Folklore Definition | Degrees & Programs | Folkore @ CBU
Structure | Location | Music


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Folklore: The Study of Informal Culture

Folklorists are interested in how beliefs, narratives, music, skills, crafts, rituals, customs, and ideologies are transmitted not through structured institutions but through intimate, direct, and interpersonal communication.

Folklorists study traditions of all kinds that help shape an individual, group, or community identity. All groups participate in activities that inform their identity, such as:

  • customs and rituals (weddings, frosh week, or retirement parties)
  • costume (kilts, cowboy hats, or low-rise jeans)
  • dancing (polkas, step-dancing, or moshing)
  • storytelling (tall tales, jokes, legends such as The Vanishing Hitchhiker, or folktales such as Cinderella)
  • vernacular language (“skooshing” [jumping on ice clampers] or “LOL” [laughing out loud])
  • vernacular architecture (houses, barns, or sheds).

Folklorists study verbal, customary, and material culture; it is the study of how people adopt and adapt the wealth of culture available to them – whether local, regional, national, or international, whether passed through face-to-face communication, through mass media, or through institutions – and make it their own.

To learn more about folklore, check out The Folklore Tree, a series of youtube videos made by CBU Folklore graduate, Cassandra Colman, made during her final year as part of a senior project:

Folklore Degrees and Programs

For detailed information, see the Academic Calendar.

  • 3 year General Degree
  • 4 year Major Degree
  • Double Major
  • Area Major
  • Minor
  • Certificate in Heritage Studies

Folklore at Cape Breton University

Cape Breton University is the only Maritime university to offer a program in folklore, and one of only a few Canadian universities to do so. CBU Folklore students have access to, among other resources,

Program Structure

Students majoring in folklore take preparatory courses in the discipline, introducing students to fundamental concepts, issues, and methods in the discipline of folklore. Students have opportunities to conduct their own fieldwork projects, engaging with ethical issues while developing skills in interviewing, observation, archival and library research, analysis, and synthesis in writing.

CBU’s program specializes in folklore of the Atlantic provinces, offering courses such as:

  • Cultural Heritage of Cape Breton;
  • Folklore of Atlantic Canada; and
  • Folk Music of Atlantic Canada

while providing a broader perspective and ample opportunity for cross-cultural comparison in courses such as:

  • Folklife Studies: Regional Ethnology;
  • Oral Literature: Storytelling and Other Verbal Genres;
  • Urban Legend;
  • Vernacular Architecture;
  • Food and Culture; and
  • Gender in Traditional and Informal Culture.

Upper-level seminar and thesis courses provide an opportunity for the student to do in-depth directed research. Taking a minor in folklore at CBU is a unique opportunity for students to complement their studies in a “mainstream” discipline with a fresh perspective gleaned from the study of informality.

Program Location

Cape Breton Island is an ideal location in which to study folklore because of the myriad cultural groups to be found there, including English Loyalists, Irish, Acadian French, Ukrainian, Italian, Polish, Czechoslovakian, African-American, and Jewish communities, amongst others.

The island is additionally home to five Aboriginal First Nation communities. Cape Breton was also settled by more than twenty-five thousand Gaelic-speaking Scots in the late 18th and early 19th centuries and, to this day, remains the only place outside of Scotland where Scots Gaelic is still spoken.

To varying degrees, these groups have maintained their distinctive languages, customs, and oral and creative traditions. In addition, the Island has drawn these cultural groups to its industries, from farming and fishing to steel and coal and now to government and information technology: cultural groups encountering each other through occupations generate new traditions.

Cape Breton’s multicultural context provides ample opportunity for students to observe and study folklore directly, and to see how folk groups relate to and affect one another.

Traditional Music

Students may be especially interested in pairing their folklore major with a minor in traditional music. Many of CBU’s music courses can also be counted towards the folklore major.

Ian Brodie
Associate Professor, Folklore

Office: CE263C

Phone: 563.1418

Richard MacKinnon
Vice President, Academic (Provost) / Professor, Folklore

Office: CE330

Phone: 902.563.1980

Kate Dunlay
Lecturer of Celtic Music within the Ethnomusicology Program

Office: Off Campus

Phone: 902.445.9797

Gerald Pocius
Visiting Research Professor

Office: CE252

Phone: 902.563.1229