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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

The Sense of Mythology

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.

Poetic languages attached to myths, rituals and belief systems act within mythic knowledge structures. Nevertheless, this focus on knowledge does not cover the meanings behind mythic poetry. The project aims to examine mythology as an experienced reality which cannot be understood without the concept of imagination. Vernacular imagination mediated levels of experience and expression, and within its framework key ideas and values were applied and passed on from one generation to another. Individuals interpreted mythical knowledge when they acted collectively. In this process, the slowly-changing structures of worldviews began to yield: even the most sacred of stories were varied and renewed. Tarkka describes this tension between continuity and innovation as the resilience of tradition.

As part of this research project, Tarkka has written on mythology and poetry: the problem of the Sampo that has baffled folklorists for centuries, the pre-modern relationship with nature, parallelism, the poetics of quoting, and the relationship between the afterlife and imagination. The material is familiar to her from her doctoral dissertation, where she placed the poetry collected from the rune singers of one Karelian county into its historical and communal context.

The material for her dissertation is also the basis for a work in progress, a microhistorical monograph on Smötkyn Riiko (1869-1942), a sage from Viena, Eastern Karelia. The monograph has a plot: it follows the life of the sage from the Karelian uprising and the formation of Soviet Karelia to the Second World War. Known by many names, called the last rune singer, and a guerrilla recruited as a double agent, Riiko also posed for Akseli Gallen-Kallela, and it was Gallen-Kallela who recorded his poetry. In connection with the monograph, a historically significant corpus of 50 poems in the Kalevala-metre performed by Riiko will be published, some of which Tarkka managed to transcribe from the badly damaged cylinders of a parlograph. There is also a theoretical significance to the story. It aims to define the characteristics of folk poetry at the intersection of oral and written culture, the power structures involved in the collection of tradition, and the nationalistic ideology of tradition in the first half of the 20th century.

The research project “Oral Poetry, Mythic Knowledge, and Vernacular Imagination” studying a World Heritage Site. Taos Pueblo, New Mexico, 2014. Pictured are Lotte Tarkka (on the left), Eila Stepanova, Frog and Karina Lukin. Photo by Ulla Savolainen.


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