Folklore Fellows’ Summer School 1995

The third international Training Course for the Study of Folklore and Traditional Culture will be held on June 27 – July 9 1995 at Mekrijärvi Research Station, Ilomantsi, Finland. The course is aimed at training post-graduate students, university teachers and archivists in folklore institutions.

A global perspective on folklore work

The globalization of information exchange in recent decades represents a threat to the future of local and ethnically under-represented cultures. In order to guarantee the richness and diversity of the world’s cultural heritage, it is vital that distinctive cultural traditions not only be preserved and cultivated but also examined and understood. While folklore research has a long history in Europe and the United States, there is a lack of information on folklore and its manifestations in precisely those areas where the need for the collection and preservation of folklore is most urgent, for example, in Asia and Africa. Special attention should be paid to the recording of traditional culture and folklore, and to the training of researchers and documenters competent in research and practical application.

Scholars have begun to recognize that the cultural research led by Western countries does not best serve the aims of understanding, preserving and fostering the cultural traditions of the world. It is imperative that indigenous scholars proficient in their language(s) and in touch with their culture be full members of the research community. The investigation of traditional culture benefits from a method of looking at cultures from the inside out. On the other hand, a narrow perspective or isolation within the sphere of one’s own tradition is not beneficial. Extensive and broad-based expertise in regional cultures can only be useful and successful when based on current scholarly knowledge. Correspondingly, theory-based Western research advances our understanding of folklore’s different manifestations and the different situations and conditions which surround traditional life. For this reason the development of a global forum for the consideration of the theoretical premises of folklore research is necessary. It is also of prime importance that an increasingly large number of representatives from Asian and African countries have an opportunity to participate in intellectual exchange which until recent years has been centered on Europe and America. Such a debate would help to eliminate Western hegemony in scientific discussions concerning cultural traditions, and reveal those tasks which are central to the valuation of the cultural traditions of the world.

The planned course forms a direct continuation of the two former FFSS courses held in Turku 1991 and 1993, which concentrated on the themes of “The Folklore Process” and “Tradition and Renewal in the Folklore Process”. Discussions during the 1993 course negotiated the role of folklore as a driving force and expression of cultural processes. The problematics of folklore and power, tradition and identity were seen as important research topics in various cultural areas. Folklore has a key position in considering national, ethnic, local or gender and age group identity as well. It has been suggested that the next course could be entitled:

Tradition and Conflicting Identities

The topic is valid because of the recent changes in the organization of the European nations, problems in many non-European countries related to ethnically under-represented people and the relationships between different ethnic, linguistic, religious, or other groups. The invention of tradition in national and other movements is, at the moment, being discussed in the fields of cultural anthropology, history and social sciences. The role of folklore in the construction of the cultural identity of national states and ethnic groups has been and still is prominent. For that reason the folkloristic point of view is needed in solving problems connected to the discussion of identity.

Identities are formed in constant negotiation, which often involves a conflict situation, be it severe or a more ordinary kind of matter. The lectures will deal with the meaning of folklore in the creation, revival, maintenance and expression of cultural identity and the role of identity conflicts both in ethnically under-represented cultures and modern multicultural societies. The course will try to view the problems of local and ethnic cultural identity from a perspective of international development and mutual tolerance among national groups. It would be beneficial to identify the factors in the traditions which generate conflicts in and between different ethnic, minority, gender, age and cultural groups.

We may ask whose voice is heard in folklore? How does folklore function as an authority, and how does it serve to create and legitimize power relationships?

To understand the multifactoral relationship of tradition and identity and the cultural processes involved in this relationship, it is necessary to examine the expressive and practical values, the poetics and politics of different folklore genres and items, especially epic poetry, as well as the discursive practices of oral tradition. The negotiation of identity expressed and manifested in inventing, selecting and favoring different forms of cultural traditions does not only concern nation formation or ethnic groups. It is a constant phenomenon in the modern western world and it can be examined in different social interactions and situations.

The landscape of the Kalevala epic

The Folklore Fellows’ Summer School strives to observe the principles of globalization in recruiting not only instructors but, above all, students. Because it has thus far been impossible to accept all applicants for the course and because there is a significant need for the kind of education offered by the Summer School, a third Folklore Fellows’ Summer School is being organized for the period of 27 June – 9 July 1995 at the Mekrijärvi Research Station in Ilomantsi. The choice of location has been influenced by its central position in terms of Finnish identity as well as its location in the landscape of Kalevalaic poetry.

The Mekrijärvi Research Station is located in a scenically beautiful village in Ilomantsi in North Karelia, approximately 40 kilometers from the Russian border. Mekrijärvi is the most significant seat of Kalevalaic rune-singing on the Finnish side of the border, where Elias Lönnrot and other 19th century collectors of folk poetry gathered the ingredients for the Kalevala epic. In addition to the research station, the Sissonen House, home to a long line of rune-singers and representative of the old North Karelian architectural tradition, is also situated on the shore of Lake Mekrijärvi. Ilomantsi’s wilderness and the tree-topped hills of Koli at one time provided the ingredients for scholars and artists attempting to construct a Finnish identity. The village of Mekrijärvi and the Koli hills not far away are one example of the constant relationship between folklore and national identity. The use of folklore as an element of cultural identity and tourism is still important in North Karelia. Because of this, the course participants will have an opportunity to acquaint themselves with the use of folklore traditions in contemporary culture, not only in theory but in practice as well.

Working groups and special meetings

The practical goal of the Summer School is to create a forum for discussion about the theoretical premises of folklore work as well as to provide training in modern research techniques.

The duration of the course will be 12 + 1 days and the program is mainly constructed along the same lines as the earlier FFSS courses. The mornings will be given over to lectures by well-known folklorists (to be announced in the August issue of FF Network) on issues such as oral tradition, the study of epic poetry, problems of identity and gender, the politics and poetics of folklore, ethnographic methods and audiovisual fieldwork methods. The afternoons will be devoted to group work and discussion. Five groups have tentatively been established in the following areas:

Group 1: Tradition: Authority and Authenticity
Group 2: Epics and Identity: The Oral Literary Spectrum
Group 3: Gender and Power
Group 4: Ethnography and Presentation
Group 5: (To be announced)

The groups will already begin operating under the direction of their leaders before they gather at Mekrijärvi. Information concerning course literature, topics of discussion, etc, will be sent by mail. The work of the groups will be determined by the leaders based on the interests of the participants. For this reason we hope that registrants will state their research work and topics of interest. Participation in the groups will require a sound communicative ability. The language of the course is English. In addition to the group work, a separate colloquium entitled “Traditions of the Silk Road” will also be organized.

Participants will also have the opportunity – if the need arises – of familiarizing themselves with audiovisual methods and their practical application. The latter can be linked to the excursions planned to the surrounding area. It is still possible to encounter folk artists in North Karelia who perform Kalevalaic poetry.

All participants will receive a certificate from the course and associate membership of the Folklore Fellows. Our intent is to permit continued contact after the course. The Mekrijärvi Research Station offers modern accommodation economically. The course fee (US $400) includes room and board at Mekrijärvi during the course. In a limited number of cases, the Summer School can help in bearing the costs of transportation and accommodation if this is absolutely essential.

Since the individual needs of the participants will be taken into account in finalizing the program, the mini-essay describing individual interests will play a key role in selecting participants. We expect that the group leaders will contact group members and inform them about the topics of discussion in good time. Each group member is expected to actively participate in the work of the group and to explain the problematics of his /her research as a basis for discussion.

The Secretary General of the course is Dr. Pekka Hakamies. FL Sinikka Vakimo and FK Elina Makkonen will serve as Course Secretaries. Information concerning practical matters can be addressed to the course secretariat at the Summer School address in Joensuu.

Welcome to Mekrijärvi in 1995!

On behalf of the FFSS95 Organizing Committee

Anna-Leena Siikala
Professor of Folklore Studies

(FFN 8, April 1994: 2-4)

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