Articles by James Deutsch

Complicated adventures await Loki, the "god of mischief," played by Tom Hiddleston in the new Disney+ series produced by Marvel Studios.

A Folklorist Explains Loki's Place in Mythology's Pantheon of Trickster Heroes

Smithsonian's James Deutsch says that behind the character in the new Marvel Studios series lies the oft-told story of "guile" outsmarting authority

For nearly four decades, Alexander has lived on various heating grates in Southwest D.C., which is why he introduced himself as “Alexander the Grate.”

A Street-Wise Philosopher Explains What It Means to Be Homeless Amid the Pandemic

Smithsonian Folklorist James Deutsch interviews the Washington D.C. man, "Alexander the Grate," about living in the "interstices of the infrastructure"

The Metcalfs—Joni, 57, and Derek, 60—married in August 1983 and raised four children. When Derek lost his job with the federal government, they eventually ended up living in the streets. Recently, they found permanent housing.

A Washington, D.C. Couple Shares How the Pandemic Complicates Homelessness

Smithsonian curator James Deutsch speaks with the Metcalfs, who have long lived on the streets

Only 20 questions were on the 1950 census form, which made it easier for this Virginia mother to respond to the enumerator's survey while at home with her young children.

Here’s Why Taking America’s Roll Call Is a Hard-Knock Job

History’s census enumerators came back with the numbers and some very tall tales

Folklorists remain alert to the culture (non-biological) of the coronavirus, even as we conduct our research while quarantined. Our research will certainly evolve as the pandemic itself evolves.

Covid-19

How to Detect the Age-Old Traditions of Folklore in Today’s COVID-19 Misinformation

Smithsonian folklorist James Deutsch says the fast spread of stories and memes are cultural expressions that build cohesion and support

A family holds a Passover seder in 1970

Why Is This Year’s Passover Seder Different From All Other Years'?

A Smithsonian folklorist examines Jewish humor in the midst of a pandemic

The three-time winning Meryl Streep (above at the 2017 Academy Awards) with 21 nominations under her belt appears to be a rare exception to the Oscar Jinx.

A Smithsonian Folklorist Delves Into the Rituals and Rewards at the Academy Awards

Folk belief holds that if you have won one Oscar, your odds of ever winning a second are greatly diminished by the dreaded “Oscar Jinx”

La Casa di Giulietta had always belonged to the Dal Cappello family until purchased by the City of Verona in 1905. Cappello is close enough to Capulet that there’s a semblance of credibility to those who wish to believe.

In the Fair City of Verona, Star-Cross'd Lovers Want to Believe in 'La Casa di Giulietta'

The number of visitors to this self-proclaimed Shakespearean “city of love” typically swells during the week around Valentine’s Day

Directed by Otto Bathurst, Robin Hood stars Taron Egerton in the title role, with Jamie Foxx as Little John, Ben Mendelsohn as the Sheriff of Nottingham and Eve Hewson as Marian.

Why a New Robin Hood Arises Every Generation

Troubled times always bring out the noble bandit who, in the face of tyranny and corruption, robs from the rich to give back to the people

Parson Weems’ Fable by Grant Wood, depicting Parson Weems and his famous story of George Washington and the cherry tree.

Some Stories About George Washington Are Just Too Good to Be True

But there's a kernel of truth to many of them because Washington was a legend in his own time

Most of the T-shirts had in common the image that appeared on Juan Diego’s cloak: the Virgin modestly looking down, her hands folded together in prayer.

A New Way to Show Your Devotion in Mexico City: Wear a T-Shirt

A Smithsonian folklorist makes the pilgrimage to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe and discovers an emerging tradition

Thor's Fight with the Giants by M.E. Winge, 1872

What a Smithsonian Folklorist Thinks about Marvel's Cleaned-Up Version of Thor

In Hollywood’s hands, the Thor of ‘Ragnarok’ is a hunk with a heart compared to the brutish thug of lore

"The mischievous deeds we perpetrated," writes Jim Deutsch, a Smithsonian curator of folklore, "were never elaborate pranks carefully planned, but rather were almost always spontaneous."

Commentary

Yes. The Night Before Halloween Is a Real Holiday

In New Jersey, it's known as 'Mischief Night." In Detroit, it's 'Devil's Night.' And in Cincinnati, it's ... 'Cabbage Night'?

Approaching a total eclipse in Queensland, Australia, November 2012

What Folklore Tells Us About Eclipses

Across multiple cultures, says a Smithsonian folklorist, a darkening of daytime skies provokes a foreboding of evil

How the Narwhal Got Its Tusk

According to Inuit storytelling tradition, the narwhal was once an evil stepmother, who wove her hair into a tusk

Trained and created for UniverSoul Circus in Johannesburg, South Africa, the Pizza Posse marries acrobatics to slap stick comedy.

Two Circus Pros Juggle History and Race to Springboard Black Entertainers

Cedric Walker and Veronica Blair share a common fascination for the history of African-American circus

Five celebrated clowns from Sands, Nathans Co's Circus

Reports on the Death of the Circus Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

Celebrating the arts, business, history and culture of the circus, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival brings 400 performers to the National Mall this summer

The moral lessons of the story of “Beauty and the Beast” are the same as those found in many other folktales: virtue and hard work are rewarded; prodigal pride is punished; and marriage lasts happily ever after.

The Storied, International Folk History of Beauty and The Beast

Tales about a bride and her animal groom have circulated orally for centuries in Africa, Europe, India and Central Asia

The new Broadway hit revival of Fiddler on the Roof deliberately breaks with tradition in its opening and closing scenes.

History of Now

The Broadway Revival of "Fiddler" Offers a Profound Reaction to Today's Refugee Crisis

Popular musicals on Broadway are regarded as escapist, but the worldwide issue of migration and displacement is inescapable

Why the Story of Cinderella Endures and Resonates

A Smithsonian folklorist follows the ancient tale with a particularly American twist