Lotte Tarkka
Humanist of the day

Lotte Tarkka

Lotte Tarkka, professor of folkloristics, is specialised in Finnish folk poetry and mythology. She believes in the power of words and never tires of the aesthetics of Finnish mythical poetry. Graduate studies at the University of Cambridge led the scholar of Karelian tradition into microhistory and the anthropology of symbols. Professor Tarkka studies poetic language in its social and historical context, in its everyday use. In addition to Kalevala-metre oral poetry, she has researched environmental mythology, proverbs, the transformation of tradition, the ideological uses of folklore – and of course the Kalevala.

Lotte Tarkka

Lotte Maria Tarkka
Born January 19, 1963, Helsinki

Master of Arts 1989, Licentiate 1994, PhD 2005 (folkloristics), University of Helsinki
Docent in folkloristics 2007–09, University of Helsinki

Professor of folkloristics 2009–, University of Helsinki
Acting professor of folkloristics 2007, University of Helsinki
Postdoctoral assistant 2006–09, University of Helsinki
Research associate 1999–2006, University of Helsinki
Research assistant 1992–95, Oral Epics project led by Academy Professor Lauri Honko
Research associate in folkloristics 1991–96, University of Turku

Publications, research projects and other academic activity

Academy of Finland research project Oral Poetry, Mythic Knowledge and Vernacular Imagination: Interfaces of Individual Expression and Collective Traditions in Pre-Modern Northeast Europe (2012–16); Cultural Meanings and Vernacular Genres research group

Research themes:
Kalevala-metre folk poetry, the Kalevala, mythology and folk religion, verbal magic, epics, genre theory, intertextual analysis, performance analysis, textualisation, proverbs, the transformation of tradition, the ideological use of folklore, Viena Karelia

Awards and special achievements
The Kalevala award of the Finnish Academy of Science and Letters 2007

First prize, Stadin kompostikisa (‘Helsinki compost competition’) 2003

Kalevala Society junior researcher award 1990

Best Master’s Thesis Award, University of Helsinki Faculty of Arts 1990

Photo: Markku Javanainen
Written by Lotte Tarkka (Kaija Hartikainen, ed.)
Translated by Matthew Billington

The most essential and cherished tool in the work of Lotte Tarkka, professor of folkloristics, is nearly two metres in height and bound in leather: Suomen Kansan Vanhat Runot (‘Ancient Poems of the Finnish People’). This book series, published between 1908 and 1948, contains a total of around 100,000 poems, nearly all the Kalevala-metre folk poems that had been compiled by that time.

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In her research, Lotte Tarkka approaches the archive as an anthropologist would work in the field. Researchers move within a culture that is alien to them and listen to stories told in a foreign language. To understand material that is partially fragmented, it must be compiled and delineated on the basis of the social world of some existing community or individual within a defined period of time.

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According to Lotte Tarkka, the unique nature of the old rune-singing tradition also creates responsibilities: – The material is unique and extensively documented. Interest within the international research community is great, but the poems themselves are behind a language barrier, and it is the responsibility of those who understand the poetic language to produce information on this Intangible Cultural Heritage. And World Heritage is exactly what these poems are, as well as the archives where the notes on them are kept.

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In a research project funded by the Academy of Finland called Oral Poetry, Mythic Knowledge, and Vernacular Imagination. Interfaces of Individual Expression and Collective Traditions in Pre-modern Northeast Europe, Lotte Tarkka and her colleagues continue the classical line of Finnish folkloristics, which is based on text-based comparative research. The Project’s researchers are studying pre-modern oral traditions in the multi-ethnic outskirts of Northeast Europe; peripheries which are characterised by rich cultural contacts. Comparative research on Baltic Finnic, ancient Scandinavian and Siberian traditions gives a clearer picture of European cultural heritage and particularly its north-eastern dimension.

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