Folklore at PLU

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During the spring semester at PLU, the students of Nordic Studies 241 ”Nordic Folklore” not only learned about folklore but practiced it. Dr. Schroeder assigned them several fieldwork exercises to examine culture and learn how to do ethnographic fieldwork. This collection of legends, tales, and stories comes from their second ethnographic fieldwork assignment, which was to collect and record ghost stories. In particular, Dr. Schroeder was curious about the campus ghost lore of PLU. Much of what we think of as folklore (fairy tales, legends, and ballads) came out of early folklorists seeking particular genre, not unlike what the Dr. Schroeder had his students do. As you will read, not all the stories they collected are ghost stories or about PLU’s campus – the students wisely let their informants tell the stories.

Whenever groups of people are together in a place like college or the military, they tell stories. Stories help human beings make sense of their experiences and the experiences of others, how they fit into society, what the meaning of life is, and to broadcast cultural similarities and differences. Some students at this point would immediately say that the answer is 42, because they share certain cultural references (Douglas Adams in this case). In places far from home like college or the military, young people find their places shifting. They make new friends, experience new freedoms. They tell stories and listen to them. Well, some of them do. Not all students are 18 and fresh out of high school. Some already are married, have children, work full time, and have a settled sense of self. They tell stories and listen to them as well; their friend groups also have different experience and their stories will show these different life interests as well.

Folklorist have long been interested in the tales and legends that students tell as evidenced by Elizabeth Tucker’s Haunted Hall: Ghostlore of American College Campus (2007),  and the types of legends popular among students evidences by Jan Harold Brunvand’s popular books The Vanishing Hitchhiker (1981).

The storytellers, story-recorders, and the stories are deeply interconnected. Like good folklorists, the student collectors worked among people with whom they have a relationship and shared a sense of trust. Among the legends and stories that the students of the Spring 2019 Nordic Studies 241collected are ones about a so-called gum tree that some students attached some importance to, tales about campus hauntings in the oldest building at PLU (Harstad Hall, once known as Old Main). Some are tales from back home, reflecting perhaps a concern of the student-collectors about not being home and the storyteller’s idea about

Some questions to consider as you read these stories:

  • How might the spoken word of a story differ from these written forms?
  • What might these stories say about the concerns, fears, hopes, and dreams of PLU students in 2019?
  • How much does what a professor ask for in an assignment help shape what a collection looks like?
  • What stories do you know that are similar to these? How are they different?
  • Who are the characters in these stories? How are gender, race, ethnicity, class, history, and status dealt displayed in these characters?

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