Introduction to Storytelling Studies
by Eric Miller
(Initially posted 1998, last updated 2008)



Storytelling Studies is a clearly-demarcated field of study: storytelling can be defined as relating of a series of events, and Storytelling Studies concerns the forms and contents of this relating.  Storytelling Studies can be thought of as an interdisciplinary field, or as a discipline.

As those of us who have tried to study or teach storytelling (also known as, oral narrative) in academia are especially aware, storytelling is considered in a wide variety of academic disciplines, including Anthropology, Communications, Computer Science, Creative Arts Therapy, Education, English, History, Library and Information Sciences, Performance Studies, Psychology, Sociology, Speech, Theatre, 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, it seems that there is no place for studio courses.  Storytelling Studies would also offer studio courses providing practical instruction 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 (it is debatable as to whether or not the latter should be called storytelling at all).  

Two fields of study in which the study of storytelling resides are Socio-linguistics and Socio-kinetics (the study of ways people talk and move in various societies and cultures).  Storytelling occurs in everyday conversation (as studied in the delightful Socio-linguistic field of Conversation Analysis), as well as in more formal contexts, such as performances in front of groups, and rituals.  There are over 80 identified genres of verbal arts (epic-chanting, riddling, joking, etc.): most of them can be considered forms of storytelling, and all of them can be used in storytelling.

Among the topics that Storytelling Studies includes are: storytelling in teaching (education), healing (psychology), oratory (politics), ministry (religion), and selling (business); and the roles and functions of storytelling and storytellers in family and community life.  

Two entities that are helping to develop Storytelling Studies are
 
1) Storytelling in Higher Education: A Special Interest Group of the USA's National Storytelling Network

2) Storytelling, Self, and Society: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Storytelling Studies
(Please see the very cogent statement about Storytelling Studies in the Editorial Policy Statement on the above page;  and also the journal's first article, which can be considered a founding article of Storytelling Studies.

A List of College Courses in and/or About Storytelling is accessible at http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/storytelling/courses.html .  This list also describes the Storytelling Programs currently available in higher education.

So what do you think?  Is the formal establishment of Storytelling Studies a worthy goal?  Of course, there will most likely never be more than a few such programs and departments, and that is fine...and beside the point.  The question is whether or not Storytelling Studies provides a needed and helpful intellectual orientation.
 
Thank you!  

Eric Miller, Chennai
eric@storytellinginstitute.org
http://www.storytellinginstitute.org