in nature. *Ugh.*

[Is the lecture dead?]:

The Triad

Yung-Hsing Wu and I have an ongoing dialogue about the nature of academic work. I guess *academic* is as good an adjective for it as any, and has a bit more fit here for reasons discussed below, but all *academic* does is to locate work which might just as well be described as *scholarly* work, *scientific* work, or *intellectual* work.

*Academic* works well here because our conversations are so often in relation to our students, both undergraduate and graduate. Say what you will about apprentices, but as someone who has been to gym meets for girls early in their training, I can assure you that nothing reveals the long road to mastery than someone who is just setting out. The fact of the matter is that thinking well and communicating your thoughts effectively are hard and they take time just to claim competence, let alone mastery. (That is, I ain’t making any claims for myself beyond baseline competence. Nah ah. Not me.)

We regularly re-discover just how hard some little bit of analysis or communication is when we find a student or group of students or a class of students, just misses the grab for the next ring and lands with the full force of a metaphorical flop on the gym mat of this conceit.

One thing we have noticed is that this business of thinking has several levels, and so lessons hard won at one level — about organization of materials in both research and communication — are not necessarily applied at the next level. That is, we are often surprised to see advanced students make the same kinds of mistakes as beginning less advanced writers as the scope of a task increases.

This probably comes as no surprise to faculty who regularly advise students on dissertations. Perhaps the disjuncture between the dissertation and previous projects is more obvious than we realize. The freshman essay has something of an obvious path to the term paper, and the term paper would seem to prepare many graduate students for the seminar paper, but this path somehow doubles back on itself when it comes time to the master’s thesis or the dissertation. (Making the move from seminar paper to research article is for another time, and something Yung-Hsing has thought about more than I.)

And so writers you know are also scolding their freshman in the morning about the lack of organization, about the lack of a clearcut argument, about the paucity of evidence in their 2000 or 3000-word essays are later in the afternoon committing the same errors in their 50,000 or 75-000 word manuscripts. It’s an interesting phenomenon to observe.

But we have, over the course of our conversations also noticed something else that we find curious and worth thinking a bit more about, and that is that there are probably three modes, or three distinct kinds of action, in which thinkers regularly engage and being able to do all three of them is really the key to success: research, analyze, communicate.



There is a couple of reasons we find this model, or description, of academic work compelling — and we are going to stick with *academic* for the time being because that is where we are located and it is also the location to which are graduate students aspire.

First, we think it successfully captures a division of labor which most academics would recognize. Most of us recognize that there is a distinction in our time between gathering data and/or information and then thinking about what you have gathered. Sometimes, especially when you are a literary scholar working closely with a small number of texts, the dynamic can be so tightly coupled that we might be hard pressed to distinguish the two activities, but the difference between reading a passage and then trying to break that passage up into something else beside what it is is present in the work itself.

We also think, and this is where the most recent conversation really began, that the division captures the strengths and weaknesses of many scholars, or certain of their texts, that we already know. Both of us have had students, known colleagues, or read the work of others that seemed to us to reveal that a particular individual had an aptitude or affinity for one activity over the others. There is the student who is an incredibly good researcher but is unwilling, or unable, to see the larger patterns that all the data she has gathered might actually possess — just the other day, in fact, a colleague and I were discussing the work of a well-regarded scholar in our field, whom we both admire, who is an encyclopedist by nature: his work offers only the barest of syntheses and the prose in which he conveys his elaborate, and awe-inspiring, organization of a difficult and diffuse topic, is labored at best.

There is, too, the scholar who is a brilliant analyst, but the data upon which he or she draws is incredibly thin. And, perhaps it goes without saying, the brilliant analyst whose strength does not lie in research is also an effective communicator.

*Communication* is, we think, one place where we are struck by the number of avenues, or fora, available to researchers and analysts. This fact is perhaps made more concrete for us by dint of our being located at a public university which weights, at least ostensibly, teaching and publishing equally. What this means in practice is that each faculty member has some freedom to pursue the fora in which they are most comfortable to communicate. For some, their best work lies in their teaching. They publish a few things, and that is good enough. For some, their best work lies in their writing, and they muddle through teaching as best they can. The teachers among us do their best thinking outloud, in the presence of others, and communicate best orally where sometimes you can allow multiple ideas to hang in their simultaneously before drawing a conclusion. The writers among us do their best thinking withdrawn from the world or in the company of a select few.

The writers who struggle least with writing think in words, but there are other kinds of thinkers — those who think in diagrams, those who think in three-dimensional spaces, those who think in terms of parallel patterns and resonances, like musical chords. Sometimes those thinkers end up in professions where they can apply those ideas in a very practicable way, but there are other thinkers who end up a bit out of place: they are spatial thinkers who are so in love with words that they pursue advanced research in literature or linguistics despite the number of warnings, both internal and external, that the path will not be an easy one.

The fact is we want all those thinkers among us, but finding an institutional home is harder than it looks, if only because we are still encased within bureaucratic schema from a previous era that felt things worked best when labor was divided and not pooled. How such a pool might work out for the academy is not something we have seen discussed anywhere, and we are curious to know if anyone has encountered either the idea or the practice in a way that they found compelling.

Whiteboard Animations

My final lecture today, inspired in part by the RSA animations and in part by the fact that my so-called “SMART” classroom has no projector in it, was accompanied by a somewhat involved whiteboard illustration. Mind, nothing as involved as this:

Still, I quite like the format — Jason Jackson are you out there? — and I found myself looking at Prezi, but what I really want is an application that I can use that will let me specify a print document output as well as video document output so that I can offer viewers of such presentations a printed poster of the talk they have just watched.

Seminar in Folklore Theory

Every other year I teach a seminar at UL Lafayette which introduces students to the history of folklore studies and to the various theories that have peopled the domain. This spring it looks like Moodle, the university’s LMS (Learning Management System) has failed the course, and so I am going to be using this post as a place to collect the links that usually. Perhaps, in the future, the university will go with an open source solution which has a lot of support from major research universites, and [it works]( *Thanks, [Jason Baird Jackson](, for catching that!*

Here is the [syllabus for the course]( — [Scribd]( is a Youtube for documents.

The syllabus is also available as part of a larger set of documents that I am folding into this one post below:

## Syllabus

### Course

English 632-001, Spring 2010
MW 14:30 – 15:45PM, HLG 321

### Instructor

John Laudun
HLG 356, 482-5493,
Mondays and Wednesdays, 9:00 – 12:00

### Course Description

This course is a survey of key concepts, problems, and perspectives in folklore theory and method, focusing on key moments, ideas, and texts in the evolution of folklore studies in order to acquire a “feel” for the foundations of the discipline. For the purposes of this course, the field is conceived fairly broadly and includes work done in adjacent fields like anthropology, sociology, psychology, linguistics, and literary studies. As much as it is possible, the readings are chronological, allowing us to follow the interactive dimensions of intellectual history, wherein one theory arises as a response to (extension of, corrective of, or refutation of) another theory. Mileage in such a chronology must vary, however, as some texts (usually those that awaited translation) are considered in the context of those texts they most influenced.

The purpose of any proseminar is to acquaint students with the core texts or theories of a particular field of inquiry. Folklore’s diverse beginnings and many interrelations make it particularly difficult to gather all such materials into a semester of study. The aim of this course, then, is to familiarize you with those texts, thinkers, and ideas that seem central in light of recent developments in the discipline and to acquaint you with other texts, thinkers, and ideas so that you may begin to see these complex webs for yourself. A proseminar assumes you have an interest in a field or discipline as a profession, not necessarily as a professional practicing within the field, but as someone interested in the history and nature of the practices of the field as it has developed over time and through various institutions. We will, then, spend the semester reading from folklore’s intellectual history and discussing the implications (those) ideas have for our understanding and uses of folklore.

Speaking of the field, we will not in this course address directly, in the sense of how-to, the topic of fieldwork, though we will on a regular occasion be concerned with methodology as it is implicated in various theories. That does not lessen the importance of fieldwork, and I encourage, but do not require, you to do some kind of fieldwork. Extended fieldwork, in the sense of lasting beyond the first interview, is an experience that no one with an interest in the field should be without. A more extensive treatment of fieldwork theories and methods is to be found in the folklore fieldwork course.

Finally, there are some methods and skills which any competent “knowledge worker” — more on the use of this term during the semester — should have in this day and age. Some of them have long been within the purview of folklore studies Specifically, folklorists have always, in some ways, engaged the collection and sorting of data that today’s databases make, in many ways, trivial. We will talk about this and other matters throughout the semester, but you should also feel free to bring such topics and concerns up as part of our ongoing conversation.

The goal of this course is to familiarize you with an intellectual history, and in some ways landscape, of a particular discipline, folklore studies, in order for you to begin to map out where your own interests lie. I hope that the materials we cover, and their attendant bibliographies and references, will begin to suggest possibilities for you, but there are always more books and journals than can be scribbled down here. Your real job is to go out and find that territory which interests you.

*Please note that in much of what follows below that what is delineated is simply a framework for a much more interesting dialogue that must take place between the seminar’s leader and the rest of the participants. During the first two weeks of the course, we will need to assess adjustments that need to be made.

### Course Requirements

In addition to the obvious requirement that everyone come to class with the reading done, with at least two to three questions or comments prepared, and the willingness to engage in a discussion, I will ask each of you to do several writing projects and a presentation. Some assignments are genres with which you are already familiar or with which you will shortly become familiar. Two of the assignments are common modes or elements in folklore study at which it will profit you to practice.

* Presentation (15%). This is a seminar. Everyone is responsible for its success, not just the instructor. As a seminar participant, each of you will be responsible for leading the class through one of the assigned set of readings for a given day.
* Journal Profile (15%). In parallel with books, the record of any discipline is to be found in its journals. They are also the places where young scholars have their best opportunity to see their ideas in print. I encourage all graduate students to join their respective disciplinary organizations, especially while student rates apply, but I also require that participants in this seminar acquaint themselves with the journals available to them as resources and outlets for their work. Over the course of the semester you will profile two journals, one folklore and one other.
* Book Review (10%). You will write one book review, following the JAF format, on a text of your choosing. Please see me if you are having any difficulty in deciding upon a book. (Book reviews are also a great way to get published.) Both the reviews and the profiles above will be compiled into a seminar publication.
* Literature Review (35%). Because of the nature of this course, I forego the most familiar of all course assignment genres, the seminar paper, and instead ask you to imagine a project, of a size and scope to be decided, and to sketch out what resources you will need. 10-15 pages.
* Participation (25%). A full quarter of your grade is based on that ever-slippery notion of “participation.” I leave it up to you to concretize it in a way that manifests the sublimity of your wit, the substance of your thought, and the grace of your presence. Nota bene: I take participation very seriously in all my classes, but most especially in seminars. (See “Course Organization” below for possibilities.)

### Course Texts

#### Required

Please only purchase the first book on the list below before coming to class for the first time.

* Bauman, Richard and Charles Briggs. 2003. _Voices of Modernity: Language Ideologies and the Politics of Inequality_. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
* Dégh, Linda. 1969. _Folktales and Society: Story-Telling in a Hungarian Peasant Community_. Tr. Emily Schossberger. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
* Lord, Albert. 1960. _The Singer of Tales_. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
* Propp, Vladimir. 1968. _Morphology of the Folktale_. Tr. Laurence Scott. Austin: University of Texas Press.

#### Recommended Surveys, Anthologies, & Classic Texts

* Bauman, Richard (ed). 1992. _Folklore, Cultural Performances, and Popular Entertainments: A Communications-Centered Handbook_. New York: Oxford University Press.
* Bronner, Simon. 1986. _American Folklore Studies: An Intellectual History_. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas.
* Brunvand, Jan Harold (ed). 1996. _American Folklore: An Encyclopedia_. Ed.. New York: Garland.
* Dorson, Richard (ed). 1972. _Folklore and Folklife: An Introduction_. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
* Feintuch, Burt (ed). 1995. _Common Ground: Keywords for the Study of Expressive Culture_. Special issue of Journal of American Folklore 108(430).
* Lodge, David (ed). 1988. _Modern Criticism and Theory: A Reader_. New York: Longman.
* Toelken, Barre. 1979. _The Dynamics of Folklore_. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Zumwalt, Rosemary Lévy. 1988. _American Folklore Scholarship: A Dialogue of Dissent_. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

#### Recommended Case Studies

* Ancelet, Barry Jean. 1994. _Cajun and Creole Folktales: The French Oral Tradition of South Louisiana_. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi.
* Basso, Keith. 1979. _Portraits of “The Whiteman”: Linguistic Play and Cultural Symbols among the Western Apache_. New York: Cambridge University Press.
* Glassie, Henry. 1982. _Passing the Time in Ballymenone: Culture and History of an Ulster Community_. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

## Apprenticing to a Discipline #

The contents of this list is something you will want to aim to be able to do by the time you take your comprehensive exams. You may not have the best of grasps on everything included here, but you have committed yourself to deepening your understanding as you write your dissertation.

* You know at least one major journal, if not the flagship journal, in the field, and you know and understand the wider constellation of journals that make up the field — i.e., you know the major and minor journals or the different dimensions the journals pursue.
* You have read the last five years of a/the major journal in the field.
* You can name a dozen books off the top of your head that “everybody knows.”
* You can name, again off the top of your head, another dozen important or significant books that take the field in directions you would like to pursue.
* You can cast some sort of narrative about how the field arose and/or where it has been.
* You care where the field is going and/or you can narrate places you would like to take the field.

## Schedule

Week 1 (January 13). *Seminar introduction*.

Week 2 (January 20). *”The Folktale Flies.”*

Week 3 (January 25 & 27). *Other Voices, Other Rooms*. Read Bauman and Briggs 1-162.

Week 4 (February 1 & 3). *More Voices, More Rooms*. Read Bauman and Briggs 163-321.

Week 5 (February 8 & 10).

No Week (February 15 & 17). **No class due to Mardi Gras holiday.**

Week 6 (February 22 & 24). *Voice, Rooms, Yada Yada Yada*. Read Bauman and Briggs.

Week 7 (March 1 & 3). *The American Century, Part I: Boas and His Contemporaries*.

Crane, T. F. 1888. The Diffusion of Popular Tales. *Journal of American Folklore* 1(1): 8-15.

Boas, Franz. 1888. On Certain Songs and Dances of the Kwakiutl of British Columbia. *Journal of American Folklore* 1(1): 49-64.

Fortier, Alcee. 1888. Customs and Superstitions in Louisiana. *Journal of American Folklore* 1(2): 136-140.

Fortier, Alcee. 1888. Louisianian Nursery-Tales. *Journal of American Folklore* 1(2): 140-145.

Mason, Otis. 1891. The Natural History of Folk-Lore. *Journal of American Folklore* 4(13): 97-105.

Lomax, John. 1915. Some Types of American Folk-Song. *Journal of American Folklore* 28(107): 1-17.

Week 8 (March 8 & 10). *The American Century, Part II: The Two Paths*.

Week 9 (March 15 & 17).

Week 10 (March 22 & 24). *Mid-Century Revisions and Refinements*.

No Week (March 29 & 31). **No class due to Easter Break holiday.**

*The Singer of Tales*. Read the first part.

Week 11 (April 5 & 7). *The Emergence of Performance*.

Week 12 (April 12 & 14). *Portraits of the Whiteman*.

Week 13 (April 19 & 21). *Things Every Folklorist Knows*.

Week 14 (April 26 & 28). *Folklore’s Futures.*

## Journals

Because of the interdisciplinary nature of folklore study, and often the interstitial housing of folklorists within the academy, there are a number of journals that are of interest to folklorists. The list below can only be suggestive:

### Folklore Journals/Periodicals ##

* _Folklore Fellows Communications_
* _Journal of American Folklore_
* _Journal of Folklore Research_ (formerly_Journal of the Folklore Institute_)
* _Louisiana Folklore Miscellany_*
* _Southern Folklore_ (was _Southern Folklore Quarterly_)
* _Western Folklore_

### Anthropology, Cognitive Science, Linguistics, Psychology, Semiotics ##

* American Anthropologist
* American Ethnologist
* Annual Review of Anthropology
* Critical Quarterly
* Cultural Anthropology
* Discourse Processes
* Genre
* Journal of American Culture
* Journal of American Ethnic History
* Journal of Anthropological Research
* Journal of Linguistic Anthropology
* Journal of Psycholinguistics
* Language in Society
* Oral Tradition
* Pragmatics
* Semiotica
* Text
* Text and Performance Quarterly

### Other Journals of Interest

* African American Review
* American Literary History
* Contemporary Literature
* Discourse
* Modern Fiction Studies
* Narrative
* New Literary History
* Novel
* Public Culture
* Representations
* Social Text

`*` There are a number of state and regional folklore journals. For readers specifically interested in Louisiana matters, I also recommend the adjacent historical journal _Louisiana History_.

Interview Tips

*Collected below are a series of notes and/or prompts to asking better questions while doing documentary/ethnographic research. It assumes the interviewer has at least a notepad in hand as basic recording technology. For more information on what technology to use when, see [this page — no link yet](*

An interview is not a dialogue. The whole point of the interview is to get the narrator to tell her story. Limit your own remarks to a few pleasantries to break the ice, then brief questions to guide her along. It is not necessary to give her the details of your great-grandmother’s life growing up in Abbeville in order to get her to tell you about her grandfather’s trip to Texas. Just say, “I understand your grandfather went to Texas during the oil boom. What did he tell you about his time there?”

Ask questions that require more of an answer than “yes” or “no.” Start with “why,” “how,” “where,” “what kind of. . .” instead of “Was Henry Miller a good boss?” ask “What did the drilling crew say about Henry Miller?”

Ask one question at a time. Sometimes interviewers ask a series of questions all at once. Probably the narrator will answer only the first or last one. You will catch this kind of questioning when you listen through the tape after the session, and you can avoid it the next time.

Ask brief questions. We all know the irrepressible speech-maker who, when questions are called for at the end of a lecture, gets up and asks five- minute questions. It is unlikely that the narrator is so dull that it takes more than a sentence or two for her to understand the question.

Start with questions that are not controversial; save the delicate questions, if there are any, until you have become better acquainted. A good place to begin is with the narrator’s youth and background.

Don’t let periods of silence fluster you. Give your narrator a chance to think of what she wants to add before you hustle her along with the next question. Relax, write a few words on your notepad. The sure sign of a beginning interviewer is a tape where every brief pause signals the next question

Don’t worry if your questions are not as beautifully phrased as you would like them to be for posterity. A few fumbled questions will help put your narrator at ease as she realizes that you are not perfect and she need not worry if she isn’t either. It is not necessary to practice fumbling a few questions; most of us are nervous enough to do that naturally.

Don’t interrupt a good story because you have thought of a question, or because your narrator is straying from the planned outline. If the information is pertinent, let her go on, but jot down your questions on your notepad so you will remember to ask it later.

If your narrator does stray into subjects that are not pertinent (the most common problems are to follow some family member’s children or to get into a series of family medical problems), try to pull her back as quickly as possible. “Before we move on, I’d like to find out how the closing of the mine in 1935 affected your family’s finances. Do you remember that?”

It is often hard for a narrator to describe people. An easy way to begin is to ask her to describe the person’s appearance. From there, the narrator is more likely to move into character description.

Try to establish at every important point in the story where the narrator was or what her role was in this event, in order to indicate how much is eye-witness information and how much based on reports of others. “Where were you at the time of the mine disaster?” “Did you talk to any of the survivors later?” Work around these questions carefully, so that you will not appear to be doubting the accuracy of the narrator’s account.

Do not challenge accounts you think might be inaccurate. Instead, try to develop as much information as possible that can be used by later researchers in establishing what probably happened. Your narrator may be telling you quite accurately what she saw. As Walter Lord explained when describing his interviews with survivors of the Titanic, “Every lady I interviewed had left the sinking ship in the last lifeboat. As I later found out from studying the placement of the lifeboats, no group of lifeboats was in view of another and each lady probably was in the last lifeboat she could see leaving the ship.”

Try to avoid “off the record” information–the times when your narrator asks you to turn off the recorder while she tells you a good story. Ask her to let you record the whole things and promise that you will erase that portion if she asks you to after further consideration. You may have to erase it later, or she may not tell you the story at all, but once you allow “off the record” stories, she may continue with more and more, and you will end up with almost no recorded interview at all. “Off the record” information is only useful if you yourself are researching a subject and this is the only way you can get the information. It has no value if your purpose is to collect information for later use by other researchers.

Don’t switch the recorder off and on. It is much better to waste a little tape on irrelevant material than to call attention to the tape recorder by a constant on-off operation. Of course you can turn off the recorder if the telephone rings or if someone interrupts your session.

Interviews, for beginning interviewers, usually work out better if there is no one present except the narrator and the interviewer. Sometimes two or more narrators can be successfully recorded, but usually each one of them would have been better alone.

End the interview at a reasonable time. An hour and a half is probably the maximum. First, you must protect your narrator against over-fatigue; second, you will be tired even if she isn’t. Some narrators tell you very frankly if they are tired, or their spouses will. Otherwise, you must plead fatigue, another appointment, or no more tape.

Don’t use the interview to show off your knowledge, vocabulary, charm, or other abilities. Good interviewers do not shine; only their interviews do.