On Teaching Online (So Far)

Today marks the 33rd day of quarantine, or, rather, a state-wide policy of staying at home. Others elsewhere living under other circumstances will count a different number of days. I count 33 days since Friday, March 13, when the university where I work announced that classes were cancelled for the following Monday and Tuesday and that when Wednesday dawned, all classes would be online.

I was somewhat luckier than most. I had begun to have conversations with my students that week about what it would mean if we had to go online, and so we had made plans together, which helped, I think, the eventual deployment. I remember quite clearly working through some of the finer points of how we would conduct ourselves in my eleven o’clock class when, as class was finishing one of my students looked at his phone and announced, “Oh, it’s official. We’re going online.” (Of course, my university announced it first on Twitter, and then about an hour later sent an email to faculty.)

So, it’s been a month — well, three and a half weeks really — and I have learned a lot about teaching online, appreciating that how you gauge comprehension is a fundamental shift between the two environments. In face-to-face lectures and discussions, you have an entire range of facial expressions, gestures, and postures that reveal to you the scope and depth of someone’s understanding of the material being examined. A slight eyebrow furrow can lead you to re-state a proposition with a different set of words that raises not only that person’s eyebrows but a host of others. A different person’s posture reveals they are having a bad day or, perhaps, they haven’t prepared for class, prompting you to think about ways to re-engage them, give them reason to seize the next opportunity to examine the material for themselves, looping them back into the next discussion. All of this changes online, and the number of solutions that some learning management systems offer to assess student learning now begins to make sense — though, I confess, I continue to think that any number of them are rather unimaginative and, honestly, somewhat trivializing of any content which must pass through them.

A couple of other things tumble out of my experience of online teaching so far, the first of which is time management, which I glimpse not only through the lens of my screen but also through watching my own high-school aged child adapt to the change in circumstances. While my daughter spends hours in front of the computer, I am not entirely sure that it is an effective use of her time. That is, I think she confuses time spent staring at the screen with time spent working. I don’t think I am being unfair here, because I can be equally guilty of allowing myself the “quick break” to watch a YouTube video, sometimes educational like something from 3 Blue and 1 Brown or StatQuest but also just as likely, if I am being honest, to be the highlights from a Premier League game or a woodworking video (that I justify as avocational advancement). What my daughter lacks and what my students lack, and perhaps even I lack, is the regimentation of the varied workday. My daughter is quite clear about it: she was quite used to her day being broken up into chunks, each of which allowed her to focus quite clearly on the task in front of her, confident that there would be a change of class, a change of topic, and, perhaps, a change of pace. This kind of clear set of steps accompanied by variation is one way to be productive. As an adult I use it quite often. Indeed, I am entirely reliant now on being good at scheduling my day in a way that gives me the opportunity to focus intensely on a particular task, but often that focus is driven by the fact that it is bounded and I know that I can push because coming up at two o’clock, for example, I am going to break for coffee and a stroll into the garden (or what we would like to be a garden at some point in its stunted existence).

Finally, there is the matter of writing. No matter what I teach, I think the one thing that I can contribute to my student’s own personal and intellectual development is the ability to write well: to develop ideas, to base those ideas on clearly-defined inputs, and then to communicate those ideas, analytical or argumentative, well. If anything should be conducive to writing it’s the online environment. After all, at its base, the internet is simply bits being sent from one computer to another, mostly in the forms of words (or things like words like HTML tags). Or, put another way, much of our electronic communication, especially among my students, is based on some form of texting — the particular application/platform within which they text is less important than the fact that they exchange words so readily.

So you would think that shifting to all-online teaching would be a boon to the teaching of writing, but so many people are so anxious about writing that you actually spend considerable amount of time as an instructor giving them confidence, and that often comes in the form of one-on-one sessions before and after class, in the hallway, or in your office. I now spend a considerable amount of time inside Teams doing much the same, but it is far more difficult and takes far more time. (And, to be honest, this kind of effort is not rewarded institutionally: we have so devalued the teaching of writing that it’s really a wonder it gets taught at all.)

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?]: http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/01/is-the-lecture-dead/272578/

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](http://sakaiproject.org/). *Thanks, [Jason Baird Jackson](http://jasonbairdjackson.com/), for catching that!*

Here is the [syllabus for the course](http://www.scribd.com/doc/25245508/) — [Scribd](http://www.scribd.com/) 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, laudun@louisiana.edu
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.

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.

AT 301A as Told by Ray Hicks

This one is about Jack and Tom and Will—of old Fire Dragon that spit balls of fire. And Jack’s dad had a great bug track of land, owned it. So, he give it to Jack and Tom and Will to clear; give ‘em the land and made ‘em a deed for it, to clear and start clearing it theirselves. And so, they got up a wagon-load of vittles and went where it was at and built ‘em a …notched ‘em up a shanty to stay in. And so, they knowed that the next…that, when they got ready to clear it, that they’d have to leave, uh, leave one till twelve (and he could help, then, after twelve) to cook dinner. So they left Will the first time.

And Jack and Tom cleared, and Will got dinner and rung the dinner…blowed the dinner horn. And, just when he blowed it, up out of a holler come old Fire Dragon, up with his pipe in his mouth, and come in at the door. And just come on in. And Will had the dinner set on the table, and he come in and never said a word to Will. And Will was so scared he hid behind the door. And Fire Dragon eat every bite, sopped the dish, and went back through in by the fireplace and got the biggest chunk of fire that he could find and stuffed down in his pipe and went off.

And Jack and Tom got to the house, come in, and says, (Will shot out from behind the door), says, “Where is the dinner, Will?” Says, “Hain’t you cooked no dinner?” He says, “Gosh,” says, “if you’d a seed what I seed,” said, “you wouldn’t want no dinner!” And they ‘gin to laugh, and Will says, “All right, laughing’s catching,” he says. “Tom,” says, “tomorrow’ll be your turn.” And so they fixed up a little, right quick, extra, then, and eat it, and went back and cleared that evening. And the next day they left Tom to get dinner, clean up, till twelve. And Will and Jack was a-clearing till twelve.

And so Tom got dinner and blowed the horn, and up come old Fire Dragon. And just come in and never said a word—and Tom hid—and eat every bite and sopped the pot. And went through by the fireplace and got the biggest coal of fire he could find and put it in his pipe. And Jack and Will come in, and Tom shot out. And says, “Where’s the dinner, Tom?” He says, “Gosh,” he says, “Tom’s (here, Ray means Will, of course) right;” says, “Jack, don’t laugh!” Says, “Tomorrow’ll be your turn.” Says, “Great…” says, “you won’t want no dinner when you see that.” And he says, “He went in by the fireplace, after he eat up all the eating, and got the biggest coal of fire he could get,” Tom said. And he said, “When he put it in the pipe and puffed it a few puffs,” said, “it looked like a steam engine took off with the blowers on.” Well, they fixed up a little, right quick, and eat ‘em a little bite extra, and all went back that evening and cleared. And said, “Jack, now tomorrow’ll be your turn.”

Well, so, they left Jack the next day and jack fixed dinner and cleaned up and went to setting it on the table, and he blowed the horn. And, while he was scooping out of a kettle a mess of beans, he looked and there come old Fire Dragon, with his arms crossed behind him.

And just as he come to the door, he (Jack) said, “Hello there, Dad!” Says, “Is you hungry?” Said, “Nope.” Said, “Don’t want a bite.” ‘Cause Jack offered it to him, he didn’t want none. Said, “Yeah, Dad,” says, “just get you a seat in there in the fireplace.” And says, “I’m a-setting it on the table now.” Says, “Will and Tom will be in just in a few minutes.” Said, “I blowed the dinner horn.”

Said, “Nope,” said, “I don’t want a bite.” Said, “I just stopped by to light my pipe.” He said he went in and got the biggest chunk, a great big stick of wood, too, Jack said, and stuffed it way down in his pipe. And said that beat any cloud of smoke, when he give that a few puffs, he ever seed in his life. And said he just struck out behind him then; follered him by the smoke down through a wilderness, way down in a holler.

And while he had gone, Jack had…While Jack was gone, Will and Tom come in and said, “Good gracious!” Says, “The dinner’s on the table.” Said, “He’s eat Jack this time.” Said, “Boy, we’ve lost Jack;” said, “he’s eat him.” Said, “The dinner’s on the table.”

Well, so Jack come in, directly. They said, “Where you been?” Says, “We thought he’d eat you up, account of dinner on the table.”

He said, “No.” Says, “I called him ‘Dad’,” and said, “tried to get him to stay and make a seat and get him a chair in the fire-setting room and wait, and was setting it on the table.” And said, “Just got it set on the table when I left.” And he says, “I found out where he went.” Says, “He went down there, way down in the wilderness of that holler.” And said, “He went in a hole in the ground.”

And so they eat then and ‘gin to rig up to find out what was in there. And they eat and fixed ‘em a basket out of splits and took and made ‘em a rope out of hickory bark and went down to the hole. And they let Will down first. And they fixed it…Will…if that Will hit any trouble, he was to shake the rope of the hickory bark. And so, just hadn’t went down but just a few feet till Will shook it and they snaked him back out just as fast as they could and they says, “What did you see, Will?” He said, “I seed a house under there.” And so they put Tom in it then, and let him down, and he was gone down just a little longer and he shook it and they jerked him out and says, “Tom, what did you see?” He said, “I seed a house and barn.” And so they put Jack in then and let him down, and Jack let ‘em let on down till he hit on the top of the roof. And he let it ease on down and he slid of the eaves. And he let it ease on down in the yard.

And so he got out of the basket and went and pecked on the door. And a girl come; the oldest girl, which he didn’t know it, when he pecked. And he says, “Howdy.” And she was so pretty till he just started in talking courting right when he seed her. And she says, “Oh,” says, “don’t do that!” Said, “The second room you come to,” said, “has got one in it prettier than I am.” And so Jack went on in and seed her and she was so much prettier till the first word he spoke was courting, wanting to court. And she says, “Oh, don’t do that!” She said, “The third one, in the third room,” she said, “is a beauty.” Said, “She’s the prettiest one of the bunch.” So Jack went on in and seed her, and he just got to talking about getting married, she was so pretty.

And so, she ‘posed to him and tied a ribbon in her hair, and she put a wishing ring on his finger. And so told him that the Fire Dragon was a-coming back any minute. And said, “Here’s some ointment;” said, “If he hits you with any if them fire-balls,” says, “they burn a streak!” And says, “Here’s a sword,” said, “is all that’ll hurt him is a silver sword.”

Well, so Jack took the ointment and, in just a few minutes, the Fire Dragon come in and seed him and ‘gin to make at him and spit them fire-balls. Said it was a sight to see them sparkle over the floor. And he dodged him around and some would glance him and burn him, and he’d rub that ointment right quick, and try to get a lick with that sword. And said, directly, he got a lick and just swiped his head slick off.

Well, he then fixed up to get the girls out of there. And he put the first one in the basket, that he met when he knocked on the door, and sent her up—or shook the hickory rope and they pulled it up. And Will and Tom got to jarring off of it; said, “This one’s mine!” Directly she says, “Don’t do that.” Says, “The next one is a-coming is prettier yet than I am.” And so they shoved the basket back down in quick as they could, and Jack put the second one in it and shook the hickory rope and they flounced her out, and he heard ‘em a raring over her. And said Will said, “Good gosh, don’t you put your hands on her; that one’s mine.” Tom said, “Don’t you touch her; that one’s mine.” She says, “Oh,” says, “don’t do that.” Says, “The third one, the last one that’s down there, is a beauty.” Said, “She’s the top.”

And so they shoved the basket down as quick as they could, and that was Jack’s—they’d done ‘posed to be married and had the ribbon in her hair. And so Jack out her in the basket. And Will and Tom, she was so much prettier, they got to fighting around over her. And she says, “Don’t fight.” Says, “I’m done supposed to be married to Jack.” They said, “Well,” – just pitched the hickory rope and the basket right down in the hole—and said, “let the rascal stay down in there.” And said, “He’ll not get you.”

And so they took ‘em and went back to the new ground shanty. And Jack stayed in there and eat all the rations up that the Fire Dragon had, he thought. And he stayed a week or two. And, directly, he got to getting weak, and he hunted around and he found a few more bites to eat, a little more. And he got to feeling so weak, till he looked down and…looking at his fingers to see how much he’d fell off, what time he’d been down in there. And he looked, and his fingers was fell off, and the made him notice the ring. Hit was so loose it would fall off his fingers, from the time he’d been in there. And that made him think about the ring, and he said, “I wish I was home with my mother, a-setting in the chimley corner, a-smoking my old ‘kachuckety’ (?) pipe.” And said, just as the words got out of his mouth, there he was a-setting, and his mother a-talking to him. She said, “Jack,” she said, “looks like you ought to be to the new ground a-helping Tom and Will clear.” He says, “Bedad, that’s where I’m started.”

And so he got on up there and they had the three girls and was still a-fighting over them. And so, him and the youngest one, the prettiest one, married—that had put the ring on his finger—and the ribbon was in her hair yet. And her and Jack married, and Tom married the next one to her, and Jack…ah, Will had to take the oldest. And the last time that I was around there, they’d built more shanties and they was a-doing well.

*This version of the story is a transcription from the Folkways Records LP that contains four stories narrated by Ray Hicks. I believe this story, and thus this transcription, to be in the public domain.*

Grimms 91: The Elves

There was once upon a time a rich king who had three daughters, who
daily went to walk in the palace garden, and the king was a great
lover of all kinds of fine trees, but there was one for which he had
such an affection, that if anyone gathered an apple from it he wished
him a hundred fathoms underground. And when harvest time came, the
apples on this tree were all as red as blood. The three daughters
went every day beneath the tree, and looked to see if the wind had
not blown down an apple, but they never by any chance found one, and
the tree was so loaded with them that it was almost breaking, and the
branches hung down to the ground.

Then the king’s youngest child had a great desire for an apple, and
said to her sisters, our father loves us far too much to wish us
underground, it is my belief that he would only do that to people who
were strangers. And while she was speaking, the child plucked off
quite a large apple, and ran to her sisters, saying, just taste, my
dear little sisters, for never in my life have I tasted anything so
delightful. Then the two other sisters also ate some of the apple,
whereupon all three sank deep down into the earth, where they could
hear no cock crow.

When mid-day came, the king wished to call them to come to dinner,
but they were nowhere to be found. He sought them everywhere in the
palace and garden, but could not find them. Then he was much
troubled, and made known to the whole land that whosoever brought his
daughters back again should have one of them to wife. Hereupon so
many young men went about the country in search, that there was no
counting them, for everyone loved the three children because they
were so kind to all, and so fair of face.

Three young huntsmen also went out, and when they had traveled about
for eight days, they arrived at a great castle, in which were
beautiful apartments, and in one room a table was laid on which were
delicate dishes which were still so warm that they were smoking, but
in the whole of the castle no human being was either to be seen or
heard. They waited there for half a day, and the food still remained
warm and smoking, and at length they were so hungry that they sat
down and ate, and agreed with each other that they would stay and
live in that castle, and that one of them, who should be chosen by
casting lots, should remain in the house, and the two others seek the
king’s daughters.

They cast lots, and the lot fell on the eldest, so next day the two
younger went out to seek, and the eldest had to stay home. At
mid-day came a small, small mannikin and begged for a piece of bread,
then the huntsman took the bread which he had found there, and cut a
round off the loaf and was about to give it to him, but while he was
giving it to the mannikin, the latter let it fall, and asked the
huntsman to be so good as to give him that piece again. The huntsman
was about to do so and stooped, on which the mannikin took a stick,
seized him by the hair, and gave him a good beating.

Next day, the second stayed at home, and he fared no better. When the
two others returned in the evening, the eldest said, well, how have
you got on? Oh, very badly, said he, and then they lamented their
misfortune together, but they said nothing about it to the youngest,
for they did not like him at all, and always called him stupid Hans,
because he did not know the ways of the world.

On the third day, the youngest stayed at home, and again the little
mannikin came and begged for a piece of bread. When the youth gave
it to him, the elf let it fall as before, and asked him to be so good
as to give him that piece again. Then said Hans to the little
mannikin, what, can you not pick up that piece yourself? If you will
not take as much trouble as that for your daily bread, you do not
deserve to have it. Then the mannikin grew very angry and said he
was to do it, but the huntsman would not, and took my dear mannikin,
and gave him a thorough beating. Then the mannikin screamed
terribly, and cried, stop, stop, and let me go, and I will tell you
where the king’s daughters are.

When Hans heard that, he left off beating him and the mannikin told
him that he was a gnome, and that there were more than a thousand
like him, and that if he would go with him he would show him where
the king’s daughters were. Then he showed him a deep well, but there
was no water in it. And the elf said that he knew well that the
companions Hans had with him did not intend to deal honorably with
him, therefore if he wished to deliver the king’s children, he must
do it alone.

The two other brothers would also be very glad to recover the king’s
daughters, but they did not want to have any trouble or danger. Hans
was therefore to take a large basket, and he must seat himself in it
with his hunting knife and a bell, and be let down. Below are three
rooms, and in each of them was a princess, who was lousing a dragon
with many heads, which he must cut off. And having said all this,
the elf vanished.

When it was evening the two brothers came and asked how he had got
on, and he said, pretty well so far, and that he had seen no one
except at mid-day when a little mannikin had come and begged for a
piece of bread, that he had given some to him, but that the mannikin
had let it fall and had asked him to pick it up again, but as he did
not choose to do that, the elf had begun to scold, and that he had
lost his temper, and had given the elf a beating, at which he had
told him where the king’s daughters were. Then the two were so angry
at this that they grew green and yellow.

Next morning they went to the well together, and drew lots who should
first seat himself in the basket, and again the lot fell on the
eldest, and he was to seat himself in it, and take the bell with him.
Then he said, if I ring, you must draw me up again immediately. When
he had gone down for a short distance, he rang, and they at once drew
him up again. Then the second seated himself in the basket, but he
did just the same as the first, and then it was the turn of the
youngest, but he let himself be lowered quite to the bottom.

When he had got out of the basket, he took his knife, and went and
stood outside the first door and listened, and heard the dragon
snoring quite loudly. He opened the door slowly, and one of the
princesses was sitting there, and had nine dragon’s heads lying upon
her lap, and was lousing them. Then he took his knife and hewed at
them, and the nine fell off. The princess sprang up, threw her arms
round his neck, embraced and kissed him repeatedly, and took her
stomacher, which was made of pure gold, and hung it round his neck.

Then he went to the second princess, who had a dragon with five heads
to louse, and delivered her also, and to the youngest, who had a
dragon with four heads, he went likewise. And they all rejoiced, and
embraced him and kissed him without stopping. Then he rang very
loud, so that those above heard him, and he placed the princesses one
after the other in the basket, and had them all drawn up, but when it
came to his own turn he remembered the words of the elf, who had told
him that his comrades did not mean well by him. So he took a great
stone which was lying there, and placed it in the basket, and when it
was about half way up, his false brothers above cut the rope, so that
the basket with the stone fell to the ground, and they thought that
he was dead, and ran away with the three princesses, making them
promise to tell their father that it was they who had delivered them.
Then they went to the king, and each demanded a princess in marriage.

In the meantime the youngest huntsman was wandering about the three
chambers in great trouble, fully expecting to have to end his days
there, when he saw, hanging on the wall, a flute, then said he, why
do you hang there. No one can be merry here.

He looked at the dragons, heads likewise and said, you too cannot
help me now. He walked to and fro for such a long time that he made
the surface of the ground quite smooth. But at last other thoughts
came to his mind, and he took the flute from the wall, and played a
few notes on it, and suddenly a number of elves appeared, and with
every note that he sounded one more came. Then he played until the
room was entirely filled.

They all asked what he desired, so he said he wished to get above
ground back to daylight, on which they seized him by every hair that
grew on his head, and thus they flew with him onto the earth again.
When he was above ground, he at once went to the king’s palace, just
as the wedding of one princess was about to be celebrated, and he
went to the room where the king and his three daughters were. When
the princesses saw him they fainted.

Hereupon the king was angry, and ordered him to be put in prison at
once, because he thought he must have done some injury to the
children. When the princesses came to themselves, however, they
entreated the king to set him free again.

The king asked why, and they said that they were not allowed to tell
that, but their father said that they were to tell it to the stove.
And he went out, listened at the door, and heard everything. Then he
caused the two brothers to be hanged on the gallows, and to the third
he gave his youngest daughter, and on that occasion I wore a pair of
glass shoes, and I struck them against a stone, and they said, klink,
and were broken.

*I have carried around this version of the Grimms tale for years. I am unsure of its copyright status or where it falls in the Grimms’ own versions.*