Memory in Oral Traditions: The Cognitive Psychology of Epic, Ballads, and Counting-out Rhymes

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Long studied by anthropologists, historians, and linguists, oral traditions have provided a wealth of fascinating insights into unique cultural customs that span the history of humankind. In this groundbreaking work, cognitive psychologist David C. Rubin offers for the first time an accessible, comprehensive examination of what such traditions can tell us about the complex inner workings of human memory. Focusing in particular on their three major forms of organization—theme, imagery, and sound pattern—Rubin proposes a model of recall, and uses it to uncover the mechanisms of memory that underlie genres such as counting-out rhymes, ballads, and epics. The book concludes with an engaging discussion of how conversions from oral to written communication modes can predict how cutting-edge computer technologies will affect the conventions of future transmissions. Throughout, Rubin presents the results of important original research as well as new perspectives on classical subjects. Splendidly written and farsighted, Memory in Oral Traditions will be eagerly read by students and researchers in areas as diverse as cognitive psychology, literary studies, classics, and cultural anthropology.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Rubin writes clearly and has organized a mass of material, presenting it both minutely and conceptually. Cognitive psychologists and those who work in relevant specialized areas will find the book of interest..." — A Journal of Reviews and Commentary in Mental Health

"This is a challenging, interdisciplinary book that promises to have a ripple effect far beyond its home discipline of cognitive psychology....It has enormous implications for the more than one hundred oral traditions that have received specialist treatment over the past few decades, as well as for literary studies, folklore, and anthropology more generally. Dr. Rubin has brought cognitive psychology into a wholly unprecedented dialogue with studies in oral tradition. The result is a truly new perspective on memory and the processes of oral tradition that reinterprets the work of Milman Perry, Albert Lord, and others in an extremely productive way. Not only does Rubin make the psychological view understandable for the layperson, but he manages to reprise the Parry-Lord research in just as clear and up-to-date a manner." —John Miles Foley, William H. Byler Distinguished Professor of English and Classical Studies, University of Missouri

"This is a great book. Not just 'important' or 'fascinating' but great; a very Parthenon of a book."—Roger Brown, John Lindsley Professor of Psychology in Memory of William James, Harvard University

"Filled with fascinating and important insights about how memory really works in the field....This work dramatically enhanced my understanding of 'knowledge in the world'." —Donald A. Norman, Apple Computer, Inc., and University of California, San Diego (Emeritus)

"The beauty of interdisciplinary scholarship is the possibility of novel contributions that enrich both fields. Rubin's merger of cognitive psychology and oral history clarifies and advances knowledge in both areas. . .stands on its own while inviting continued examination of other oral transmissions such as humor and urban legends." —Choice

"This is an impressive and unique book. It is an intensive study of oral memory traditions by a cognitive psychologist. There is nothing like it in print and it is unlikely that it will be superseded in the foreseeable future. . . . First, for psychologists, it is a review of the literature from the humanities on the history and structure of oral traditions. Second, for humanists, it is a review of the literature from cognitive psychology on memory and text representation. Third, it is a research monograph reporting a series of studies on memory for oral texts. . . . Psychologists teaching an undergraduate course on memory will find that the literature on oral traditions in this book can provide much interesting lecture material. . . . One hopes that the success of this interdisciplinary and ecological study will mean that the next generation of experimental psychologists will feel freer to adopt this approach to the study of human memory."—William F. Brewer in Contemporary Psychology

"This book is a landmark contribution for both scientists and scholars. Rubin has effectively integrated methods and insights from cognitive psychology, discourse processing, neuroscience, folklore, the classics, linguistics, and rhetoric. For those in the field of discourse processing, no other book has a more comprehensive coverage of the research on the representation and memory of oral discourse. For those in the humanities, it serves as an illuminating guide on how to apply informative quantitative analyses to discourse excerpts, including those that evolve over hundreds of years. For those in the rigorous scientific circles of memory research, it is a creative, colorful departure from some of the tedious memory paradigms that have flooded our journals and laboratories during the last four decades. This book will capture the imaginations of the new students of memory."—Arthur C. Graesser in Contemporary Psychology

"David Rubin's book. . .provides an outstanding example of how more than a decade of memory studies, both inside and outside the laboratory, can be used to enrich our understanding of "ordinary" feats of memory. . . . Rubin is able to present a unique and useful perspective on basic processes that contribute to the power of human memory. In sum, this book is a capstone work that constitutes a successful attempt to link two previously unconnected areas of research: cognitive psychology and oral traditions." —American Journal of Psychology

"Memory in Oral Traditions is an original tour de force....Rubin is able to present us with fascinating, new perspectives on classical subjects as well as the inner workings of human memory." —The General Psychologist

"Rubin writes clearly and has organized a mass of material, presenting it both minutely and conceptually. Cognitive psychologists and those who work in relevant specialized areas will find the book of interest..."—Readings

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195082111
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 3/30/1995
  • Pages: 400
  • Lexile: 1370L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.50 (h) x 1.46 (d)

Table of Contents

1. Introduction
2. The Representation of Themes in Memory
3. Imagery
4. Sound
5. Combining Constraints
6. The Transmission of Oral Traditions
7. Basic Observations on Remembering
8. A Theory of Remembering for Oral Traditions
9. Epic and Formulaic Theory
10. Counting-out Rhymes
11. North Carolina Ballads
12. Discussion

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