Keynote Speakers

Colloquium ”Silenced Sources, Heritage, and the Oral-Literary Continuum – Rewriting the Margins of the National”
28–30 June 2023, Helsinki, Finland
Kelly Fitzgerald

'Irish tradition through an early modern lens; tension of the oral and literary'

At the end of the nineteenth century the early modern term in Irish béaloideas is directly translated to the English word folklore, a term that had already been in use for fifty years. Printing the sacred word in the vernacular became a primary cause of the Reformation. A Roman Catholic response to the Reformation was to highlight the importance and sacredness of the oral in Roman Catholic tradition. Such perspectives became embedded in cultural identities. These identities contributed to the considerable intent of the oral and the literary in cultural and religious transmissions. The significance of the earlier emphasis on the oral in Irish was not fully lost as the oral began to become textualised at the end of the nineteenth century.  As folklore collecting began to be gathered in a more systematic fashion, concerns regarding what may be lost in this textualization process were expressed by both collectors and informants of the Irish Folklore Commission.

Assistant Professor, Head of School of Irish, Celtic Studies and Folklore, University College Dublin


Joep Leerssen

Appropriating Authenticity and the Oralization of Literature

In the context of accelerated modernization, tradition becomes a cultural platform for conservatism (Karl Mannheim). To try and channel the authenticity of tradition has always been a way of instrumentalizing it for anti-modernizing ideological purposes: nation-building in the 19th century, the anti-authoritarian resistance against a technocratic belief in progress or against bourgeois commodification in the late 20th century. The authentic tradition invoked an vindicated is perceived as threatened by superior forces: dwindling, subaltern or silenced. 

The appeal of traditional authenticity for modern-metropolitan intellectuals bespeaks a nostalgia for a pristine face-to-face mode of cultural communication. In many cases we can see how this nostalgia informs, not only the fetishization of the authentic and the ongoing exorcsim of "adulterated" or commidified tradition, but also the written, literary production of these nostalgic intellectuals and culture producers. In my keynote, I will trace the impact of a communitarian, oral/face-to-face mode of cultural communication within the literary production of western modernity.


Joep Leerssen (Leiden 1955), Professor Emeritus at the universities of Amsterdam and Maastricht, is a cultural and literary historian. A comparatist by training, he has worked on the transnational history of national movements; on the history of the human sciences in the 19th and 20th centuries; and on the role of the literary imagination in the shaping of national self-images. His books include Remembrance and Imagination, National Thought in Europe, Comparative Literature in Britain, Commemorating Writers in 19th-Century Europe (with his wife Ann Rigney), and the Encyclopedia of Romantic Nationalism in Europe.


Professor Emeritus, University of Amsterdam


Karina Lukin

Three lives of Tiko Vilka. Or folklore’s appeal in indigenous socialist realism

This paper discusses the possibilities of interpreting postcolonial signification in the context of Soviet socialist realism that was officially anti-imperialistic but has been lately interpreted as colonial in practice. It does so in examining Nenets literature and certain published texts of Nenets folklore all related to a Nenets man, Tiko Vilka. 

Nenets represent an indigenous community living in the arctic areas of Russia and Western Siberia. Tiko Vilka was a Russian-wide celebrity in the pre-revolutionary Russia. He was known as an indigenous guide for several polar explorers visiting the Novaya Zemlya archipelago in the early 20th century. His study trip in Moscow was widely reported in the newspapers, told about in polar explorers’ reminiscences and in Nenets songs. In 1920s, Vilka was selected to be a Soviet leader of the local Nenets community, a duty he took care of until the Nenets were resettled to the mainland after the nuclear testing had begun in Novaya Zemlya. In addition to the explorers’ accounts, Vilka’s life has been told by himself and by his nephew, Nikolai Vilka. While Tiko’s narration consists of songs and prose that he dictated to folklorist Anna Ščerbakova, Nikolai’s story is a novel, first of its kind written in Tundra Nenets. The novel, Ngohona ‘On the Island’ (1936 / 1938), tells the story of the uncle until his election as the Soviet leader. Tiko Vilka’s own narratives, again, focus on his life before the Revolution and after his resettlement in the city of Arkhangel’sk. 

Both Nikolai Vilka’s novel and Tiko Vilka’s dictation play at the interface of oral and literate, and my paper will examine this play and the different kinds of selves the texts produce. I will work with what I call folklore’s appeal to show how indigenous actors used the public and literary space in order to be Soviet subjects. Public Soviet subject had to follow the established norms that were constantly negotiated and recreated. Folklore represented an especially appealing form both for the norms and those who acted upon them. This is because the use of folklore was officially encouraged in literature, as it was believed to represent the authentic voice of the masses. For the masses, folklore worked as a source for double-voicedness that was difficult to interpret and detect. The selves, then, are multiple and ambiguous.


Karina Lukin is a folklorist specialising in the oral and written expression of Nenets, an indigenous community living in Northern Russia and Western Siberia. Her publications handle interconnections of landscape, oral history and narration with the sense of belonging, shamanism and vernacular religion, folklore and historicity, and the interface of oral and written. Additionally, she has worked on the research history, especially the development of ethnography in the mid-19th century Finland and Russia. Her present studies concern the nested spheres of imperialism, nationalism, and folklore studies in relation to Nenets. She is currently working as an Academy of Finland research fellow in Folklore Studies at the University of Helsinki.

Academy Research Fellow, University of Helsinki