English 531: Seminar on Folklore in Culture: Studies of Narrative

The Shape of Stories

In addition to this syllabus, there is an agenda for this course.


Stories feature prominently in our lives and in discourses about our lives. Children ask parents to tell them a story; we swap stories as adults in order to get to know each other; and, increasingly, doctors and lawyers describe the work they do in terms of stories. This seminar is designed to familiarize participants with the wide range of scholarship and science that treats stories. Our goal will be to refine our own working definition of narrative both to understand its nature but also, for those interested in creative projects, to refine our practice. It should be clear from this description that this seminar is open to a wide range of interests: creative, literary, folkloristic, rhetorical, and linguistic.


Pr. John Laudun. Office: HLG 356, 482-5493, laudun@louisiana.edu. Hours: Tuesdays 9-12 and by appointment.


Two texts, one classical and one synthetic, are listed below, but I hope to conduct much of the course through PDFs that are generally available (e.g., PLoS ONE), are available through a university subscription (e.g., JSTOR), or that I make available through the Moodle site. (The usual caveats to using Moodle apply: connections can be flaky; don’t wait until the last minute to download an essay.)

Herman, David. 2009. Basic Elements of Narrative. Wiley-Blackwell. (Please do not purchase until we decide to use this text.)

Propp, Vladimir. 1968. Morphology of the Folktale. Tr. Laurence Scott. University of Texas Press.

In addition to (or over and against) scholarly/scientific considerations of narrative, the seminar will develop its own corpus of texts which we will use as a place to apply theories and models, as a vehicle for furthering/deepening our discussion about various theories and models, and as a well from which we can draw our own ideas. For more on the corpus, see below.



Seminar participants are expected to comport themselves as, well, as if they were in a seminar:

A seminar is, generally, a form of academic instruction, either at an academic institution or offered by a commercial or professional organization. It has the function of bringing together small groups for recurring meetings, focusing each time on some particular subject, in which everyone present is requested to participate actively. This is often accomplished through an ongoing Socratic dialogue with a seminar leader or instructor, or through a more formal presentation of research. The idea behind the seminar system is to familiarize students more extensively with the methodology of their chosen subject and also to allow them to interact with examples of the practical problems that always occur during research work. It is essentially a place where assigned readings are discussed, questions can be raised and debates can be conducted. (Thank you, Wikipedia.)

Participation includes a wide variety of forms: active listening, thoughtful speaking, short presentations, involvement in in-class and out-of-class individual and group assignments. Some of these may include, as seems fitting for a seminar led by a folklorist, the occasional exploration of the world beyond campus in the form of observations you make in places like book stores, coffee shops, and other places where people gather to talk or read/write. There is no set list of assignments in this regard: this is something that must arise out of a sense of the seminar as a particular historical group of individuals. (Again, you would expect no less an assertion from a folklorist.)

In addition to the assumed active participation, which includes a number of projects and/or assignments as well as active listening and talking, this seminar also requires the preparation and presentation of a conference paper ( >= 2500 words) and a seminar paper ( >= 7500 words). The idea behind this particular arrangement is that the conference paper will be due before the seminar paper, giving participants an advanced deadline that makes it possible to test the viability of an idea and to have time to expand the paper into something of consequence that we call the seminar paper and we often imagine as leading to an article. That is, both the written assignments in this seminar are designed to match conventional scholarly outputs. (We will have more to discuss – e.g., how sometimes expanding a conference presentation is harder than shrinking a research paper or what to do when a project implodes at the presentation stage – during the course of the seminar.)

The weighting of grades will be as follows: participation in the seminar, which includes short in-seminar presentations and activities, makes up one half of a participant’s evaluation. The conference paper and the seminar paper make up the other half. I hold out any weighting of the two for the following reason: it is entirely possible that the conference paper goes nowhere. If that is the case, first, good. Failure is one way to learn, and it is better to have a project blow up in the smaller form of the conference paper than to fall apart halfway through the seminar paper. Hence, should the conference paper go awry, it should matter less in any final evaluation. The same goes for the seminar paper. This is an educational setting: failure must be an option. (Not trying is not.)


Because time is not infinite, each of you is constrained by a limit of 10,000 words: this can be one text or several. A further constraint is that we will need to balance our text between those items that are obviously or conventionally narrative and those which test boundaries.

My somewhat informed guess is that many of you already have possible sources, which could range as wildly from the tried and true of Project Gutenberg or An Archive of Our Own to sites and sources which I cannot imagine. Just in case, here are some lists drawn from rambling around the “intarwebs” that might help you when you get stuck:


Our own interests, expertise, and discoveries will determine more clearly how we will actually spend our time. For those reasons, I prefer to establish an agenda for a course, with the proviso that how much we dwell on a topic or gloss it will effect the timing of matters. While the sequencing of topics should remain fairly stable, the fulfillment of those topics through various readings will be determined by the content of our conversations. LINK.


The lists below are by no means comprehensive, only suggestive. If you find something that should be added here, please let me know.


Please note that the hyperlinks for JSTOR and Project Muse take you directly to the journal’s main page and not the home page of those two services.

The Journal of Narrative Theory appears to be the oldest journal focused specifically on narrative. Founded in 1971 as the Journal of Narrative Technique, JNT “has provided a forum for the theoretical exploration of narrative in all its forms. Building on this foundation, JNT publishes essays addressing the epistemological, global, historical, formal, and political dimensions of narrative from a variety of methodological and theoretical perspectives.” JNT is available on-line through Project Muse.

Narrative is “the official journal of the International Society for the Study of Narrative. Narrative’s broad range of scholarship includes the English, American, and European novel, nonfiction narrative, film, and narrative as used in performance art.” The Society’s website is: http://narrative.georgetown.edu/. Online access to articles is available through Project Muse (2002-present). Issues prior to 2002 are available through JSTOR.

Storyworlds is a new, interdisciplinary journal of narrative theory. It features research on storytelling practices across a variety of media, including face-to-face interaction, literary writing, film and television, virtual environments, historiography, journalism, and graphic narratives, studied from perspectives developed in such fields as narratology, discourse analysis, jurisprudence, philosophy, cognitive and social psychology, Artificial Intelligence, medicine, and the study of organizations.” Current journal contents and contact information are available at http://storyworlds.osu.edu. The journal is available on-line on Project Muse.

In addition to these journals focused narrowly on narrative, there are journals that address narrative specifically but from a particular perspective. Obviously most, if not all, of the journals with which you are familiar in the fields of composition, folklore, or literary studies will include narrative as part of their purview, but you may also want to take a look at a few other journals that you, perhaps, would not normally encounter, such as Discourse Processes or Genre.

Special Issues

In Autumn 1980, Critical Inquiry 7(1) released a special issue entitled simply: On Narrative. (URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/i257724.) The table of contents reads like a who’s who of scholars from the era:

Front Matter: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1343172

W. J. T. Mitchell, Editor’s Note: On Narrative (1-4): http://www.jstor.org/stable/1343173

Hayden White , The Value of Narrativity in the Representation of Reality (5-27): http://www.jstor.org/stable/1343174.

Roy Schafer, Narration in the Psychoanalytic Dialogue (29-53): http://www.jstor.org/stable/1343175.

Jacques Derrida and Avital Ronell , The Law of Genre (55-81): http://www.jstor.org/stable/1343176.

Frank Kermode, Secrets and Narrative Sequence (83-101): http://www.jstor.org/stable/1343177.

Nelson Goodman, Twisted Tales; Or, Story, Study, and Symphony (103-119): http://www.jstor.org/stable/1343178.

Seymour Chatman, What Novels Can Do That Films Can’t (And Vice Versa) (121-140): http://www.jstor.org/stable/1343179.

Victor Turner, Social Dramas and Stories about Them (141-168): http://www.jstor.org/stable/1343180.

Paul Ricoeur, Narrative Time (169-190): http://www.jstor.org/stable/1343181

Ursula K. Le Guin, It Was a Dark and Stormy Night; Or, Why Are We Huddling about the Campfire? (191-199): http://www.jstor.org/stable/1343182

Afterthoughts on Narrative

Paul Hernadi, On the How, What, and Why of Narrative (201-203): http://www.jstor.org/stable/1343183

Robert Scholes, Language, Narrative, and Anti-Narrative (204-212): http://www.jstor.org/stable/1343184

Barbara Herrnstein Smith, Narrative Versions, Narrative Theories (213-236): http://www.jstor.org/stable/1343185.

In addition to the special issue of Critical Inquiry, there was also a special issue of Poetics published in 1986 (Volume 15, Numbers 1-2). (URL: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/0304422X/15/1-2):

Elisabeth Gülich, UtaM. Quasthoff, An interdisciplinary dialogue, 1-3. F.-J. Brüggemeier, Sounds of silents: History, narrative and life-recollections, 5-24.

Rainer Münz and Monika Pelz, Narration in social research, 25-41.

Peter M. Wiedemann, Don’t tell any stories: Theories and discoveries concerning story-telling in the therapeutic setting, 43-55.

D. Baacke, Narration and narrative analysis in education and educational science, 57-72.

P. Bange, Towards a pragmatic analysis of narratives in literature, 73-87. Christof Hardmeier, Old testament exegesis and linguistic narrative research, 89-109.

Christopher Habel, Stories – An artificial intelligence perspective (?), 111-125. Harvey Sacks, Some considerations of a story told in ordinary conversations, 127-138.

Wallace Chafe, Beyond bartlett: Narratives and remembering, 139-151.

Ruth Wodak, Tales from the Vienna woods: Sociolinguistic and psycholinguistic considerations of narrative analysis, 153-182.

Charlotte Linde, Private stories in public discourse: Narrative analysis in the social sciences, 183-202.

Wolf-Dieter Stempel, Everyday narrative as a prototype, 203-216. Elisabeth Gülich, Uta M. Quasthoff, Story-telling in conversation: Cognitive and interactive aspects, 217-241.


Some of these texts are more central to the scholarly study of narrative; some are not. Make of the two categories what you will:


Bal, Mieke. 1985. Narratology: Introduction to the Theory of Narrative. Tr. Christine van Boheemen. University of Toronto Press.

Bauman, Richard. 1986. Story, Performance, and Event. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Benveniste, Emile. 1971. Problems in General Linguistics. Tr. Mary Elizabeth Meek. Coral Gables: University of Miami Press.

Booth, Wayne. 1961. The Rhetoric of Fiction. University of Chicago Press. Chatman, Seymour. 1978. Story and Discourse: Narrative Structure in Fiction and Film. Cornell University Press.

Borges, Jorge Luis. 1962. Labyrinths: Selected Stories and Other Writings. Ed. Donald A. Yates and James E. Irby. New York: New Directions. “The Garden of Forking Paths” (19-29). Tr. Donald A. Yates.

Coles, Robert. 1989. The Call of Stories: Teaching and the Moral Imagination. Houghton Mifflin.

Goffman, Erving. 1981. Forms of Talk. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Onega, Susana and José Ángel García Landa. 1996. Narratology: An Introduction. Longman.

Prince, Gerald. 1987. A Dictionary of Narratology. University of Nebraska Press. More Central

Sternberg, Meir. 1978. Expositional Modes and Temporal Ordering in Fiction. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Less Central

Articles & Essays

Briggs, Charles and Richard Bauman. 1992. Genre, Intertextuality, and Social Power. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 2(2): 131-172.

Clifford, James. 1986. On Ethnographic Allegory. In Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography, 98-121. Ed. James Clifford and George Marcus. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Kramer, Mark and Wendy Call (ed). 2007. Telling True Stories: A Nonfiction Writers’ Guide from the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University. New York: Plume. Roemer, Michael. 199. Telling Stories: Postmodernism and the Invalidation of Traditional Narrative. Rowan and Littlefield.

Before Our Beginning

As noted elsewhere, prior to the twentieth century, interested commentators were more focused on narrative’s manifestations in various forms of discourse, as is the case with Aristotle’s concern with the nature of tragedy in the plays of his day. Aristotle’s Poetics are available in a number of locations: Project Perseus has an authoritative edition of Aristotle’s Poetics which is generously annotated but requires you to be online and Project Gutenberg has a variety of formats which can easily be downloaded for offline viewing.


Nevins, Jake. 2018. In the golden age of television, can narrative podcasts compete? The Guardian (May 2018). Link.