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ILLF researcher Vita Ivanauskaitė records folklore from Pranas Večkys. Photo by Povilas Krikščiūnas 2001 (LTRFt).

Folklore scholarship began several hundred years ago, but it was not until the 19th century that, thanks to the development of mythological, migratory, anthropological, and agnostic theories, this academic discipline gained its most distinctive features. In the 20th century, folklore studies became more and more intense throughout the world, and new research methods and theories were created (e.g. the historical-geographical method of research and functional, structural, semiotic, performance, communicative, and contextual analysis).

In Lithuania, the beginnings of folklore studies can also be found in earlier centuries. Somewhat later, as Lithuanian national consciousness matured and the ideas of Romanticism spread, an understanding of the importance of folklore to the national identity grew. The efforts of the 19th century Lithuanian and foreign scholars led to the next important stage in the study of folklore, i.e. the collection, publication, and detailed analysis of folklore materials.

The folklore collector and organizer of fieldwork sessions, folklore researcher Norbertas Vėlius. Photo from LTRFt.

In the first half of the 20th century, the Lithuanian Scientific Society became interested in the study of folklore, and the magazine Lietuvių tauta was published. After Lithuanian independence was restored in 1918, the University of Lithuania began to foster folklore scholarship and started offering courses on this subject. Folklore materials were published and analyzed in magazines dealing with Lithuanian philology: Tauta ir žodis, Darbai ir dienos, and Mūsų tautosaka.

In 1935 the Lithuanian Folklore Archive was established. Jonas Balys was appointed head of this archive, and he began publishing Tautosakos darbai. Later, in 1939, the Lithuanian Folklore Archive became part of the Antanas Smetona Institute for Lithuanian Studies.
In the first half of the 20th century (until 1940), the collection of folklore was expanded (about half a million folklore texts and songs were recorded), and the phonograph was used to record the folklore heritage. Significant research published in that period includes works by A. R. Niemi, M. Biržiška, and B. Sruoga about folk songs, by J. Balys and J. Brazaitis-Ambrazevičius about folk narratives, and by J. Basanavičius, etc. about various genres.

Tautosakos darbai /Folklore Studies is the main periodical on Lithuanian folklore (1935–1941, 1992−)

In the second half of the 20th century, more intense folklore research began in the mid-1950s, when the Department of Folklore was established at the Institute of the Lithuanian Language and Literature. Many students, teachers, and people from different spheres became actively involved and started collecting folklore materials. Through field trips and individually, the Institute of Lithuanian Literature and Folklore, schools of higher education, divisions of the Local Lore Society, etc., collected various kinds of folklore. The collected materials were classified according to the main genres: songs, prose, proverbs and proverbial phrases, and published folklore. Important studies were carried out by J. Lebedys, A. Mockus, Z. Slaviūnas, K. Grigas, L. Sauka, D. Sauka, Amb. Jonynas, N. Vėlius, B. Kerbelytė, B. Kazlauskienė, D. Krištopaitė, and others. In 1980 the ILLL started publishing the fundamental multi-volume collection of Lithuanian folk songs Lietuvių liaudies dainynas.

During this period, the theoretical historiographic works of greater or lesser scope were written (an outline of Lithuanian folklore Lietuvių tautosakos apybraiža, etc.), and various genres of folklore were studied. Among the most significant published works were the internationally acclaimed paremiological comparative studies by K. Grigas, the systemic-phenomenological work Tautosakos savitumas ir vertė [‘The Originality and Value of Folklore’] by D. Sauka, the analysis of song prosody by L. Sauka, N. Vėlius’ books on mythology, B. Kerbelytė’s studies of folk narrative, etc. Courses in folklore were thought to philology students at universities, and graduate programs in folklore were offered. After fleeing to the West, J. Balys continued his folklore-related research activities by publishing the collected materials and their analysis in Lithuanian and foreign journals. The linguist and semiotic A. J. Greimas and the archaeologist Marija Gimbutas also analyzed problems of folklore more than once.

The ILLF researchers set out for the fieldwork session. Photo from LTRFt.

After liberation from Soviet occupation, rapid changes took place in all areas related to folklore. First of all, there appeared an opportunity to collect, publish, and study hitherto prohibited folklore materials; the recording of folklore became easier thanks to the modern technologies; the copying of archival materials also became possible. Methods are being explored to create electronic databases for folklore, and Lithuanian scholars have better opportunities to familiarize themselves with folklore theories elaborated abroad and to establish relations with their Western colleagues.

At present, the folklore studies are developed at several institutions in this country. The main folklore research center is the Institute of Lithuanian Literature and Folklore. The Institute has three departments that carry out research into various folk genres, mythology, ethnomusicology, and archival materials (for more information see

The Ethnomusicology Division of the Institute of Musicology at the Faculty of Piano and Musicology of the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre together with the Department of Ethnomusicology is the center for ethno musicological research and the training facility for ethnomusicologists (for more information see

Teachers at the Department of Ethnology and Folklore at the Faculty of Humanities, Vytautas the Great University in Kaunas teach courses on ethnology, ethnomusicology and folklore. The university offers bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in ethnology and folklore studies (for more information see

Folklore scholars also work at the Baltic Linguistics and Ethnology Department of the Faculty of Humanities, Klaipėda University. The Folklore Laboratory of this department functions as a base for collecting data on dialectology, folklore, and ethnography and for supporting the teaching process (for more information see

The Lithuanian Folk Culture Center (LFCC) functions as an institution for applied scholarly research. The LFCC collects information regarding our ethnic cultural heritage and modern ways of using it, edits and publishes literature on ethnic culture, audio and video recordings, and the journal on folk culture Liaudies Kultūra.


The folklore scholarship comprises theory of folklore, methodology of folklore studies, and history of folklore. The folklore genealogy, poetics, systematics, archival work, terenial studies, the applied folklore research, etc. have also established themselves as separate disciplines.

Folklore scholarship aims at investigation of meaning, origins, functioning and understanding of folklore. The main spheres of studies include revealing peculiarities of this kind of verbal art, the basis of its existence, character of the visual patterning, and strata of themes, ideas and values; examining the changing role of folklore in the national history; studying peculiarities of structure inherent in pieces of folklore and principles of organizing an artistic text, its relationship with the cultural context and other kinds of art; examining the regional, national and international folklore processes.

The leading center of the folklore scholarship in Lithuania is the Institute of Lithuanian Literature and Folklore. The Department of Ethnomusicology, together with the Chair in Ethnomusicology (1989), situated at the Faculty of the Piano and Musicology, Lithuanian Musical Academy, is the leading center of ethnomusicological research and training of specialists in ethnomusicology. Teachers of the Ethnology and Folklore Department at the Faculty of Humanities, Kaunas University, along with teaching ethnology and ethnomusicology, also give a number of courses in folklore. The university also pursues the scheme for the bachelor and master studies in ethnology and folklore. The scholarly research strategy of the Department of Lithuanian Literature, Faculty of Philology, Vilnius University, includes folkloristics as well. Courses in Lithuanian folklore are also given at the Department of Lithuanian Literature, Faculty of Lithuanian Studies of the Vilnius Pedagogical University. Specialists in folklore work at the Department of Baltic Linguistics and Ethnology, Faculty of Humanities at the University of Klaipėda, together with linguists and ethnologists. This department also administrates the Folklore laboratory, which has 3 employees and functions as basis for accumulating the dialectological, folklore and ethnographical data as well as serving purposes of the education process.

The Lithuanian Folk Culture Center, which functions as an institution serving applied scientific and methodological purposes (there are no scientific researchers working there), should be mentioned separately. This Center collects information on the ethnic cultural heritage and modern forms of its existence, edits and publishes printed, audio and video publications on ethnic culture, as well as publishing the quarterly magazine “Folk Culture”.

The main activities of Lithuanian folklore researchers include scientific research, studies, and the applied work. Various kinds of verbal and musical folklore investigations, especially pertaining to spheres of folklore theory, history, poetics and mythology, are continuously being carried out at the Lithuanian research institutions. Studies of the modern folklore processes, tradition and innovation, the role of the performer, relations between text and context, aspects of value and cultural environment of folklore are of special relevance. Among them, projects of both theoretical and applied character cannot be overestimated: these include editing and publishing of voluminous fundamental folklore publications. Such projects are carried out at the Institute of Lithuanian Literature and Folklore: e.g., the publication of the “Lithuanian Folksongs’ Book” is continuing (17 volumes have been published to date); paremiologists have published the first one of the planned five volumes of the fundamental edition of “Lithuanian Proverbs and Proverbial Phrases”; preparation of the first volumes of the planned “Lithuanian Tales and Legends” has also started. Publication of these fundamental works is closely related to folklore systematization, typology, textual criticism and verification; and partly, also to the studies of dissemination of certain pieces, examining levels of creativity, establishing worth and history of folklore items.

Preparing for the scholarly shift. At present, there are four doctoral candidates continuing their doctoral studies at the Institute of Lithuanian Literature and Folklore, since the start of the reform of graduate studies in 2003 caught them in the middle of the process. Several graduate students in folklore are also studying at the universities. However, taking into consideration both the modern strategies of the cultural identity and the historically shaped peculiarities of Lithuanian folkloric culture, sustaining and strengthening the education of philologically minded folklore specialists seems an urgent task, since lately it has been undeservedly shunted aside.

In conclusion, it must be stated, that studies in Lithuanian culture, including folklore, bear special importance for the social cultural development and sustaining of Lithuanian national identity. Yet, because of the urgent issues of high relevance and because of having to pay “historical debts”, as well as the small number of Lithuanian folklorists, the major part of the folklore researchers at the Institute of Lithuanian Literature and Folklore has to engage themselves in preparing the volumes of fundamental publications. Meanwhile, other folklore disciplines receive only sporadic attention. Therefore many perceived mysteries of folklore creation, the accumulated experience in textual critique, the grasped tendencies in variation and its determining factors, as well as numerous other observations, which could facilitate solving theoretical and historical problems, remain unwritten. Although it is customary to publish the halfway research results in the form of scientific articles, the modern development of folklore scholarship requires theoretical summations and generalizations in the form of monographs. Comparative folklore studies, based on new methodological premises, are of special relevance, since they would enable us to grasp the European and global context of the folkloric culture.

Lithuania, like the whole Eastern Europe, boasts the traditional culture that is still functioning in a very special way. It also possesses resources of the verbal heritage that are unique in the whole European context (collections of the archived folklore being counted in millions, and the living folklore tradition still thriving). Therefore, against the backdrop of the modern research tendencies and challenges, the development of folklore studies should also find its place, pertaining to the studies of cultural identity, that seem to have priority in the modern strategy of developing the social sciences and humanities.

According to: Leonardas Sauka, Bronė Stundžienė. Tautosakos mokslas humanitarinių ir socialinių mokslų strategijoje [Folklore scholarship in the strategy of humanities and social sciences], Tautosakos darbai, vol. 21(28), p. 209-216 (Vilnius, 2004).

© Institute of Lithuanian Literature and Folklore, The Institute of the Lithuanian Language, Lithuanian Institute of History, Institute of Mathematics and Informatics, 2003 - 2006