William R Seaburg
Examines a range of American folklore and folklife, including folk speech, worldview, and folk medicine and religion. Focuses on the relationship between the ideologies of official/institutional cultures and folk cultures. Stresses diverse interpretive approaches within American Studies.
This course will examine a range of interrelated topics within American Studies. Following a general overview of the methodologies of folklore and folklife and the process(es) of social science fieldworking, we will start with a brief foray into material culture. Then we will examine the study of American folk speech, especially as a tool for accessing ideas of worldview and folk beliefs. Next we will consider the topic of folk beliefs and health, including bodylore, folk medicine, and folk healers, emphasizing folk beliefs and practices as unofficial alternatives to the dominant ideology of biomedicine. Then we will study several examples of American folk or vernacular religion, (the Amish and Appalachian serpent handlers) where folk speech, world- view, folk beliefs, bodylore, and notions of sickness and healing can coalesce as a set of more-or-less shared ideologies and practices. We will also consider selected aspects of the history of biomedicine and of alternative medicines in the United States. Finally, we consider what happens when American emigrant Hmong beliefs about illness and healing clash with those of the biomedical community. Two key phrases will resonate throughout the course: critical thinking and understanding cultural difference.
Student learning goals
Observe, describe, and analyze a piece of traditional material culture;
Explain how American folk speech can be used as a tool for accessing ideas of worldview and folk beliefs;
Interview a parent or older generation relative or friend about what folk or home remedies their parents or grandparents used;
outline the main tenets of the ideology of biomedicine;
Create a conceptual map of the main tenets of Appalachian Christian serpent-handlers' worldview.
General method of instruction
Lecture and class discussion, with emphasis on the latter.
Class assignments and grading
See Student learning goals above.
Grades will be based on written assignments, class participation, and a final take-home exam.