Introductory Seminars for First-Year Students

Other People's Words: Folklore and Literature

Completion of PWR 1 or other WR 1 course.

What happens when you collect and use other people's words? This class considers folklore and literature based on it, focusing on the theme of objects that come to life and threaten their makers or owners. We read Russian fairy tales and Nikolai Gogol's stories, the Golem legend and Ovid's and Shaw's Pygmalion, and Svetlana Aleksievich's Voices from Chernobyl, a collection of the words of survivors who reflect on life after a human invention has destroyed many of its keepers. We read essays by Jacob Grimm, Roman Jakobson, Vladimir Propp, Lenore Keeshig-Tobias, and others, to understand what folklore can mean and how the oral and the recorded word can interact. Students collect living folklore from a group of their choosing and analyze it using the theories we study in class (or other theories, if you want); wherever you are, you will tailor your research to the communities to which you have access.

This course fulfills the second-level Writing and Rhetoric Requirement (WRITE 2) and emphasizes oral and multimedia presentation. You will develop skills to produce shorter and longer prerecorded presentations.

Meet the Instructor(s)

Gabriella Safran

Gabriella Safran, a professor of Slavic languages and literature and the Eva Chernov Lokey Professor in Jewish Studies, has recently written a biography of S. An-sky, a Russian and Yiddish writer, ethnographer, wartime aid worker, and revolutionary. She is now working on two book projects: a very serious one on the history of listening across social boundaries in the Russian Empire, and a more lighthearted one on the transnational prehistory of the Jewish joke. She has taught first-year classes and worked as an undergraduate advisor for Slavic majors and others since she arrived at Stanford. Gabriella is committed to working with students individually and intensively on their research and writing, and she is proud to report that students in Other People’s Words have developed larger papers, including honors theses, and won university-wide awards based on the research projects they began in this class.