On March 9, 1998 a Cooperation Agreement was signed by five parties: the Finnish Academy of Science and Letters (Helsinki), the Finnish Literature Society (Helsinki), the Kalevala Society (Helsinki), the Alfred Kordelin Foundation (Helsinki) and the University of Turku. The Agreement establishes as a tool of their cooperation the Kalevala Institute in the field of “comparative research on epics”, as the permanent attribute after the name of the Institute reads. The field may sound narrow but in daily work it will expand to cover international publication activities in folkloristics and neighbouring disciplines, the planning of scholarly training courses, the creation and maintenance of various scholarly networks, the organising of conferences and the initiation of international and domestic research cooperation.

A national coalition of several scientific societies and universities in the creation of a research unit at a university is a rather unique manoeuvre but may be taken as a sign of a need to pool limited resources and pave the way for better international research information. That the University of Turku was chosen to host the Institute is the outcome of many factors, such as the positive attitude of the University administration, the Department of Cultural Studies and the Faculty of Humanities, the existence of the project “Kalevala and Comparative Research on Epics” and its valuable field materials at Turku University since 1990, the location of the editorial office of FF Communications (founded 1910, edited at the University of Turku since 1963) and FF Network (founded 1991) and the coordination of scholarly networks by the Folklore Fellows through its office at the University of Turku.

Four other universities, i.e. the University of Helsinki, the Åbo Akademi University, the University of Tampere and the University of Joensuu have their leading folklorists in the Steering Group of the Institute. The presence of three scientific societies, five universities and one private foundation in the Steering Group should guarantee that the Institute will serve nationwide interests. Yet its focus will be more international than domestic. Most domestic tasks are in competent hands already and there is no need to create overlapping activities.

Three tasks

The Cooperation Agreement envisions three main tasks for the Institute: to 1) promote, 2) inform and 3) mediate in its field. Promotion is defined in detail as “the promotion of comparative research focusing on the Kalevala and other traditional epics in an internationally visible way”. This will involve the initiation and support of research projects, participation in publication and information activities, the creation and maintenance of various scholarly networks, the organisation of international conferences, the invitation of foreign experts to Finland and participation in the training of scholars together with domestic and foreign institutions and researchers.

As to the most relevant field of research promoted by the Kalevala Institute, a paragraph in the Agreement specifies as follows: “… the focus will be on oral and traditional epics, their materials, textualisation, reception and impact, taking into consideration related genres, often important from the point of view of the performance context of epics and to be found in ritual poetry, mythology, folk beliefs and customs”.

The second task, information, will involve a broader focus and a broader field. The distribution of information about foreign and domestic research on the Kalevala and other epics will be expanded to folkloristic research in general in the international perspective serving both scholars and wider audiences. The work will include participation in the marketing of relevant publications produced by the parties to the Agreement and others, the offering of information services for actual folkloristic projects, the initiation and support of various presentations of research on the Kalevala and traditional epics (books, films, sound recordings, CD-ROMs, workshops and seminars) and the promotion of the utilisation of epic materials in teaching and information.

The third task is defined as the “mediation of expertise in questions concerning the folkloristic, literary, artistic and culture-historical research on the Kalevala and its background, and on traditional epics in general, in collaboration with domestic and foreign institutions, scientific societies and researchers”.


The Agreement specifies the initial contributions to the Institute by the signatories. The University of Turku will allocate an annual grant for the activities of the Kalevala Institute, provide premises for research and film editing, an editorial office, library and archive, place the materials and equipment acquired by the “Kalevala and Comparative Research on Epics” project at the disposal and in the custody of the Institute and permit the creation of a research library.

The Finnish Academy of Science and Letters will place the publication of FF Communications and FF Network in the Institute and entrust it with the maintenance of the various FF scholarly networks. The Institute will be responsible for the international information on the Folklore Fellows’ Summer School and represent the Academy on the organising committee of the Summer School. Triennially the Academy will seek a proposal for the recipient of the Kalevala Prize from the Institute.

The Alfred Kordelin Foundation will, with an annual grant during 1998-2000, support Kalevala research and comparative research on epics, the dissemination of international information on these topics, plus doctoral dissertations and fieldwork on oral and traditional epics. The Foundation will place in the Institute the equipment and some of the research literature acquired during 1991-95 for the “Kalevala and Comparative Research on Epics” project.

The Finnish Literature Society will consider for publication the books produced by the Institute and is willing to negotiate the initiation of new book projects in the field of Kalevala research and affiliated topics. The Society will participate in the publication of FF Network by providing information about its activities and publications and by sharing the costs. The Society will exchange relevant mailing registers with the Institute. The fifth partner, the Kalevala Society, will provide the Institute with expertise on the reception of the Kalevala and its utilisation in the arts and cultural policy. It will give the Institute relevant information from its register on the Kalevala translations and exchange pertinent mailing registers.

The cooperative idea thus implies the pooling of certain extant activities by the signatories and new projects to be planned by the Steering Group of the Kalevala Institute. The parties will not relinquish their rights of ownership: they will merely engage in the joint planning and coordination of certain activities and make their expertise at the disposal of the research unit in question. Any signatory deeming the partnership inadequate has the right to withdraw. Notice of withdrawal must be given one year in advance.


The status of the Kalevala Institute within the university structure will be defined by the Administrative Office of the University of Turku. The day-to-day administration of the Institute will be in the hands of a part-time Director, who will follow the guidelines set by the Steering Group. The Group has eight members and their personal substitutes (= S, cf. the list below), three of them nominated by the University of Turku, two by the Finnish Academy of Sciences and Letters, one each by the Finnish Literature Society, the Kalevala Society and the Alfred Kordelin Foundation. The mandate is for three-year periods. The Director can be a member of the Steering Group. The Steering Group has the general administrative responsibility for the planning, development and supervision of the activities of the Institute, it takes on personnel upon the proposal of the Director (the contract of employment is with the University of Turku) and approves the budget and the principles for the allocation of funds.

The preparatory work of the Planning Group of the Kalevala Institute initiated by the Finnish Academy of Science and Letters in 1996 concluded on March 9, 1998, when the Steering Group convened for its constitutive meeting at the University of Turku. The Cooperation Agreement stipulated the approval of the decisions made by the Planning Group. The composition of the first Steering Group, based on the nominations by the signatories, is as follows:

Lauri Honko, Prof. emer., Project Leader, University of Turku
(S: Veikko Anttonen, Professor of Comparative Religion, University of Turku)
Annikki Kaivola-Bregenhøj, Associate Professor of Folkloristics, University of Turku
(S: Maria Vasenkari, Assistant of Folkloristics, University of Turku)
Seppo Knuuttila, Professor of Folklore Research, University of Joensuu
(S: Timo Leisiö, Professor of Ethnomusicology, University of Tampere)
Esko Koivusalo, Secretary General, Alfred Kordelin Foundation
(S: Anna-Leena Siikala, Professor of Folkloristics, University of Helsinki, Alfred Kordelin Foundation)
Pekka Laaksonen, Chief Archivist, Folklore Archive of the Finnish Literature Society, Chairman of the Kalevala Society
(S: Henni Ilomäki, Chief Librarian, Finnish Literature Society, Kalevala Society)
Anna-Leena Siikala, Professor of Folkloristics, University of Helsinki
(S: Ulrika Wolf-Knuts, Docent, Lecturer of Folkloristics, Åbo Akademi University)
Urpo Vento, Secretary General, Finnish Literature Society
(S: Senni Timonen, Researcher, Finnish Literature Society)
Keijo Virtanen, Professor of Cultural History, Rector of the University of Turku
(S: Pekka Leimu, Professor of Ethnology, University of Turku)

The Steering Group elected Professor Keijo Virtanen Chairman and Professor Anna-Leena Siikala Vice-Chairman of the Kalevala Institute. Professor emeritus Lauri Honko was elected Director of the Kalevala Institute. The Administrative Office of the University of Turku has approved the list of members and officers of the Steering Group and set their mandate to end on July 31, 2001.


It is premature at this point to sketch the publication, conference and research programme of the Kalevala Institute in detail but a general profile can be drawn. On the publication side, the editing of FF Communications will involve a considerable amount of work. FF Network will appear in 2-3 issues per year. Several books are in the making, among them the papers from the ISFNR Congress in Mysore, 1995, entitled The Epic: Oral and Written (eds. Lauri Honko, John Miles Foley & Jawaharlal Handoo), and the papers from the Turku Conference in 1996, entitled Textualisation of Oral Epics (ed. Lauri Honko). A full-time copy editor for the publication sector will be recruited as of May 1, 1998.

An example of a genre other than epic entering the focus of interest is Baltic-Finnic laments. There are two books at the editing stage, one of them a complete edition of Ingrian laments (in the original vernacular and in English translation) and the other an anthology of articles on the history of Finno-Ugrian and Russian laments written by Finnish, Karelian, Estonian, Hungarian and Russian scholars during the past two decades. A third book on Tver-Karelian laments collected during 1958-1978 is in preparation.

Other projects supported by the Kalevala Institute include studies on Tulu oral epics in southern Karnataka, India, initiated by a Finnish-Indian research team in 1990 and sponsored by the Alfred Kordelin Foundation until 1995 and the Academy of Finland until 1998. The aim is to publish the results of the Siri Epic project in the near future, but the copying of extensive field materials (video, audio, photo) for the two archives in Turku and Udupi and the transcription and digitalisation of the most valuable video and audio tapes will take years to complete. A new facet in this project is the training of scholars; at least two dissertations will emerge in due course from the Finnish side. This research is regulated by a formal agreement made between the appropriate departments of the University of Turku, the University of Mangalore and M.G.M. College (its Regional Resources Centre for Folk Performing Arts) in Udupi.

On the conference side, the 150th anniversary of the (New) Kalevala will dominate the programme in 1999. One of the main events will be the international symposium on oral and traditional epics to be held at the University of Turku on August 14-15, 1999. The formal announcement of this conference, entitled “The Kalevala and the World’s Traditional Epics”, will be published in the next issue of FF Network.

The Kalevala Institute will actively participate in the organising of the 5th Folklore Fellows’ Summer School in 1999. This is a joint venture of the folkloristic departments of the Finnish universities, the Finnish Literature Society and the Kalevala Institute. The local secretariat of the FFSS99 consists of folklorists at the University of Turku and the Åbo Akademi University.

The resources of the Kalevala Institute are not sufficient to finance the activities listed above. Most of them require extensive external funding. The same is true of new research projects. There are several on the drawing board, but their lift-off awaits decisions by funding institutions. One of them is very topical for the Kalevala Institute. It concerns the traditional epics in the eastern Baltic Sea region, i.e. the Kalevala of the Finns, the Kalevipoeg of the Estonians, the Peko Epic of the Setu and the Lacplesis of the Latvians. These works represent an important chapter in the history of European traditional epics, actually its “northern dimension”, exceptional in the sense that the link between the traditional epic and its living oral foundations survived until recent times. The project will, according to the plan, study the traditional base and cultural impact of these epics applying partly new methodology developed in empirical studies on living oral epics during recent years.

Lauri Honko
Director of the Kalevala Institute

(FFN 15, April 1998: 2-4, 7)

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