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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

Field Work in the Archive

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.

As a student, Tarkka began her research with two families from Viena, in Eastern Karelia, expanding it to the whole village for her Licentiate thesis and then to the entire parish for her doctoral dissertation. “Macro-level phenomena are clearly visible through the micro-level—the whole world is reflected in the village,” Tarkka says. Contextualising the poems also requires a variety of sources and the use of all possible archives. When the research target has been defined both geographically and temporally, it is in principle possible to study all the related written material. And that is when things start to happen:

– Poems start to interact with each other and with other archival materials—rune singers’ faces and life stories begin to form. The landscapes from the poems merge with those in which the rune singers lived, and the relationship a sung folk poem has with reality starts to take shape. Being immersed in the material is a dazzling experience. When the signature of a reindeer thief who sang for Elias Lönnrot, a concrete mark left by their own hand, is found in an old court record, you can only laugh and cry. You are overcome with a feeling that historical and cultural distances have vanished, at least temporarily. Although the critical mind of a researcher tries to shed these emotions, it is at those moments where the heart of understanding can also be discerned.

Research that attempts to reconstruct ways of life from the distant past moves slowly; Tarkka compares it to “building a cathedral.” It is only the Folklore Archives that are dedicated to documenting folk history and the expressive traditions. There are scant traces of everyday life and folk culture in historical archives, usually only concerning events when the authorities were forced to intervene in the lives of the common people. However, with perseverance and good fortune it has been possible to find incredible details of the lives and living conditions of rune singers in the margins of official reports, court documents, State Police interrogation notes, and the secret journals of the Archive of the Defence Forces.

As a teacher, Tarkka does not try to force her students to take old poems as the subject of their theses and dissertations, but questions concerning the Kalevala and oral poetry create an indispensable conceptual framework for a cultural scholar who strives to understand the history of cultural expression and forms of communication. The abundant data provided by old poems forms a certain kind of laboratory. It is a question of an archaic culture of expression on the outskirts of Europe and at the threshold of modernity where all culturally significant messages were conveyed through oral communication, in the same poetic language. Analysis of this type of oral primacy is required in order to understand new communication technologies that simulate oral and face-to-face interaction.

On home field in the Folklore Archives. Photo by Markku Javanainen.


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