The concept of “Folklore Fellows” has for more than 80 years been associated with the Finnish Academy of Science and Letters and the series Folklore Fellows’ Communications published by the Academy since 1910. The Academy today has 374 Finnish and 187 foreign members divided into two main sections, the mathematical and natural scientific one and the humanistic one. It is the largest scholarly academy in Finland.
When the Academy was founded in 1908, one of its first and most active members was Kaarle Krohn, Professor of Finnish and Comparative Folk Poetry Research at the University of Helsinki. He was the founder of the historical-geographical method which was widely applied in international folklore research. One of the requirements of the method was the collecting of as many variants as possible of the particular folktale, ballad, proverb, riddle etc. to be studied from the point of view of its time and place of origin, paths of diffusion and stages of development.
Variants were indispensable for the broad comparative task of making the study of folklore, especially of folktales, truly global. Regional inventories of existing materials, both published and unpublished, were an intermediary step. They could be of three kinds: descriptions of the holdings of one particular archive, type-indices containing summaries of tales and relevant references to publications and archives and, finally, publications of unabridged variants according to type and/or region. The project was to exert a lasting impetus on folktale research thanks to the numbering of all individual tale types. The dominant paradigm was historic-genetic and text-critical: the variants of one particular folktale had all been in contact and influenced one another. Systematic ordering and comparison of all variants would reveal the original form, history and dissemination of the tale in question
This vision was shared by Nordic scholars Kaarle Krohn, Axel Olrik and C. W. von Sydow and supported in Germany by Oskar Dähnhardt and later by many others. Regional “FF” societies were founded in about 15 countries (20 cities) and reports on their activities were published in the FFC until 1919. After World War I the situation changed. Some leading figures like Dähnhardt and Olrik had died and many local “FF” societies began to wither away. What remained was the idea of international co-operation between folklorists, now centered around the series FF Communications, pulished by the Finnish Academy of Science and Letters in Helsinki under the guidance of an international board of editors.
Many ideas of the founding fathers of the Folklore Fellows have been pursued by later generations of folklorists. The series of Folklore Fellows’ Communications has continued to publish type indices, for example, as well as monographs on particular tales, ballads, proverbs, etc. The scope of research, however, has widened, not only from particular tales and types to entire genres, but to a vast number of different topics within oral literature, folkloristics, comparative religion and cultural anthropology.
The science of folklore itself has undergone a shift of pradigms, too. The possibility of reconstructing archetypes or original forms for various products of folklore hardly exists anymore, the ideas of “folk” as well as “lore” have altered, the basic concepts of variation and reproduction of folklore differ from the thinking of the classical historical-geographical method and the premises of comparative research have been questioned and redefined.
Yet the basic needs of international co-operation, information and exchange of material and ideas are still there. The field of folkloristics is more international than ever with so many new nations, regions and ethnic communities emerging as partners in research and willing to define their cultural identities through folklore or traditional culture. The role of folklore in world culture has been recognised on the highest platform, when the General Conference of Unesco in November 1989 adopted an international recommendation for the safeguarding of traditional culture and folklore. International co-operation is needed to secure the renewal of folkloristics in a situation where the heritage of Romanticism is no longer able to carry the discipline beyond the year 2000 and where the creation of an atmosphere of professional training of folklorists takes a key position.
The idea of reviving the Folklore Fellows as a scholarly network may be seen as a small contribution toward better contacts between folklorists. The folklorist members of the Finnish Academy of Science and Letters felt that it was their responsibility to take the initiative for the simple reason that the Academy was the resort of the publication of the FFC series and the “owner” of the name. Staying under the umbrella of a scholarly academy would also secure continuity in the practical administration of the network.
The tasks of the Folklore Fellows had to be given a profile and a focus which would fit the existing structures both inside and outside the activities of the Academy. The interest in the publication of important folkloristic works was a natural ingredient, not least because there was a modest increase in the volume of the FFC series in sight which could profit from international expertise outside the small editorial board. In other words, the network could provide information on good manuscripts and channel news about forthcoming publications, both inside and outside the FFC.
Another component in the new rules for the Folklore Fellows was the interest in international scholarly training courses, of which the Finnish folklorists have had some experience in collaboration with mainly Nordic colleagues. There was the possibility of broadening the exchange of ideas concerning the planning of courses and thus guaranteeing its global orientation and high standard.
What was left out was the organisation of regular conferences. Special workshops might not be out of the question, but for general folkloristic conferences there are sufficient networks already, such as the regular worldwide congresses of the ISFNR and SIEF as well as various regional and national conferences.
In January 1990 four folklorist members of the Academy made a proposal to the Board of the Finnish Academy of Science and Letters concerning the adoption of new rules for the Folklore Fellows. At its meeting on March 5, 1990 the Board ratified the rules. It also constituted the first Executive Committee by nominating four members for it, namely, Lauri Honko (chairman), Matti Kuusi, Anna-Leena Siikala and Leea Virtanen. In November 1990 the first members of the FF were invited. Presently the international Advisory Committee of the FF is being formed. One of its tasks is to finalise the membership recruitment. The first member lists for public circulation are to be expected in fall 1991.
This first issue of the FF information bulletin will be sent to the Folklore Fellows hitherto invited and to the organisers, teachers and applicants of the first Folklore Fellows’ Summer School to be arranged in Turku in 1991. FF Network will be published 2-4 times annually. It will contain information which is close to the objectives of the FF. It will be a link between scholars interested in training course activities, be they teachers or participants. Its size is not intended to grow beyond the size of the present issue, but the number of issues is not fixed. FF Network will publish information delivered by its members provided it is relevant and condensed.
(FFN 1, April 1991: 1-2)