The folklorists of the Finnish Academy of Sciences, along with the departments of folkloristics in Finnish universities and the Finnish Literature Society’s folklore archive, organise summer courses every second or third year, offering international research training. The first summer school was held in 1991, and by 2010 eight summer schools had been arranged in venues offered by Turku University, Helsinki University and Joensuu University. The 2007 school took place in Kuhmo, in Karelia, on the Finnish side of the border, and in Viena Karelia on the Russian side.
The Folklore Fellows’ Summer School is the only folkloristic research course in the world, whose participants are chosen on the basis of global principles. After the success of the summer schools of the 1990s, the school gained a wide and positive international reputation. A background to the courses has been an observation of the increasing interest in folklore research in Asia, Africa and the Pacific, as well as the perceived need for cultural exchange and intercourse. An aim has been to gather on each course a group of students representing in the most balanced way the different geographical and cultural regions of the world.
The recognised interest in the summer school has shown itself in good measure: over two hundred researchers have now participated in the courses. Around a third of applications come from Nordic countries or other European nations; half are from outside Europe. For example, the course held at Lammi in 2002 attracted participants from Albania, Argentina, Cameroon, England, Estonia, Finland, Georgia, Iceland, India, Japan, Kenya, Latvia, Nepal, New Zealand, Nigeria, the Philippines, Russia, Sweden, Tanzania, Turkey, Uganda, and the United States. Applications for the courses have been sent mostly from the United States, India, China and the Near East. A number of applicants are university teachers and professors, and researchers at archives and research institutes. In recent times the ambition has been to emphasise the nature of the courses as graduate training and applications from post-graduates and post-doctoral students in the West has risen noticeably.
Twenty to thirty actual participants are approved for a course, in addition to which Finnish graduate students take part with various auxiliary roles. The selection criterion is the level of the application. Additionally, especially for representatives from the developing world, the need for training is kept in mind, and the regional accessibility of training sites. Because the language of the course is English, all participants must have a good knowledge of English.
The research course is made up of thematically defined theoretical lectures, group work focusing on the investigation of course participants’ own research tasks, and technical training in the use of archives. In connection with the summer school, small symposia are also often held, which concentrate on specific problems.
To fulfil the principle of intellectual exchange, each participant gives a presentation on the research situation in his or her own country, and on his or her own research topics. For this reason the application includes a statement on the applicant’s areas of interest and a short description of his or her research aims. Shared discussions are important as means to draw together folklorists representing different countries and research traditions. The thematic organisation of the courses is chosen with the aim of representing contemporary challenges for folkloristics by taking a global perspective, for example by bringing up questions of interaction, ethnicity and the construction of national cultures.