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Student conducts research on folk legends in Scandinavia

RELEASED: Dec. 9, 2010

EAU CLAIRE — University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire senior Eric Fuerstenberg, North Branch, Minn., recently traveled to northern Scandinavia to conduct anthropological fieldwork with Europe's northernmost indigenous people, the Sami.

Eric Fuerstenberg
Eric Fuerstenberg

Fuerstenberg studied the use of traditional folk legends in both Sami and Norwegian culture and focused on the role that cultural myths have played in the re-emergence of traditional Sami writing and art.

"I was interested in the current revitalization of indigenous culture that is occurring in Norway," Fuerstenberg said. "I wanted to understand the growing importance that the Sami people are placing on their cultural traditions."

Fuerstenberg, who is pursuing a major in psychology and a minor in anthropology, received funding for the trip through UW-Eau Claire's Office of Research and Sponsored Programs. He said he chose to conduct anthropological fieldwork because it complemented his interests in both disciplines. He was trained in fieldwork methods last spring by Dr. Daniel Strouthes, associate professor of anthropology.

"I encourage my junior level sociocultural anthropological students to undertake fieldwork," Strouthes said, noting that nearly all of those who have pursued fieldwork in the past have been funded by the university.

"I jumped at the idea to design my own project, and Professor Strouthes gave me complete independence in choosing my field site," Fuerstenberg said.

When he arrived in Norway, Fuerstenberg traveled by bus to a small village in the county of Troms. For the next 2 1/2 months he lived and worked in the village, volunteering his help where he could while learning the local culture. Fuerstenberg was even able to manage a small farmstead of his own.

Throughout his stay, Fuerstenberg heard many references to local folklore and became interested in the way the stories conveyed messages to their listeners.

"It soon became clear to me that many of the most salient warnings in these folk legends correlated directly with common environmental dangers," Fuerstenberg said.

In a paper detailing his findings, Fuerstenberg is now examining how folklore, legends and myths have been utilized in northern Scandinavia to protect children from these genuine environmental dangers.

"The rugged and mountainous landscapes of Norway can definitely be a dangerous place for young, unattended children, and there is a wealth of legends surrounding a number of unsavory creatures who are said to inhabit the countless forests, lakes and fjords," he said.

In addition to his writing, Fuerstenberg plans to organize his report into a poster that will be displayed at the 2011 UW-Eau Claire Student Research Day.

"I'd really like to find myself in a graduate program where I can utilize the skills that I developed during this experience to continue to conduct fieldwork," Fuerstenberg said. "Ultimately, I hope to help highlight the important role that comparative, cross-cultural studies continue to play in our understanding of human nature."

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BC/RD/DW

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