10 Reasons to Study Folklore

May 21, 2017

As we were preparing for our next long course on legends, we went off on a tangent about why we LOVE studying and teaching this stuff so much. We thought we should share some of our reasons with you!

10 Reasons to Study Folklore:

1. Because It’s Everywhere:
People sometimes think that folklore is either something from the past or something outdated and irrelevant. This actually couldn’t be further from the truth! Folklore is alive all around us – we engage with it everyday, whether we acknowledge it as such or not. Have a lucky baseball hat? That’s folklore. Knock on wood? That’s folklore too. Have a weekly D&D night? Folklore. Want a fairy-tale wedding? No, you don’t, and you’d know that if you studied folklore!

2. Because You Help Create It and Share It:
Since we all engage with folklore everyday, we are the ones who shape it. Yes, you. And us! And that guy over there! Have you ever told someone a scary story (think: Moth Man, or Slenderman, or even just something weird that happened to you when you walked by that creepy old house on the corner?) This is sharing folklore with your community, and we all do it all the time.

3. Because It Inspires Empathy:
Listening to other people’s stories and sharing your own is one of the best ways to broaden your horizons. Folklore is a huge part of what makes culture – studying it can help you understand why people do the things they do, from your own family to the traditions of a completely different country.

4. Because It’s Always Changing (And Staying the Same):
When you were little, maybe you went to your grandparents’ house every year to celebrate Thanksgiving/ Christmas/ Passover. Maybe some years after that, your parents started hosting the holiday, and maybe they replicated their parents’ dishes, or maybe they adapted the recipes and decor or changed almost everything about the holiday. Maybe you now host the holiday and have brought back elements from your grandparents’ traditions while inventing new ones yourself. Folklore is the dance between continuity and innovation, staying the same and changing.

5. Because It Can Feed Your Creative Soul:
Folklore is constantly inspiring artists and musicians, writers and makers. Some of your favorite books, TV shows, movies, clothes, and songs are likely rooted in folklore. The new American Gods TV series is based on a novel by Neil Gaiman that drew heavily on folk narrative (in fact, Richard Dorson, one of the most influential American folklorists of the past century, is quoted in the book’s epigraph.) And if you’ve ever dressed like a character from a fairy tale, written a poem inspired by a ghostly encounter, or made your grandmother’s traditional lasagna recipe, you are using folklore to fuel your creativity.

5a. Because Neil Gaiman Loves Folklorists:
He does. He told us so once. Seriously. You know you want in on that.

6. Because It Can Connect You To Others:
Folklore is social glue. It is the stories, habits, and activities that bind people together. Think about your church group, your classmates, your family, your coworkers, or even your duck bowling league (?) – in each of those groups, you have little rituals, special stories you tell, and inside jokes. All of these things are what makes a group of people stick together, what connects you.

7. Because Stories Are Addictive (And Powerful!):
Humans love stories – we are wired for them. Folk narratives are some of the most popular and sticky stories that you will ever hear. They’re how we make sense of our lives and our world. They’re also surprisingly powerful – for example, think about how much the fairy tales you heard as a child shaped your thinking about good and evil or the importance of beauty. Think about how those ideas are still reinforced over and over again in all the media that we consume. Savvy advertisers know this and appropriate fairy tales in their campaigns all the time.

8. Because It Helps Shape the Past… and the Future:
Studying folklore is like studying the history that doesn’t make it into history books. It is personal, communal, and can show so much about where we came from on an individual and familial level. It also helps create national narratives that explain the past on a grander scale. Looking back to this unofficial past can help us more readily understand our present and see into our future.

9. Because the Internet:
Creepy Pasta. Blogs. Games. Chats. OK Cupid. These are all folklore, all places that value stories, communication, adaptation, and creativity. In fact, many folklorists now specialize in the internet. You can haz folklore!

10. Because it’s SO MUCH FUN:
What can we say, studying folklore, it is the best. We justify 99% of the awesome things we do by saying that it’s “fieldwork” – and we aren’t even lying! Studying folklore can mean watching Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, visiting a haunted castle, attending a festival, going to Disney World, legend tripping, learning a new dance, making a meme, listening to our friends’ stories, or drinking champagne from a shoe in a fairy-tale themed bar (yes, we have actually done all these things in the name of folklore.) Our advisor once defined folklore as “anything that goes well with beer,” and we stand by that.

So that’s our list! Why do YOU love studying folklore?


  1. Calypso

    The two big ones are what is described in reasons 6 and 8; Especially the reason in number 8. I learned about stuff in history like the Salem Witch Trials, and found it interesting enough, but I always felt like I wanted to know more in a different way. I couldn’t figure it out. It wasn’t until I learned more on what folklore actually entails that it clicked: I wanted to know the informal knowledge of history rather than the facts of what happened. After that, I could find all the information I wanted and be raptured by it!

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