The 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.
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 older part of the folklore archives focuses on specific genres, such as fairy tales, customs, folk songs, proverbs and more - what was then called folklore - while today's collection is more focused on documenting people's daily lives in a broader sense, such as friendships, love ideals and modern witches, or how we celebrate halloween and special days.
Information on folk memories and daily life is collected as manuscripts, audio recordings, images, video recordings and books.
Different types of material
We have materials from all parts of Denmark, but also from other countries.
Daily life takes many forms, so the collection contains different types of material, and if you are interested in a topic or want to clarify a question, you often have to search both books, manuscripts and photographs 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.
Some of our most widely used material is found among our manuscripts. We have, for instance, collections from H.F. Feilberg, Svend Grundtvig and Evald Tang Kristensen. Material which we have received in the period 1904 to 1960 is arranged by locality (parish), person (submitter, communicator) and genre (folk beliefs, legends, fairy tales). Material after 1960 is arranged according to the principle of provenance.
Besides 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 to today.
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
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.
In recent times, we have focused on documenting various forms of modern communities, such as music festivals, Lucia processions, communal dining, student parties, round birthdays, Muslim processions, community singing, modern witch rituals and Christmas parties for the homeless.
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:
- 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.
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. There are only a few films with traditional dancing, and the video recordings are therefore important for researchers in particular.