Jamie Tehrani , an anthropologist at Durham University in the United Kingdom, thinks he's found the answer.
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In a paper published this month in the journal PLOS ONE , he argues that methods used to track the evolution of biological species can be applied to the evolution of folktales. National Geographic spoke with Tehrani about his hunt for the origins of this famous story. Why did you think that a scientific method might work to determine the evolution of folk tales? Folktales are like biological species: They literally evolve by descent with modification.
They get told and retold with slight alterations, and then that gets passed on to the next generation and gets altered again. In many ways the problem of reconstructing folklore tradition is very similar to the problem of reconstructing the evolutionary relationship of species. We have little evidence about the evolution of species because the fossil record is so patchy. Similarly, folktales are only very occasionally written down. We need to use some kind of method for reconstructing that history in the absence of physical evidence.
Red Riding Hood
You used a methodology called phylogenetics. Can you explain what that is?
What you do with phylogenetics is you reconstruct history by inferring the past that's been preserved through inheritance. The descendants of ancestral species will resemble them in certain ways. You can figure out which features of a related group of organisms or folktales could be traced back to a common ancestor. What are some of the theories about the origins of "Little Red Riding Hood"?
It's been suggested that the tale was an invention of Charles Perrault , who wrote it down in the 17th century. Other people have insisted that "Little Red Riding Hood" has ancient origins. There's an 11th-century poem from Belgium which was recorded by a priest, who says, oh, there's this tale told by the local peasants about a girl wearing a red baptism tunic who wanders off and encounters this wolf. My results demonstrate that, although most versions that we're familiar with today descended from Perrault's tale, he didn't invent it.
My analysis confirmed that the 11th-century poem is indeed an early ancestor of the modern fairy tale. It's been suggested that the story may have originated in East Asia and spread westward, and as it spread west, it split into two distinct tales, "Little Red Riding Hood" and "The Wolf and the Kids. A popular theory is that they're both descended from Chinese tradition, because these Chinese tales have elements of both.
Little Red Riding Hood on Spotify
My analysis shows that, in fact, the East Asian versions aren't the source. For example, in the East Asian tales we find a version of the famous dialogue between the victim and the villain which goes, "What big eyes you have! This is supported by the fact that it's missing from the 11th-century poem, which is the earliest known variant. Little Red Riding Hood, also known in some versions of the story as Little Red Cap, encounters the wolf in this turn-of-the-century French trading card. A nanny goat leaves her kids at home and tells them not to open the door for anyone.
What she doesn't realize is that a wolf is outside the house and overhears her.
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Cultural development seems to have followed equally complex paths. They are published by ADHO.
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It sees its role as representing the interests of everyone active in Digital Humanities, and organises annual conferences. Established in , it promotes the emergence of new initiatives. ADHO runs annual conferences, awards prizes and publishes several journals. Digital Humanities Projects In Europe a digital infrastructure for cultural studies is being developed with the aim of facilitating sustainable access to cultural goods and research data.
These are the two major programmes.
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