The Estonian Folklore Archives

Address: Vanemuise Str. 42, Tartu 51003, Estonia
Open: M–F 9.00–17.00
Phone: +372 7377 730; Fax: +372 7377 706
E-mail: era[at]

The Estonian Folklore Archives (EFA) was founded on September 24, 1927. The first head of the Archives was Dr. Oskar Loorits (1890–1961), who organized all the Estonian folklore collections into one central depository. The collections of the EFA have to date been replenished with contributions from both professional folklorists and a network of correspondents.

The EFA functions as a central folklore archive in Estonia which also carries out research projects on folklore both independently and in co-operation with other scientific institutions. In addition to Estonian material, the scope of the Archives covers the folklore of other peoples, mainly that of the Finno-Ugrians (Livonian, Votic, Finnish, Izhorian, Karelian, Vepsian, Mordvinian, Mari, Komi, Udmurt, Khanty, Hungarian material) and other peoples living in Estonia or its vicinity (Russian, Lithuanian, Latvian, German, Jewish, Swedish, Gypsy material).

The EFA includes collections of manuscripts, photographs, sound and video recordings. By the end of 2022 the Archives contained 31 folklore collections in manuscript to a total of 1,530,000 pages, a photo collection of 68,000 photographs, sound and video archives including 188,000 audio pieces, and 1,970 video tapes and films.


The earliest manuscript folklore samples in the EFA date back to the beginning of the 19th century and belong to the folklore collections of the Literary Union of Estonia and of the Estonian Learned Society. The most established period in the collection of Estonian folklore is connected with the activities of Dr. Jakob Hurt (1839–1907) and Matthias Johann Eisen (1857–1934). J. Hurt began to collect folklore in 1860s with the help of his relatives and acquaintances, but soon realised that the collecting of folklore had to become a nation-wide undertaking. The 162-volume collection of J. Hurt, the result of his determined activities, is at present the most precious in the Archives in terms of both its content and the exact data attached to a record.

A significant role in the gathering of Estonian folklore was also played by Dr. Oskar Kallas (1868–1946), who between 1904 and 1916 organised the systematic and scientific collection of folk melodies in collaboration with the Estonian Students' Society. The importance of this collection lies above all in the great number of folk songs joined to the melodies (a total of 13,139 tunes).

In the 1930s, the EFA initiated several competitions of folklore collection and, in addition to Estonian folklore, the gathering of material concerning other peoples was begun. Besides oral tradition, the collecting activities of manuscript song-books, rhyme albums, oracles, etc. were started at that time.


Immediately after the founding of the EFA, a foundation was laid for the photographic collection. The oldest photographs in the Archives date back to the end of the 19th century, presenting the well-known folklore collectors of the time. The photographic collection of EFA includes mainly photographs portraying folklorists and their informants in the field, as well as those depicting landscapes and objects related to folk tradition.

Sound and video recordings

The first recordings of Estonian folk music were made in 1912 by Finnish folklorist A. O. Väisänen with the Edison phonograph. In 1927 the phonographs present were brought to the Estonian Folklore Archives, where systematic recording was initiated. In 1936–1938 more than 700 pieces of the best Estonian (but also Livonian, Izhorian and Latvian) singers and musicians were recorded on shellac (reportage) discs. In the beginning of 1950s open-reel tapes were introduced; the first films appeared a decade later. The share of audio and video tapes in the Archives has steadily increased, especially due to the arrival of modern digital technology in the second half of the 1990s. Since then large-scale digitalisation of older sound recordings has been in progress.

The materials stored in the EFA have been divided into series and complete volumes. Several card files have been set up in order to find information from different collections of the Archives. The files of the EFA can be divided into three groups:

1) index files which provide miscellaneous information (the topographical distribution of items, folklore collectors and performers; index files of recordings and photographs);

2) content files of Estonian folklore for every separate folkloric genre: e.g. songs, games and dances, melodies, folk tales and legends, short forms of folklore, accounts of belief and customs, magic spells, etc.;

3) content files of Jewish, Livonian and Russian folklore.

The current research projects of the Archives concern folk songs and narratives (incl. urban legends), traditional culture of Estonians in Siberian settlements, the folklore and popular religion of other Finno-Ugric peoples as well as digital archiving. The EFA is preparing an academic source publication of folk song in a series Monumenta Estoniae Antiquae, an anthology on the folklore of the Estonians in Siberia. The Archives publishes non-periodical series Pro Folkloristica, Commentationes Archivi Traditionum Popularium Estoniae and Recordings from the Estonian Folklore Archives (sound recordings).

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