Choosing a Topic:


  1. First,the main things to consider in choosing your topic are that it is a kind of folklore that you find interesting, and that you know or have access to someone who can represent the ideal consultant.


  1. Next, your topic should be small enough to be manageable within the time allowed. You will find it far easier to do fieldwork on “Holiday Customs in my Italian-American Family” than on “Italian-American Folklore” for example.


Sample topics that you might consider but are not at all limited to:


  • Interviews with local experts on things like local legends, etc.
  • Interviews with local practitioners on material culture like organic gardens, herbs, health food, tattooing , quilt-making, ceramics, etc. (though be sure it’s a folk example of the art).
  • Interviews with family members who tell very interesting stories about their lives — possibly significant events they participated in (like wars), or funny stories of childhood adventures, or how grandparents met each other, etc.
  • Interviews with family members who have personal experience narratives about significant events in their lives — like unusual encounters, near-death experiences, lucky experiences.
  • Interviews with college friends or professors about especially interesting hobbies (that are artful), travel experiences, etc.


In short, perhaps you know someone who has always told great stories or jokes, or someone who is a talented songwriter/singer, or someone who practices some kind of material culture and produces what you find to be artistically virtuosic. Perhaps you can think of interesting rituals, gestures, superstitions, or holiday traditions that you find to be highly symbolic, meaningful, or beautiful.




  1. Narrow down your topic as much as possible. Do not try to collect all the folklore of a particular folk group.


  1. Plan to conduct an interview (for 45 minutes with one person) in which he/she talks meaningfully and well on the topic. For instance, if you focus on holiday traditions, pick one holiday and one group and be sure it s a good one.


  1. 3.Make sure that you will actually be able to collect, observe, and document this folklore that interests you.


  1. Consider how many people you will need to interview to make your project convincing and effective. You can interview more than one person – but at least one of the interviews must be a full length, 45 minutes minimum interview with the main person. If you think additional interviews will help, you may do them, but it s not necessary.




  1. Plan in advance to have technology available to record an interview when you need to do so.


  1. Consider whether you can record this in its natural context or whether you will arrange a separate situation in which to conduct the interview.


  1. Be sure to have a quiet place and enough time to conduct the full interview in one sitting.


  1. Talk to people you plan to interview as soon as possible about dates and times you will BOTH be available. You should be flexible and adjust your schedule to fit your consultant. **If for important reasons the interview needs to be conducted via phone, that is acceptable.


  1. Because this is a class assignment, you do not need a consent form. Simply alert your participants this assignment will be submitted to your professor as part of your semester grade and will not be published.


  1. Check with the library for equipment they may have available.


The Interview:


When approaching people to interview, be very honest and clear about what you will be doing.


  1. Introduce yourself, explain your project and ask for permission first before interviewing. For instance, if you are interviewing about a place and will include footage of that place, get permission to do so and be very clear about what you are doing and why.


  1. Explain that you are working on a collection project for class and that you chose this person to interview or place to study because of your genuine respect for that person s expertise on the topic.


  1. Be clear from the outset that will need to tape record the interview (whether you use video or audio tape is your choice – but make it clear to the person).


  • Audio tape can be less intimidating & with photos can be interesting and dynamic.


  • Video tape can make it easier to explain and demonstrate some of the context.


  1. Be sure you are in control of your equipment: practice, test your batteries, have plenty of tape, film, etc.


  1. Ask your consultant to be totally honest, to say what he/she really thinks and not what he/she thinks that you want to hear. Try to get the consultant to relax and enjoy the interview.


  1. Try to let the interview flow as naturally as possible. Get your consultant to open up, relax, and perform in that way that you presumably know they can (which is why you chose that person to interview).


  1. Do NOT judge or contradict what your consultant says during the interview.


  1. Listen carefully during the interview. Be polite and show interest in his/her opinions/ideas.


  1. You may have a list of questions to start with, but try to let the conversation flow more naturally. The main goal is for your consultant is to relax and start to speak freely and with enthusiasm and joy about the topic.


  1. Rather than questions, try to have prompts. For instance, rather than asking, Do you know any stories? try eliciting a specific story you have heard this person tell before, Could you tell me that story you told the other night about your first kiss? or Remember that time you almost drowned as a little boy? What exactly happened? Or if your focus is material culture or a holiday, you could prompt with, Remember that face jug you made that you sold for $300, tell me about how you made that? Or, Tell me about how you learned about that ritual and why you keep practicing it.


  1. If the consultant brings up an aspect of the topic you had not anticipated, be prepared to pursue that line of inquiry (by thinking up new directions and possibly new questions as you do the interview).


  • Remember to thank the person afterward and offer to share the results of your project.




  • In an essay of 1000 words write an analysis of your fieldwork.


  • Your analytical comments should discuss: detailed discussion of your topic, identification of your consultants (their credentials), how you designed your interview (when, where, with whom) and how your project connects to a greater societal issue/concern/culture/ethnicity, etc. For example, if you interviewed someone who served in Vietnam, then connect your discussion to the bigger picture of war and maybe how those veterans were received following their tour. Email me specific questions regarding your topic if you need more information.


  • Explain how your topic is folklore, what your experience involved, and what you learned by doing fieldwork. You may include photos and excerpts from the actual interview.


  • What do you think is most significant about the folklore you collected (why should we be interested in it)?


  • Add literature or research sources, to complete your discussion and ground it in universal truth. Just as you would with a work of literature, use quotes and/or features (photographs, excerpts, quotations of your transcription) along with your analysis of them, as proof of your argument about what it means.






  • Listen to (or watch) your tape(s) shortly after you do the interview. Then listen again a few days later.


  • Transcribe what you find to be the most significant portion of your interview.


  • Try to also record significant contextual events that might have also occurred during the interview (such as laughter or sighing or someone else coming into the room, etc.).


  • You do not have to transcribe the whole tape. Only transcribe the portion you actually plan to use.

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