Thursday, 21 June 2012

A trip to Tartu

The 6th Nordic-Celtic-Baltic Folklore Symposium took place this year at the University of Tartu, Estonia and the theme was Supernatural Places. This symposium began in 1988 in Dublin and has been hosted in Galway (1991), Copenhagen (1993), Dublin (1996) and Reykjavik (2005) and over the years it has developed into an important event for folklorists.
University of Tartu
Tartu, the centre of Southern Estonia, is located 185kms southeast of Tallinn, and the bus journey gave me a great opportunity to view the beautiful, lush Estonian landscape. Tartu is known as a university city with 20% of the 100,000 population being students and is very picturesque with the Emajõgi river running through it. 

The conference had an exciting programme with plenary speakers including Bengt af Klintberg (University of Stockholm), Terry Gunnell (University of Iceland), Diarmaid Ó Giolláin (University of Notre Dame), Timothy Tangherlini (University of California) and Jonathon Roper (University of Tartu).  Over the three days there were 55 papers presented on a wide range of topics: supernaturalisation of places, place-lore, representation of supernatural worlds, tradition communities and their environments to name just a few.
Tartu Cathedral and the History Museum of the University of Tartu
My own paper discussed the Hebridean landscape and the interactions between the physical and supernatural as evident in the Carmichael Watson Collection. I also referred to material recorded in the School of Scottish Studies Archive here at the University of Edinburgh. Over the course of the conference I had useful discussions with other delegates and got some great ideas for further research. The plenary speakers were particularly inspiring and offered plenty food for thought.
The Town Hall with The Kissing Students statue on the left
The conference committee organised two evening excursions for the delegates: a walking tour of the city and a boat trip down the Emajõgi. The walking tour was very informative and I learned quite a lot, especially about the university and some student traditions. I was quite surprised to see the statue of Oscar Wilde and Eduard Vilde because I thought I had seen it before...and, lo and behold, a copy of the sculpture had been given to Galway city in 2004, where I had seen it many times before! 
Wilde and Vilde
The second excursion was a boat trip down the Emajõgi and it was a really fabulous evening. The weather was great and it was the perfect opportunity to chat with other delegates. The boat traveled east down the river in the direction of Lake Peipus, the fifth largest lake in Europe, but we didn't go quite that far. It was a great way to see more of the area around Tartu.
A sacrifical stone
Overall the conference was a great success and the Department of Estonian and Comparative Folklore, and the Department of Scandinavian Studies at the University of Tartu did a tremendous job.

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Stone whorls WHM 1992 13 2.4

Stone whorls WHM 1992 13 2.4
Stone whorls collected by Alexander Carmichael, held by West Highland Museum (ref. WHM 1992 13 2.4). [© carstenflieger.com]