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John Miles Foley Is a scholar of comparative oral tradition, medieval and Old English Literature (particularly Beowulf), Ancient Greek (especially Homer) and Serbian epic. He is the founder of the academic journal Oral Tradition and the Center for Studies in Oral Tradition at the University of Missouri, where he is Curators' Professor of Classical Studies and English and W. H. Byler Endowed Chair in the Humanities.[1] Foley is generally regarded as the world’s foremost authority on the subject of comparative oral traditions[2]

In addition to providing the infrastructure for the comparatively new academic discipline of oral tradition by means of organizing conferences, producing the first bibliography,[3] history and methodological guide[4] and classroom textbook [5] on the subject, his principal contributions have been the study of oral traditional performance in the field, and the application of those observations both to ancient texts and to the emerging secondary orality of the Internet.

He teaches in the departments of Classical Studies (of which he was chair from 1996-1999), including both literature and language, English ( Anglo-Saxon language and Beowulf) , and German and Russian Studies (Slavic languages and literature). [1] Additionally, he has been an adjunct professor of Anthropology since 1992.

Foley is also founding Director of the Center for eResearch, which fosters cross-disciplinary internet-related research, [2]. He has written or edited twenty books, and authored upwards of 160 scholarly articles.Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries did a retrospective of his work in 2001 [6] Additionally, he edits two series of books (Lord Studies in Oral Tradition, at Garland, and Voices in Performance and Text, at the University of Illinois Press)[3]


Education and Career

Foley was born January 22, 1947, in Northampton, Massachusetts. He received his bachelor’s degree at Colgate University in 1969, with majors in Physics, Mathematics and Chemistry. He completed his Masters degree in English Literature at the University of Massachusetts/Amherst in 1971 before completing the PhD there in English and Comparative Literature (1974). Following his doctoral studies, Foley did fieldwork in what was then Yugoslavia, confirming and extending the earlier researches of Milman Parry and Albert Lord in living oral traditions; based on this fieldwork, he would continue the work of Francis P. Magoun in applying the findings to other ethnolinguistic areas, as well as providing further articulation for the theory of Oral-Formulaic Composition.

After receiving the doctorate, Foley was assistant professor of English at Emory University until 1979, when he became associate professor at the University of Missouri, where he has remained (full professor, 1983), except for stints as visiting professor at the University of Belgrade (1980) and visiting fellow at Harvard University (1976-1977, 1980-1981). He directed summer institutes for teachers for the National Endowment for the Humanities in 1987, 1989, 1991, 1992 and 1994.

He has given more than 250 invited lectures throughout the United States as well as in China, India, Russia, Mongolia, Japan, throughout Africa and Europe, and the United States. [4]

Foley has been awarded grants and fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies, the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Fulbright Program, the Mellon Foundation, and other institutions, and is a fellow of the Finnish Folklore Society and the American Folklore Society.

Select bibliography

  • Oral-Formulaic Theory and Research: An Introduction and Annotated Bibliography. New York, 1985.
  • The Theory of Oral Composition: History and Methodology. Bloomington, 1988 Rpt. 1992.
  • Traditional Oral Epic: The Odyssey, Beowulf, and the Serbo-Croatian Return Song. Berkeley, 1990 Rpt. 1993.
  • Immanent Art: From Structure to Meaning in Traditional Oral Epic. Bloomington,1991
  • The Singer of Tales in Performance. Bloomington, 1995
  • (ed.) Teaching Oral Traditions. New York, 1988
  • Homer’s Traditional Art. PennState 1999.
  • How To Read an Oral Poem. Illinois, (2002) (complemented by the website)
  • an edition-translation of The Wedding of Mustajbey’s Son Bećirbey (eEdition)
  • A Companion to Ancient Epic. Blackwell, 2005


  1. ^ Visiting Scholars | Textual Studies Program - University of Washington
  2. ^ UVic Events Calendar - day view
  3. ^ Oral-Formulaic Theory and Research: An Introduction and Annotated Bibliography. New York: Garland 1985.
  4. ^ The Theory of Oral Composition: History and Methodology. Bloomington:IUP 1988
  5. ^ (ed.)Teaching Oral Traditions. New York: Modern Language Association 1998
  6. ^ Choice, 39, i (September 2001): 64-65

External links



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