Colloquium ”Silenced Sources, Heritage, and the Oral-Literary Continuum – Rewriting the Margins of the National”
Wednesday, 28 June 2023

09.30–10.00 Opening


10.00–11.30 Keynote I Karina Lukin: Three lives of Tiko Vilka. Or folklore’s appeal in indigenous socialist realism


11.30–13.00 Lunch (on site)


13.00–15.00 Session I: Ideology – national and beyond 


Pertti Anttonen: 19th-century history culture and the nationalization of Bishop Henry’s killing


Juhana Saarelainen: Romantic discourse on national culture in 19th Century Finland


Joonas Ahola: Kalevala and Oral Tradition as Interfaces of Identity in Early 20th Century Finland and Soviet Karelia

Pertti Anttonen

Pertti Anttonen is Professor Emeritus of Cultural Studies, specifically Folklore Studies, at the University of Eastern Finland, Joensuu Campus. His most well-known scholarly work is Tradition Through Modernity: Postmodernism and the Nation-State in Folklore Scholarship (2005). Edited and co-edited volumes include Making Europe in Nordic Contexts (1996), Nordic Frontiers: Recent Issues in Modern Traditional Culture in the Nordic Countries (1993), Folklore, Heritage Politics, and Ethnic Diversity: A Festschrift for Barbro Klein (2000), and Oral Tradition and Book Culture (2018). Most of his work deals with folklore and Finnish nationalism and the politics of history, heritage, and tradition, but his scholarly interests also include ethnopoetics, the rites of passage theory, the textual representation of orality, and the history of folklore research.

19th-century history culture and the nationalization of Bishop Henry’s killing

In my recent research I have examined how narratives of historical or historicized nature received scarce attention in nineteenth-century documentation and research into oral culture. Despite of this fact, however, the narrative genre was a central medium in the production of historicity and the experience of history in novels, theatre plays and in history writing. The documentation and publishing of folk poetry focused on epic or narrative poetry, but this interest did not elevate narration or narrativity to an object in the folkloristic study that developed into an academic discipline towards the end of the century – except in terms of the geographical dissemination of narratives and their topics, along the lines of the historic-geographic method.

Narrative studies, especially concerning heroic actions, did occupy scholarly minds in literary and theatre studies, as well as in the study of history and the practice of history writing. In folklore studies, however, heroic themes were mainly reflected upon as nationalistic arguments in favor of the masculine warrior spirit, long considered outside the scope of research methodology.

Finnish folklore studies have tended to view folklore as the diffusion of variants and textual units to be stored in nationally valued collections. In my latest published article, I wrote that my intention is to place the recording and study of nineteenth-century oral narratives of historicized nature within the broader research framework of history culture. This presentation exemplifies the continuation of that anticipated research, focusing on the nationalization of the killing of Bishop Henry.

Juhana Saarelainen

Juhana Saarelainen is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Turku. He specializes in nineteenth-century European cultural and intellectual history. Especially he has investigated Elias Lönnrot, Kalevala and the influence and adaptation of transnational philosophical ideas in Finland.

Romantic discourse on national culture in 19th Century Finland

In early Nineteenth Century Turku a loose group of university students and teachers interested in Finnish folklore took form. These intellectuals, later coined as Turku romantics, followed closely topical transnational ideas concerning philosophy, science, aesthetics and literature. All these themes revolved around the question if national culture in Finnish language would be possible. This paper tackles the question, how early nineteenth-century Finnish romanticism debated about oral tradition and its connection with national culture. What kind of ideas, ideologies and aesthetics were attributed to the Finnish folklore and how these definitions were constructed, validated and propagated. The task is to reveal how cultural construction of national identity was rooted in oral tradition and what kind of theoretical thinking affected the representation of ‘Finnishness’. The romantic presupposition was that the authentic oral poetry of the uneducated rural people could ground Finnish culture. Thus from the beginning of the century Finnish nationality was connected with oral poetry, which was represented as a source for an original and authentic national culture. Yet simultaneously the oral tradition itself was interpreted and defined by learned academics who operated transnationally. In other words the young academics who took interest on marginal oral culture were also keen to observe and follow the latest philosophical, aesthetical and ethical debates in Europe. As a result a small educated fraction was in the core of determining how oral culture should be represented. My paper concentrates on these intellectual and transnational discourses that constructed the understanding of national culture and defined it for the generations to come.

Joonas Ahola

Joonas Ahola is a grant-funded researcher at Folklore Studies, University of Helsinki. He has worked on medieval Scandinavian literature, Finno-Karelian oral poetry and Soviet Karelian applied tradition among other things. Currently, he works in the research project Materiality, Verbal Art, Mythic Knowledge and the Lived Environment.

Kalevala and Oral Tradition as Interfaces of Identity in Early 20th Century Finland and Soviet Karelia

In this paper, I discuss ways in which nationality, politics and language functioned as elements of identity-construction in the areas of Finland and Karelia in the early 20th century. Karelia had a central role in Finnish national romanticism and national movement as a realm of ancient, traditional Finnishness. In Finland, Karelians were generally considered another subgroup of “Finns”. The civil war that followed Finland’s independence divided the people in two. Finnishness was construed by the “white” victors whereas thousands of their defeated “red” opponents had been silenced by having them killed, marginalizing politically or forcing to escape to Soviet Russia. Finnish immigrants settled for a great part in the newly established Soviet Karelia. In this paper, I show that in the following two decades, Soviet Karelian identity was construed partially from the same premises as that of Finnish identity in Finland. In both contexts, Karelianness and Finnishness were interwoven as the foundations of the culture were sought from ancient past represented by oral traditions and the Kalevala. “Ancient” traditions were given different readings, interpretations and significations on each side of the border which, however, relied on same premises and basic principles. Finally, I introduce different ways that certain aspects of Karelian culture and tradition were exploited in Finland and in Karelia for political and identity-political ends, and I intend to show that despite apparent antagonisms in the two approaches to Karelian culture, they may be best understood as two sides of the same coin.

Julien Bruley

Julien Bruley holds a PhD in social anthropology from the University of Lille. He conducted a study of the various contemporary interpretations of the Manas epic in Kyrgyzstan. He is Associate Professor at the Technical School of Innovation (TIS-AUCA) in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, and continues his research on the historiography of the epic on diverse aspects.

Manasology, a folkloristic science from Soviet origin

From the very beginning, the USSR systematized local peculiarities such as ethnicities, beliefs and languages as “national facts”. This process continued after independence, and the new republics used the former Soviet institutions to build their identities, purged of any reference to their Soviet origins. Independent Kyrgyzstan based its national symbol on an oral tradition, the Manas epic, following a policy already established in Soviet times. It is in this context that a new science called manasology appeared, a science that stands at the very source of a beam of different interpretations of the epic and whose methods confirm its Soviet roots. Moreover, manasology occupies an intermediate position between the bards and their potential audience, emerging as a privileged actor in the interpretation of the epic text and as a necessary filter that selects what can be said about the epic and what cannot. None of the Soviet arsenal of methods, rhetoric, and approaches of this folkloric science really disappeared after independence, on the contrary. My paper will outline the development and rationale of manasology, as well as its relations with a "national memory".

15.00–15.30 Coffee break


15.30–17.30 Session II: Discriminations and discriminated testimonies

Eija Stark: Folklore on filth or filthy folklore? A brief history of collecting and archiving folk narratives

Heli Paakkonen: J.K. Harju’s hidden Helsinki: rewriting city-marginal by acknowledging political and creative agency


Heikki Kokko: The nationwide culture of letters to the press in mid-1800s Finland and the oral-literary continuum


Hanna-Leena Paloposki: Unheard Sources? National Art, Margins and Women Artists in the Collection of Artists’ Letters of the Finnish Art Society

Eija Stark

Eija Stark is the development manager at the Archives of the Finnish Literature Society. As a reasercher her interest are functions of folklore, narrative culture, critical approaches to archives, intellectual history of Finnish and Nordic folklore studies and ethnology, proverbs and the history of social class. She has a title of docent in Folklore studies at Univerisity of Helsinki.

Folklore on filth or filthy folklore? A brief history of collecting and archiving folk narratives

In the 19th century, the primary goal of the Finnish Literature Society was the collection of epic folk poetry. Toward the turn of the century, however, more and more other folklore genres, such as rhymed songs and folk tales, were also sent to the FLS Folklore Archives. From the perspective of the eminent Finnish folklorists at the time, newer forms of folklore were often considered ”inauthentic” since they were passed down in written form, not through oral narration. The explicit criteria for marginalization was thus due to its assumed relation to printed form. The first invitation for collecting legends, a type of folk narrative, in the FLS Folklore Archives was conducted as recently as 1935. It resulted over a hundred thousand items of folk narrative. Unlike epic folk poetry or charms, most of these narratives were associated with a particular locality or person and were told as a matter of history. Many of the narratives provided glimpses into the new kinds of modern society based on industrial development, economic growth and better education and health. Using narratives on filth, dirt, bugs and grubby, I examine how notions of purity and pollution were used as a new means of making social boundaries. I also discuss in more detail how epistemological shifts in documenting and archiving folk narratives occurred in the FLS Folklore Archives.

Heli Paakkonen

Heli Paakkonen is a doctoral student in History and Cultural Heritage doctoral programme in University of Helsinki. She wants to make homeless folklore collector J.K. Harju’s exceptional lifework known through research, exhibitions, and guided walking tours.

J.K. Harju’s hidden Helsinki: rewriting city-marginal by acknowledging political and creative agency

Folklore collector Johan Knut Harju (1910–1976) created a roughly 20 000-page collection to the Finnish Literature Society’s (SKS) folklore archives during 1961–1976. Harju suffered from alcohol addiction which among other problems left him homeless. He spent his time on the streets as well as in prisons and halfway houses where he created his documentations by writing personal narratives and by interviewing others. In my presentation, I will discuss the interaction he and the archive had, the preservation of his sensitive materials, and the ethical aspects related to their contemporary usage.

Harju was an expert by experience who wrote about non-normative lifestyle of thieves, alcohol and drug abusers, prisoners, and sex workers. SKS archive engaged his work by giving him the freedom and resources to write creatively by his own terms. At the time, this was an exceptional choice as the acceptance of personal narratives as an established folklore genre was still yet to come.

Harju’s collection talks about vagrancy as a social minority but it is more than just a record of problem-centered life. In addition to reflecting Harju’s communities involving multiple informants, the collection talks about Harju’s political and creative goals, and versatile networks. By analyzing this aspect of Harju’s work that has so far remained invisible, I will argue that the responsible treatment of this material requires that Harju’s goals and his agency as a creative and political actor are recognized. 

Heikki Kokko

Heikki Kokko is Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Academy of Finland Center of Excellence in the History of Experiences, and Director of the Digital history project Translocalis Database at the University of Tampere, Finland. His current focus is on the historical and theoretical analysis of the experience.

The nationwide culture of letters to the press in mid-1800s Finland and the oral-literary continuum

Thousands of people wrote about their everyday experiences to the pages of the newspapers from the 1850s onwards in Finland. A characteristic of this phenomenon was that the letters were often written in the name of local communities. This phenomenon of readers’ letters developed rapidly into civic activity from below, the nationwide culture of local letters to newspapers. The emergence of this extensive culture was possible because the Finnish-speaking press started out on a nation-wide level and became more regional and local only during the latter half of the 19th century. The major significance of the culture of local letters was in the interplay between the local and societal because the phenomenon rendered the local societal and societal local.

However, the culture of local letters was mainly ignored by the nationalistic elite of the era and largely by the later historical research. Indeed, the extent of the phenomenon and its societal significance has been revealed to the research not until the digitalization of the newspaper sources in the twenty-first century. Local letters that were published in the Finnish-language press until the year 1885 are now published as a part of the Digital Collections of the National Library of Finland. The tens of thousands of local letters collected into the Translocalis Database form one of the earliest extensive historical text corpus written by Finnish-speaking people.

In my presentation, I analyse the culture of local letters from the perspective of the oral-literary continuum and focus on how and why the culture of local letters ended up outside of the canonized cultural heritage.

Hanna-Leena Paloposki

Art historian Hanna-Leena Paloposki, PhD (University of Helsinki, 2012), is currently a researcher/data expert at the Finnish Literature Society in the digital humanities consortium Constellations of Correspondence (CoCo), funded by the Academy of Finland (2021–25). Previously she has worked at the Finnish National Gallery and has long experience of working with archive collections. She has studied e.g. art exhibitions in international and nationalistic contexts, Finnish-Italian cultural relations and the 19th-century Finnish art world. Paloposki has edited and contributed to many publications and the partially peer-reviewed scholarly web journal FNG Research.

Unheard Sources? National Art, Marginalisation and Women Artists in the Collection of Artists’ Letters at the Finnish Art Society

In 1889, the board of the Finnish Art Society decided to start collecting artists’ letters (and subsequently other documents) to provide source and background material for the research of art. This decision also meant the start of research on its art collections. The Society, the first precursor of the current Finnish National Gallery, was founded in 1846 with the ambitious aim to create – in practice – the artistic life with artists, education, artworks and audience, in Finland, then the autonomous Grand Duchy of Russia. In my presentation, I study the Collection of Artists’ Letters in the context of nationalism and the Finnish Art Society’s impetus to create a national, i.e. Finnish art and to educate both Finnish artists and the public. I examine these letters and their heritagisation process as part of the nationalist-oriented programme of the Society. How was the archival collection perceived at the time as new (male) artists were emerging who were later canonised as the masters of the so-called Golden Age of Finnish art (a term nowadays much disputed)? Related to this I study how this art canon manifested through the collection. Whose letters and an who were included in the collection during its first decades, and what kind of narrative are they creating for researchers today? In particular, I explore the role and number of women in this collection, using both information on its accumulation and the letter metadata. My hypothesis is that their letters have until recent decades been ‘unheard’ sources. 

18.00– Get together and guided walk “Silenced streets, under the bridges” by Heli Paakkonen.

Meeting at Topelia, Unioninkatu 38. Walk starts at 18.30.
Thursday, 29 June 2023

9.30–11.30 Session III: The vernacular and emic articulations

Eleni Fanioudaki: Modernity and transitory oral traditions: How folk music crystallizes in recording
Liisa Kunnas: The formation of archaeological heritage in the late 19th century
Siria Kohonen: The variety of emic perspectives – Specialists’ knowledge and common knowledge
Tuukka Karlsson: Kalevala-metric poems and objectification: vernacular and institutional conceptualizations

Eleni Fanioudaki

Fanioudaki Eleni completed her Bachelor's degree in Music, Science and Arts from University of Macedonia in 2018. She is a founding member of the folk music ensemble "Emmeleia" in 2016, with which has performed many concerts and produced 2 compact discs. Since 2018 she teaches piano, vocals, percussion and music theory in conservatories and secondary education. She completed the Master's Program "Local History- Interdisciplinary approaches" in Democritus University of Thrace, History and Ethnology department. She published an article in the 2021 edited book "Gendered Violence- Violence against women" and has participated as a presenter in 2 conferences on Anthropology and Folklore.

Modernity and transitory oral traditions: How folk music crystallizes in recording

Greek folk musician Chronis Aidonidis was born in 1928 and has recorded and performed Thracian folk songs from the 1950s until now. Living through the transition from pre-modernity to modernity, he is one of the protagonists of the textualization of folk music in Greece. This presentation examines the transition from orality to recording that resulted in the archivisation of oral folk music through the eyes of one of its protagonists, using tools such as fieldwork, archival research and semi-structured interviews. We will examine the transition from pre-modernity to modernity and the forming of a rigid cultural “canon” in traditional music, as well as the relationship between local and hyperlocal, the colloquial understanding of the word “tradition” and the musical networks that support it.

Liisa Kunnas

Liisa Kunnas (MA, archaeologist) is a doctoral researcher at the University of Helsinki, working on her dissertation about the history of Stone Age research.

The formation of archaeological heritage in the late 19th century

During the late 19th century and the beginning of 20th century, considerable amount of information about archaeological sites and prehistoric structures was gathered by so-called stipendiates, mostly students or young researchers, dispatched by the Finnish Antiquarian Society (founded 1870). Besides interviewing local people living on the Finnish countryside, stipendiates also collected archaeological objects from them, especially Stone Age stone tools, known in folklore as “thunderbolts” (ukonvaajat). Since scientific archaeological excavations were not carried out until early 20th century, most of the information and artefacts used for formulating the picture of Finnish prehistory was gathered in these expeditions. Then, in turn scholars of archaeology educated the people about the Finnish past. What happened, when the stipendiates’ antiquarian interests and scholarly notions of prehistory and heritage collided with the worldview of their informants? What got enhanced and what omitted, when archaeological heritage was separated from folklore? My presentation discusses the formation of early archaeological knowledge from the viewpoints of heritagization and circulation of knowledge, using the stipendiates’ reports and their contemporary archaeological literature as sources.

Siria Kohonen

Siria Kohonen is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Helsinki, Folklore Studies.

The variety of emic perspectives – Specialists’ knowledge and common knowledge

In cultural studies, scholars have often separated etic (a researcher’s) and emic (studies people’s) perspectives from each other. In the studies of Finno-Karelian ritual traditions and incantations, the focus has often been in the mythic knowledge that lies in the ritual texts and habits. Thus, the perspective of the ritual specialists has often represented the emic perspective, or at least it has gained more attention than other emic perspectives of the pre- and early modern Finno-Karelian cultures. However, the research materials in the Finnish folklore archives consist of interview notes from both ritual specialists and non-specialists, although sometimes it is difficult to analyse how specialized certain interviewed persons have been.

In this paper, I consider the variety of the emic perspectives of ritual specialists (the tietäjäs) and non-specialists: how did people in different positions approach and interpret traditional incantations and ritual practices? I emphasize the viewpoints of the non-specialists since their views have not gained so much attention than the views of ritual specialists in folkloristic research of this subject. How did people not specialized in ritual practices experience these practices? What did they consider as the key elements of a ritual? And finally, how did they narrate about these rituals and incantations?

Tuukka Karlsson

Tuukka Karlsson, PhD, is conducting postdoctoral research at the University of Helsinki’s Folklore studies. His is interested in genres of Kalevala-metric poetry, especially incantations. Currently he is working as a member of research project “Materiality, Verbal Art, Mythic Knowledge and the Lived Environment” (PI docent Frog, University of Helsinki). Karlsson interest in the project concerns how collectors and interviewees conceptualized materiality and ownership of Kalevala-metric poems.

Kalevala-metric poems and objectification: vernacular and institutional conceptualizations

Kalevala-metric poetry, a Finnic oral-poetic system of various genres, has received much attention from Finnish scholars since 18th century. During the 19th century, when the efforts for collecting especially myth poetry from the areas of Eastern Finland, Karelia and Ingria were in their heyday, the meter was actively used to communicate in various genres. In some geographic areas, mythic themes and meanings carried with the poetic system retained their social relevance until the advent of modernization during the first decades of the 20th century. 

The paper examines objectification and conceived materiality of Kalevala-metric poems in vernacular and institutional discourse. Objectification describes here the way oral poems are assigned object-like qualities, such as materiality and value (see e.g., Shankar & Cavanaugh 2012). I am interested in ways the performers may have metapragmatically commented on their poems’ materiality and object-likeness. Correspondingly, I will discuss how folklorists have seen the poems, e.g., as texts that can be collected and deposited in archives.

As research material, the paper will use archived Kalevala-metric poems and other texts from Viena Karelia. Additionally, field notes and other sources by collector Iivo Marttin’i (1870–1934) will be studied. Including statements and notes by both interviewees and interviewer allows for comparing the possibly conflicting views on materiality of Kalevala-metric poems. The paper will thus contribute to discussions concerning vernacular and institutional actors and their conceptions of the oral poems.

11.30–13.00 Lunch


13.00–14.30 Keynote II Kelly Fitzgerald: Irish tradition through an early modern lens; tension of the oral and literary


14.30–15.00 Coffee break


15.00–17.30 Session IV: Textualizations and transmissions


Frog: Seventeenth-Century Copying and Compilation of Medieval (Oral) Poetry: Scandinavian Heritage Construction on the Ground


Isla Parkkola: Baltic-Finnic mythology, the Kalevala and myth-based contemporary literature as a network crossing the boundaries of time and place


Natasha Sumner: Scottish Gaelic Folklore in an Ossianic Shadow: The Foundational Work of John Francis Campbell


Andreas Kalkun: Tangled Lianas and Simple Wildflowers: Jakob Hurt and Kaarle Krohn Editing Seto Songs


Niina Hämäläinen & Hanna Karhu: Textualization, genetic criticism and nineteenth-century textual processes


(I am what I do.) Frog received his PhD in Scandinavian Studies in 2010 from University College London, a docentship in Folklore in 2013 from the University of Helsinki and in Scandinavian Languages from the University of Helsinki in 2021. He is the PI of the project Materialities, Verbal Art, Mythic Knowledge and the Lived Environment (2021–2025) funded by the Kone Foundation and Editor-in-Chief of Folklore Fellows Communications.

Seventeenth-Century Copying and Compilation of Medieval (Oral) Poetry: Scandinavian Heritage Construction on the Ground

This paper introduces and discusses the neglected post-medieval manuscripts of Old Norse eddic poetry that reflect copyists learning a then-dead tradition of poetry from written texts, which they also varied, reworked, expanded, and even extended the corpus through the composition of new poems. The Old Norse poems were written down from the oral tradition in the 13th century. In the 16th century, in the wake of the Reformation and the break-up of the Kalmar Union, Sweden and Denmark gradually developed heritage-construction projects that involved documenting monuments, oral knowledge and traditions, and the gathering of old written texts. In 1643, the medieval copy of eddic poems GKS 2365 4to commonly called the Codex Regius / Konungsbók was acquired by a bishop in Iceland, who had it copied before gifting it to the king of Denmark. The poems had dropped out of the oral tradition and language change had made the texts incomprehensible to Danes and Swedes, leading Icelanders to be hired as copyists and countless manuscripts were produced. These drew in poems from other manuscripts, reorganized poems into different collections, and the copyists also learned the poetry from the manuscripts and varied it in the copying process. In exceptional cases, poems were also transformed and new poems composed. This paper looks at copying in terms of ‘manuscript performance’ and their copying, editing and reinvention of these texts, sometimes text artefacts, sometimes as reanimated poetry, as heritage construction ‘on the ground’.

Isla Parkkola

Isla Parkkola is a doctoral researcher in Finnish Literature at the University of Turku. They are in the early stages of their article based doctoral research on the role of nonhuman agencies in the world-building processes of children’s and young adults’ fantasy literature that has been inspired by Baltic-Finnic mythologies.

Baltic-Finnic mythology, the Kalevala and myth-based contemporary literature as a network crossing the boundaries of time and place

In my presentation, I propose an actor-network theoretical perspective on the relationship between Baltic-Finnic mythology, the Kalevala, and the contemporary children's and young adults' fantasy literature inspired by the epic. Researchers from various fields acknowledge that the book widely known as the Finnish national epic doesn't represent mythology as such, just like it doesn't belong only to the Finns. I examine how the work and its modern adaptations alongside other followers nevertheless connect to the network of Baltic-Finnic myths that has been shaped over several millennia as a result of the cooperation of numerous human and non-human agencies. As Elias Lönnrot's adaptation of myths and folklore, the Kalevala continues to form new relationships in our times, for example by inspiring new works of art, such as fantasy novels for children and young adults. New creations, in turn, connect it to ever-new networks and encourage it to take unpredictable forms of action in a continuous process of entanglement that crosses the boundaries of both time and place. My presentation aims to outline a way to approach the complex field of influence of the Kalevala, which has enriched certain forms of culture while forcing others to the margins. I focus on presenting the theoretical and methodological starting points of my article-based doctoral thesis, which is in its early stages. I base my arguments on the thinking of the philosopher of science Bruno Latour and the literary critic Rita Felski as well as on my first, yet unpublished research article.

Natasha Sumner

Natasha Sumner is an Associate Professor of Celtic Languages and Literatures at Harvard University. Her research focuses on the literature and folklore about the Gaelic hero Fionn mac Cumhaill.

Scottish Gaelic Folklore in an Ossianic Shadow: The Foundational Work of John Francis Campbell

1860 marks the conventional start of the Celtic Revival in Scotland and the publication of John Francis Campbell’s first two volumes of West Highland Tales. The father of Gaelic folklore studies, Campbell orchestrated the first organised folklore collecting project in Scotland, resulting in the publication of numerous Gaelic folktales for the first time. He also addressed the long-simmering Ossianic controversy in a variety of publications in the 1860s and 70s, sparking a new wave of intense debate. This presentation will utilize archival sources to shine new light on Campbell’s formative engagement with Gaelic Scotland’s oral and literary heritage during the country’s late nineteenth-century cultural nationalist awakening.

Andreas Kalkun

Tangled Lianas and Simple Wildflowers: Jakob Hurt and Kaarle Krohn Editing Seto Songs

According to the historical-geographic approach to folklore, the text performed by a contemporary singer was not considered inviolable and perfect in the form it had come into being at a particular moment during the performance, or as it had been written down. The “original” form of the songs was often thought to have changed over time, due to forgetting, “accidental” additions, “misunderstandings” and a combination of other factors depending on the performer’s intent. Editing folk songs for scholarly and aesthetic purposes and their publication often involved “purifying” the content and cutting the songs into parts. Separating the parts (types) was considered necessary to facilitate a comparative study of song types and to bring the songs closer to their hypothetical initial form. My paper explores the issues related to the compiling, editing and textualising of Jakob Hurt’s Setukeste laulud (‘Seto Folk Songs’; Vol. 1 was published in 1904, Vol. 2 in 1905, and Vol. 3 in 1907). I will analyse the correspondence between Jakob Hurt and Kaarle Krohn, in which they discuss the extent to which songs should be edited for a publication funded by the Finnish Literature Society. Their correspondence in German began in 1888, a few months after the drowning of Julius Krohn, Kaarle Krohn’s father, and continued until Hurt’s death. Composite songs (liitlaulud in Estonian), that is, lyroepic songs consisting of several types, proved to be the most challenging aspect of compiling Setukeste laulud. The key question was whether such texts needed to be cut or uncut for the purposes of scholarly research in the first place. While Setos in their singing tradition would not distinguish between composite and simple songs, this very aspect became central to publishing decontextualised oral tradition. Both Krohn and Hurt used beautiful botanical metaphors to express their predicament. One the one hand, there was the promise that old songs would remain as they had been “in the wild”, on the other hand, however, there was the temptation to unravel the “tangled lianas”.

Niina Hämäläinen & Hanna Karhu

Niina Hämäläinen,, PhD, Docent (Adjunct Professor) in folklore studies, works as an executive director at the Kalevala Society, Helsinki. Specialized in the oral-literary practices of the 19th century, theory of textualization, history of Finnish folklore studies as well as politics of archives, she has especially done research in the field of folk poetry, the Kalevala and other folklore publications. She directs a digital, critical edition of the Kalevala (Open Kalevala). 

Hanna Karhu,, PhD, Docent (Adjunct Professor), is a literary scholar who defended her doctoral thesis on Otto Manninen’s writing processes in 2012. Karhu is specialized in genetic criticism, study of literary manuscripts and relations between folklore and literature. In her postdoctoral projects, she has studied the relationship between Finnish rhyming folksongs and written poetry. Currently, she works as a researcher in the digital, critical edition of the Kalevala (Open Kalevala).

Textualization, genetic criticism and nineteenth-century textual processes

Collecting, editing, publishing, and re-writing folklore was an essential part of Romanticism and Romantic Nationalism. The increased interest towards folklore and oral poetry was related to the aim of creating elite cultures and literatures. In this process, the questions such as what was included in the folklore publications and literature, what was ignored and hidden and what kind of textual interventions were involved are of importance. The focus of the paper is on the methods of textualization and genetic criticism in the making of national heritage and literature in 19th century Finland. Textualization, mainly used in folklore studies and linguistic anthropology, emphasizes the practical-technical process whereby oral/written texts are transformed, interpreted, represented, and published, whereas genetic criticism, in which folklore materials have still been narrowly studied, focuses more on the study of writing processes of literary works in the context of linguistic and aesthetic analysis. However, these two approaches deal with the similar questions of textual processes and variants involved in text-making, particularly variation in the process of creating nationally recognized literature.

18.00– Reception at SKS

Friday, 30 June 2023
9.30–11.30 Session V: Data and the digital

Jukka Saarinen: Exploring the Childish. Children's poems in the collections of Northern Finnic oral poetry


Kati Kallio & Maciej Janicki: Corrupted orality? Literary influences in the 19th century folk poetry in Finland, Ingria and Karelia


Daniel Prior: Digital Research on Early Modern Kyrgyz Oral-derived Narrative Sources (EMKONS)

Jukka Saarinen

Jukka Saarinen, PhD, is currently working in the project FILTER (Formulaic intertextuality, thematic networks, and poetic variation across regional cultures of Finnic oral poetry). He was a researcher in the Folklore Archives of the Finnish Literature Society from 1988 to 2015, and the development manager of the Archives from 2016 to 2021.

Exploring the Childish. Children's poems in the collections of Northern Finnic oral poetry

The presentation deals with children's poems in the digital corpus of Northern Finnic oral poetry, based on the printed publication "Suomen Kansan Vanhat Runot" (SKVR, 1908–1949, 1997) and unpublished poems in the Archives of the Finnish Literature Society. SKVR has generally been conceived as a comprehensive anthology of northern Finnic Kalevala-metric poetry, but in fact, it contains a remarkable amount of poems not complying with the principles of the Kalevala-meter and not performed by singing. Children's poetry is a large and heterogenous part of this corpus. It consists of poems used by children or performed for children, in different contexts (in games, for amusement) and in varying forms (songs, nursery rhymes, sayings).

In this presentation I employ computational tools developed in the project FILTER for detecting similarities between verses and poems, and for performing calculations for typological, geographical and temporal distributions of children's poems. By studying which unpublished poems belong to same similarity-based clusters with the children's poems identified in SKVR, I can estimate their scope in the corpus. Many types are extremely widespread and cover also areas where very little epic or lyric songs have been recorded. Some of these short poems may also be quite old. Though they often are quite short and simple, they still offer an interesting and valuable view on common poetic thinking and creativity, shared by generations of people in Finnic areas.

Kati Kallio & Maciej Janicki

Kati Kallio works as and Academy Research Fellow at the Finnish Literary Society, Maciej Janicki as a post doctoral researcher in HELDIG at the University of Helsinki. Both affiliate to the FILTER project (

Corrupted orality? Literary influences in the 19th century folk poetry in Finland, Ingria and Karelia

The publication series SKVR (1908–1948) of Northern Finnic oral poetry was meant to represent only authentic folklore. Some dubious examples were included with notes such as “learned from Kalevala”. Later, the unpublished poems in the archives were curated into a very heterogeneous corpus of 85 228 items.

Via the computational recognition of similar poetic lines and texts (Janicki et al. 2022) in these corpora and selected printed 19th century works, it is possible to roughly estimate the scale of literary influence in the folklore collections, and to evaluate which printed works seem to have affected the 19th century oral culture the most – or which references to print culture have most often been missed by the collectors and curators of folklore. 

Yet, the reasons behind the similarity of printed works and oral poetry may often be of complex nature. In addition, the cases of low computational similarity may be relevant to the analysis: the influence may take place at the level of individual verse types or formulas, or of storyline (e.g. Ahola & Frog 2023) rather than stable lines or passages. The computational view is relevant only for the line and passage level recurrence, and close reading of metadata and poems is often necessary.

From a contemporary perspective, the corpus of unpublished poems, in particular, opens up a new view to the interaction of oral and literary cultures, and to the process of literarization. The literary influences also bear an indirect evidence of what the local people or “the folk” actually valued in literary folklore publications.

Daniel Prior

Daniel Prior received a PhD in Central Eurasian studies (with minors in folklore and ethnomusicology) from Indiana University. He has taught for 16 years at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio (USA), where he is now Professor of History. His research has been supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the Slavic–Eurasian Research Center at Hokkaido University in Sapporo, Japan. His publications include The Šabdan Baatır Codex: Epic and the Writing of Northern Kirghiz History (Leiden: Brill, 2013) and the first complete translation of The Memorial Feast for Kökötöy Khan: A Kirghiz Epic Poem in the Manas Tradition, by Saghïmbay Orozbaq uulu (London: Penguin Classics, 2022).

Digital Research on Early Modern Kyrgyz Oral-derived Narrative Sources (EMKONS)

The EMKONS collaborative research project consists of nine scholars from three continents working on historical, philological, linguistic, folkloric, paleographical, codicological, archival, and digital issues surrounding oral-derived narrative sources from the Kyrgyz cultural and linguistic milieu, dating from the late eighteenth to the early twentieth century. The manuscripts we study, housed mainly in the archives of the National Academy of Sciences of the Kyrgyz Republic, open pathways of research on ethnic, regional, and Islamic identities; the intertwining of oral and written modes of transmitting knowledge about the past; Central Asian Turkic linguistic fluidities; and Central Asian nomads' experience of the Russian Empire (and hence may be seen as verging on the very periphery of European national knowledge-building projects). In addition to doing fundamental analytical research, we are also addressing conceptual problems relating to the epistemologies both of our sources and of the academic channels that utilize them (or may tend not to utilize them). How did the recording, collecting, storage, and inventorying of the texts affect how we interpret them and the questions we can ask of them?

Progress to date on the digital side of our activities includes a pilot website (; in June 2022 the team met in person in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, to conduct research and plan further collaborative efforts; we are currently working on a proposal for a multi-year implementation grant. As project director, Daniel Prior would like to describe the team’s work in progress and future plans, and engage with other scholars in attendance in discussions on the potential impacts of the project for research (both traditional and digital) and teaching.

11.30–13.00 Lunch (on site)


13.00–14.30 Keynote III Joep Leerssen: Appropriating Authenticity and the Oralization of Literature


14.30–15.00 Coffee break

15.00–17.00 Session VI: Affect and the neglected body

Lotte Tarkka & Heidi H. Mäkelä: The heritagization of sexual Kalevala-meter poetry in the long 19th-century Finland


Michal Kovar: Anders Fjellner‘s and Carl Axel Gottlund’s erotism


Asta Sutinen: The new generation of vernacular writers and the affective use of the amusement mail, huviposti, in the early 20th century Finland


Viliina Silvonen: Laments in varying margins


Lotte Tarkka & Heidi H. Mäkelä

Heidi Henriikka Mäkelä (PhD, MMus) is a university researcher of folklore studies at the University of Helsinki, Finland. She specializes in the production of Finnishness and Finnish spatiality in contemporary Finland in relation to Kalevala-metric oral poetry and intangible cultural heritage. Her research interests include ICH, nationalism, cultural appropriation, landscape, spirituality, medievalism, and folk music.

Lotte Tarkka is Professor of Folklore Studies at the University of Helsinki. Her research interests include oral poetics, theories of genre, intertextuality in oral poetry, processes of traditionalization and authorization, vernacular and mythic imagination, and reconstructive performance studies. She specializes in the study of Finnic oral traditions, especially poetry in the Kalevala-meter, Elias Lönnrot’s epic, the Kalevala, and Viena Karelian culture. Her publications in English include the monograph Songs of the Border People. Genre, Reflexivity and Performance in Karelian Oral Poetry (2013). Tarkka chairs the Council of the Finnish Literature Society and the board of the Kalevala Society. She is a member of the Finnish Academy of Science and Letters and Academia Europaea.

The heritagization of sexual Kalevala-meter poetry in the long 19th-century Finland

Kalevala-metric oral poetry has been central in the symbolic construction of “Finnish heritage”. This construction is based on systematic collection, archiving, research, and artistic representations of folklore. The paper discusses the reception of sexual oral poems and thematic articulation of the body and corporality in entangled processes of heritagizations and de-heritagizations. These poetic expressions have been either excluded or included in the canons of national heritage, depending on the historical and societal contexts. We argue that the (de-)heritagizations of oral poetry on sex and sexuality reflect the changing societal understandings on body politics, the conceptions of ‘folk’ and values such as ‘decency’.

Michal Kovar

Michal Kovář has worked as a teacher of Nordic literatures first at Masaryk University in Brünn, since 2018 at Charles University in Prague. Kovář is interested in medieval and early modern period literature, and 

Anders Fjellner‘s and Carl Axel Gottlund’s erotism

Fjellner’s epic poem The Son of the Sun (Päiven parne’), or The Son of the Sun’s Courting…, has been attracting attention for more than 150 years. The basic question, whether the poem should be attributed merely to folklore, or whether there is Fjellner’s own “auctorial gesture” in it, was partly solved (Sallamaa 2015). The related question is the function of the openly described female erotism. The main influence has been seen in Finnish folklore sent to Fjellner by Gottlund, or in the Sami folklore and ritual practice itself (Gaski and Hirvonen in several papers). Both can be true, still Fjellner’s intention remains unclear. Very striking is the contrast of openly described female sexuality with the Giant’s Daughter’s metaphorically covert instructions related to the male sexuality. Does this feature follow conventions regarding the specific role of woman in the romantic art, or, again, should we refer to folklore? The answer could be perhaps found in an extraordinary – symbolic and compositional – function of the knot-motive describing woman’s life. Regarding the national epic, such an arrangement is justifiable. However, the lack of “consensual” women and fertile men in the Kalevala did not represent any obstacle for political fulfilment of the Finnish national epic, although the Finns had another, more erotic option: Gottlund’s poem Runola. The period critics – referring to obscenity – refused Gottlund’s attempt, nevertheless the main problem seems to be not the Ruler of Water touching her genitals etc. during a conversation with Väinämöinen, but the already out-of-date classicist allegories.

Asta Sutinen

Asta Sutinen is a PhD student of the Folklore Studies and Area and Cultural Studies at the University of Helsinki. 

The new generation of vernacular writers and the affective use of the amusement mail, huviposti, in the early 20th century Finland

In Finland, the turn of the 20th century was the golden age of various ideological organizations that arranged regularly events to promote their ideology and to gain funds around the sparsely populated country. One of the numbers in those events was huviposti, the amusement mail, which consisted of the delivery of anonymous letters for the audience, happening on the stage as a performance.  

In this presentation I am interested in the writers of the huviposti letters and their presumed motives. Many of the participants had only a low level of education, and for them the huviposti was probably one of the motivators for learning to write and expressing their opinions and emotions. Huviposti is largely disappeared as a material form as it was used as a temporary commodity in this particular social performance. However, it had a social significance for the people in their communities. Outside the civilization process by the church and the schools, the organizational events offered a platform for new writers in the form of the huviposti. The anonymity of the letters was supposed to be a part of an innocent play, but it sometimes lead to mockery and threats, causing disturbance on the spot or afterwards. The affective character of this phenomenon was publicly discussed in the newspapers, offering underresearched material for today’s scholars. The huviposti and it’s writers have not been within the canon of the vernacular writers of the pre-compulsory education age, but the new research offers more knowledge to fill this gap.

Viliina Silvonen

Viliina Silvonen is a folklorist specializing in lament tradition, performance, emotions and affects and is interested in how traditions live, change and gain meanings in changing sociocultural contexts. She works as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Eastern Finland in a project founded by Kone Foundation. She is also a member of the multidisciplinary research community of Finnish Literature Society.

Laments in varying margins

The changing paradigms and practices of research and archiving have positioned laments in marginals with varying criteria during the 19th and 20th century. First, laments were too odd and savage to be building blocks for Finnish nation. Later, the pure, traditional lamenting practices were damaged with modern, literary culture. In the 1990s’ the so-called neo-laments, new practices taught in courses written on everyday Finnish language without ritual contexts and traditional mythic meanings were often considered in academia something else than Karelian lament tradition.

During the 21st century the situation and the marginals have been changing at least in the public. I think, it can be said that the new interpretations, forms, and practices of lamenting have broken out from the marginals where the academic discussion had placed them. At the same time new, unintentional processes of marginalization have been going on. The Finnish practices have got stronger and the Karelianness of lament tradition have been weakening. A couple of years ago the discussion about cultural appropriation appeared in the field of laments; Karelian language activists began to criticize the neo-lamenters.

In this presentation, I delve into the processes of marginalizing Karelian laments from the 19th century until these days. The dive into the marginals of laments helps to understand the present discussion of cultural appropriation in the context of Finnish and Karelian cultures and the contradictions and confrontations in the field of laments in contemporary Finland.

This study is based on ethnographic and media material.

17.00–18.00 Closing