On Saturday, January 14, Dr. Sibelan Forrester presented “Russian Folklore: Words Transformed Over Centuries” as a part of the Russian History Museum’s Second Saturday online lecture series.

Russian folklore is naturally intertwined with the environment, history, and politics of Russia and the Soviet Union, and then Russia again, beginning as shared oral stories and wisdom of all layers of Muscovite society, shifting to a province of “the folk” as upper classes turned toward Western European habits and narratives, facing huge changes in the Soviet period, and yet retaining its impact until the present.

Dr. Forrester outlined the main genres of folklore in Russia, the background of calendar rituals and folk beliefs, the role of village society vis-a-vis scholars and collectors (including dissidents sent into exile who turned to collecting the tales and other lore they heard around them in exile), the persistent role of folk plots in other cultural forms – elite literature, visual arts, dance and music – and the retreat of village folklore with the arrival of modern media (radio, film, television, internet), education, population transfers, and transportation, especially trains. The presentation also touched upon contemporary forms of folklore, including urban rumors and jokelore.

The presentation concluded with an engaging question and answer session, where Dr. Forrester discussed topics including curses, classical ballet, and research excursions to Karelia.

About the Speaker

Sibelan Forrester is the Susan W. Lippincott Professor of Modern and Classical Languages and Russian at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. She has done research on folk healing and fortune-telling in the Northwest of the Russian Federation (Karelia), and has translated and introduced folktales about Baba Yaga as well as Vladimir Propp’s Russian Folktale (Wayne State University Press, 2012). She regularly teaches a course on Russian Fairy Tales and is frequently invited to review folklore scholarship or participate in conference panels on topics from folklore and folklife. She has also published on Russian poetry, women writers, translation theory and science fiction and translates fiction and poetry from Croatian, Russian, Serbian and Ukrainian.