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PhD Exam #4. 2001.
This exam is composed of two sections: I) an introduction,
I) Introducing a course, and a discipline
The Storytelling Process has been conceived and developed as an introductory course to an interdisciplinary field, Storytelling Studies.
As those of us who have tried to study or teach about storytelling (oral narrative) in academia are especially aware, storytelling is considered in a wide variety of academic disciplines, including Anthropology, Communication, Creative Arts Therapy, Education, Ethnomusicology, Folklore, History, Library and Information Sciences, Literature (English, Comparative, etc.), Performance Studies, Psychology, Sociology, Speech, Theater, and Theology. Each of these disciplines has a unique and valuable perspective on storytelling. Folklore, with its emphasis on the study of specific processes of verbal arts, has developed an especially rich heritage of studying storytelling on historical, ethnographic, and mechanical levels.
However, in analytic disciplines such as Folklore there is no place for studio courses. Storytelling Studies, in addition to solely analytic courses, would offer studio courses (which would be both analytic and practical) in traditional storytelling styles of various cultures, as well as courses dedicated to developing explicitly experimental styles of storytelling, including storytelling accompanied by electronic visual images, and storytelling via videoconferencing (of course, it is debatable as to whether the latter can be called storytelling at all).
Various types of storytelling occur in everyday conversation. The study of storytelling thus includes sociolinguistics and sociokinetics: the study of the ways people talk and move in various societies and cultures. The ethnography of speaking, and the micro-sociological fields, interaction analysis and ethnomethodology (especially conversation analysis), are important components of Storytelling Studies. The discipline also includes the study of the roles and functions of storytelling and storytellers in family and community life.
I believe almost all of the 80 identified genres of verbal arts can be considered forms of storytelling if the broadest possible definition of storytelling is applied, such as: storytelling is the relating of a series of events.
It is most likely that there will never be more than a few Storytelling Studies programs and departments, and this is fine. What is needed is simply the establishment of the intellectual orientation. The study of Folklore is perhaps two-thirds the study of verbal arts (Regina Bendix, personal communication, 1998). Thus, it is only natural that people trained in Folklore would lead in the development of Storytelling Studies. I, for one, have recently helped to found the New York City and International Storytelling Institute, to which I am planning to dedicate the balance of my academic life: it is hoped that this Institute will in time be affiliated with one or more universities.
To my knowledge, there are presently four Storytelling
programs in USA
These programs are geared towards producing performers, teachers, and therapists, and as such do not seem to stress rigorous folklore-, anthropology-, or sociology-type scholarship. I believe that the combination of humanities and social science scholarship, and the communication- and therapeutic-oriented approaches, would yield a very rich field. The leaders of the Storytelling programs mentioned above have for a number of years informally spoken of Storytelling Studies as an interdisciplinary field, and even as a discipline, but to my knowledge they have not done so formally in published print.
A list of the programs mentioned above, and of individual analytical and studio storytelling-related courses scattered throughout academia (mostly in the USA), can be found at http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/storytelling/courses.html .
The attached Storytelling Process bibliography is
my larger Storytelling Studies bibliography, which can be found at
An essential component of teaching in this discipline is the
and ability to bring in, and/or direct students to, scholars and
from beyond the classroom. It is a great advantage to teach a
Studies course in an urban center like New York City, which has
communities from perhaps every ethnic group in the world within
distance. Guest experts may attend class sessions in-the-flesh
via interactive telecommunication, such as audio- and
II) Syllabus: The Storytelling Process
What makes a great storyteller? Face-to-face
storytelling is a
multi-leveled social process in which people use voice, body, and
objects to relate series of events. In this class we will focus
how, and in what contexts, various types of stories are told. We
will look at storytelling as it occurs in private conversation, in
speech, and in combinations thereof. We will ask: How do
narrator’s quality of voice (tone, melody, rhythm, breathing pattern,
and body gestures contribute to what is being expressed? What
or simultaneous behaviors occur among participants? In what ways
does oral narrative tend to differ from literary narrative? What
happens when people tell stories via cinema, radio, television,
webcast, or videoconference? Video and audio recordings will be
and discussed in class, and ways of transcribing storytelling events
be explored and developed. Writing assignments will seek to
students’ powers of observation and description of minute details of
behavior and interaction. Readings will be drawn from a wide
of disciplines and fields, including anthropology, folklore,
and sociokinetics, interaction analysis, conversation analysis,
and performance studies.
Notes to students:
On the eve of each class (prior to 2am), please e-mail to the class listserv your responses to the week’s readings (approximately one page). Please include a sentence from each reading (with page number). Tell us such things as: What did you find intriguing or annoying about the reading? Did you feel the writer was getting at something but not fully saying it? What did the reading prompt you to think about? How does it relate to what has been discussed in the course so far? There is no need for organization in this writing -- stream of consciousness is fine. Please print out a copy of these notes and bring the copy to class: parts of it may be read aloud, and it will be collected.
Although each class session is dedicated to a particular topic, the storytelling process(es) will be discussed holistically throughout the semester. Feel free to ask questions and make comments as they come to you (within reason!).
Students may choose between writing two short (7-10 page) papers, or one long (15-20 page) paper. Papers may center on an aspect of the storytelling process, a particular genre, performer, scholar, etc. Students will be encouraged to conduct fieldwork, and the instructor will utilize his own contacts to assist these efforts.
Weekly topics and readings (readings are in the bulkpack)
1) Course Overview
Although one academic definition of storytelling is that it
only the telling of folktales, for the purposes of this course
will be defined in the broadest possible way, as the relating of a
of events. Storytelling is a synaesthetic activity, involving
the entire sensorium. Although storytelling is a universal
it occurs in unique forms in every culture and sub-culture, and,
one needs to understand the local vernacular language before one can
what community members are doing with the language in storytelling
2) The Concept of Genre; Genres of Storytelling
Genres are categories. One can speak of a genre as a
as a process. Approximately 80 verbal arts have been identified:
let’s list as many as we can. Do any fall beyond storytelling, as
we have defined it? Some of these genres are conversational, some
are more formal and monologic. Individual cultures have many
regarding genres of storytelling: certain types of stories can only be
told in certain ways, by certain people, and in certain times and
3) Orality and Literacy
What are possible differences between the form and content of stories that are composed and transmitted orally, as opposed to through writing? In this session, we will look at the communicative process that exists between tellers and listeners, and also at some of the constructions of grammar and syntax commonly used in oral narrative.
4) Paralinguistic Aspects of Storytelling
One perpetually comments upon and adds to what one is saying though tone and pitch of voice, and through facial expressions and body movements. Especially interesting for us is how storytellers may alternate between various styles of speaking, chanting, and singing.
5) The Ethnography of Speaking
In 1962, Dell Hymes proposed that languages should not just be studied as abstract systems: he was also interested in the ways in which languages are put to use. Hymes called for scholars to observe the full range of communicative resources in a community: only through such holistic study would each locally-defined genre make sense, for these genres complement each other.
6) The Performance-centered Approach to Folklore
In the 1960’s and 70’s, a group of folklorists declared that it was important to look at the communicative event and its place in society, not just at the story being told. Before this movement, many scholars who studied myths, folktales, and legends tended to focus on the plotlines of stories alone.
Another contribution of performance-oriented folklorists has been the identification of three levels that exist in storytelling: 1) the actual event; 2) the story about that event (narration of event); and 3) the social situation in which the narrative is told (narrative event). These three levels interact and coalesce in interesting ways.
7) Conversation Analysis
Conversation is the most fluid arena for storytelling: the opposite end of the spectrum would be a monologue delivered from a stage. In conversation, we tell stories to each other: roles of teller and listener can change by the moment. A distinction must be made between, in conversational storytelling, the telling of recognized traditional stories, and just telling about what happened somewhere. Of course, even in the most “spontaneous” forms of telling, people follow patterns of form and content.
8) Conversation Analysis II
Tellers are perpetually receiving feedback from listeners: one can almost say that tellers and listeners are co-storytelling, or that listeners tell stories to themselves through tellers. Two ways that conversation is important to storytelling are: 1) a teller has an ongoing (largely paralinguistic) conversation with each listener; and, 2) tellers often enact conversations between story characters.
9) Interaction Analysis
Interaction analysis does not center on speaking, but rather on the general behavior of people in social situations. One way in which this field is related to storytelling is that the social situation defines, or at least influences, what types of stories and storytelling can occur within it.
The study of framing is an aspect of interaction
framing, one participant in a social situation signals to others what
believes is happening:
11) Doing Things with Words and Sounds
To speak can be to act. Storytelling often involves using traditional elements (expressions, proverbs, stories themselves) to comment upon the present.
12) Roleplaying and Identifying
In the course of a storytelling event, tellers enact story figures. Listeners may identify with story figures, and even occasionally exhibit this through movements and sounds. A principle of rhetoric is to “induce the auditor to participate in the form as a ‘universal’ locus of appeal... Imagery invites us to respond in accordance to its nature” (Burke 1950, p. 59).
13) The Oral-formulaic Theory of Composition
A precursor to the performance-centered approach to folklore, the oral-formulaic theory of composition was developed by Milman Parry in the 1930s as he conducted research with epic-chanters in Yugoslavia. One of his question was: How could epic-singers perform for hours and hours? His answer was that they did not actually memorize all the words, but rather composed in the course of performance, calling on vast reservoirs of memorized pieces: phrases, scenes, etc. The oral-formulaic theory of composition presents a model of improvisation.
Textualization involves making a record, often with commentary, of the storytelling event. A “text” once referred specifically to writing and print, but it has recently been expanded to include any sort of recording. While performers may also seek to make texts of their performances, textualization generally has been done by scholars, for the purposes of study and publication. Included in this session will be discussion of the relationships a scholar may have with local performers, research assistants, and native scholars. We will discuss ways of translating from social and spoken event to print; and from one language to another. The concept of the interactive text will be introduced: the interactive text enables an ongoing conversation between the scholar, the performer, and other interested parties.
Mediatization involves seeking a wider audience for the storytelling event, and may actually involve transposing the storytelling event into electronic media, so that performances are presented via radio, television, webcasting, videoconferencing, etc. Mediatization may be initiated by anyone: the storyteller, scholars, media professionals; or members of government, development, non-profit, and other types of foundations, organizations, and agencies. When people mediatize storytelling, what tends to be lost, and what can be gained? We will also discuss ways that media can be used to teach forms of storytelling, and the ethical and practical issues that can arise in this process. The Heideigger essay provides an excellent philosophical approach to the use of technology: it explains how technology generally involves a bringing forth and an unconcealment.
In contrast to the abstract topics to be covered in each class session, students will be encouraged to write research papers considering case studies of storytelling in context, such as Amy Shuman’s Storytelling Rights (storytelling and writing among urban adolescents); Sam Schrager’s The Trial Lawyer’s Art (storytelling in court); Mary Hufford's Chaseworld: Foxhunting and Storytelling in New Jersey's Pine Barrens; Barbara Myerhoff’s Number Our Days (storytelling in a retirement community); Dan Ben-Amos' Sweet Words: Storytelling Events in Benin; Mark Azadovskii's, A Siberian Tale Teller (1926), etc.
A number of class sessions will also feature mini case studies, to be presented by the instructor, of particular styles of storytelling. In the course of these presentations, we will watch/listen to and discuss excerpts of video/audio-recordings. Dates for these case studies are left open, so that we can coordinate with guest scholars and performers whenever possible. Background readings will be placed on reserve: they are optional (and provide excellent starting points for paper research!).
We will strive to identify the abstract topics (above) in the
1) Muk-yu (southern China)
“Singing to Remember,” Robert Lee, director, 1992 (video, 17 min.). A portrait of the life and art of Uncle Eng, who has settled in NYC’s Chinatown. (Robert Lee directs the Asian American Arts Centre, NYC).
Lee, Robert. 1992. “Singing to Remember: Uncle Ng Makes His Mark.” Artspiral, a publication of Asian American Arts Centre 6 (Summer): 4-7.
Zheng, Su De San. 1993. “From Toisan to New York:
Songs in Folk Tradition.” Chinoperl 16: 165-206.
2) Villupaattu (Tamil Nadu, south India)
Video shot by myself, in three contexts: a) ritual and spirit-possession, in a Tamil village; b) religious and ethical discourse, in the state capital, Madras/Chennai; c) as performed by Tamil-USA children in a NYC immigrant community, for language and culture education.
Blackburn, Stuart. 1986. “Performance Markers in an Indian Story-Type.” In Another Harmony: New Essays on the Folklore of India, S. Blackburn and A. K. Ramanujan, eds., Berkeley: U. of California Press, pp. 167-94.
Blackburn, Stuart. 1988. Singing of Birth and
Texts in Performance. Philadelphia: U. of Pennsylvania
3) Griots and Griottes (Africa)
“Griottes of the Sahel: Female Keepers of the Songhay Oral Tradition” (Niger), Thomas Hale, director, 1990 (video, 11 min.).
“Al Haji Bai Konte” (the Gambia), Marc Pevar and Oliver Franklin, directors, 1972 (video, 10 min.).
Hale, Thomas A. 1998. Griots and Griottes:
Words and Music. Bloomington: Indiana U. Press.
4) African-American Preaching (USA)
“The Performed Word,” Gerald Davis, director, 1982 (video, 60 min.).
Davis, Gerald L. 1985. “I Got the Word in Me
and I Can
Sing It, You Know”: A Study of the Performed African-American Sermon.
Philadelphia: U. of Pennsylvania Press.
5) Pansori (Korea)
Video, audio, and Powerpoint material, courtesy of Youngdai Yoo, U. of Korea, Seoul.
Pihl, Marshall. 1994. The Korean Singer of
Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard U. Press.
6) Kmhmu Verbal Arts (Laos)
“Bamboo on the Mountains: Kmhmu Highlanders from Southeast Asia and the U.S,” recorded and published by Frank Proschan, 1999 (audio CD, 62 min.). Washington, DC: Smithsonian Folkways.
Proschan, Frank. 1989. Kmhmu Verbal Art in America: The Poetics of Kmhmu Verse. Dissertation, U. of Texas, Austin.
Proschan, Frank. 1992. “Poetic Parallelism in Kmhmu Verbal Arts: From Texts to Performances.” Selected Reports in Ethnomusicology 9: 1-31.
Proschan, Frank. 1993. “Khmu Play Languages.” Mon-Khmer Studies: Journal of Southeast Asian Languages (Dallas, TX) 23: 43-65.
Proschan, Frank. 1997. “‘We are all Kmhmu,
Same’: Ethnonyms, Ethnic Identities, and Ethnic Groups.” American
Ethnologist (Feb.) 24(1): 91-114.
7) Hmong Kwv Twhiaj (Courting Songs) and Epics (Thailand)
Two audiotapes accompany this booklet:
Lo, Yang Blianghheng, Pang Xiong Sirirathasuk, and Jennifer Michael. 1992. “Hmong Kwv Twhiaj (Courting Songs) at New Year.” Philadelphia Folklore Project: Works in Progress 6(1) (Winter): 4-6.
Bender, Mark. 1999. “Antiphonal Epics of the Miao
of Guizhou, China.” In Traditional Storytelling Today: An
Sourcebook, M. MacDonald, ed., Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn
8) Ping-shu and Ping-hua (Ping-tan and Tanci) (China)
Audio cassettes, obtained in NYC’s Chinatown.
Bender, Mark. 1999. “The Chantefable Tradition of Suzhou.” In Traditional Storytelling Today: An International Sourcebook, M. MacDonald, ed., Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, pp. 85-7.
Bordahl, Vibeke. 1993. “Wen Bai Yi Du, Literary and Colloquial Forms in Yangzhou Storytelling.” Chinoperl 16: 29-63.
Bordahl, Vibeke. 1995. “Narrative Voices in Yangzhou Storytelling.” Chinoperl 18: 1-31.
Bordahl, Vibeke. 1996. The Oral Tradition of Yangzhou Storytelling. Nordic Institute of Asian Studies, Monograph Series, No. 73. Surrey: Curzon Press.
Bordahl, Vibeke, ed. 1999. The Eternal Storyteller: Oral Literature in Modern China. Nordic Institute of Asian Studies. Studies in Asian topics; no. 24. Surrey: Curzon Press.
Hrdlickova, Vena. 1965. “The Professional Training of Chinese Storytellers and the Storytellers’ Guilds.” Archiv Orientalni 33: 225-246.
Idema, W. L. 1986. “Part II: Prosimetric Literature.” In The Indiana Companion to Traditional Chinese Literature, W. Nienhauser, Jr., ed. Bloomington: Indiana U. Press, pp. 83-91.
Mair, Victor, Lowell Skar, Laura Hosteler, and Neil
“Three Contemporary Approaches to ‘Oral Literature’: Implications for
Study of Chinese Folklore.” Chinese Studies 1(8): 1-36.