Textual Research and Challenges of the Digital Era
Affiliation: Finnish Literature Society
The prospective research project Oral and Literary Epics. Textual Research and Challenges of the Digital Era has two principal aims:

1.        Establishing a versatile www-infrastructure for international epic research

2.         Using this infrastructure for international textual research on epics

The versatile www-infrastructure will be based on the development of a basic annotation scheme applicable to diverse epic traditions and frameworks, and adaptable to the annotation of culture-specific features of individual epics and epic traditions. This will provide a platform for epic corpora and broader corpora of poetic traditions with an ergonomic user-interface allowing searches within an epic, cultural epic tradition, and across the epic and poetic traditions of multiple cultures according to a diverse range of criteria. The platform will be designed to complement and cross-reference with cultural databases, correlating features of oral poetry with diverse material related to other forms of cultural expression ranging from the archaeological record to contemporary art. This www-infrastructure will be developed on the basis of earlier and emerging projects:

-          The Finnish Literature Society’s pioneering open-access digitized edition of "SKVR", the 34 volume collection of Kalevala-metric poetry Suomen Kansan VanhatRunot("The Ancient Poems of the Finnish People") (1908 – 1948, 1997)

-          The Semantic Kalevala, electronically indexing the Finnish national epic Kalevala with the Culture Sampo cultural semantic web portal

The existing Finnish database on Kalevala poetryand the Semantic Kalevalawill be renovated and linked in connection with the project in concrete applications of the basic annotation scheme. The platforms developed during the project will be applicable for a fully multidisciplinary range of studies in linguistics, folkloristics, literary studies, history and various interdisciplinary textual studies. A typology-based annotation scheme will be applied to the Finnish (and later on to Estonian) Kalevala-metric poetry, and the Kalevala. A corresponding annotation scheme will be applied later on to the Chinese epics. In short, the annotation will include a typological unit (macro-proposition or other macrostructure unit of the narrative), locating the unit in the text corpus, and keyword annotation using the ontology system. By keyword, is herein referred to an ontology class or instance attached to a certain narrative instance (or macro-proposition) as metadata. One relevant direction for future research would involve advancing the typological units from tradition-dependent to cross-cultural typologies.

The main collection of comparative traditional epic materials in China includes in particular the so-called Three Grand Epic cycles: the Tibetan epic Gesar, the Mongolian epic Janggar, and the Kirghiz epic Manas. The material has been collected in remote areas of Northern China, and these epics are still performed by a number of epic singers from different ethnic groups in the Provinces of Inner Mongolia, Qinghai, Xinjiang, and Tibet.

Our project aims to promote the mutual development of applications in computer sciences and digital technologies in the field of oral tradition research, and to foster the processes of documentation, archiving, management, and research of epic traditions.The development and application of the common scheme will be undertaken in conjunction with international textual research on epics in order to test and develop the scheme’s relevance and applicability for diverse types of research and research priorities. In the beginning of the 20th century, the Finnish Literature Society was the seat of development of indexing and cross-referencing type-systems for folklore archiving and research that have now advanced to international standards. The platform (planned to be developed in the project) will be for the digital age what those systems were for the previous era, informed by an intervening century of insights and understandings.

One of the cornerstones of the methodology of textual analysis used in the project is the theory of Immanent Art, created by John Miles Foley. Immanent Art investigates the contextual meanings of traditional idioms as the building blocks of an oral performance. The major purpose of the Museum of Verbal Art in Pathways Project www.pathwaysproject.orgcreated by the late professor John Miles Foley is to illustrate and explain the fundamental similarities and correspondences between oral tradition and the Internet. This project may be compared to the Semantic Kalevala project, as the both present a model to be used in building up an interdisciplinary www-portal, research platform and interactive scientific forum.


One of the most important outcomes of the project is the creation of an interactional, international research environment on the basis of the semantic web technologies. This new innovative resource will present challenges and opportunities for international epic studies. The concept of semanticeKalevala creates a platform for similar applications internationally. The potential of the digital corpora, the semantic web technologies and the methodology of textual analysis will enable the creation ofa model for research on the world’s epics.