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English 563
Studies in Narrative Literature: The Ballad
Fall 2002
TR 1-2:15pm
4008 Vilas

General Description




Texts and Recordings

Library Resources

Tentative Schedule

General Description

A study of British-American traditional balladry–that is, stories told in song--from the medieval origins of that genre to the present day.

Among the questions we will ask are: How are such narratives learned and passed down from generation to generation? To what extent do they change over time, particularly those that have passed over from the British Isles to North America? What are their chief rhetorical features? What are their functions in society? How do they encode their messages through the use of symbol and metaphor? How do traditional ballads differ from literary ballads or ballads composed for the broadside press? Where does creativity enter the ballad-singing process? What is the impact of traditional balladry on present-day singer-songwriters or musical groups? And how does the British-American tradition of balladry resemble comparable traditions in Scandinavia, the Balkans, and other parts of the world?



Regular attendance, preparation, and participation in class; three take-home essays c. 4-6 pages in length; a final exam. Each paper will count 25% toward the base grade in the course, and the final exam will also count 25%. The base grade is subject to adjustment depending on the student’s apparent degree of engagement in the process of learning as judged by such factors as attendance and participation in discussion.



English 320 (Introduction to Old English) or equivalent.



Office: 6131 White Hall
Office hours:
W 2-3:15pm, R 11am-12:15pm, and by appt.
(608) 265-9836


Texts (with short titles)

Required CDs

Classic Ballads of Britain and Ireland, vols. 1 and 2. Ed. Alan Lomax. Rounder, 2000. Abbreviated CB.

Anglo-American Ballads, vols. 1 and 2. Library of Congress Archive of Folk Culture. Rounder, 1999. Abbreviated AAB.

Required text

Ritchie, Jean. Folksongs of the Southern Appalachians. 2nd ed. University Press of Kentucky. Abbreviated JR.

Recommended texts (also on reserve)

Cohen, Norm. Long Steel Rail: The Railroad in American Folksong. 2nd ed. Univ. of Illinois Press.

Kennedy, Peter. Folksongs of Britain and Ireland. Oak Publications.

Toelken, Barre. Morning Dew and Roses. Univ. of Illinois Press.

Whisnant, David. All That Is Native and Fine: The Politics of Culture in an American Region. Univ. of North Carolina Press.

A small course reader packet will also be made available; it will include some texts that are referred to in class and that are not easily available from other sources.


Library Resources

In addition to making use of the CDs that are assigned for purchase, students should plan to spend considerable time in the Music Library and the College Library consulting materials available there, including many recordings of traditional sung balladry. Creative browsing of this kind is at the heart of what this course is about.

Some musical examples will be put on electronic reserve through the Music Library. The articles that are cited in the next part of the syllabus will be put on electronic reserves (ER) through the College Library.


Tentative Schedule

T Sept 3: Introduction to the course and to narrative folksong.

R Sept 5: The Child canon; Child 1 (“Riddles Wisely Expounded”) and other wit-combat ballads. Niles, “British American Balladry” (ER; be patient as the electronic reserves may take a while to be put in place). Recommended: Barre Toelken, Morning Dew and Roses, ch. 6 (pp. 104-25), to be put on reserve but be patient!

T Sept 10: Child 200 (“The Gypsy Laddie”) and other songs of elopement. Cartwright, “Johnny Faa and Black Jack Davy” (ER).

R Sept 12: Child 37 (“Thomas Rymer”),39 (“Tam Lin”), and other songs of otherworldly encounters. Niles, “Tam Lin: Form and Meaning” (ER).

T Sept 17: Child 10 (“The Twa Sisters”), 13 (“Edward”), and other songs of sibling rivalry.

R Sept 19: Child 4 (“Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight”), 243 (“The Daemon Lover / The House Carpenter”), and other songs of seduction and entrapment.

T Sept 24: Child 7 (“Earl Brand”), 73 (“Lord Thomas and Fair Eleanor”), 76 (“The Lass of Roch Royal”), 84 (“Bonny Barbara Allen”), and other tragedies of love. Cray, “Barbara Allen: Cheap Print and Reprint” and Cartwright, “Barbara Allen: Love and Death” (ER).

R Sept 26: Child 78 (“The Unquiet Grave”), 77 (“Sweet William’s Ghost”), 79 (“The Wife of Usher’s Well”), and other songs of ghosts and revenants.

T Oct 1: Child 20 (“The Cruel Mother”), 14 “Babylon”), 93 (“Lamkin”), and other murder ballads. Niles: “Lamkin: The Motivation of Horror” (ER).

R Oct 3: Comic ballads: Child 274 (“Our Goodman”), 275 (“Get Up and Bar the Door”), 278 (“The Farmer’s Curst Wife”), 281 (“The Keach in the Creel”); “The Frog and the Mouse,” “The Sea Crab” (Course Reader).

T Oct 8: Paper #1 due. The ballad and the medieval romance, carol, and lyric song: Child 17 (“Hind Horn”), 18 (“Sir Lionel”), 19 (“King Orfeo”),32 (“King Henry”), 53 (“Young Beichan”), 54 (“The Cherry Tree Carol”).

R Oct 10: Outlaw ballads: Child 120 (“The Death of Robin Hood”), 125 (“Robin Hood and Little John”), 167 (“Sir Andrew Barton”), 169 (“Johnny Armstrong”), 188 (“Archie o Cawfield”); “Robin Hood and the Monk” (Course Reader).

T Oct 15: Popular balladry and the broadside press: the Norwegian ballad “Draumkvæde” and related English-language songs. Niles, “Draumkvæde: Unique Masterpiece?” (ER).

R Oct 17: Guest lecture by Niels Ingwersen, Department of Scandinavian: “Aspects of the Scandinavian popular ballad.”

T Oct 22: The ballad’s version of history: Child 58 (“Sir Patrick Spens”), 155 (“Sir Hugh, or, the Jew’s Daughter”), 161-162 (“The Battle of Otterburn” and “The Hunting of the Cheviot”), 170 (“The Death of Queen Jane”), 201 (“Bonny James Campbell”)

R Oct 24: Early British ballad collectors and publishers: Thomas Percy, Walter Scott, William Motherwell. Bertrand Bronson, “Mrs. Brown and the Ballad” (ER).

T Oct 29: Later British collectors, singers, and publishers: Gavin Greig, Percy Grainger, Cecil Sharp, Hamish Henderson, Peter Kennedy, Ewan MacColl.

R Oct 31: A British ballad community: the Scottish travelers. Jeannie Robertson, Lizzie Higgins, Lucy Stewart, Duncan Williamson, others. Gower, “Jeannie Robertson: Portrait” and Niles, “Context and Loss” (ER).

T Nov 5: North American ballad collectors: Francis James Child, Phillips Barry, James Carpenter, Vance Randolph, John Lomax, Alan Lomax.

R Nov 7: North American ballad singers: Jean Ritchie and the Ritchie family, Almeda Riddle, Frank Proffitt, Horton Barker, others.

T Nov 12: Paper #2 due. Case study of a North American ballad community. Niles, “Cades Cove: A Study in Regional Song Culture” (ER).

R Nov 14: Guest lecture by James Leary, Folklore Program: “Narrative song in the Northern Midwest region.”

T Nov 19: American and Australian outlaws and badmen: “Jesse James,” “Stagolee,” “The Wild Colonial Boy,” others. Norm Cohen, Long Steel Rail, pp. 97-117.

R Nov 21: Two American tragedies in song: “John Henry” and the “Murdered Girl” stereotype. Cohen, Long Steel Rail, pp. 61-89; Anne Cohen, Poor Pearl, Poor Girl.

T Nov 26: Uses of the ballad in the folksong revival from Woody Guthrie to Bob Dylan and Steeleye Span; the impact of the Harry Smith anthology.


T Dec 3: Open date.

R Dec 5: Open date.

T Dec 10: Paper #3 due. Open date.

R Dec 12: Last day of class. Review.

F Dec 20: FINAL EXAMINATION,12:25 p.m., place to be announced.









Updated: 08-Jan-2003