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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

World Heritage and Basic Research

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.

Tarkka emphasises that recognising the value of this tradition is not “nationalistic bravado.” The poems are mainly the shared heritage of the Baltic Finnic cultural region, and most of them have been documented outside Finnish national borders. In this sense the Kalevala, which was created for and by Finnish national culture, as well as the ideology attached to it, is a totally alien, even antagonistic, phenomenon when it comes to ancient poetry. When ancient poems were compiled as the Kalevala, a living cultural tradition was stripped of its context and transformed to serve the ideological purposes of another culture, used as its emblem.

Similar struggles over cultural heritage are still being fought around the world today, Tarkka reminds us. According to her, contemporary folkloristics has come to terms with the nationalistic legacy of the discipline, and the former “national science” is today both international and critically reflective. The task of a researcher of folk poetry and oral tradition is to give voice to those sections of society that have been left out of official histories. Without this voice the picture we have of history would be woefully deficient.

Data-based research requires much work, and there is little time to spare for basic research when working for a university. Articles are also not the ideal form of publication for this kind of slow research, where close reading of poetry and its subsequent placement within a historical context are essential. Tarkka therefore defends the right of researchers to publish monographs:

– Large pictures and long stories do not fit into a format that allows twenty pages. Furthermore, the University is also duty-bound to produce research in Finnish—it is part of its social responsibility.

Indeed, Tarkka is currently working on a monograph written in Finnish.

The Folklore Archives maintained by the Finnish Literature Society are one of the most significant tradition archives in the world. The oldest manuscripts are kept in the “Holy of Holies.” Photo by Markku Javanainen.


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