Past and Present
The Department of Estonian and Comparative Folklore was created when Tartu University transitioned to teaching in Estonian in 1919. By this time, Estonian folkloristics had already begun to develop, and had indeed mostly done so in Tartu. However, it was not yet an academic enterprise at this stage, but rather the work of enthusiastic individuals and societies.
Walter Anderson (born in Minsk on 10.10.1885 – died in Kiel on 23.08.1962) was invited to be the first professor, and he worked at the department between 1920–1939. Anderson had studied at Kazan Univeristy, with additional courses at Petersburg University and abroad. In 1916, he defended his doctoral dissertation, "Императоръ и аббатъ: исторiя одного народного анекдота" (Emperor and Abbot: the history of a popular joke).
Anderson worked at Kazan University as a Privatdocent in Western European Literature and as a lecturer of Italian. He was appointed professor in Kazan in 1918, but due to the war was unable to take up the appointment, working instead as a grammar school teacher in Minsk.
At Tartu University, he initially taught in German, and from the autumn of 1922 in Estonian, with a concentration upon folklore methodology, the comparison of Estonian folklore to that of other nations, and organising the folklore archive.
Walter Anderson himself collected Jewish, Estonian, German and Italian folklore. He was an active scholar, participating in international folklore conferences, overseeing scholarly publications (including the Folklore Fellows Communications, overviews of the year’s work in Estonian philology and history, and University publications) and participating in societies such as ÕES (the Learned Estonian Society), and ARS (the Academic Folklore Society) and was a member of the Estonian Folklore Archive’s collegium.
After his departure in 1939, he moved to Germany, where, from 1945 onwards, he was professor at Kiel University.
Between 1919 and 1934, Matthias Johann Eisen (28.09.1857 Vigala – 6.08.1934 Tartu) was a member of the teaching staff at Tartu University. His lectures, undergirded by his earlier work and the Eisen Folklore Collection, focussed on belief, epic and the comparison of Estonian and Finnish materials.
Between 1927 and 1944, Oskar Loorits (9.11.1900 Suure-Kõpu – 12.12.1961 Stockholm) worked as a docent at the department. Oskar Loorits graduated from Tartu University in 1922, in 1926 he defended his doctoral work on Livonian folk belief, and in 1927 he founded the Estonian Folklore Archive, where he was the director.
Oskar Loorits’ teaching focussed on archival work, short forms, song, and also on belief, moving from the previous focus on motifs and supernatural beings to the phenomenology and psychology of belief. After leaving Tartu in 1944, Oskar Loorits went to Sweden where he worked at Uppsala.
In 1944, after the formation of Tartu State University, the role of folkore studies declined, and in 1947 the Chair of Folklore was united with the Department of Literature. Within the available courses, the possibility to specialise in folklore remained.
During this period, university students went on folklore practice, collecting materials which then formed the Department of Estonian Literature and Folklore’s manuscript collection (EKRK), which is now deposited at the Estonian Folklore Archive.
Between 1944 and 1994, Eduard Laugaste (22.05.1909 Taagepera – 30.08.1994 Tartu) worked teaching folklore, initially as a docent, and from 1974 as professor, then after 1991 as consultant and emeritus professor. Laugaste had studied at Tartu University between 1927 and 1935, defending his Master’s dissertation in 1937. After that he worked as a schoolteacher, before being invited to led the University’s Folklore Department in 1944. Laugaste defended his Doctoral thesis in 1970 on word-initial and -internal alliteration in Estonian folksongs (published as "Sõnaalguline ja sisealliteratsioon eesti rahvalauludes" in 1969).
As a member of teaching staff, he taught the basic folklore courses (theory, history, and the forms of folklore, especially narratives and songs), and published study material on these themes.
Later Udo Kolk and Paul Hagu joined the teaching staff of the folklore complement.
Udo Kolk (4.05.1927 – 25.08.1998) graduated from Tartu State University (and simultaneously from Tartu Music School) in 1951 and in the same year began aspirantura studies in folklore, while retained contacts with the Music School, where he was a teacher of folk music). From 1955 to his death, he worked at Tartu University on the folklore teaching staff in the Department of Estonian Literature and Folklore. His researches on stereotypy in regilaul belong among the classics of folklore.
Paul Hagu (born 1946) defeneded his candidate thesis on agrarian customs and beliefs of the Seto ("Аграрная обрядность и верования сету") at the Leningrad department of the N. N. Mikluhho-Maklai Ethnographic Institute in 1983. He began to work on the folklore teaching staff in 1984, where he gives lectures on folksong, and Baltic-Finnic and Russian folklore. His research is interests are chiefly Seto custom and belief.
In 1991, the move within the Department of Estonian Philology to a credits-based system allowed the folklore staff to develop a four-year Bachelor’s programme with a three-level curriculum (basic, advanced and specialised) in place of the previous general and specialised courses. This allowed those entering university to choose to study in the folklore programme from year one. At the same time, the number of teaching staff increased: Eduard Laugaste stayed on as a consultant and emeritus professor with Udo Kolk and Paul Hagu as forming the active teaching staff. In 1991, Tiiu Jaago began to work in the programme, and she developed a systematic folklore curriculum.
Those chosen to deliver special courses were Aino Laagus (folktale), Alo Malt (folk belief), Arvo Krikmann (short forms, and later, folk humour), Tiia Ristolainen (née Köss; contemporary folklore, and later, the culture of death), Mall Hiiemäe (research methods, folk calendar). They were supplemented later the lectures of Mare Kõiva (on folk belief), Enn Kasak (on folk astronomy), amongst others.
Between 1991 and 1993, Tiiu Jaago was leader of the programme, while Paul Hagu was the head in 1994. The first Master’s degrees in folklore were defended in 1993 (Ruth Mirov, Loone Ots, Marju Torp-Kõivupuu), and the first Doctoral thesis in 1994 (Ülo Valk).
In 1993, the Chair gained its independence and its former name – the Chair of Estonian and Comparative Folklore. In 1995, Ülo Valk was invited to lead the Chair, first as an Extraordinary Professor, and from 1998 onwards in a permanent role. In October 1995, the first international conference was organised, dedicated to the 110th anniversary of Walter Anderson’s birth. Papers delivered there formed the basis of the first publication in the series "Studies in Folklore and Popular Religion" (1996). The Chair of Estonian and Comparative Folklore operated in two rooms, one located in the Estonian Literary Museum and the other in the Main Building of the University. In 1997, we moved to the upper floor of the historical von Bock building (Ülikooli 16).
In the spring of 1997, the Chair of Estonian and Comparative Folklore received the majority of the library of the defunct Nordic Institute of Folklore, which had operated in Turku. These books form the basis of the current departmental library. In the autumn of the same year, a conference on Christian folk belief was organised (which formed the basis of "Studies in Folklore..." vols 2–3). Merili Metsvahi and Risto Järv came to work as researchers at the Chair. Järv is now a docent, and the Director of the Estonian Folklore Archive. Co-operation with the folklorists of the Estonian Literary Museum has been close, involving Arvo Krikmann, Mare Kõiva and others. The Estonian Folklore Archive has helped organise the students’ fieldwork. In 2004, Kristin Kuutma first gave courses at the Chair, and in 2010 she became Professor of Cultural Studies.
Guest lectures have been delivered by many scholars from abroad: Ezekiel Alembi (Kenya), Regina Bendix (Germany), Kishore Bhattacharjee (India), Özkul Cobanoglu (Turkey), Lauri Honko (Finland), Mihály Hoppál (Hungary), Ricardo Kaliman (Argentina), Seppo Knuuttila (Finland), Reimund Kvideland (Norway), Christian Lindtner (Denmark), Swaminathan Lourdusamy (India), Sadhana Naithani (India), Diarmuid Ó Giolláin (Ireland), Maria Ines Palleiro (Argentina), Ulla-Maija Peltonen (Finland), Leander Petzoldt (Austria), Rüdiger Schott (Germany), Anna-Leena Siikala (Finland), Laura Stark (Finland), Timothy Tangherlini (USA), Tatjana Vladykina (Udmurtia, Russia), Vilmos Voigt (Hungary), Sabine Wienker-Piepho (Germany) and others.
Professors of folklore from all over the world at the Chair of Folklore during the conference of the International Society for Folk Narrative Research in Tartu in 2005. In the first row, from left to right: Dorothy Noyes, Ezekiel Alembi, Charles Briggs, Galit Hasan-Rokem, Anna-Leena Siikala, Ilana Rosen; in the middle row: Dan Ben-Amos, Ülo Valk, Margaret Mills, Regina Bendix, Carl Lindahl, Barbro Klein, Sadhana Naithani; in the back row: Pertti Anttonen and Ulf Palmenfelt. Photo by Elo-Hanna Seljamaa.
The first Doctoral thesis defended by a student of the Chair was that of Art Leete in 2000. Leete is now Professor of Ethnology at the University of Tartu. In 2005, in co-operation with the Estonian Literary Museum, the Chair organised in Tartu the Fourteenth Congress of the International Society for Folk Narrative Research (ISFNR) on ’Folktale Theories and Contemporary Practices’. Speakers attended from 35 countries. Between 2005 and 2009, the Department of Estonian and Comparative Folklore was also the centre of the ISFNR, co-ordinating the Society’s international activities. International conferences are regularly organised, often in co-operation with the ethnologists of Tartu University.
After the university reforms of 2007, the Chair became a Department. Between 2008 and 2015 the folklorists of the department belonged to the Centre for Excellence in Cultural Theory. In 2008, Elo-Hanna Seljamaa joined the department as a researcher, and in 2009 Jonathan Roper and Ergo-Hart Västrik joined as senior researchers. In additional to the courses in Estonian, there are now regular courses in English, and there are more international students in the doctoral programme. For example in 2017 among the PhD students are young scholars from Argentina, Belarus, India, Latvia and Russia. Between 2002 and 2017, twenty five doctoral degrees were defended at the department.