Literary Geographies of Folklore

I am currently principal investigator on the 4-year Early Career Researcher project “Literary Geographies of Folklore”, funded by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science.

The basic purpose of this research is to produce the first book-length literary geographic examination of folklore.This project aims to demonstrate how representations of place in folklore writings shape real-world encounters, becoming formative in the bonds people create between themselves and specific geographic locations. By analysing geographic description in the literary works of writers such as M.R. James, Lafcadio Hearn and Arthur Machen, as well as in communal writings on folklore from selected public archive collections, it will be possible to better understand the ways in which traditional cultural narratives become embedded in literary texts. This research is important in understanding how folklore literature provides real-world places with specific meanings, shaping their role within the geographic imagination on local, regional, national and international levels.Unlike existing writings on folklore and geography, which have focused on the influence of real-world places on folklore, this pioneering research will elucidate the influence of folklore on our perception of real-world places.

Literary geography takes a geographical approach to the study of literature and considers the spatial relationships between people, texts and places (Hones 2014). Similarly, folklore can be seen to produce written and oral narratives that describe people and their connections to place(s). Literary engagements with folklore act as a key way in which traditional beliefs and knowledge of geographic locations becomes embedded in cultural memory: a process through which historical and contemporary understandings of places and people come to be recorded and disseminated.

Yet, literary geography has overlooked folklore literature and its role in producing cultural understandings of those places that exist exterior to the texts that describe them. While cultural geographers have elsewhere paid attention to spirituality, legend and belief in their analyses of place-making (Pile 2005; Till 2005; Edensor 2008; McCorristine and Adams 2019), they have often done so by focusing on figurative uses of folktales to explain social processes (e.g. using ghosts as a metaphor for memory). Both literary and cultural geography have ignored the fundamental role of folk narratives in creating places and contextualizing people’s understandings of their surroundings. 

This project aims to draw from a broad range of sources, including novels, short stories, hand-written documents of eye-witness accounts and other textual records of traditional folktales to examine how folkloric writings, cultural narrative and belief intersect with and inform our understanding of place. This research is important in demonstrating the educational capacity of folklore and its role in informing past, present and future understandings of geography through traditional beliefs, customs and literary imaginings.

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