Dr. Benita Heiskanen, DirectorBenitan pallokuva.JPG 

Docent of North American Studies, University of Helsinki; Docent of American Studies, University of Turku

Tel.  +358 (0) 29 450 2205

​Email: benita.heiskanen[at]

Office: Publicum Building, Room 262 

Benita Heiskanen received her Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Texas at Austin in 2004, and has since then worked in Ireland, Denmark, and Finland. Before joining the JMC, she was employed as Collegium Researcher at the Turku Institute for Advanced Studies (TIAS). Her recent publications include two journal issues, “Popularizing Politics: The 2016 U.S. Presidential Election,” in the European Journal for American Studies (coedited with Albion M. Butters) and “Disrupting Insecurities: Grassroots Interventions in North America,” in Comparative American Studies (coedited with Samira Saramo). Heiskanen is the author of The Urban Geography of Boxing: Race, Class, and Gender in the Ring (New York: Routledge, 2012; paperback 2014). Her peer reviewed publications include journal articles in Comparative American Studies, the JOMEC Journal: Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies; Middle Ground Journal: World History and Global Studies; American Studies in Scandinavia; European Journal of American Studies, European Journal of Cultural Studies; Diálogos Latinoamericanos; Auto/Biography; and Journal of Sport History.

Heiskanen’s areas of interest include Transnational American Studies, the U.S.-Mexico border region, USA-Cuba relations, race & ethnicity in the United States, U.S. Latino/as, popular culture, and sport. Methodologically, she specializes in ethnography, oral history, and visual analysis. Theoretically, she is interested in the geography of the body, space, and place; the ethics of looking; and race, class, and gender formations. She currently directs a four-year research project on Texas's ‘Campus Carry' legislation, funded by the Academy of Finland and a three-year project on urban transformation in Havana, funded by the KONE Foundation. Heiskanen has recently completed a project dealing with experiences and representations of violence on the El Paso, Texas-Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua border between the United States and Mexico (both the femicides [feminicidio] that began in the 1990s and the so-called "drug war" of the 21st century). She is a frequent commentator in Finnish media about U.S. history, society, and culture.​

Dr. Reetta Humalajoki, Post-Doctoral

Tel. +358 (0) 29 450 3894

Email: reetta.humalajoki[at]

Office: Publicum Building, Room 256

Reetta Humalajoki’s research highlights the intersections between indigenous, North American, and Cold War studies. Her new project, ‘Transnational Indigenous Activism: Asserting Sovereignty in the Cold War United States and Canada, 1953-1975’, funded by the Academy of Finland, examines the responses of national indigenous activist organizations to assimilationist policies in both a transnational and comparative context. The project will focus on the development of national Native movements and the extent to which U.S. and Canadian indigenous activists created cross-border networks in the mid-twentieth century. Drawing on both indigenous and Cold War studies methodologies, this research will evaluate the impacts of Native political action on federal policy-making in both countries. Reetta is also interested in contemporary activist movements, U.S. and Canadian domestic policy, oral history, and popular representations of race.

Reetta Humalajoki completed her Ph.D. in History at Durham University in 2016, funded by the Osk. Huttunen Foundation and the Finnish Cultural Foundation. She is currently revising her dissertation, “Debating Termination: Rhetoric and Responses to U.S. American Indian Policy, 1947-1970,” for publication. Her peer-reviewed article in Western Historical Quarterly (Winter 2017) was awarded the Bert M. Fireman and Janet Fireman Award by the Western History Association. She has also written blog posts for U.S. Studies Online. Before joining the JMC, Humalajoki taught at Durham University and the University of Newcastle. In 2017, she was Northumbria University’s Early Career Visiting Fellow in American Studies and a Visiting Research Fellow at the British Library’s Eccles Centre for North American Studies.​

Dr. Henna-Riikka Pennanen, Post-Doctoral Researcher

Tel. +358 (0) 29 450 3098

Email: henna-riikka.pennanen[at]

Office: Publicum Building, Room 253

Henna-Riikka Pennanen received her Ph.D. in History from the University of Jyväskylä in 2015. Before joining the JMC, Pennanen held fixed-term positions as Post-Doctoral Researcher and Project Coordinator in the Department of History and Ethnology at the University of Jyväskylä. In her doctoral work, Pennanen specialized in 19th century conceptual and intellectual history and history of U.S.–East Asian relations. At the JMC, Pennanen is conducting a project on contemporary U.S.–China relations and narratives of “the West in crisis” that have followed President Donald Trump’s inauguration.

Pennanen’s Ph.D. dissertation analyzed U.S. conceptions of civilization in the context of 19th-century Chinese and Japanese studies. Her recent research themes include U.S. imaginations of the Japanese and Chinese “yellow peril” and the idea of "the West." Pennanen has explored these themes in the edited volume, Länsi: käsite, kertomus ja maailmankuva (“The West: Concept, Narrative and Worldview,” SKS 2016, coedited with Jukka Jouhki) and a thematic journal issue, “Occidentalism and the idea of the West,” in Suomen Antropologi: Journal of the Finnish Anthropological Society (2016, coedited with Jukka Jouhki).

Malla Lehtonen, Project ResearcherIlmariPirkkamaa.jpg


Tel.  +358 (0) 29 450 3097

Email: malla.lehtonen[at]

Office: Publicum Building, Room 254

Malla Lehtonen graduated from the University of Turku in 2015 with an MA in Cultural History. In her studies, she focused on U.S. environmental history, and her MA includes interdisciplinary studies in Environmental Sciences and Sustainable Development. Lehtonen wrote her Bachelor’s Project on Garrett Hardin’s 1968 essay The Tragedy of the Commons and her Master’s Thesis on Hardin’s work as an activist for abortion rights in the U.S. between 1963 and 1974. Lehtonen is interested in the history and current developments of environmental thought and discourses, as well as social movements, in the U.S.

Before joining the JMC as Project Researcher, Lehtonen worked as Project Coordinator at the Department of Cultural History at the University of Turku. Prior to that, she did an internship at the JMC in early 2014 and then served as Coordinator in 2015–2016, meaning that she has been with the Center since its inception. She is excited to rejoin the JMC team and work towards the Center’s goals of facilitating and building multifaceted dialogue and collaboration related to North American Studies.

Dr. Samira Saramo, Post-Doctoral

Tel.  +358 (0) 50 560 4548

Email: samira.saramo[at]

Office: Publicum Building, Room 263

Samira Saramo’s multidisciplinary research focuses on ethnicity, gender, emotion, violence, place-making, and social movements in both historical and current contexts. Analyzing personal letters, memoirs, and social media narratives, Saramo is particularly interested in the form and accompanying challenges of life writing research. In her current research project, “Death and Mourning in Finnish North America,” funded by the Academy of Finland and previously by the Wihuri Foundation, Saramo explores Finnish immigrants' personal narrations and everyday experiences with death and mourning in the years 1880–1939. Saramo contends that the fear of dying alone, far away from home, fostered the development of North American ethnic community life. She has recently published "'I Have Such Sad News': Loss in Finnish North American Letters" in European Journal of Life Writing (2018) and "Lakes, Rock, Forest: Placing Finnish Canadian History" in Journal of Finnish Studies (2018). Saramo, along with Hanna Snellman and Eerika Koskinen-Koivisto, is currently coediting the collection Transnational Death, in which she assesses the field of transnational death studies. 

Saramo’s research interests also include contemporary violence and grassroots activism in Canada and the United States. This work has resulted in the article “Unsettling Spaces: Grassroots Responses to Canada’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women during the Harper Government Years,” which appeared in a thematic issue of  ​Comparative American Studies, “Disrupting Insecurities: North American Grassroots Interventions” that Saramo coedited with Benita Heiskanen. In 2017, the article “The Meta-violence of Trumpism” appeared in a special issue of the European Journal of American Studies, “Popularizing Politics: The 2016 U.S. Presidential Election.” Saramo holds a Ph.D. in History from York University. Before joining the John Morton Center in 2015, she taught at Lakehead University and Confederation College. ​ 

Jaakko Hirvioja, Research AssistantJ.Hirvioja.jpg

Email: jaakko.j.hirvioja[at]

Office: Publicum Building, Room 256

Jaakko Hirvioja holds a B.A. degree in Musicology from the University of Turku, with an extended minor in North American Studies. His bachelor’s thesis combined the concepts of space, glocalization and decolonization within Finnish hip hop. His main interests in academia are in the area of North American Indigenous studies, sport politics, and music.

Academy of Finland Research Project, 2017​–2021

This project studies the implications of the Texas state “Campus Carry” gun legislation (SB 11) that came into effect on August 1, 2016. Through qualitative and quantitative research, the project focuses on changing gendered and spatial dynamics at The University of Texas at Austin and St. Edward’s University campuses. The research introduces a people-centered focus that studies the ways in which campus communities experience, negotiate, and challenge these changes. The project produces original research data and cutting-edge cultural analysis on the ramifications of gun legislation on people’s lives. The research also contributes to broader scholarly and public debates about the U.S. Second Amendment right to bear arms.

Email: campuscarry[at]​

Dr. Albion M. Butters

Albion M. Butters holds a Ph.D. in the History of Religion from Columbia University (2006). His multidisciplinary research interests include questions of identity and meaning-making, shifting ideologies (religious and secular), and the integration of spiritual themes in popular culture. His most recent publications include the journal issue “Popularizing Politics: The 2016 U.S. Presidential Election,” in the European Journal for American Studies (coedited with Benita Heiskanen), and a chapter in The Assimilation of Yogic Religions through Pop Culture (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, forthcoming, 2017). In this project at the JMC, Butters examines practical and epistemological aspects of Campus Carry in Texas, particularly vis-à-vis identity construction and the larger culture wars in the U.S. He also brings to the project a background in qualitative and quantitative data collection and analysis from his time as a Senior Research Analyst in Silicon Valley.


 Dr. Benita Heiskanen

Benita Heiskanen is the Director of the John Morton Center (for profile, see above). She serves as the PI for the Campus Carry project. The research builds on her background in American Studies, violence, socio-spatial analysis, and ethnographic fieldwork, as well as her familiarity with Texas. Heiskanen’s focus in the project is on the spatialization and visualization aspects of Campus Carry, as well as the everyday experiences of university community members and activists. She is particularly interested in the ways in which the newly reconceptualized public campus space impacts the visual landscape and how zoning affects the campus community’s perception of mobility, safety, equality, and belonging. Her main tasks in the project include supervising the fieldwork periods and ensuring the project will be compliant with national and international ethics standards. During fieldwork, she will conduct interviews with the various parties involved. She will also serve as lead editor of the project’s publications.

Prof. Elina Kestilä-KekkonenKestilä-Kekkonen.jpg

Elina Kestilä-Kekkonen is Professor of Political Science at the University of Turku. She is the PI for the project “Consortium of Trust Research” (CONTRE, 2015-2019), funded by the Academy of Finland, at the University of Tampere. She is also a co-editor of Scandinavian Political Studies and one of the three Principal Investigators of the Finnish National Election Study 2019.  Her research interests lie in political participation and political trust, and she is an expert in quantitative methodology and survey research. She has published over twenty peer-reviewed articles, of which fourteen international. Kestilä-Kekkonen has received several teaching awards for her commitment to teaching and innovative teaching methods from both the University of Tampere and the University of Turku. To the Campus Carry project, she brings expertize in survey design and analysis.

​Ph.D. Cand. Pekka Kolehmainen

Pekka Kolehmainen is a Ph.D. Candidate in Cultural History at the University of Turku, where his Ph.D. dissertation explores the ways in which rock music was defined and understood in relation to differing ideas of “Americanness” within the context of the culture wars in the 1980s and 1990s United States. His broader interests include the cultural history of conservatism and the culture wars, audiovisual and digital media cultures, and popular culture more generally. He has recently published an article about social media practices and the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Kolehmainen will join the project team in 2020 and conduct analysis of Campus Carry debates through both social and regular media. He will also be in charge of developing an interactive online exhibit based on the research materials gathered over the course of the project.

 Dr. Lotta Kähkönen

Before joining the JMC, Lotta Kähkönen has worked in several multidisciplinary research projects at the school of History, Culture and Arts Studies, University of Turku. After earning her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature in 2012, Kähkönen has pursued her post-doctoral research in Gender Studies. Her research interests include theorization of gender, experience, and embodiment, Narrative Studies, and contemporary North American literature and art. The topics of her recent publications range from transgender stories and narrative ethics to theories on affect. Relating to this project, Kähkönen is interested in the multiple effects of “Campus Carry” in everyday life and differently situated embodied experiences. Her role in the research team is to collaborate on the development of the methodological approach and qualitative methods, as well as analysis of the research data.

Dr. Sampo Ruoppila

Sampo Ruoppila is Research Director of Urban Studies at the University of Turku and Director of the Turku Urban Research Programme, a joint initiative between the City of Turku and universities to support academic urban research and promote research-based policy advice for urban governance. Dr. Ruoppila is a specialist in urban policy and planning issues. His recent research interests include mainstream and alternative approaches in culture-led urban regeneration, development of Chinese university towns, and electronic participation in urban planning. For the Campus Carry project, his research focus is on spatial aspects of experiencing security and insecurity, including the planning and urban policy context of campus development.