When the folklorists won the battle but lost the war: the cumbersome (re-)birth of SIEF in 1964.

Author:Rogan, Bjarne

The Winner Writes the History

In September 2014, the Societe Internationale d'Ethnologie et de Folklore (SIEF) celebrated its 50th anniversary. From one point of view, the age is correct and the date correctly chosen. SIEF got its name and its bylaws at a meeting in Athens on September 8-9, 1964. From another point of view, it was a rebirth or a rejuvenation that took place, rather than a birth. The adventure started in 1928, and the society was 86 years old at the time of its demicentennial.

When CIAP (la Commission des Arts et Traditions Populaires) became SIEF during two September days in 1964, the victorious parties were careful to present the passage as a legal and democratic transition. On the one hand, they claimed that a new organization was born, on the other hand, they claimed the full heritage, material and immaterial, of the old organization--archives, treasury, working-groups or commissions, even its UNESCO affiliation; that is, everything except the name. Even its rather somnolent scholarly life, which the new leaders had wanted to escape from, continued more or less as before. Hence, the debated question of the age of SIEF. The society's roots certainly go back to a meeting in Prague in October 1928. But do a change of name and amended bylaws make a new organization?

The transition was by no means a peaceful one. There are two scholars who were especially central in the tug-of-war around CIAP in the early 1960s, which ended with a putsch in Athens. One was Sigurd Erixon (1888-1968), professor of ethnology in Stockholm and research director of the Nordiska Museet. Sweden's most influential ethnologist through more than a generation, Sigurd Erixon was the founder of several international scholarly journals (Folk-Liv, Laos, Ethnologia Europaea). He was very active on the European scene from the early 1930s to the late 1960s, and to most European scholars his name was synonymous with "European ethnology." For Erixon, "European (regional) ethnology" comprised the fields of material, social and spiritual culture; to him, folkloristics was a branch of the discipline, and not a discipline in its own right--a position that brought him much opposition from folklorists.

The other protagonist was the German Volkskundler Kurt Ranke (19081985), professor of folklore first in Kiel and from 1960 in Gottingen. Ranke had a dubious past from the war, but he rose quickly in the post-war hierarchy of German Volkskunde and became one of the leading folk narrative scholars of his time. He founded the journal Fabula, an encyclopaedia on international narrative research--Die Enzyklopadie des Marchens, as well as the world-embracing International Society for Folk Narrative Research (ISFNR, 1962).

Erixon and Ranke each had their groups of adherents. Both parties claimed democratic ideals--Erixon wanted formal representation and safe election procedures (but accepted individual members in addition); the other wanted an open society with membership for everyone. That was the front issue. But a complex of other motives lurked underneath these ideals.

I call the Athens event a putsch, because in fact it was not members of CIAP who voted on the change. The majority of the voters were members of Kurt Ranke's two-years old ISFNR, which hosted CIAP's General Assembly in September 1964.

The Key, the Questions and the Sources

Looking at the past, it is the historian's privilege to observe the results of an action or a train of events. The key to what happened in Athens in 1964 is as follows:

The concrete results of the putsch were that

* The membership structure was changed, from a commission constituted by elected national representatives to a society consisting of individual members.

* A restricted number of official national representatives were replaced by an unlimited number of individuals, with no control of scholarly qualities or affiliation.

* The name was changed from one defining the scholarly field to one saying something about disciplines.

The further consequences were that

* The independence of the separate disciplines of ethnology and folklore was asserted, and the idea of a unified discipline was effectively shot down.

* As the new structure was contrary to UNESCO's requirements, the financial basis was strangled.

* The European scholarly world of ethnology and folklore was split, with the Erixon/Ethnologia Europaea camp (ethnologists and some folklorists) against a predominantly folkloristic SIEF.

* A new journal, independent of SIEF--Ethnologia Europaea--was founded.

* SIEF entered some somnolent decades, and the working-groups began their independent lives, some liberating themselves from SIEF.

The questions that remain to be discussed are the how's and why's. CIAP had been Sigurd Erixon's long-time concern--and headache. Why did Kurt Ranke want to take control of CIAP, an organization that most German Volkskundler had neglected for decades? Why was CIAP so important for a Volkskundler who had a firm grasp of another international organization (ISFNR)? And how was it possible for this folklorist to win a resounding victory over the internationally experienced ethnologist Sigurd Erixon? History is formed by individual actors as well as by structures. This discussion includes some reflections on elements of a more structural kind--like the amateur movement and membership organization.

Before we approach these questions, a presentation of the history of CIAP is in order. Without CIAP's troubled past as a backdrop, the events in the 1960s are difficult to digest. The main source material is correspondence, notes and memorandums, minutes from meetings, etc. The archives of CIAP and SIEF are spread between many institutions, as the presidency and the secretariat of CIAP have moved around. I have had access to important collections of material in Stockholm (Nordiska museet), Paris (Le Musee des Arts et Traditions Populaires/MNATP, UNESCO), Amsterdam (Meertens Instituut), Arnhem (Nederlands Openluchtmuseum), and Lisbon (Museum National de Ethnologia), in addition to smaller public and private archives in Oslo, Uppsala, Dublin, Vienna, and Gottingen. Some of these archives are now being brought together at the Meertens Instituut in Amsterdam, which is presently in charge of SIEF's secretariat (including the MNATP archives from Georges Henri Riviere, the Rotterdam archives from Karel Constant Peeters, copies of parts of the epistolary collections from Sigurd Erixon and Jorge Dias).

CIAP Until the 1960s--The Short Version of a Troubled History

The roots of CIAP--la Commission des Arts et Traditions Populaires--go back to October 1928, when the League of Nations after much hesitation gave the green light for a congress on folk art, to be arranged in Prague by its sub-organization for cultural affairs--I'Institut International de Cooperation Intellectuelle (IICI). CIAP was the earliest general organization of ethnology and folklore in Europe. The late 1920s and the 1930s were a difficult period in European politics, with nationalist movements, unemployment, and the rising of Nazi, fascist and communist regimes. The League of Nations was ambivalent; it wanted to use culture--and the 1928 congress--in the service of peace, coexistence and mutual understanding. But at the same time it feared what a discipline like folklore might offer of ammunition to belligerent parties on the European interwar scene (Rogan 2007, 2008a, 2014). This fear emerges clearly from personal notes, memos and correspondence between the IICI officials and some participants. The Belgian participant, Albert Marinus, gives a fuller explanation (Actes [...] 1956, 18):

You have perhaps observed that the word "folklore" was used neither for the congress nor for the commission [CIAP] that came out of it. The simple reason is that to the former League of Nations, the word "folklore" was banished, just as was the word "ethnography". Actually, they believed that the word "folklore" would give stuff to political claims, and that the populations would not resist from claims, with reference to similarities in costume, songs, etc. Such attitudes were to be feared especially for disputed regions between neighbouring countries. The event was attended by 200-300 participants, and a battle was fought both during and after the congress on how to follow up. There was a deep cleavage between the scholars who wanted to establish a scholarly organization, and those (mostly bureaucrats and official national representatives) who wanted an organization with more practical cultural aims. The delegates of the League of Nations preferred no organization at all, but they found an organization controlled by IICI to be the lesser evil.

Through the 1930s CIAP was under the strict control of the League's suborganization for cultural cooperation, for its administrative as well as its scholarly activities. (1) In addition, the declining prestige and influence of the League itself in the interwar years were detrimental to its sub-organizations, CIAP included. CIAP's first president was German (1928-1933, Otto Lehmann) and the second, Italian (1933-1938, Emilio Bodrero). Otto Lehmann (1865-1951) was an educationalist and museologist and director of the Altonaer Museum near Hamburg. Emilio Bodrero (1874-1949) was a central politician and specialist in Greek philosophy and political history. From 1940 he got a chair in Rome in the "storia e dottrina del fascismo"--that is, the history and the doctrines of Fascism. Neither of them made noteworthy contributions to CIAP, and both were forced to retreat--first Lehmann when Germany withdrew from the League (1933) and then Bodrero when Italy withdrew (1937). If CIAP had been a lame duck under the League in the early 1930s, it became paralyzed by the political situation in the late 1930s.

Post-war life in CIAP started in an optimistic pitch. After a preliminary meeting in Geneva in 1945 and a General Assembly in Paris in 1947, CIAP was...

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