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Grants:Impact/Cultural Heritage/Ethnography of the Carpathians

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Impact of Grants
Ethnography of the Carpathians
Locations:  Poland, Southwest Ukraine, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania
Grantee:  Wikimedia Polska
Grant information
  • Program: Project & Event Grants
  • Fiscal year: 2016-2017
  • Amount: ~11,000 USD

Folklore (n.)

  1. (English) The tales, legends and superstitions of a particular ethnic population.
  2. (Mandarin) 民俗 - (名词) 民间的风俗习惯
  3. See translations into other languages

Folklore is a core part of a community’s cultural heritage, one that encapsulates, expresses and transmits the identity of a community over time.

Transmission is a key part of folklore: beliefs, traditions, knowledge have to be continually passed from one generation, in order to survive the test of time. The parts that are not passed along will slowly fade from individual memory, and possibly over time, fade from collective memory. In that way, folklore reminds us that cultural heritage can be - and for some communities has been - ephemeral.

Unfortunately, folklore is often not documented or prioritized by museums, due to it being excluded from canons of literature. Canons represent a body of literature deemed “noteworthy” for a particular group, or pieces of literature deemed “noteworthy” at that time (e.g. the Western canon). Given canons are usually established by higher learning institutions who only consider written texts as being “noteworthy”, folklore can easily become lost.

The Carpathian mountain range in Central and Eastern Europe is home to several cultural traditions that fall into the do and know categories of folklore. Local craftsman and artists in the region have been locally preserving their heritage but to do date have not shared it with a global audience. As a result, it’s harder for future generations to partake in the history and heritage of this region, especially those who don’t live in the region today.

In order to rectify this, Wikimedians in Central and Eastern Europe began the Ethnography of the Carpathians project in 2016, funded through the Wikimedia Foundation Project & Event Grant program. In collaboration with the National Museum of Ethnography in Warsaw, the project documented such local traditions in Poland, Ukraine, Slovakia, Czech Republic and Romania by utilizing an already established network of Wikipedian volunteers in those regions.

Ethnographer from the Museum of Ethnography in Warsaw filming Józef Rucki, craftsman making kierpce shoes. Jaworzynka, Poland, 2016

The project spanned art, music, festivals, clothing, crafts, and jewellery. It included how to make kierpce shoes in Jaworzynka, carve intricate wood sculptures, embroider clothing; it even included at piece of regional clothing from the 18th century A.C.E. The project also included documenting local museums, such as the Tatra Museum in Zakopane, or the Wallachian Open Air Museum. As a result, 2400 media files have been uploaded to Commons (21% use rate), and over 170 articles in 30 languages were created or expanded.

Beyond documenting heritage, this project has also created a mechanism for sustainable stewardship of folklore in a digital age. National and regional ethnographic museums have been the primary curators folklore within each country. But these institutions have lacked the expertise or funding to bring those collections online, thus making that knowledge inaccessible to all but local residents.

Now that these collections are online and integrated into Wikipedia articles, anyone can act as a curator by simply adding to or maintaining those articles. This allows a much more sustainable stewardship of folklore: documentation, preservation, and curation becomes diversely owned; decision making around “notability” becomes collectively owned and publicly discussed. And because all of this done on the internet means that current and future generations will be able to engage with their shared identity.