Mare Kõiva (Estonian Literary Museum)

Folkloristic Open Access Data set Set and Community Art

Henry Jenkins (2019) wrote: „[i]t was the cultural operating system behind the development of our languages, religions, music, stories and more. But like undergrowth in a forest, it was overshadowed by the trees of single-authorship, which prospered in the West during the Enlightenment and emerged as a privileged form with the institutionalization of intellectual property”.

Co-creation practices, even if described by industrial-era cultural critics as ‘folkish’ or ‘amateurish’ or ‘craft’ (ibid.), have continued to offer alternatives to projects sparked by single-authored visions.

As summarized in one of the new projects of the Estonian Literary Museum (ELM), today digital data management and the use of digital methods in research are elementary and inevitable. It is of utmost importance to have discussions concerning the intangible tradition because advances in technology increase the chances of obtaining new data, and the archival data are expanding exponentially through recordings, video examples, photographs, and manuscripts from various local communities and regions, and diaspora communities. This means making new existing archives available, but also using the possibility of computer analysis in new research corpuses and databases.

The activities carried out from 1993 to 2019 means that ELM has remarkable data set of vernacular culture. Ca 200,000 pages of materials at the Estonian Folklore Archives have been digitized as repository pictures (Järv and Sarv 2014), about 600,000 units have been digitized as texts and form a diverse set of databases, or thematic collections of intangible culture (Kõiva 2020). Folklorists have more than 800 analytical maps of certain expressions, phenomena, genres, etc. (Loorits 19232; Krikmann 1999).

The text form doubtlessly offers great advantages to the researcher because it is easy to process. By combining digital data from different archives, we can track data streams, various topics, and ontologies from the sixteenth up to the twenty-first century. Even more – the merging of publications (early folklore publications, data from calendars from the years 1739–2013, chronicles) prolongs the timeline of the data and motifs observable from the thirteenth century up to today.

Currently the ELM has appr. 60 databases, and thematic collections of intangible cultural heritage, most of them are organized by genres, or as thematic research collections, or present materials from a particular area. Genre still plays a central role in folkloristics (Baumann 1975: 292), but some of the databases also include materials from outside of genres, as the aim is to obtain cohesive material on a particular phenomenon.

The indexes have been designed to assist scholars who are interested in the comparison of motives or text types, to explore transcultural and transmedia phenomena, adaptations of cultural phenomena – to name a few aspects. During the last 50 years the indices became canonical, even iconic part of base studies. There are certain international indices (ATU and SUS for fairy tales, Broadwell, et al. 2017), the motif index of folk literature (Thompson 1955-58), and national level indices of legends, proverbs, riddles and related forms, sayings, alliterative songs, etc. We can be proud of having completed national level indices in almost all genres, and some important indices (fairy tales, incantations, legends) are in progress.

During recent years the scholars of ELM have created environments for the newest phenomena (memes, etc.), also community art, community gifts, private memorials, and other long-marginalized sides of placemaking, folklore, and vernacular religion. Community art exists next to a multi-faceted approach to the planning, design, and management of public places as an institutionalized industry, often supported by remarkable budgets (Sofield, et al. 2017). This phenomenon is one of the most vulnerable and most rapidly disappearing cultural activities; therefore, it is especially important to turn attention to and capture it. It is again the meeting point of charity work, but also closely connected with memories and remembrance, very often also with ritual activities.

The possibilities of digital humanities or computer analyses for art and the humanities has special tools. (Un)fortunately in the RDA Alliance folkloristics in broader sense locates between history and ethnography, linguistics, and empirical humanities. Starting with digitization in early 1990ies and with databases in 1997 the folklorists were forced to use homemade tools for proper analyses (like mapping tool by Krikmann and Krikmann 2012. editing tool Skriptoorium by Kuperjanov, etc.).

Intangible cultural heritage is the best way to get an idea of the changes that have taken place in the society, culture, and people’s mindsets. It is important to connect literary culture and folk culture, both from the written and oral sources, manuscripts and printed items, soundscapes and visual space, which, in turn, must be and are linked to the basic and applied research, as well as the activities of interdisciplinary and international collaborative networks.


This research has been supported by the European Regional Development Fund (Centre of Excellence in Estonian Studies – CEES TK145) and is related to research project IUT 22-5 “Narrative and belief aspects of folklore studies” (Estonian Research Council)


Bauman, Richard 1975. Verbal Art as Performance. − American Anthropologist, 77:  2, 290–311. JSTOR, (17.10.2019).

Broadwell, Peter M., Mimno, David and Tangherlini, Timothy R. The Tell-Tale Hat: Surfacing the Uncertainty in Folklore Classification, Journal of Cultural Analytics. Feb. 8, 2017. DOI: 10.31235/

Järv, Risto; Sarv, Mari 2014. From regular archives to digital archives. Schmitt, Christoph (Ed.). Corpora ethnographica online. Strategies to digitize ethnographical collections and their presentation on the Internet. Rostock: Waxmann Verlag. Rostocker Studien zur Volkskunde und Kulturgeschichte 5, 49−60.

Jenkins, Henry 2019. Collective Wisdom (Part II) An Interview with the Open Documentary Lab’s William Uricchio & Katerina Cizek. Confessions of an Aca-Fan. MIT. (17.10.2019)

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