Siftr + Folklore 100

Ruth Olson
Ruth Olson

Think about the word Folklore. What comes to mind? Most likely you are imagining things unrelated to your own day-to-day life. And chances are if you studied this in college, you were sitting in a lecture hall. How would your ideas change if you were asked to consider Folklore by getting outside and exploring your own neighborhood?

This is exactly what Professor Ruth Olson asked students in her Folklore 100 course to do. Olson notes that students new to anthropological research often consider “culture” to be what “others” have. Hoping to challenge preconceived notions of Folklore and to help students “see themselves as cultural beings,” Olson asked her students to break free of the traditional classroom theory and identify and document their very own folkloric elements around UW–Madison.

Just how did she do this? Enter Siftr. While Siftr—a social photography app—seems similar to Instagram, it was designed to engage very specific communities, such as a class, around defined topics. For her own class, Olson chose the topics Everyday Art, Folk Groups, Places, Stories and Traditions. By using hashtags such as #sophomore and #downtown to categorize and filter the media they uploaded for each topic, students were able to see both what they had in common and what was different across their shared UW culture. They were also able to see how their very own ideas of culture might shift and evolve depending on how long they have been on campus or where they live and spend time. One student said, “it showed me there were pockets of student life that did more than just go to football games.”

Spanning a long weekend, this activity was strong pilot project. Most of the 98 students surveyed remarked on Siftr’s ease of use and how the assignment both broadened their perceptions of what Folklore was and helped them notice examples of it outside the classroom in their own day-to-day lives. Olson described the activity as an “introductory form of fieldwork,” which was exactly the aim of this project.

Moving forward, the Field Day Lab wants to determine the best ways of facilitating the use of Siftr so that many more courses and other educational contexts can take advantage of this tool. Want your own Siftr? To get involved, check out more at: or email

See the Folklore 100 Siftr project here: