Storytelling as Social Practice

Students performing their stories in the Storytelling as Social Practice JBS Program at Brandeis University Summer School

Professor David Sherman
9 Weeks, 12 Credits  |  June 1-July 31, 2020

Good storytellers can change the world. The stories we hear and tell in this JBS come from folk traditions, literature, oral histories, and our own creative workshops. We experience the social life of stories on the page and stage, a craft for fashioning identity and creating community. As members of the Brandeis Storytelling Brigade, we entertain and educate through the stories we perform in a wide range of public spaces, from daycare centers to open mic competitions. And we reflect on our live storytelling in the context of literary history and narrative theory, in interdisciplinary academic projects.

This course builds on a vibrant storytelling movement across the U.S. to help us develop extraordinarily useful skills:

  • holding stage presence in body and voice
  • organizing and promoting performance events
  • participating constructively in a collaborative performance team
  • designing intricate plots, with a sense of how beginnings, middles, and ends shape human time
  • understanding character psychology and development as a part of a character system
  • researching the history of folk stories, as a strategy for doing cultural history
  • analyzing narrative in theoretically sophisticated ways, including political and philosophical investigations into how stories work and what they do
  • writing critically about the short story literary genre, as it has evolved from antiquity to the present
By the end of the JBS, students have a repertoire of stories and skills that can support work in education, political advocacy, creative writing, theater, stand-up, clinical psychology, and other realms where stories circulate. By knowing the stories that we’re capable of telling, we learn more about where and how we can be effective in the world.

Program Highlights:

The Boston area has a rich storytelling performance scene. Professional storytellers will visit our class for coaching sessions and discussions of their remarkable work. And we will participate in local storytelling events — like the Moth — in Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville.

In addition, we will reach out to local community centers, libraries, daycare centers, schools, summer camps, and summer festivals to offer performances. These challenging experiences are at the heart of this JBS. By taking these risks together, we grow in skill and confidence in representing our lives to others. And we see first-hand how genuine stories can connect people across differences.

Ideal for:

This JBS is open to all students, with an interdisciplinary humanities and social science approach to storytelling. It offers excellent training for teachers, actors, stage directors, stand-up artists, and others seeking to develop strong public speaking skills and performance strategies. In terms of cultural and literary analysis, the JBS is also ideal for literary scholars, writers, and folklorists.

Credits and Requirements toward Graduation:

Students in this JBS will earn 12 credit hours and fulfill three Humanities Requirements (HUM), one Writing Intensive Requirement (WI) and one Oral Communication (OC) requirement toward graduation. Additionally, for most students, one JBS can count as a semester of residency toward graduation - this can allow some students who have enough credits to graduate early (all students - but particularly transfer students - should click here for terms and conditions surrounding residency requirements)


ENG 40bj - The Birth of the Short Story
Requirements Fulfilled: hum, wi
Description: How did the genre of the short story emerge and what distinctive work has it performed in its long and protean history? What unique publication and reading practices have been a part of this history? And why does the short story still matter? With a focus on nineteenth- and twentieth-century writers such as Irving, Poe, Hawthorne, Twain, Chekhov, Mansfield, Hemingway, O’Connor, García Márquez, Johnson, Wallace, and Moore, we will work through the techniques and craft that have defined the short story tradition. And we will consider recent experiments in short stories, mapping where the genre is going next.

ENG 111aj - Narrative Theory
Requirements Fulfilled: hum
Description: This course will explore fundamental concepts in narrative theory and narratology, from Aristotle until today. We will consider the formal features of plots, characters, and narrative discourse. And we will read theoretical accounts of the role that narrative plays in personal identity, community belonging, moral judgment, historical knowledge, and political authority. As a prominent body of scholarship within literary studies, narrative theory offers insights into a fundamental way in which we organize our experiences and make sense of our world.

ENG 60aj - Storytelling Performance
Requirements Fulfilled: hum, oc
Description: This experiential course is a workshop for students to craft and perform stories as part of the Brandeis Storytelling Brigade. Through a series of collaborative exercises and rehearsals, students will develop a repertoire of at least four stories: one fictional story for young children, one folk tale for young children, one story based on historical research for young adults or adults, and one autobiographical or fictional story for young adults or adults. We will tell our individual and group stories, as a team, at youth summer programs, libraries, teen centers, open mics, and other public spaces.


If you have questions about the program, please email Prof. David Sherman at:

If you have questions about the application process or have general programs about the JBS program, email us at:

JBS Applications:

Applicants should first review the application processThere are limited spaces and financial aid in all JBS programs, so applicants are encouraged to apply early - some popular programs will fill before the application deadline!

To fill out a Summer 2020 JBS Application visit our application page.