Home Team Team Digne Ūdre

Digne Ūdre

I am a PhD candidate at the University of Tartu, Department of Estonian and Comparative Folklore. The topic of my dissertation is folk ornament in Latvia in the context of tradition, its mythological interpretation, and layers of historical meanings and contestations connected to it. Besides PhD studies, I am a researcher at the Institute of Literature, Folklore and Art, University of Latvia. I have been involved in various research projects, but the current ones focus on the disciplinary history of folklore studies, the folklore movement and the Singing Revolution in Latvia, narratives of place and identity.

University of Tartu

Institute of Cultural Research
Department of Estonian and Comparative Folklore
Ülikooli 16
51003 Tartu


Personal site (etis.ee)

Visually Interpreted Ideologies: Mythological Ornament as Contested Cultural Heritage in Contemporary Latvia

The topic of my dissertation is folk ornament in Latvia in the context of tradition. Contemporary uses of folk ornament reach beyond the realm of traditional culture and it is a cultural phenomenon where belief, national and ethnic sentiments, esoteric outlook, commercialization and layers of historical meanings and contestations are intertwined in a mutually constitutive way. At the center of my research is the mythological interpretation of Latvian folk ornament which means that certain elements of the folk ornament are perceived as visualizations of mythology in a geometric form. An important component of the tradition is narratives about the meaning of the specific elements of the ornament. In addition to exploring ornament’s visual transformations and manifestations in contemporary culture, I take a look at folk ornament in different periods in the history of Latvia when the relation between ornament as a visual cultural phenomenon and ideologies of the time can be particularly recognized.

The mythological interpretation of ornament has roots in the interwar period. It was a part of the endeavors of intellectuals engaged in cultural nationalism and it promoted the national style of the newly established (1918) nation-state of Latvia. Until the Soviet occupation, most of the discourse on Latvian folk ornament was fueled by a nationalist ideology. Thus, in the theoretical framework of Soviet postcolonial studies, mythological ornament serves as a compelling example of the re-conceptualization of both cultural production and cultural interpretation under Soviet ideological pressure. The Singing Revolution (1987–1991) or the restoration of the independence of the Republic of Latvia as a non-violent resistance movement involved many symbolic actions and visual symbols. Therefore, a part of my research has been on the eight-pointed star, the symbol of the Morning Star (Auseklītis in Latvian), which was massively used in various creative ways during the Singing Revolution and its geometric shape came to embody the hope of national awakening and a wish for political independence.

Some of the symbols are inevitably contested due to their historical uses. Probably the most notorious of these – the swastika, – has its local, folk variant in Latvia (Ugunskrusts). In this direction of my research, I focus on vernacular narratives connected to this symbol with the intention to show how different national experiences of crimes committed by the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century determine the interpretation of and attitude towards the uses of symbols connected with these regimes. Consequently, the collective memory battles that have been present since the fall of the Soviet Union, are mirrored in the uses of this contested symbol.

  • “‘Latvian Signs’: Contemporary ‘Ornamentscape’ between Traditionalization, Commercialization and Spirituality,” Folklore and Media. Vilnius: Institute of Lithuanian Literature and Folklore [forthcoming].
  • “Ideological Tuning of Latvian Folk Ornament,” in Folklore and Ethnography in the Soviet Western Borderlands. Socialist in Form, National in Content, ed. Toms Ķencis, Simon J. Bronner and Elo-Hanna Seljamaa. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2023.
  • (with Michael Strmiska, Gatis Ozoliņš and Odeta Rudling) “Sacred Songs, Seasonal Rites and National Identities in the Religious Folklore of Latvia and Lithuania,” in Oxford Handbook of Slavic and East European Folklore, ed. Margaret Beissinger. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2023, C27P1−C27P305, https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780190080778.013.27.
  • Vernacular Voices and Contested Meanings: Contemporary Uses of the Swastika in Latvia,” Journal of Baltic Studies 54,4 (2023), https://doi.org/10.1080/01629778.2023.2248099.
  • (with Toms Ķencis) “Introduction: post-colonialism/socialism,” Letonica 43 (2021): 5–6, http://lulfmi.lv/LETONICA-Nr-43-2021.
  • “The Symbol of the Morning Star During the Third Awakening in Latvia (1986–1991): From Cultural Opposition to Non-violent Resistance,” Letonica 39 (2019): 149–176, http://lulfmi.lv/en/Letonica-Nr-39.
  • “Ugunskrusts Latvijā strīdīga kultūras mantojuma kontekstā [Cross of Fire in Latvia in the Context of Contested Cultural Heritage],” Letonica 38 (2018): 123–142, http://lulfmi.lv/en/Letonica-Nr-38.
  • “Latviskā ornamenta mitoloģiskās skolas tradīcija [Tradition of Latvian Mythological Ornament],” in Aktuālās problēmas literatūras un kultūras pētniecībā (=22 rakstu krājums). Liepāja: LiePA, 2017, 497–511, https://www.liepu.lv/lv/1131/22-rakstu-krajums.
  • “Folk Ornament and Magic,” Autumn School Dialogues with Magic, Saka, Estonia, November 11, 2021.
  • “Ideological Tuning of Latvian Folk Ornament,” conference Socialist Folkloristics: A Disciplinary Heritage, organised by the Institute of Literature, Folklore and Art, University of Latvia/online, December 18, 2020.
  • “Quest for Mythological Time: Latvian Folk Ornament,” annual meeting of the American Folklore Society Centers/Peripheries: Connecting Beyond the Binaries, online, October 14, 2020. 
  • “Between Contested Traditions and Contested Heritage,” 5th biennial conference of the Association of Critical Heritage Studies Futures, online, August 28, 2020. 
  • “Is Folklorism Still Relevant as an Analytic Category Today? The Case of Latvian Mythological Ornament,” 9th International Conference of Young Folklorists (Ir)relevance of Classical Folkloristics in 21st Century, Vilnius, Lithuania, September 18, 2019.
  • “Mythological Ornament in Transformation: From National Symbols to Healing,” 14th international SIEF congress Track Changes: Reflecting on a Transforming World, Santiago de Compostela, Spain, April 15, 2019.
  • “Contemporary Calendar: Virtual Ethnography as a Research Method for a Ritual Year,” 13th conference of The Ritual Year Working Group (SIEF) City Rituals, Bucharest, Romania, November 8, 2018.
  • “Hidden Ethnography: Alcohol and Fieldwork,” 8th International Conference of Young Folklorists Reflecting on Disciplinary Ethics in Folkloristics, Riga, Latvia, September 21, 2018.
  • “’Latvian Signs: When Mythology Encounters Ornament,” symposium for young cultural studies scholars Mind, Emotion, and Mythic Thinking, Helsinki, Finland, May 9, 2018.
  • (with Gailīte Elīna) “Towards an Open Folklore Archives: Challenges and Opportunities,” international conference Towards Digital Folkloristics, organised by Archives of Latvian Folklore, Institute of Literature, Folklore and Art, University of Latvia, Riga, Latvia, September 15, 2016. 
  • “Added Value – Latvian Ornament between Tradition and Marketing,” 6th International Conference of Young Folklorists Us and Them: Exploring the Margins, Vilnius, Lithuania, June 1, 2016.

University studies and degrees

  • Since 2018
  • PhD Studies, Department of Estonian and Comparative Folklore, University of Tartu.
  • 2016–2018
  • Mg. Art. in Museum and Cultural Studies, Latvian Academy of Culture.
  • 2012–2016
  • B. Art. in Traditional Culture and Latvian Folklore, Latvian Academy of Culture.
  • 2006–2010
  • B. Paed., Teacher of Visual Arts and History of Culture, University of Latvia.

Professional background

  • Since 12/2018
  • Researcher at the Archives of Latvian Folklore, Institute of Literature, Folklore and Art, University of Latvia.
  • 12/2015 – 12/2018
  • Research assistant at the Archives of Latvian Folklore, Institute of Literature, Folklore and Art, University of Latvia.
  • 12/2015 – 12/2018
  • Editor of the Digital Archives of Latvian Folklore Garamantas.lv.
  • 01/2015 – 12/2015
  • Assistant at the Archives of Latvian Folklore, Institute of Literature, Folklore and Art, University of Latvia.