Danish Folklore Archives

We are responsible for collecting and preserving ordinary people's experiences of life, daily life, traditions, music and stories. Find out how we have organised the collected material.

Large lunch table with senior citizens
Susanne Mertz

With folklore, you get an insight into the way of life and thinking of some of the so-called ordinary people who have lived in Denmark for the last few hundred years. The folk memories are collected as manuscripts, audio recordings, images, video recordings and books.

Different types of material

Folk memories are people's everyday lives, mindsets and culture. We have information about folklore from all parts of Denmark, but also a lot of material from other countries.

It is impossible to store a memory in an archive box, so the library's folk memories are divided into different types of material, and if you are interested in a topic or want an answer to a question you have, you often have to look in both books, manuscripts and images to get a comprehensive answer.

In order for us to preserve and navigate the material, we have divided it into four types: manuscripts, images, manuals, and audio and video recordings. However, there are often references in one type of material that leads one to another type. Perhaps it says in the margin of a book that there are similar narratives among the manuscripts. Or maybe you will find a reference in a book to an image among our many images connected to folk memories.

Manuscripts

Along with our handwritten material, there are also newspaper clippings and small prints (penny prints, folk books, printed occasional songs, sheet music, and so on). The oldest material is from the 17th century, but the majority is from the 1840s and up until today.

Images

Our many images related to folklore were separated from the handwritten material in 1960. Photographs and negatives, postcards and reproductions, paintings and drawings, paper cuttings and popular woodcuts were collected and organised according to the material type: images. However, the majority of the large topographic postcards remained in their original location. You will notice that there are still some images among the handwritten material.

Portraits of storytellers from 1895

We have some of the country's oldest and finest scene of life photos. The oldest date from 1895, when photographer Peter Olsen from Hadsten traveled around Denmark with folklore collector Evald Tang Kristensen and photographed singers and storytellers in everyday clothes and with their tools in hand. The series became a unique testimony to what ordinary people looked like when they were not all dressed up to have their photograph taken with a photographer.

Different types of people and pictures of people's lives

Crofter and artist Lars Peter Knudsen's photos of villagers in Hvetbo county in Vendsyssel also originate from the end of the 19th century. Equally unique are author and amateur photographer Johan Miskow's gypsy photographs from the first decades of the 20th century.

In the 1920s, we received material from:

  • wood merchant Niels Sørensen's photographs from Salling and Fur
  • art photographer and publisher IC Stochholm's Typer og Folkelivsbilleder
  • illustrator and author Achton Friis' photographs for his book De Danskes Øer, and in the 1930s his photographs for De Jyders Land and Danmarks Store Øer were added to the collection - a total of around 3,000 negatives

Photographic documentation

In the beginning, it was mostly the more "grounded folklore" that was photographed: sacred springs, giant stones, rag trees and the like. Rare exceptions are the photographs from roughly the same time (1910) of a fastelavn procession on Lolland with "Bakkus på tønden", or of dancing around the Christmas tree in a bourgeois Copenhagen home.

The first actual photo coverage dates from 1938, when farm owner Harald Jensen photographed the "summer-in-town procession" in Fanefjord on Møen - in colors. Museologist HP Hansen portrayed several of the "wise people" in West Jutland, but did not take a single picture of their magical rituals. Their "signs and conjuring" was first photographically documented in 1960 with wise women from Zealand and Funen. Similarly, we have only received reports and snapshots of, for example, storytelling, folk singing and traditional dancing in the second half of the 20th century.

Lately, we have focused on documenting various forms of modern communities by collaborating with different people, including photographer Susanne Mertz.

Audio recordings

Since 1907, we have officially collected folklore using audio. We have recordings from Denmark, Greenland and the Faroe Islands, but also recordings collected by Danes in the rest of the world.

We mainly have examples of songs, music, stories and other folk culture. The oldest recordings date from the beginning of the 20th century and contain orally handed down songs, instrumental music and religious folk singing, especially among the Jutlandic peasants. There are also recordings with song from the Faroe Islands and Iceland from this period and later.

From Denmark, there are also examples of singing traditions in different population groups, recordings connected to traditional music, dance and folk life, ten years of concert recordings from the venue Vognhjulet in the 1980s - and much more.

From other parts of the world we have things like:

  • music ethnologists Fridolin Weis Bentzon's recordings of Lunar Edda music from Sardinia
  • Birthe Trærup's collection of vocals and instrumental folk music from the former Yugoslavia
  • Poul Rovsing Olsen's collection of song and music among pearl fishermen and Bedouins in the Middle East and in Greenland

We have collected interviews and other material in connection with research projects. Some of this material is conditional.

We have obtained the recordings either through collectors or researchers who are associated with the work with collecting folklore. A small part of the recordings we have received as donations.

The recordings are available in a variety of formats, such as phonograph rollers, reel-to-reel tapes, cassette tapes, and DAT tapes. Most of the recordings have been digitised. Read more about your options for listening to the recordings in our guide to folk memories.

Video recordings

We have been collecting with the help of video since 1979 and have about 750 tapes. We have recordings from the folklorists Svend Nielsen and Anders Chr. Christensen, among other things. Traditional dancing has only become easily accessible for research with film and video. There are only quite a few films with traditional dancing, and the video recordings are therefore important for researchers in particular.