The Arbeitstagung of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Volkskunde (dgv) in September 1969 until today has been historicized as a German event, mirroring a decisive critique of the discipline’s nationalist and völkisch epistemologies, and an orientation towards social sciences. But if we look at the archived registrations of this conference, we can reveal the buried journeys of international scholars: Sedat Veyis Örnek, İnci Akidil (Krause), and Z. Şenol Özyurt were present in Detmold but absent in the reports both in Turkey and Germany. As we will see, their stay in Westphalia was not a one-time visit but part of a transnational scholarly exchange that can be unpacked through an histoire croisée, by exploring the interwoven history of travelling ideas and scholars that may reveal neglected trajectories.
We already know, especially from the US example, that a “paradigm shift” in folklore took place in the late 1960s in several countries in the world. In line with the 1968 protests, revolutionary folklorists rid the “past” and reacted to the post-war political developments in a scholarly yet lively manner. It is a fascinating detail that these movements have been told in accounts that are deeply grounded in the quite reliable, often unexpected exchange between history and stories and history again: The “Young Turks,” as Richard Dorson’s (1972) evocation of the Ottoman past declared, offered folklore studies new-contextual, anthropological, interdisciplinary perspectives rooted in politics. The revolutionary men introduced the “everyday” and freed the history-bounded meanings of folklore, especially when Dan Ben-Amos (1972) defined folklore as “artistic communication in small groups”.
However, the Turkish case is a bit complicated: Long before the establishment of a folklore department in the USA, Pertev Naili Boratav (1907–1998) had founded the Department of Turkish Folk Literature and Folklore at Ankara University, Faculty of Languages and History-Geography in 1947. Yet, the heightening racist-nationalist discourses, that likened to prevalent McCarthyism in the USA, ended folklore’s institutionalisation in 1948. Boratav, along with professors Behice Boran and Niyazi Berkes, was accused of spreading communism and became an open target of witch-hunting. A special decree from the Turkish Great National Assembly cut the funding of the department. He had to leave his job and communicate his scholarship from Paris, working at the Centre national de la recherche scientifique, CNRS, first as maître de conference and later as chargé de conference. Boratav also worked at the Ecole Pratiques des Hautes Etudes (4th Section) and conducted several classes on Ottoman Turkish (Birkalan 1995: 76-77). İlhan Başgöz (1921–2021), Boratav’s student and department’s assistant, who studied with a state scholarship at the time, served as a schoolteacher in Anatolia after the department was closed. Later, he obtained a Ford Foundation grant, moved to the USA, and continued his folklore career first at the University of California, then at Indiana University (Başgöz 1994).
Understandably, the folklore debate in Turkey befell muted. However, both Boratav and Başgöz received prestigious awards from the Turkish Ministry of Culture and folklore organizations as of the 1990s, but these awards addressed Boratav and Başgöz only as individuals. A systematic coming to terms with a stained disciplinary past never took place. Folklore became a subject between literature and theatre, while the Turkish state claimed folklore activities outside the university. But the three Turkish travellers to Detmold in 1969 remind us to question such a nationally confined disciplinary history.