Research at the Department of Cultural History
Research at the Department is based on the idea of freedom of scholarly inquiry. We carry out high-quality research, co-operate internationally and work for the advancement of scholarly debate across disciplines. We cultural historians take into account the many-layered nature of time as we analyse the continuities and changes in the past. Our department is always active in the development of new research methods.
Research at the Department of Cultural History is strongly focused on the Middle Ages, early modern history and the period from the early nineteenth century to the present. Other areas of focus include biographical practices and theory, the cultural history of experiences, knowledge and emotions, the relationships between humans, animals/nature and technology, enquiries in popular culture and media history, gender history, ideas and culture of the Romantic Era, and the historical study of material and religious cultures. Digital history and the study of the foundations of our discipline also have a great importance in our Department.
The research environment encourages both detail-oriented close reading and large-scale interpretation, and their combination as well. The diversity of source materials and openness towards new methodological and theoretical challenges are integral to the research conducted within the Department.
Research in cultural history problematises the boundaries between humanity and its culturality. The department emphasises the value of researchers participating in scientific, artistic and societal discussions.
Our research projects
Project PSEUDOHISTORIA 2019 – 2021 is a three-year exploration of Finnish and Russian medievalist internet pseudohistory. In Finland, these include, among other, theories about mighty warrior kings and glorious past of a nation before the written history from the 12th century onwards. Sometimes such narratives are enforced through conspiracy theories stating that academic researchers or Swedish-speaking funding organisations knowingly hide the “true” history of the Finns. Correspondingly, Russian blogosphere has stories about an ancient Slavic empire, whose history is forgotten. Some, though by no means all, pseudohistories imply extreme-right political ideologies. In the past few years, pseudohistorical rhetoric in Finland has spread from the alternative blogosphere into major newspapers’ comment feeds. Currently pseudohistory is blurring the line between results of historical research and fiction.
The project combines expertise of a team of cultural historians to information technology. We apply language technology to track text-reuse in large scale. The goal is to find when and where certain narratives are born, and how they spread and acquire new contexts. We expect to find different textual communities with various mixtures of pseudohistory, medievalist fantasy and results of historical research. In addition to online texts, the team surveys the printed tradition of pseudohistory in order to track connections between internet writing and more traditional media.
Funding: Emil Aaltosen säätiö, 2019–2021
Contact: Reima Välimäki
Disability caused by mental illness is a social concern in Finland and elsewhere. This phenomenon has a long history that we, however, do not know very well. This project asks how psychic pain and suffering, its chronic nature and the agency of the suffering individual have been encountered during the history of modern welfare and care. How individual, family and the society have understood mental illness, its outbreak, long duration and getting better without fully recovering. How did people experience these situations and what did they do about them?
The research project analyses four cases in the context of the history of Finnish care (caring practices). It starts with the concept of mental disability, the idea of entanglement of mind and materia and combines these insights with the biographical method.
Funder: Kone Foundation, 2020-2022
Contact: Kirsi Tuohela
The project examines how the Swedish-language press acted as a cultural mediator between Finland and Sweden from the end of the 18th century to the beginning of the 20th century. The researchers will use digital newspaper collections to investigate how the press in the two countries reused each other’s news articles and other material. The daily press for this period has been digitized in both Finland and Sweden, enabling the project researchers to study overlaps in the text masses and thereby see how the information was spread across the Baltic Sea. The project produces new knowledge of 19th-century cultural history and studies how relations between Finland and Sweden developed from the end of the 18th century until Finland’s independence and Civil War.
The project is coordinated at the University of Turku, and it includes also researchers from the Universities of Helsinki, Umeå and Örebro.
Funder: The Society of Swedish Literature in Finland 2020-2022
Contact: Hannu Salmi
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The project The Modern View of Concepts: Origins and Critique investigates one of the most fundamental ideas in contemporary philosophy as well as in our culture at large: the idea that thinking essentially involves concepts. In fact, concepts are so fundamental to our self-understanding as thinking beings that we have arguably come to see ourselves as conceptualizing animals. We will reconsider what is usually taken for granted by questioning the view according to which the idea of concepts is an inevitable and historically constant part of Western philosophy. This proposal submits that a momentous change takes place in the early modern period in theorizing about the nature of cognition: Kant’s theory of cognition is a manifestation of an unprecedented conceptual turn that has had drastic but unacknowledged ramifications.
Funding: Emil Aaltonen Foundation, 2020-2022
Contact: Valtteri Viljanen
The project analyzes Finnish feature-length films as big data, comprising films produced between 1907 and 2017 and explores what kind of a long-term view on Finnish society and its development can be obtained through audiovisual heritage. How has cinema imagined and interpreted Finnish modernisation and its discontents? The project is based on a methodology that combines speech recognition, image content analysis and natural language processing to support film historical inquiry. Project is based on interdiscplinary cooperation between researchers from Aalto University and the University of Turku, and it works in close collaboration with the National Audiovisual Institute.
Funder: Academy of FInland 2020-2022
Contact: Hannu Salmi
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Seekers of the New: Esotericism and the transformation of religiosity in Finland during the era of modernisation, 1880-1940 is a multidisciplinary research project that explores the cultural history of esotericism in Finland from the 1880s to the 1940s. Our aim is to offer new perspectives on the historical representation of Finland by drawing attention to people and phenomena previously left outside the canon and by examining well-known figures in the light of new source material and new interpretational frameworks that have emerged in recent scholarship. Through an examination of personal material, such as letters and diaries, and public resources like newspapers, journals, and works of art and literature, we seek to expose the wide scope and longevity of the interest in esotericism that gained in popularity towards the end of the 19th century. Esotericism (Theosophy, Anthroposophy, Spiritualism, Parapsychology etc.) has brought together different groups within Finnish cultural elites and facilitated international contacts. Our approach makes it possible to analyse the meanings of Finnish esotericism on a broad scale, not only from the viewpoint of modern religiosity and the formation of national identities but also as part of the transformations of modern art, science, and subjectivity that took place during this period.
Funding: Kone Foundation, 2018–2020
Contact: Maarit Leskelä-Kärki
Viral Culture in Early Nineteenth-Century Europe is a research project conducted by Hannu Salmi during his period as Academy Professor. The project analyses the viral nature of culture in the early nineteenth century, the formative period of modern Europe. In the aftermath of the Great Revolution, the borders of Europe were redrawn during the turmoil of the Napoleonic Wars, 1803–15. At the same time, there were increasing cross-border flows. Many nineteenth-century phenomena gained momentum from the increasing power of the press, especially after 1820s. The project traces different forms of cultural infection in early nineteenth-century Europe by studying digital newspaper collections through text mining. After the study of text reuse, the project focuses on the cultural history of viral ideas, representations and phenomena.
Funding: Academy of Finland, 2017–2021
Contact: Hannu Salmi
Audiovisual Culture and Cyclical Structures of Time in Finland from the 1920s to the End of the 1990s is a media-historical project, which analyses how the electronic mass media shaped the everyday life of Finns and their use of time. To achieve this, massive programme data is used in the project. In addition, the researchers aim to produce a hypothesis on how audiovisual media changed the daily routines of audiences. The project also develops new methods for analysing significant amounts of digital data. Partners include the Yle Archives (Finnish Broadcasting Company) and the National Library of Finland. The research group is currently seeking funding for the launch of full-scale research.
Start-up funding: Turku University Foundation 2018
Contact: Paavo Oinonen
Computational History and the Transformation of Public Discourse in Finland, 1640–1910 is funded by the Digital Humanities programme of the Academy of Finland. It is a consortium between four partners: the Centre for Preservation and Digitisation of the National Library of Finland, the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Helsinki, and the Departments of Cultural History and Future Technologies at the University of Turku. The objective is to reassess the scope, nature, development, and transnational connections of public discourse in Finland in 1640–1910. The project explores book production by drawing extensively on library metadata and conducts full text mining of all newspapers and journals published in Finland between 1771 and 1910. The Turku team has especially concentrated on text reuse detection and now also has the papers and journals from 1911–1920 at its disposal. The project has published an open database on text reuse, which can be found online at http://comhis.fi/clusters.
Funding: Academy of Finland, 2016–2019
Contact: Hannu Salmi
Newspapers were the first big data for a mass audience. Their dramatic expansion over the nineteenth century created a global culture of abundant, rapidly circulating information. The significance of the newspaper, however, has largely been defined in metropolitan and national terms in the scholarship of the period. The collection and digitisation that was performed by local institutions further situated newspapers within a national context. Oceanic Exchanges: Tracing Global Information Networks in Historical Newspaper Repositories, 1840–1914 (OcEx) brings together leading efforts in research concerning computational periodicals from the US, Mexico, Germany, the Netherlands, Finland and the UK to examine patterns of information flow across national and linguistic boundaries in nineteenth-century newspapers. By revealing the global networks through which texts and concepts travelled, OcEx creates an abundance of new evidence about how readers around the world perceived each other through the newspaper.
Funding: Academy of Finland, 2017–2019 (Trans-Atlantic Platform programme)
Contact: Hannu Salmi
PROPREAU is a digital humanities consortium funded by the Academy of Finland (2016–2019). It focuses on authorship attribution for premodern Latin texts. We study a number of historically interesting texts whose authors are not known or have been contested, sometimes even for centuries. We opened the project with a true classic: Rhetorica ad C. Herennium, a work which until the sixteenth century was attributed to Cicero. As our training data, we used texts that are known for certain to be Cicero’s, and our background corpus consisted of a great number of classic texts. This case, as well as several others that we have studied, has brought up surprises, results that were not expected. Along with Cicero, we have focused on Augustine, Gregory the Great, Petrus Zwicker and Henry VIII, among others.
The machine learning methods we use (SVM and CNN) analyse texts on levels which humans cannot achieve, but the results of the classifications are always analysed with traditional historical and philological methods, and the acceptance of a new author for a text requires meticulous analysis of the historical contexts of the text.
The consortium is led by Professor Marjo Kaartinen, and it builds upon the historical and linguistic expertise of Postdoctoral Researchers Teemu Immonen, Jesse Keskiaho, Raija Vainio, and Reima Välimäki and Doctoral Candidate Anni Hella. Associate Professor Filip Ginter and Research Assistant Aleksi Vesanto from the Department of Future Technologies are responsible for the development and use of machine learning methodologies in the project.
Funding: Academy of Finland, 2016–2019
Contact: Marjo Kaartinen
Most texts are spatial, implying a network of important places. This was especially typical of the Romantic era (1790–1840), which was characterised by the growing interest in historical and natural sites. Nineteenth-century Romanticism reflected the tension between cosmopolitanism and nationalism and the effects of industrialisation on natural surroundings. My postdoctoral research project provides a spatial interpretation of English and German Romanticism. The project transcends the narrow focus on a single Romantic author, digitally analysing a large textual corpus in addition to close reading and reconstructing the various geographic maps the texts implied. The results of text mining will be visualised as superimposed maps, which produce new knowledge about the relationship between centre and periphery or urban and natural areas in Romanticism, studying the routes between metropolises, small towns, the countryside and historical sites.
Funding: Turku Institute for Advanced Studies, 2017–2019
Contact: Asko Nivala
Through studies of a range of popular cultural texts, this project will examine the complicated relationship that has existed between popular culture and fascism in European popular culture since the 1970s. A study of the post-war legacy and the ways in which a fascination with fascism is being circulated, exploited and normalised in popular culture – in part as a new form of understanding the dark European heritage – this project asks why the fixation of popular culture on fascism has become so important in recent digital and popular culture. The project also considers the manner in which, by normalising fascist imagery, popular culture has gradually distanced itself from one of its central purposes in the post-war period: the anti-fascist struggle.
Funding: Funding not secured yet
Contacts: Docent, PhD Kari Kallioniemi, Docent, PhD Kimi Kärki