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Folklore, history, and ‘narrated history’

An interdisciplinary view of the studies of an Estonian folk song

The article discusses some points of contact between folkloristics and historical studies. The general framework is based on Peter Burke’s schema, which describes the previous development of the relations between the two disciplines as consisting of three periods: the age of harmony, the age of suspicion, and the age of rapprochement. The focus lies on the age of suspicion (1920s–1970s), when folkloristics and historical studies used to develop separately and in parallel. Nevertheless, folklorists appear to have used some historical data in their studies. How exactly and in what context it was done is analysed on the example of the available studies of a popular 19th-century Estonian folk song Eesti mees ja tema sugu („Estonian man and his kin”). The results show that the folklorists have used historical data not only to date the formation stages of the song, but also to describe the developments in the relevant historical and cultural background. The same period involves increased interest in stories based on true life, which were, at that time, mostly considered a valuable resource of historical research. Modern folklorists, however, tend to question folk images of the past. Also, memoirs or other true-life stories are examined with a focus on the representation of historical events, not on the events themselves.

The article addresses some stereotypes observed in the portrayal of the past in the song of „Estonian man”, discussing their formation in the interaction of oral and written culture as well as some later interpretations of those stereotypes.