First national folklore centre to launch in Sheffield

The Handsworth Traditional Sword Dancers from Sheffield in 2015.
The Handsworth Traditional Sword Dancers from Sheffield in 2015.

A team of academics are to launch the UK’s first centre for the study of superstitions, traditions and legends.  

With the Centre for Contemporary Legend, lecturers Dr David Clarke, Diane Rodgers and Andrew Robinson from Sheffield Hallam University’s media, arts and communications department are hoping to build on the city’s reputation as a centre for excellence in folklore research, which dates back to 1964.

Cakin night in the Robin Hood pub, Little Matlock, Stannington

Cakin night in the Robin Hood pub, Little Matlock, Stannington

Folklore is a tool for studying custom and belief, urban legends, modern myth and even rumours spread via the internet.

It includes everything from legends, language and traditions to reports of ghosts, UFOs and ‘big cats’.

The Centre for English Cultural Tradition started academic study of urban legends in 1982 at Sheffield University. 

At the time, Professor Paul Smith and colleagues ran a series of conferences, publications and taught courses before it closed in 2008 and its archives were transferred to the main library. 

Dr David Clarke with his recent book about the National Archives' UFO documents

Dr David Clarke with his recent book about the National Archives' UFO documents

Now, 10 years later, Dr Clarke, who gained a masters and PhD in English cultural tradition at the former centre, said it is time to bring the subject back to life in Sheffield and across the country. 

He said: “Why do people dress up as ghosts on Halloween? What motivates people to take part in calendar customs like the Haxey Hood and the Castleton Garland ceremony? Why do we identify with legends about Robin Hood and King Arthur? And, on a day-to-day level why do some of us carry lucky talismans or refuse to walk under ladders on our way to work?

“Folklore is a vital and on-going area of study and one of the few truly multi-disciplinary academic subjects that engage, in a fundamental way, with everyday life.”

The launch will take place with a one-day conference on November 15 at Sheffield Hallam University’s Collegiate campus where academics will discuss the past, present and future of folklore and the study of the subject. 

Across the world, in places such as Russia, Germany, Scotland, Ireland, Denmark and at least 22 campuses in North America, the subject is a well-established part of higher education, but this new centre will be the first of its kind in the UK.

Dr Clarke said: "There is massive public interest in all aspects of this subject but that is not reflected in what is offered to students and those who wish to carry out research in a higher education environment.

"Despite the recent revival of interest in folklore on screen and the growing popularity of 'folk horror' as a genre there are still no centres for academic study of the subject in the UK.

“Why not in England? That's why we decided the time was right to launch the CCL, initially as a centre for focal point for all those working in the field of folklore and legend studies."

Visit www.centreforcontemporarylegend.wordpress.com to find out more.