About the Center for Studies in Oral Tradition

Founded in 1986 with the approval of the University of Missouri Board of Curators, the Center for Studies in Oral Tradition stands as a national and international focus for interdisciplinary research and scholarship on the world’s oral traditions. Our long-term mission is to facilitate communication across disciplinary boundaries by creating linkages among specialists in different fields. Through our various activities we try to foster conversations and exchanges about oral tradition that would not otherwise take place.

During its more than three decades of existence the CSOT has established a series of paper and web publications aimed at serving a broad academic constituency. These include the journal Oral Tradition (1986-) and three series of books: the Albert Bates Lord Studies in Oral Tradition (1987-96; 17 volumes); Voices in Performance and Text (1995-97; 3 volumes); and, Poetics of Orality and Literacy (2 volumes to date; 2004-).

Since 1987 the CSOT has sponsored the Lord and Parry Lecture on Oral Tradition, an annual event honoring two of the most important scholars in this interdisciplinary area.


The Director of the Center for Studies in Oral Tradition is Dr. John Zemke. He began his study of verbal arts with his training in medieval Spanish literature under Samuel G. Armistead. He teaches courses on Hispanic Oral Traditions, History of the Spanish Language, and medieval Spanish Literature at the University of Missouri. His 2004 book entitled Mose ben Barukh Almosnino. Regimiento de la vida y Tratado de los suenyos (Salonika, 1564) reflects interest in restoring Spanish language documents in Hebrew characters to the historical record.

Founding Director

The Founding Director of the Center for Studies in Oral Tradition was Dr. John Miles Foley. More about Dr. Foley can be found by viewing his Curriculum Vitae.

Albert Bates Lord Studies in Oral Tradition
  1. Jacob Neusner, Oral Tradition in Judaism: The Case of the Mishnah (1987)
  2. Stephen O. Glosecki, Shamanism and Old English Poetry (1989)
  3. Ruth H. Webber, ed., Hispanic Balladry Today (1989)
  4. Judith Seeger, Count Claros: Study of a Ballad Tradition (1990)
  5. Murray McGillivray, Memorization in the Transmission of the Middle English Romances (1990)
  6. Marcel Jousse, The Oral Style, trans. Edgard Sienaert and Richard Whitaker (1990)
  7. Karl Reichl, Turkic Oral Epic Poetry: Traditions, Forms, Poetic Structure (1992)
  8. J. Michael Stitt, Beowulf and the Bear's Son: Epic, Saga, and Fairytale in Northern Germanic Tradition (1992)
  9. Zinta Konrad, Ewe Comic Heroes: Trickster Tales in Togo (1994)
  10. Carolyn Higbie, Heroes' Names, Homeric Identities (1995)
  11. J. M. Foley, ed., De Gustibus: Essays for Alain Renoir (1992)
  12. Jane Morrissey and Cristina Canales, eds. and trans., Gracias, Matiox, Thanks: A Trilingual Anthology of Guatemalan Oral Traditions (1996)
  13. Mark Amodio, ed., Oral Poetics in Middle English Poetry (1994)
  14. James Dee, The Epithetic Phrases for the Homeric Gods (1994)
  15. Mishael Caspi, ed., Oral Tradition and Hispanic Literature: Essays in Honor of Samuel G. Armistead (1995)
  16. Keith Dickson, Nestor: Poetic Memory in Greek Epic (1995)
  17. Craig R. Davis, Beowulf and the Demise of Germanic Legend in England (1996)

Most of these volumes are available from Amazon.com or Alibris.com.

Voices in Performance and Text
  1. Ruth Finnegan and Margaret Orbell, eds., South Pacific Oral Traditions (1995)

    This volume demonstrates that oral media and native cultural forms are still vital throughout the South Pacific. Contributions from anthropology, ethnomusicology, folklore, literature, and history raise issues in comparative scholarship on oral tradition... South Pacific Oral Traditions demonstrates that unwritten songs, dances, narratives, and laments – all drawing primarily on oral media and native cultural forms – are still being performed, transmitted, and newly created throughout the islands of the South Pacific. [from the back cover]

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  2. J. M. Foley, The Singer of Tales in Performance (1995)

    Both living oral traditions and texts with roots in oral tradition share a context in which the speaker performs for an audience, either real or implied.... This study dissolves the perceived barrier between “oral” and “written,” creating a composite theory from oral-formulaic theory and the ethnography of speaking and ethnopoetics.... Foley examines a wide range of genres – including Serbian charms, the Homeric Hymns, and the Anglo-Saxon hagiography Andreas – uncovering the expressive roots of oral-derived traditional works to recover both the performance event and its traditional context. [from the back cover]

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  3. Werner Kelber, The Oral and the Written Gospel: The Hermeneutics of Speaking and Writing in the Synoptic Tradition, Mark, Paul, and Q, rev. ed. (1997)

    Spoken words process knowledge differently from writing. What happens when speech turns into text? In reappraising literary scholars’ propensity to trace Jesus’ sayings back to the assumed original version, the author argues that in the oral medium each rendition of a saying is the original. Orality works with multiple originals, rather than with single originality. In what may be the most extraordinary thesis of the book, Kelber argues that the written gospel is related less by evolutionary progression than by contradiction to what preceded it. [from the back cover]

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Poetics of Orality and Literacy
  1. Mark C. Amodio, Writing the Oral Tradition: Oral Poetics and Literate Culture in Medieval England (2004)

    Mark Amodio's book focuses on the influence of the oral tradition on written vernacular verse produced in England from the fifth to the fifteenth century. His primary aim is to explore how a living tradition articulated only through the public, performance voices of pre-literate singers came to find expression through the pens of private, literate authors. Amodio argues that the expressive economy of oral poetics survives in written texts because, throughout the Middle Ages, literacy and orality were interdependent, not competing, cultural forces.

    After delving into the background of the medieval oral-literate matrix, Writing the Oral Tradition develops a model of non-performative oral poetics that is a central, perhaps defining, component of Old English vernacular verse. Following the Norman Conquest, oral poetics lost its central position and became one of many ways to articulate poetry. Contrary to many scholars, Amodio argues that oral poetics did not disappear but survived well into the post-Conquest period. It influenced the composition of Middle English verse texts produced from the twelfth to the fourteenth century because it offered poets an affectively powerful and economical way to articulate traditional meanings. Indeed, fragments of oral poetics are discoverable in contemporary prose, poetics, and film as they continue to faithfully emit their traditional meanings. [from the UNDP web page]

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  2. Kathryn Starkey, Reading the Medieval Book: Word, Image, and Performance in Wolfram von Eschenbach's Willehalm (2004)

    Reading the Medieval Book examines one of the most important epic poems in thirteenth-century Germany and its redaction in a richly illustrated manuscript created just fifty-five years after the poem's composition. Starkey's book reveals that the Munich-Nuremberg manuscript (c.1270) of Wolfram von Eschenbach's Willehalm (c.1215) was compiled with both oral performance and the written medium in mind.

    Wolfram contrasts the visual language of the court with the auditory one of the battlefield, drawing attention to the position of the narrator and the interpretive frame that he provides. The manuscript reflects Wolfram's clear interest in the oral and visual communication that played such a dominant role in court society of the thirteenth century. Starkey argues that rather than merely depicting the events of Willehalm's plot, the Munich-Nuremberg artists also visualized nuances and shifts in the text that may otherwise have become lost when the oral text was committed to the page. The Munich-Nuremberg redaction of Willehalm provides insight into the critical transition in the literary culture of lay people in the West from a primarily oral to a literate experience. [from the UNDP web page]

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Lord and Parry Lecture Series

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Previous Lord and Parry Lecturers