Anchor Projects

A.J. Sjögren’s diaries as an example of connections and ruptures between the researcher’s life world and the life story as part of a canonized research history

In this anchor project Jyrki Pöysä studies Andreas Johan Sjögren’s (1794-1855) diaries
starting from the writings of a 12-year old boy and ending on the day of his death on January 18th, 1855. Sjögren himself called his notebooks Ephemerider. They constitute a compelling source for researchers interested in not only the everyday life of people living in the early 19th
century but also the social networks of academics in the university town of Turku and in St Petersburg, the imperial capital of Russia. In the context of the project, Pöysä plans to compare the diaries to Sjögren’s autobiography, which concluded in 1845, ten years before his death. Also comparisons to Sjögren’s official life histories will be made (Finnish national biography and earlier examples of his narrativized life history). Particular focus will be on Sjögren’s ideas about health and illness. In Ephemerider Sjögren describes his daily practices in painstaking detail, openly discussing his problems with digestion, various “ordinary” illnesses, the common cold and different types of treatments. Sjögren also writes about the serious problem of his failing eyesight, its underlying causes, and various attempts to obtain a cure.

Yet not only physical problems offer an interesting perspective on the historical era and the
everyday struggles of an eminent scholar. Especially the final pages of his autobiography reveal the existential loneliness and feelings of unease dominating his life, conveying a somewhat paranoid sense to the reader. Both texts are archived at the National Library in Helsinki. Typewritten copies of Ephemerider (7,322 pages) are housed in the Finnish Literature Society’s archives and at the University of Jyväskylä Library. Though excellent forays into Sjögren’s life and work already exist, by Professor Michael Branch and several other researchers (Branch 1973, Ronimus-Poukka 2000, Ozhnovopolozhnik 2010), Sjögren’s personal writings – as documents of personal experience – offer a wealth of material for exploring and making new methodological contributions in the historiography of Finno-Ugric studies. As Sjögren is a prominent figure in Finno-Ugric studies, even seemingly minor details may offer new insights into the inner life and bodily existence of a celebrated academician and the contingent atmosphere of his time.

The “Kalevala frame” of the late 19th and early 20th century fieldworkers to Russian Karelia

In this project, PhD Helena Lonkila will study the “Kalevala frame” of the late 19th and early 20th
century fieldworkers to Russian Karelia. Though not usually seen as history or ethnography, the
Kalevala has been seen as a window to Finnish mentality even today. Elias Lönnrot’s Kalevala (”Old”: 1835, ”New”, enlarged: 1849) was used as a kind of metatext for fieldwork collecting and
observing by early fieldworkers including famous Siberia traveler Matthias Alexander Castrén in
1840’s. At the turn of the century, among the so-called “karelianists”, the Kalevala had a special role as a guide and a mirror of the field. Together with her supervisor and colleague, Professor Annika Waenerberg, Lonkila has conducted some interesting experimental fieldwork in the mythical sites of folklore collecting (Lonkila 2015). Acquiring an intuitive sense of the environment by following the footsteps of famous fieldworkers and artists is combined with using Kalevala experimentally as a metatext for the landscape. Within this project Lonkila is going further in analyzing the past and present experiences of “being there.” As a source material for doing an empathic reading of the landscape as archive, she is using her own diaries in conjunction with the field notes of researchers and artists who travelled the same paths over a century ago. As theoretical tool for interpretation, Lonkila will be testing the concepts of contemporary cultural semiotics developed in Tartu, Estonia.

Encounter between folklorist Toivo Lehtisalo and a Nenets informant: representational strategies of constructing remoteness in the  ethnographic descriptions

In this project, PhD Karina Lukin will study an encounter between researcher and researched on a less typical ground, in Finland. In 1928 linguist and folklorist Toivo Lehtisalo invited a group of
indigenous people to Finland. Among the visitors was a man with whom Lehtisalo had worked intensively documenting knowledge about the shamanistic oral traditions of the Nenets people. Though invited here as friends, the Nenets were at the same time objectified, translated into research material. The case study will discuss the cultural logics underlying the encounter and the ways the guests were positioned not as totally “other” but as relatives, Finno-Ugrians living in the Soviet Union. The case study will also discuss the representational strategies of constructing remoteness in the ethnographic descriptions and explore not only how these strategies correspond to Central European and Russian ethnographic strategies but also their similarity to a more general history of othering the researched people.

Gender and nationalism as keys to understanding archived field documents

Within this project PhD Tiina Seppä will study the field notes, letters and other personal documents  as expressions of patriotism (and related motivation to document folk culture) within the circle of 1940s activists. An interesting case is Helmi Helminen, a female folklore collector, who later abandoned her PhD studies because of doubts about academic theft (Järvinen 2004). As a contrastive background, Seppä draws on her other research on the lives of two well-known male folklore collectors, Heikki Meriläinen and Samuli Paulaharju. The difficult personal predicaments and professional struggles of both men are expressed in correspondence with the archive representatives in Helsinki in the 1890s and 1920s, respectively. The personal documents of Helmi Helminen are stored at the archives of the Institute for Languages in Finland and the archives of the Finnish Literature Society (documents on folklore).

Deconstructing the ideologies and practices behind documenting folksongs and music in Karelia

Within this project PhD Elina Niiranen will study the collecting and archiving work of early  folksong collectors (especially A.A. Borenius-Lähteenkorva, renowned for the quality of his
folklore and folksong collections) and compare that material with her own experiences as an employee at the musical school of Kuhmo in the 1990s. Together with the cross-border cultural
organization of Juminkeko, the school has arranged field trips to Russian Karelia (in many cases
with EU funding). The documents are archived in Juminkeko. Comparing the ideas and ideologies of music, folklore, ethnicity, locality and nation behind these projects makes it possible also to see the early field collectors’ work in a new light.