Logo and Title

Course Logistics

Meetings: 11:00–11:50 MW(F), HLG 321
Instructor: Pr. John Laudun, HLG 356, MW 9:00–11:00 and by appointment.

Course Description

For better or worse, folklore in Louisiana has been and is subject to a great deal of attention by scholars and citizens, tourists and natives. This course encourages students to take a closer look for themselves not only at the folklore that surrounds and shapes each of us but also at the various ways it has been and is currently being represented. Taking a closer look requires students to go out and observe and document for themselves various aspects of Louisiana folklife and to participate in the expansion of the archeological/historical record of the region.

Course Objective

The goal of this course is for each student to produce one archive-quality piece of documentation of a traditional practice that occurs in Louisiana, or, in the case of historical practices, that used to occur in the region. Archive quality will be discussed in some detail in the course, but in this initial moment it includes, in addition to the item itself, which can be a text or an artifact, all appropriate and necessary documentation. e complete record will be ready to be uploaded into a digital archive by the end of the semester.

Course Texts & Materials

The primary texts for this course are both the book(s) listed below as well as a number of PDFs. (Please note: PDFs must be printed out – the most recommended option because paper is rugged and lightweight – or available on a large tablet – a 8-inch screen or larger – or laptop. Consulting a PDF on a smart phone is not an option. Not having the relevant text in class on the day it is to be discussed results in a lowered participation grade. Please budget/plan appropriately.)

Lindahl, Carl, Maida Owens, and C. Renée Harvison (ed). 1997. Swapping Stories: Folktales from Louisiana. University Press of Mississippi. Amazon.

Under considerations because of what just happened: Barry, John. 1998. Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How it Changed America. Simon & Schuster.

Other course expenses may or may not include admission fees to area folklife parks and/or supplies for recording and producing documentation projects. Most modern devices are sufficiently general purpose in nature to provide the ability to record audio, video, or images of sufficient quality for our purposes, but it will require proficiency and deliberation on your part to do so. If you currently do not possess that proficiency, please make sure to set aside the time to acquire it—and do be sure that you comfortable establishing your own needs and shepherding your education according to your resources. (This assumption of your competence, and interest in developing, your own education is a requirement of this course.)

The books listed below offer a general background and some specific treatments of topics central to the study of south Louisiana’s folk cultures. ey operate in the background, with suggested readings timed to make your understanding of particular lectures, discussions, or activities more profound and complete.

Ancelet, Pitre, Edwards. 1986. Cajun Country. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi. Brasseaux, Carl. 2005. French, Cajun, Creole, Houma: A Primer On Francophone Louisiana. Louisiana State University Press.

Please note that in addition to the texts above, I am also experimenting this semester with the posting of a small collection of documentary films on our course’s Moodle site. Some viewings will be required in advance of a particular class, so that we may focus our discussion in the wake of the viewing. Other viewings will operate as background material for our discussions, but do be aware that they will be on the exams. In all cases, these documentaries are copyrighted materials that we are allowed to use in educational contexts thanks to the Fair Use provision of the copyright laws. Do not under any circumstances copy these materials in any fashion. Doing so risks more pain, bad feelings, and perhaps legal penalties than any of us can imagine. All you need to do is nd yourself a reasonably good network connection and the time that viewing and note taking requires. Open your browser, click on the link, take notes. Nothing more.

Course Requirements

To meet the course objectives enumerated above, students must attend both in-class lectures and discussions as well as engage a number of materials made available to them as part of this class and engage themselves in a number of assignments outside of the classroom. us, this course is best enjoyed, and pro ted by, when taken by independent, self-motivated learners. is course also requires a reasonable level of emotional maturity, since folklore is “equipment for living” and materials we deal with come from life itself, where lines are o en not clear-cut and, sometimes the matters with which we deal are in ammatory or embarrassing. Participants must be prepared for this. Intolerance will, as it were, not be tolerated. For more on what is required for this course, please see the “Fine Print” (below).


Participation & Quizzes (20%). Regular participation means being in class (on time), prepared, and participating actively both through listening and through talking. No more than two absences will be excused without consent of the instructor. As noted above, the chief delivery vehicle for information in this course is in class. From time to time, to check for comprehension and currency, I give in-class quizzes, which are folded into your participation grade. Unlike the exams, which are scheduled in advance and can also be made up, quizzes are one-time-only affairs. I take role for the rst few weeks of class in order to learn your names, a er that, you will o en see me taking role as class begins and/or making notes about someone who has made a contribution to class, a plus (+), or someone who is clearly studying for the exam in their next class, a minus (–). (You would be surprised how much one can see while standing in the front of the room.)

Exams (30%). There are two exams in this course, which cover materials from lectures, discussions, readings, and viewings. e purpose of the exams is for you to demonstrate to me and to yourself your knowledge and comprehension of the theoretical and historical material presented in class. Without that foundation, then much of the rest of the course will do you little good.

Folklore Documentation (50%). This course has at its core a collaborative project: an encyclopedia of Louisiana folklore collected, compiled, and cra ed by you. Some parts of it will be straightforward data entry. Other parts will be based on your own research. e nature of your contribution is to be decided in consultation with me and your fellow classmates. Typically, the latter include interviewing someone about their life, collecting a recipe, collecting a number of a certain kind of genre, and/or photographing a house or collection of houses.

e.g., 2011 August 14 (Sunday). Overheard in the bathroom at Green Room last night: (girl on phone) “Hey. What’s up? Wait, you’re drunk. Like, Mamou drunk.”


Much of the information to be gleaned from the formal instruction in this course is in the lectures I give, the discussions we have, and the documentaries we view. at means that attendance is foundational to a student’s success in this course. What happens in any given class of this course cannot be found anywhere else. If you must miss a class, please contact one of the people whose names you entered in this syllabus for notes on what you missed.

Why is attendance important? Because there is no, at least not yet, good guide to Louisiana folklore, and because folklore itself is dynamic and because I tailor materials to each course in an effort to make this stuff as relevant to you, as actual people, as it is humanly possible to do, a lot of the course material is available only as lectures and class discussions. You need to be there to get it, and you need to take notes. On both lectures and discussions. I do not provide my lecture notes. e principle reason is pedagogical: a number of studies have shown that we learn best when we make notes for ourselves. (It’s less important that we consult notes later, than it is we take them in the rst place.) e marginal reason is that my notes do not necessarily make sense to anyone but myself—one word, for me, can reference an entire network or outline of ideas and facts that I wish to convey.

Additionally, it cannot be emphasized enough that this is a class in folk culture, which is typically learned, practically by de nition, outside the sphere of formal instruction. is course is designed to provide, within the walls of the classroom, students with a basic grounding in the theory of folklore studies, the principle dynamics of most folk cultures, the history that informs Louisiana’s folk cultural matrix, and particular examples drawn from particular Louisiana folk cultures. All of this will be foundational to your understanding and appreciation of either the folk cultures with which you grew up and/or in which you now nd yourself immersed. No understanding will be complete without any experience of folk culture itself. A number of the activities in this class require students to interact with practitioners of a Louisiana folk culture. For most, this is typically family and friends, but it could be mean, for some, having to interview individuals you know less well. Please be sensible in doing this.

Because all experience unfolds across time, o en a signi cant amount of time, students must be prepared to spend time outside of class, interacting with others in a thoughtful way that respects not only others but that this experience is a part of their own education. A lack of seriousness and a lack of respect for all involved — instructor, one’s self, fellow students, folk practitioners — represents a failure to grasp the root ideas and issues of folklore studies and of this course. Students displaying a lack of respect will nd themselves in conference with the instructor and then the dean of students.

Part of taking yourself, your learning, and this course seriously is that you agree to all the rules and guidelines on academic honesty laid out in the Student Bulletin. Plagiarism and cheating in this course will result, at the very least, in failure of the assignment; it can also mean failing the course immediately and, potentially, expulsion from the university. If in doubt about what to do or how to handle material not your own in your work, please see me. Helping you to gure that stuff out is part of my job. That said, part of our effort to have the best possible classroom experience is leaving other things outside: pagers, cell phones, food, drinks, materials for other classes, etc. Please turn off any and all of these devices before entering the classroom. If yours go off, you will be excused from class.

You are, however, permitted to use a laptop computer for taking notes — do not abuse your time, my time, or UWIN sur ng the web (again, you will be excused from class immediately) as well as an audio recorder. Please do note that I regularly incorporate a variety of copyrighted material within my lectures that may or may not be indicated in the course of a lecture, and that any remaining materials are copyrighted by me. By granting you permission to record lectures, I do so with the understanding that the recordings will only be for your use and only your use in the pursuit of your education. You may not share copyrighted materials with others.

By the same token, I take your intellectual productivity and property equally seriously. Students who generate quality documentation of a person, place, event, or behavior are regularly encouraged to submit their materials to the Archives of Cajun and Creole Folklore. I may also ask a student for permission to retain a copy of your materials for use in future classes. I try to return materials in an orderly fashion, but time sometimes works against such efforts. Any and all materials belonging to you that are le in my possession at the end of the semester will probably be disposed in the rst few weeks of the following semester unless you indicate otherwise — I simply don’t have room to store all student materials forever in my tiny office.

Schedule of Readings

The links below are direct to sources, where available. The links to some databases, like JSTOR, will work as is if you are on campus, if you are not on campus, please see the note on JSTOR for more information.

Introduction to Folklore Studies

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

Case Studies

The important thing to remember about the work you are doing is that the collection of stories, and of other forms of discursive memory, is the basis for almost all the productions – books, films, etc. – that make larger claims about Louisiana, about Cajuns, about Creoles, about almost anything human. A good example of this is “All Over But To Cry”, a film about Hurricane Audrey that is, so far as I can tell from the trailer, told largely as a series of recorded oral reminiscences that are then re-enacted. Trailer on Youtube.

Laudun, John. 2012. “Talking Shit” in Rayne: How Aesthetic Features Reveal Ethical Structures.” Journal of American Folklore 125.497: 304-326. Project MUSE.

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.

Robinson, Herbert. 1991. “Family Sayings from Family Stories: Some Louisiana Examples.” Louisiana Folklore 6(4): 17-24. PDF

Jamison, C. V. 1905. A Louisiana Legend concerning Will o’ the Wisp. Journal of American Folklore 18(70): 250-251. DOI: 10.2307/533148. JSTOR.

Jackson, Bruce. 1988. “What People like Us Are Saying When We Say We’re Saying the Truth.” The Journal of American Folklore 101/401: 276-92. JSTOR.

Roberts, Hilda. 1927. Louisiana Superstitions. Journal of American Folklore 40/156: 144-208. DOI: 10.2307/534893. JSTOR. The essay by Roberts is really a collection, a really large collection that runs 65 pages. Please do print, and read, the first ten pages of the essay. Then find a section of the collection that you find appealing and print it, preparing yourself to discuss that section in class.

Gaudet, Marcia. Cultural Catholicism. PDF

Louisiana Folklore in General

Kniffen, Fred. 1963. The Physiognomy of Rural Louisiana. Louisiana History 4(4): 291-299. JSTOR

Kniffen, Fred. 1960. The Outdoor Oven in Louisiana. Louisiana History 1(1): 25-35. JSTOR.