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Oral and Literary Culture in the Medieval
and Early Modern Baltic Sea Region:
Cultural Transfer, Linguistic Registers
and Communicative Networks (2011–2014)


This project will study the interactions of oral and literary culture around the Baltic Sea - in particular in Finland, Estonia, Karelia and Ingria - from 1200 to 1700. The interdisciplinary research project will make use of folklore, literary studies, communications, and network research as well as ideological and social historical concepts.

The project will have three areas of focus:

  • Assimilation and textualisation of vernacular and religious traditions
  • Oral and written traditions and linguistic registers of interaction
  • Communicative networks of the Baltic Sea region

The Latin and vernacular textual tradition of universalist Church culture and various religious, linguistic and custom-associated localities will be approached in the context of textual, thematic, statistical, musicological, and prevailing metric analyses. Key research questions include:

  • How did the emergent literary traditions in the Eastern Baltic conceptualize native paganism, pagan oral culture and performances? What was the function of these ideas and imageries in the recently Christianized and colonised regions – and how did they transmit and transform in the Reformation period? (Kaljundi)
  • How was the Latin language hagiography tradition of Saint Henry transformed in the vernacular and how was it later textualised through Lutheran orthodoxy? (Timonen, Lehtonen)
  • How were universalistic eastern and western "great traditions", appropriated and converted into local "small traditions", for example in Finnish and Karelian vernacular versions of poetry, music, and biographies of saints? (Järvinen, Kallio, Timonen)
  • How does written communication effect personal contacts with essential networks, and how are exchanges based on mutual trust relationships used to create immaterial capital? (Leskelä)

Finnish, Karelian and Estonian folk poetry, Latin literature of the region, images, language, and musical registers connected to paganism, and the communication networks controlled by Low German and old Swedish have not been previously studied as a whole. The project, therefore, will result in a new perspective on medieval and early modern culture in the Baltic Sea region.

Study Group

  • Responsible Director: Adjunct professor, Secretary General Tuomas M. S. Lehtonen
  • Researchers: Irma-Riitta Järvinen (Folklore), Linda Kaljundi (History), Kati Kallio (Folklore), Ilkka Leskelä (Social History), Senni Timonen (Folklore)

Funding: The Academy of Finland 2011–2014 (project number 137906)

Site of research: The Finnish Literature Society, Research Department

Researchers to participate in a collaborative network:

  • Thomas A. Dubois, University of Wisconsin, Maison
  • Ruth Finnegan, Open University, London
  • Tuomas Heikkilä, University of Helsinki
  • Kaisa Häkkinen, University of Turku
  • Kurt Villads Jensen, University of Southern Denmark, Odense
  • Esko M. Laine, University of Helsinki
  • Tuija Laine, University of Helsinki
  • Marko Lamberg, University of Jyväskylä
  • Elena Melnikova, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow
  • Lars Boje Mortensen, University of Southern Denmark, Odense
  • Marco Mostert, University of Utrecht
  • Michael North, University of Greifswald
  • Nils Holger Petersen, University of Copenhagen
  • Lotte Tarkka, University of Helsinki
  • Ülo Valk, University of Tartu