Michael Preston

Michael J. Preston, Professor of English, received an A.B. (Classical) from Gonzaga University, an M.A. from the University of Virginia, and an M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Colorado. Preston and others founded the Center for Computer Research in the Humanities at the University of Colorado in association with the Literary and Linguistic Computing Centre at Cambridge University, and he was its director from 1976 to 1990. An early user of computer technology, he published a series of concordances, most notably A Concordance to the Middle English Shorter Poem, which was published in a Cambridge-related series in 1975. Preston’s teaching and research may be characterized as embracing both learned and vernacular texts, with an emphasis on medieval and Renaissance drama and lyrics, but extending into later historical periods as well. Indeed, his work with the British mumming plays has revealed them to be, not medieval as formerly thought, but rather  18th-century to modern-day phenomena.  His joint work on the mumming plays with Paul Smith, Professor of Folklore at the Memorial University of Newfoundland, has been published in many articles as well as in a series of monographs with the generic title of Chapbooks and Traditional Drama. The study of the chapbooks containing mumming plays is based on having visited every library in Britain in order to locate these ephemeral printed texts as well as historical information about their printers.  Preston has also published widely on contemporary jokes and “urban” legends, in part to develop the theoretical bases for understanding  texts transmitted by mixed oral-written-printed-(and now)electronic  means.

Research & Teaching Interests

  • Middle English and early Renaissance literature
  • Vernacular culture
  • Folklore
  • Traditional drama


  • Ph.D., University of Colorado, 1975
  • M.A., University of Colorado, 1972
  • M.A., University of Virginia, 1967
  • A.B., Gonzaga University, 1965



  • With Paul Smith. Sir Walter Scott and the Sword Dance from Papa Stour in Shetland, Including a Facsimile Edition of James Scott’s 1829 Manuscript “The Sword Dance: A Danish or Norwegian Ballet, &c, as Performed in the Island of Papa Stour, Zetland.” FLS Books, forthcoming
  • With Eddie Cass and Paul Smith, The English Mumming Play: An Introductory Bibliography. FLS Books, 2000
  • With Paul Smith, “A petygree of the Plouboys oR modes dancers songs”: The Morris Dance at Revesby: A Facsimile of the 1779 Manuscript in the Lincolnshire Archives, with an Introduction and Transcription. University of Sheffield, 1999
  • With Georgina Boyes and Paul Smith, Chapbooks and Traditional Drama: An Examination of Chapbooks Containing Traditional Play Texts, Part II, “The Christmas Rhyme Book” Chapbooks. University of Sheffield, 1999
  • Co-ed. with Cathy Lynn Preston. The Other Print Tradition: Chapbooks, Broadsides, and Related Ephemera. Garland Publishing, Inc., 1995
  • With M. G. Smith and P. S. Smith, Chapbooks and Traditional Drama: An Examination of Chapbooks Containing Traditional Play Texts, Part I, “Alexander and the King of Egypt” Chapbooks. University of Sheffield, 1977
  • With M. G. Smith, and P. S. Smith. An Interim Checklist of Chapbooks Containing Traditional Drama. Publications of the Society for the Book Trade of the North. 1976. Rpt. The Centre for English Cultural Tradition and Language, Sheffield, 1977. Revised and expanded edn., 1998 (electronic publication)
  • Co-ed. with Cathy M. Orr, Urban Folklore from Colorado: Typescript Broadsides. University Microfilms, 1976
  • Co-ed. with L. Michael Bell and Cathy M. Orr, Urban Folklore from Colorado: Photocopy Cartoons. University Microfilms, 1976
  • Co-ed with M. G. Smith, and P. S. Smith, Morrice Dancers at Revesby. University of Sheffield, 1976
  • Ed., The Revesby Sword Play: An Eighteenth-Century Folk Play Adaptation. University Microfilms, 1975


  • Co-ed. with Samuel S. Coleman, A KWIC Concordance to John Cleland’s “Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure.” Garland Publishing, 1988
  • Ed., A KWIC Concordance to Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking-Glass.” With a Critical Introduction by James R. Kincaid. Garland Publishing, 1986
  • Ed., A Concordance to the Verse of Lewis Carroll. Garland Publishing, Inc., 1985
  • Co-ed. with Jean D. Pfleiderer, A KWIC Concordance to the Plays of the Wakefield Master.  Garland Publishing, Inc., 1982
  • Co-ed. with Jean D. Pfleiderer, A Complete Concordance to the Chester Mystery Plays. Garland Publishing, 1981
  • Co-ed. with Anne Kearns Lyons and Thomas R. Lyons, A Concordance to the Complete Nonsense of Edward Lear. Norwood Editions, 1980
  • Ed., A Complete Concordance to the Digby Plays. University Microfilms, 1977
  • Ed., A Complete Concordance to the Wakefield Pageants in the Towneley Cycle. University Microfilms, 1977
  • Ed., A Concordance to Four Moral Plays: “The Castle of Perseverance,” “Wisdom,” “Mankind,” and “Everyman.” University Microfilms, 1975
  • Ed., A Concordance to the Middle English Shorter Poem. W. S. Maney & Son, 1975
  • Co-ed with Thomas R. Lyons, A Complete Concordance to Two Chaucerian Poems: “The Floure and the Leafe” and “The Assembly of Ladies.” University Microfilms, 1974
  • Ed., A Complete Concordance to the Songs of the Early Tudor Court. W. S. Maney & Son, 1972

Selected Essays (since 1985)

  • “Reading Chapbooks Closely: Gleaning Evidence about their Composition, Hisotry, and Relationship to Oral Traditions.” Folk Drama Studies Today: The International Traditional Drama Conference 2002. Ed. Eddie Cass and Peter Millington. Traditional Drama Reserach Group, 2003, 133-75
  • With Eddie Cass and Paul Smith. “The Peace Egg Book: An Anglo-Irish Chapbook Connection Discovered.” Folklore 114 (2003): 29-52
  • “Contemporary Riddles in the Personal Ads.” Festschrift for Professor J. D. A. Widdowson. FLS Press, 2003
  • “Material Riddle-Jokes as Traditional Novelties: Homemade and Purchased Misrepresentations.” Lore & Language, 2003
  • With Paul Smith and Michael J. Preston. “The Christmas Rhyme Chapbook Tradition in Ireland” in From Corrib to Cultra: Folklife Essays in Honour of Alan Gailey, ed. Trefor M. Owen. Institute of Irish Studies, Queen’s University, and the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, Belfast, 2000, pp. 150-162
  • “Never Talk to Strangers: Parental Warnings, Contemporary Legends, and Popular Fiction.” Contemporary Legend, n.s. 2 (1999): 63-72. Rpt., Border Crossings: Legend, Literature, Mass Media, and Cultural Ephemera. Ed. Cathy Lynn Preston. International Society for Contemporary Legend Research, 2000, 55-64
  • “Sometimes the Dragon Wins: Yet more Urban Folklore from the Paperwork Empire.” Mid- America Folklore 26, 1-2 (1998): 95-102
  • “Gene Irey and His Concordance.” Emerson Society Papers 9, 2 (1998): 7
  • “Xeroxlore”; “Inscription.” Folklore: An Encyclopedia of Forms, Methods, and History. Ed. Thomas A. Green. Garland Publishing, 1997, 853-54, 464-66
  • “Computer Folklore”; “Xeroxlore.” American Folklore: An Encyclopedia. Ed. Jan H. Brunvand. Garland Publishing, Inc., 1996, 154-55
  • “Re-presentations of (Im)moral Behavior in the Middle English Play Mankind.” In Folklore, Literature, and Cultural Theory: Collected Essays, ed. Cathy Lynn Preston. Garland Publishing, Inc., New York, 1995, pp. 214-239
  • “Rethinking Folklore, Rethinking Literature: Looking at Robinson Crusoe and Gulliver’s Travels Chapbooks as Folktales.” “In Addition to Xeroxlore: Related Subversive Traditions.” The Other Print Tradition: Essays on Chapbooks, Broadsides, and Related Ephemera. Ed. Cathy Lynn Preston and Michael J. Preston. Garland Publishing, 1995, 19-73, 223-65
  • “Traditional Humor from the Fax Machine: ‘All of a Kind’.” Western Folklore 53 (1994): 147-69.
  • With Cathy Lynn Preston, “Lorena Bobbit Bobbed It: News Becomes Faxlore.” Folklore Society News 19 (1994): 14-16.
  • “Modern Alchemy: Changing Xeroxlore into Silver.” Folklore Society News 18 (1993): 13-15
  • “Photocopied Flyers Prompt Contemporary Legends: Or, Do-It-Yourself Kits for Paranoid Stories.” Folklore Society News 15 (1992), 20-11
  • “Preface.” A Reconstruction-Analysis of “Buried Child” by Playwright Sam Shephard. By Frederick J. Perry. Mellon Research University Press, 1992, xi-xiii
  • “Getting Back into Coins; Or, Trying to Get My Feet Wet without Taking a Complete Bath.” John Reich Journal 6 (1992): 30-32
  • With Hobart M. Smith, Rozella B. Smith, and Eugene F. Irey. “John White and the Earliest (1587) Illustrations of North American Reptiles.” Brimleyana 16 (1990): 119-31
  • With Hobart M. Smith and David Chiszar,”Superciliary: Pertaining to the Eyebrow or Its Analog.” Bulletin of the Maryland Herpetological Society 26, 2 (June 1990): 60-63
  • “The Mouse in the Coors Beer Can: Goliath Strikes Back.” Foaftale News: The Newsletter of the International Society for Contemporary Legend Research 14 (June 1989), 1-3
  • With Hobart M. Smith and Richard E. Jones, “Oviductal, not Oviducal.” The Anatomical Record 223 (1989): 446-47
  • “Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver’s Travels, and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: Wonderful Texts.” Merveilles & Contes 2, 2 (December 1988): 87-105
  • “A ‘Grass-Roots’ Approach to Computer-Assisted Research in the Humanities.” Computers and the Humanities: Today’s Research, Tomorrow’s Teaching. University of Toronto, 1986, 32-42
  • “Folklore: Some Grumblings from the Sideline.” Talking Folklore 1, 2 (Winter 1986-87): 43-48

Selected Honors & Awards

  • Big 12 Faculty Fellowship, CU Boulder, 1998
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson Memorial Association Research Grant, 1989; Renewed, 1990
  • National Endowment for the Humanities Research Tools Grant, 1985-1987
  • Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland Research Grant, 1976

Current Projects

  • Beyond Oral Tradition (book)
  • Monographs on various aspects of traditional drama (“folk plays”) in Britain, including:
  • With Paul Smith, Mumming and Mountebanks (songs involving quack doctors and their relationship to literary drama and traditional folk plays)
  • With Eddie Cass and Paul Smith, the third volume of studies of commercially printed versions of the Peace Egg Chapbooks (versions from the Industrial North of England)
  • A Catalogue of Manuscripts Containing British Folk Plays