Olli Kleemola
Researcher, D.Soc.Sci.
Alfred Kordelin Foundation funding 2017-2018

Contact Information


Research interests

  • Enemy images
  • War photography
  • War propaganda
  • Photography as a source for historical research
  • ”New military history”
  • Trench art
  • Prisoners of war
  • Germany before 1945
  • Cultural memory

Ongoing Projects

  • The Key images of Finnish history project (2017-)

This project has received funding from Alfred Kordelin Foundation.

My research aims to find out how Finland, Finnish history and Finnish identity have been constructed by use of photography in Finland and abroad. The outcome of this study helps us to understand how to use pictures more effectively in communications.

Building process of the Finnish national state has created a demand for production of desired kind of Finnishness among the nation. This building process happened simultaneously with the development of modern photography.

Visual historian Gerhard Paul has pointed out the development of so-called visual man, which has happened in the Western world in since late 19th century.  This visual man perceives the world by means of pictures. Paul writes that 20th century can be defined as the century of picture. He means, that the amount of visual material created during the 20th century exceeds the previous centuries.  At the same time the collective memory of the human kind got widely linked to this growing amount of visual material. According to German philosopher Gottfried Bohm our contemporaries can be described as homo pictor, who are controlled more effectively by pictures instead of written texts.

The research project uses a wide range of visual sources. The main research questions are:

  • How photos from Finland and Finnish history have been presented to local and foreign audiences?
  • What kinds of images were not used?
  • What kind of potential did the pictures have for the image of Finland?
  • What kinds of pictures were used in the construction of Finnish history?
  • What kind of visual stories about Finnish past do they produce?
  • What kind of big picture can be combined from these stories?
  • How did the images and stories develop?
  • Photographs and History (2016-2018)

This project has received funding from Alfred Kordelin Foundation.​

This book edited by D.S.Sc. Olli Kleemola and M.A. Silja Pitkänen focuses in the use of photos as historical sources:  Why photographs are essential sources in history? How they have been used in research? How we can use them? What kinds of methods can be used in research? We also review, analyze and comment contemporary discussions about photography as an academic source.

The book will bepublished in English. It will be published in 2018 in the K&H series by School of History, Culture and Arts Studies.

  • Changing threats and mechanisms of surveillance in Finland (2018-)

This project has received funding from Kone Foundation.

I´m taking part in Changing threats and mechanisms of surveillance in Finland –project.

The project is about Finnish domestic security in 200 years of timespan from the early 19th century to the present.  We focus in the security threats of Finnish society, associated institutions and mechanisms of control. Historical research enables clarification of the long time trends of control policy and security mindset. Our research questions are: How and with what grounds did different actors make their perception about threats? What kind of strategy did the authorities build on based on these threats? What kind of national and international context do the threats and mechanisms for preventing these treats form in? What kind of direct and indirect impacts do the treats and strategies of the authorities have?

In our research we use Finnish and international sources (for example Finnish security police, courts, military intelligence, 19th century gendarmerie and Malmi reception center for arriving refugees). These sources give a diverse view over the history of domestic security and international contacts of Finnish security organizations. Our main research methods are securitization theory, criminological concept of suspected community and the concept of transtemporal  history. These methods help us to find out about processes and discourses that are used in the building of threats and mechanisms for preventing these threats.  Our project examines the contemporary security debate. We point out characters, which have been used without historical background. The project creates new knowledge and interpretations. It also encourages interdisciplinarity. 

  • The life of Kaarle Kustaa Kari – military career in early 20th century Finland (2018-)

This project has received funding from The Association of Finnish Non-fiction Writers and Uudenkaupungin Suomalaisen Seuran Säätiö.

This research project examines Mr. Kari as a member of important military organizations he took part in during his military career. For example the case of Mr. Kari gives an interesting angle to the struggle on the ideals of Finnish military officer training during the interwar period.  The research covers also the community of Kainuu border guard. It points out what kind of effect did the landscapes of the wilderness and the community of his army unit have on identity of Mr. Kari as a man and solder and how Kari changed the border guard with his Prussian leadership ideas. This biography gives a new point of view to the early days of Finnish officer training, interwar era White guard and border guard activities and the history of winter- and continuation wars. The biography has a wider audience, than only those interested in the Mr. Kari’s life. 

Recent publications

"Two Images of a Common Enemy"- a doctoral thesis that utilizes the methods of photographic history in the analysis of World War II era war photographs from Finland and National Socialist Germany. The aim of the thesis is to find out what kind of an image of Soviet soldiers and civilians is created by the official propaganda photographs and the unofficial photographs taken by soldiers of both countries studied. This thesis brings to light new information on how photographs, the most important visual medium at the time, were used in constructing images of the enemy, and how existing conventions affected these images. It also opens up new methodological perspectives on the use of extensive photographic material as source material for historical study.