Mäetagused vol. 43


Oral History Research in the Collaboration Space of Estonia and the Neighbouring Countries

Tiiu Jaago & Ene Kõresaar

Key words: Baltic and Finnish collaboration, event, life history research, oral and written culture, oral history

The article provides an overview of the collaboration of oral history researchers and life history researchers in Estonia with researchers from Latvia, Lithuania and Finland. This is an interdisciplinary collaboration, which has formed over the past 12 years and unites folklorists from Finland, sociologists from Latvia and Lithuania, and researchers of different disciplines from Estonia. The Estonian term pärimuslik ajalugu (‘oral history’) is dealt with in the context of the related concepts of ‘oral history’ and ‘life history research’ (‘biographical method’). The article focuses on the points of convergence and differences in methods, terminology, and research problems, which have revealed in the course of the collaboration. It is shown how the research (from terminology to research problems) is connected with the historical dimension of the development of research on the one hand, and with the dialogue in a common space of thought, on the other hand. The article observes in more detail the confluence of ideas in the dialogue of the mentioned collaboration space; these are grouped into the categories ‘oral’, ‘written’, and ‘event’, and represent a combination of experience, reality, and expression.

Event, Experience and Narrating

Kirsti Salmi-Niklander

Key words: event, experience, oral and written culture/expression, oral narrative history, personal experience narrative, practical culture

The article analyzes the interdependency of event, experience, and narrating. What does the event consist of in academic historical research and in oral history? How do narrators define events in everyday life, when reminiscing and narrating? The article discusses the event as the common area of history and anthropology. The aim of the article is to search for new information on historical processes that are observed through the experience of contemporaries of such events by analysing the interdependency of the event and the experience, and how they are expressed. A precise analysis of two event narratives that remain in the borderland of oral and written expression is used to disclose the processes of social breakthrough in the 1890s: women entering the previously male-dominated areas of life and the resulting power struggle, the activities of temperance societies in changing student life, the development of new communities and new means of expression. The narrative styles and genre transformation were caused by the fact that the existing means of expression were inadequate for recording the changes that occurred and were perceived in the society.

Memoir Writing Competitions in Oral History Research

Jyrki Pöysä

Key words: collection competition, interview of oral history, life history research, narrative genre, oral history, oral and written culture (remembering), oral narrative history, written contributions to collection competitions

Oral history traditionally involves the research of oral interviews. The article raises the question of how the starting points of research change when memories are not told in an oral interview but are presented in written form.

Finnish oral history research tradition involves collecting material by means of open competitions, in the course of which voluntary contributors send their written memories to the archive. Relying on experience derived from the study of written texts, the author first analyses how both the ‘situation of remembering’ and the ‘instrument’ for recording memories affect the process of remembering. The article introduces two methods that permit the systematisation of heterogeneous text material obtained as a result of memoir writing competitions. Extended genre analysis gives the researcher an opportunity to describe literary features that are characteristic of the texts. The form that the writer has selected also provides clues about how to interpret the content and information about the writer’s attitude towards his or her task. The article observes the multiple themes in the text by employing narrative analysis.

Writing competitions are usually targeted at the general public. Contributions sent to the competition can be associated with different communities. Therefore the collected material can be quite sporadic, which is not characteristic of oral interview texts recorded in a community of researcher’s choice. The texts of writing competitions enable researchers to determine the range of approaches and points of view rather than to study the beliefs of a specific community.

History of Latvia in the Twentieth-Century as Reflected in Historical Sources: Dialogue between Oral History and Archival Records

Irēna Saleniece

Key words: archival documents, complex source publication, interviews, deportations of March 1949, 20th-century history of Latvia

The article explicates the need to use oral history sources together with other types of sources in the study of the history of Latvia in the 20th century, to discover facts that have been kept concealed so far, and to render the view of the past in a more accurate and versatile manner. Oral history sources are the only ones that enable us to attempt to reconstruct from the contemporary perspective how people who took part in historical events provided motivation, justification, and explanation for their behaviour in different situations. The author observes a situation described in archival records and in the life stories of two women, a mother and a daughter, living in eastern Latvia. The central event of both stories is the deportation that took place on 25 March, 1949. This article is based on an analysis of problems encountered when compiling the collection The Voices of the Deported, 25 March 1949: The fate of some deported families from Daugavpils and Ilū kste districts in oral history sources and archival documents. The information from oral history sources supplements, clarifies, and sometimes contests the archival documents; the use of oral history sources gives a clearer view of the contrast between the official and the individual perception of the same facts. Relying on the author’s experience in preparing a source publication, the article deals with the legal and ethical problems related with the complex publication of archival documents and oral sources, and the issues connected with the archaeography of sources.

Migration – The Opposite of Home

Maruta Pranka

Key words: biographical method, life history research, longitudinal analysis, migration

The article introduces the possibilities of using the biographical method for researching the processes of migration on the basis of analysing the materials of the research project Māja (‘Home/House’).

Migration, the movement of people from one location to another, farther or nearer, brings along the change of home. While one’s home is the symbol of stability, migration can be described as being the opposite of stability. Oral history researchers from the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology of the University of Latvia have continuously worked on the Māja project since its launch in 1995. They have repeatedly interviewed the residents of an apartment house in Riga and consulted their personal documents.

The information collected in the course of the study deals with the period from the year 1936 (when the house was built) to the present day. The study approaches the life stories of the inhabitants as subjective social reconstructions of the past, which are interpreted in the context of the observed residential house and recent history of Latvia.

The dynamics of historical conflicts and social processes that took place in the society can be traced in the history of the house. Upon the analogy of this house, migration processes can be identified and viewed in close-up.

On the one hand, the house is characterised in this study as an actual property, material value and financial resource, and an important factor for securing material well-being. On the other hand, however, the regaining of and return to the house is seen as something that binds together the disrupted pieces of life and reemerges as the symbol of safety, stability, and the continuity of generations. The house is a spiritual value, an epitome of the past happiness, close people, and memories.

Comments: Deportations, the Study and Sources in Latvian Research Projects from a Historian’s Viewpoint

Estonian historian Aigi Rahi-Tamm comments on the 1949 March deportations as described in Maruta Pranka’s and Irēna Saleniece’s articles in this journal issue.

Situation Analysis in Folklore Studies

Reprint of the article by Aino Laagus, originally published in 1973.

The Story and Event in Narrative Research: From Situation Analysis to Context Analysis
In commemoration of Aino Laagus (1944–2004)

Tiiu Jaago

Key words: narrative research methods, oral narrative history, situation analysis

The article discusses a development tendency in narrative research, focuses on the situation analysis worked out by Aino Laagus in the early 1970s, and introduces the boundaries of structuralism and constructivism in the study of true life stories during the past forty years. Leaving aside the distribution of themes and motifs and genre research methods, the article poses two main questions: (i) what is the situation analysis method and (ii) how can it be applied in contemporary context-centred narrative research. The article primarily demonstrates the relationships between situation analysis and the study of life history and (oral) narrative history.

Biographical and Oral History Research in Lithuania

Irena Šutinienė

Key words: biographical research in sociology, identity, minorities, oral history, regional studies, Socialist and post-Socialist studies

The article provides an overview of the main topics and areas of biographical and oral history research in Lithuania starting from the 1990s. The overview covers studies that analyze oral or written autobiographical narratives or deal with personal experiences of historical events. A brief summary is also given of the institutional activities in collecting biographical information and establishing archives in Lithuania. The issues and areas of biographical research in Lithuania confirm that while analyzing individual biographies of the people of Lithuania it is difficult to avoid the historical dimension, which reflects the relation of an individual with the historical factors and changes (especially, the Soviet and German occupations and the post-Socialist coup). The individual and the collective need to cope with the socio-political breaks and changing regimes have to a considerable degree determined both: the generation and collection of narratives of personal reminiscences as well as the biographical and oral history research.

Life Stories in the Research of Latvian Society

Baiba Bela

Key words: biographical method, collection methods, life histories, oral history, Socialist studies

The article introduces the objectives, theoretical bases and activities of the Latvian National Oral History project, which was started in 1992. The project was defined by the prominence of life stories in the society as well as by a necessity to construct an interpretation of the recent history that would focus on individual experience. Over the past 17 years, the work of the project has resulted in establishing a remarkable life story archives, containing approx. 3,000 recordings, and more than 50 scholarly publications, issued in Latvia and abroad, that are based on the analyses of these stories.

The research topics of the project and the related collecting and publication of life stories are dealt with from the biographical perspective, commonly used in sociology. Themes that address the methodological questions of life story and oral history research, the study of ethnic and religious identities in Latvia, as well as Latvian identity, cultures, and communities outside Latvia are considered more closely. The article concludes by an evaluation of the contribution of the Latvian National Oral History project, and more specifically, the collected life stories as a resource for studying Latvian society.

Oral History Centre at the Perm State Pedagogical University

Tamara Gauzova, Larisa Zhenina, Ludmila Andreeva and Gulsina Selianinova have written a report on the activities of the Oral History Centre established in 2005 at the Perm State Pedagogical University.

About us   

In Matsalu

Priidik Sarapik’s short story from his manuscript entitled Lääne laulik (‘Songs and Stories from Läänemaa’, 1908).

Who was Priidik Sarapik?

Laine Soosalu briefly reviews the life events and family of Priidik Sarapik.

The Matsalu Manor and Its Owners

Historian Tiit Rosenberg, being inspired by the short story by Priidik Sarapik, introduces the Matsalu Manor and its owners, the von Hoyningen-Huenes.

News, overviews   

In Academic Folklore Society

Ave Tupits introduces the most recent activities of the Academic Folklore Society in Estonia.

Degree Defences

Liilia Laaneman summarizes the doctoral, master’s and bachelor’s theses recently defended at the Department of Estonian and Comparative Folklore, University of Tartu.

Activities of the Department of Estonian and Comparative Folklore

Liilia Laaneman reviews the activities of the Department of Estonian and Comparative Folklore, University of Tartu.

A Book on Narrative Space

Henni Ilomäki reviews the article collection Ruumi loomine. Artikleid maastiku kujutamisest tekstides (Interpretations of Environment in Texts, english summaries pp 121–142). The collection was edited by Tiiu Jaago and published in 2008 in the series Studia Ethnologica et Folkloristica Tartuensia of the University of Tartu.