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University of Helsinki

Folklore Studies

About Folklore Studies:

Contact information:

Folklore Studies
Unioninkatu 38 D (P.O. Box 59)
00014 University of Helsinki


Folklore Studies at the University of Helsinki

The University of Helsinki established the academic chair of Folklore Studies in 1898, when Kaarle Krohn was named Extraordinary Personal Professor of "Finnish and Comparative Folk Poetry Research". The chair was made permanent in 1908, making it one the oldest in the world. After Kaarle Krohn's retirement, folklore has been taught by professors Antti Aarne, A.R. Niemi, Väinö Salminen, V.J. Mansikka, Martti Haavio, Jouko Hautala, Matti Kuusi, Leea Virtanen, Satu Apo, Anna-Leena Siikala, and from August 2009, Lotte Tarkka. Three of the professors, Haavio, Kuusi, and Siikala, have been granted the honorary title of Academician of Science.

Today, after over one hundred years of active field work and research on oral traditions and culture, Folklore Studies at the University of Helsinki is a part of the Institute for Cultural Research together with Archaeology, Ethnology, Maritime History and Museology. Starting from 2010, Folklore Studies will become a part of the administrative unit of the Department of Philosophy, History, Culture and Art Studies.

The aim of folklore studies is to familiarise students with forms of immaterial folk culture and oral tradition, and to guide them in the central analytic viewpoints and methods of research. Folklore can be studied as a major subject up to the doctoral level. For students pursuing degrees in other subjects in the humanities or social sciences, a minor in folklore studies can be a valuable asset.

Many folklore researchers and students study the traditions of pre-industrial, agrarian Finland. Access to these worlds is made possible through the unique collections housed in the Folklore Archives at the Finnish Literature Society. Central areas of interest include Kalevala-meter poetry, folk tales and legends, folk belief and mythology. The study of classic folklore genres, in addition to related literary works such as the Kalevala, is grounded on the strong Finnish comparative research tradition, updated with methodological influences from contextualist theories of folklore, narratology, and e.g. linguistic anthropology.

Research into oral history, biographical materials and the politics of history and memory also characterise present-day folklore studies. The question of change and continuity relevant in any study of traditional forms of culture is particularly acute for folklorists treating the rapid cultural transition from pre-war agrarian Finland to the modern and post-industrial country of today. Another topical theme in research is the interaction between oral and literate forms of communication.

Despite its roots in national romanticism, the study of folklore at the University of Helsinki is inherently comparative and international. Many folklorists continue the line of research of the early ethnographers and folklore collectors by carrying out field work among Finno-Ugric peoples. The international approach of present-day research is visible in global contacts, joint projects, and fieldwork sites in many parts of the world.

Since the 1960s, contemporary culture - for example, popular culture, media culture and the internet, youth and children's culture - has emerged as an important field of study among folklorists working in Helsinki. Consequently, the tradition of early folklore collection and ethnography on traditional forms of culture is now complemented with careful documentation of today's increasingly diverse societies, both in Finland and abroad. The perspective of folklore on contemporary society seeks to unravel the historical continuities and ruptures in cultural change as well as the presence of tradition in everyday life and institutional discourses. Research today is informed by questions concerning cultural heritage and the politics of tradition.

Folklorists at the University of Helsinki are publishing an increasing share of their research in English, Russian, Swedish and German. Through the publication series Folklore Fellows' Communications (FFC) and Studia Fennica Folkloristica, our studies reach an wide international readership.

Every second or third year, the Folklore Department at the University of Helsinki takes part in organising the Folklore Fellows' Summer School, bringing together researchers and post graduate students from all over the world. Post-graduate studies are carried out within the Graduate School of Cultural Interpretations which is organised jointly by the departments of folklore studies and comparative religion at five Finnish universities.

At the moment, we do not provide courses in English.