On Ilmar Talve’s traces

Ilmar Talve and ethnology


Ilmar Talve holding a lecture in 1980. Photo: Timo J. Virtanen.


The academic programme of ethnology was established at University of Turku in 1958. The first professor of ethnology was Ilmar Talve, having the professorship from 1960 until 1986. Talve started his university studies at the University of Tartu in Estonia, but the Second World War and escaping from Estonia ended his studies in short. Talve completed the studies in Sweden, and when he came to work in Finland, he brought here new, that time current and modern ideas about the ethnology and its role in society. In the beginning, the discipline of ethnology was very closely related to the department of sociology, collaborating with it. Already during Talve’s period ethnology was considered a socially important discipline. Ministries and museums were seen as important partners and sources of funding. When Talve began as a professor in Turku, he focused the research on completely new topics: cultures of industrial workers and the different occupation groups, the transformation in rural areas during the industrialisation, and the urban ethnology. All the topics, but especially the urban ethnology and the research on transformation in rural areas, are significant for the Turku ethnology still today, even if the viewpoints might have slightly changed.

Ilmar Talve’s work in Turku led the ethnology to a new direction. Research on industrial workers was chosen as part of the profile of recently established Turku ethnology, since the research on workers offered a new and modern field of interest. The prior focus of Turku ethnological research in this theme was to study the characters of the industrial communities, which rose around the factories. Investigating the changes taking place in the rural culture during the industrialisation was also one of the important topics which Talve raised as one of the goals of the new Turku ethnology in the beginning of the 1960s.

The themes chosen for ethnological research at that time were supposed to increase knowledge about such fields of Finnish folk culture which by then had not been studied to a larger degree. Therefore Talve’s work opened up new horizons and differed from other ethnological or related disciplines in Finland. Ilmar Talve’s traces continues today, for instance, Maria Vanha-Similä’s doctoral dissertation (2017): “Yhtiöön, Yhtiöön!” Lapsiperheiden arki Forssan tehdasyhteisössä 1950–1970-luvuilla, which is an oral-history method based study on everyday life and its practices in families with children, whose parents worked in Forssa textile factory in 1950–1970’s. As an example of a study on rural transformation we could mention Jussi Lehtonen’s doctoral dissertation (2016) Skenaarioita maaseudun palveluista. Kaupat, kirjastot, pankit ja postit historiasta tulevaisuuksiin, the topic of which was the future scenarios of different services in Finnish countryside.

Countryside was very much the focus of ethnology until the late 1960s, but the ethnology in Turku became urban already in the first wave. The urban ethnology was born together with the studies on occupation groups and especially studies on industrial workers in the end of the 1950s. It counterbalanced the research focused on rural issues, which was typical for the other chairs of ethnology in Finland. The new ethnological approach became more common clearly due to the ongoing large scale changes in society, like urbanisation, industrialisation and the stronger influence of cities after getting more inhabitants. However, urban ethnology lost rather soon its uniqueness and integrated to a multidisciplinary cultural urban studies. There was a lot of discussion whether the methods of rural research could be applied also in the new urban field.

Later the urban studies got influence, for instance, from cultural geography and social sciences. In the 2000s urban ethnology is usually not separated as its own category of studies anymore, as opposing the rural ethnological studies. The city is nowadays considered as a complex field of everyday life, which can be interpreted and studied from many viewpoints. To mention some of them: image and identities, producing processes of urban culture, new usage of historical heritage and marketing for tourism, for example. They all are important aspects of ethnological research in Turku.

Nowadays European Ethnology studies people and cultures. It gives a wide perspective, for example, into our cultural background and present, peoples and ethnic groups of our continent and the diversity of their cultures. In addition to the Finnish culture, the studies also cover other European ethnicities from Albanians to Sami. In addition to everyday life and folk culture in national level, ethnology is interested in studying the more general cultural processes and local cultures, not depending on state borders. Therefore an ethnologist is able to approach scientifically a phenomenon of a Finnish subculture, as well as, for example, interaction crossing borders of two national states. In brief: today’s ethnology studies the structures, the transformation and the interactions of everyday life. Furthermore, Finnish society needs critical research on everyday life.

Ilmar Talve’s life:

Born on the 17th of January 1919 in Ingria. Studied first at the University of Tartu, later Master’s Thesis, Licentiate’s Degree and a PhD dissertation at Stockholm University under the supervision of professor Sigurd Erixon. Dissertation: Bastu och torkhus i Nordeuropa (1960). Ilmar Talve worked as professor pro tem of Ethnology at University of Turku since 1960 and was nominated to the professor’s position in 1962. Before that he worked, for instance, as an assistant and a docent (Associate Professor) in recently established discipline of ethnology. Talve retired from the professorship in 1986, after which he actively continued writing. His literary work was very versatile, from scientific studies to fiction. His last scientific work was a comprehensive study on Estonian folk culture, which was published in 2005. Talve’s three-volume autobiography includes books Kevad Eestis (Spring in Estonia 1997), Kutsumata külaline (An Uninvited Guest 1998) and Kolmas kodumaa (The Third Homeland 1999). Professor emeritus Ilmar Talve died in Turku on the 21st of April2007.

Helena Ruotsala 2013: Paikallisuus ja kulttuuriset prosessit. Professor’s lecture.
Ilmar Talve bibliografia 1934–1998. 1999. (ed. Timo J. Virtanen)
Ilmar Talve: Suomen kansankulttuuri. ( several editions, 1. edition 1979)
Ilmar Talve 1997: Kevad Eestis.
Ilmar Talve 1998: Kutsumata külaline.
Ilmar Talve 1999: Kolmas kodumaa.
Ilmar Talve 2005: Eesti kultuurilugu. Keskaja algusest Eesti iseseisvuseni.
Timo J. Virtanen 2003: Voix du Nord: Ilmar Talve. Ethnologie francaise.