The inaugural


Recycled Stories: Health Legends, Epidemics and the Politics of Risk

Professor Diane E. Goldstein

Woman wearing blue dress and turquoise earrings

Introduced by Principal Sir Ian Diamond

Thursday 19 November 2015 at 6:30pm

King's College Conference Centre

followed by a reception featuring North-East Produce


The David Buchan Lecture is the culmination of a year of special events to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the founding of the Elphinstone Institute. The launch of this lecture is in memory of the influential ballad and contemporary legend scholar who was also the Institute's first appointed director. This annual event will place Ethnology and Folklore firmly in the university calendar and appeal to a wide audience across the university as well as to the general public.

The inaugural David Buchan Lecture will be given by distinguished folklorist, Professor Diane Goldstein, director of the Folklore Institute and chair of the department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology, Indiana University, the leading institution in the field. Goldstein, who specialises in medical folklore and belief, will offer a talk on medical epidemic legends and their significance to modern healthcare practice. Goldstein has served as president of the American Folklore Society and the Society for Contemporary Legend Research. We are greatly honoured that she will be joining us for the launching of the series.


As part of community discourse about the nature of disease, legends provide powerful information about cultural understandings of disease and illness. Though fascinating, intriguing, and often frightening, health legends do more than merely entertain. They warn and inform, articulate notions of risk, provide political commentary on public health actions, and offer insight into the relationship between cultural and health truths. When taken seriously, with respect for the narratives and their tellers, health legends enable understandings of perceptions of risk, reveal local views of public health efforts, and highlight areas of health care and education that need to be improved. Health narratives, however, do not simply articulate perceptions of disease realities; they also create those realities. Told within scientific and official sectors as well as lay communities, legends play a significant role in medical, legal, and educational responses to disease and its management.  This talk will explore similarities between legends concerning several epidemics and will demonstrate the importance of that information for public health.