University of Helsinki, Helsinki 2006
Visions of Past Glory: Nationalism and the Construction of Early Finnish History
Doctoral dissertation, March 2006.
The study is an examination of how the distant national past has been conceived and constructed for Finland from the mid-sixteenth century to the Second World War. The author argues that the perception and need of a national 'Golden Age' has undergone several phases during this period, yet the perceived Greatness of the Ancient Finns has been of great importance for the growth and development of the fundamental concepts of Finnish nationalism. It is a question reaching deeper than simply discussing the Kalevala or the Karelianism of the 1890s.
Despite early occurrences of most of the topics the image-makers could utilize for the construction of an Ancient Greatness, a truly national proto-history only became a necessity after 1809, when a new conceptual 'Finnishness' was both conceived and brought forth in reality. In this process of nation-building, ethnic myths of origin and descent provided the core of the nationalist cause - the defence of a primordial national character - and within a few decades the antiquarian issue became a standard element of the nationalist public enlightenment. The emerging, archaeologically substantiated, nationhood was more than a scholarly construction: it was a 'politically correct' form of ethnic self-imaging, continuously adapting its message to contemporary society and modern progress.
Prehistoric and medieval Finnishness became even more relevant for the intellectual defence of the nation during the period of Russian administrative pressure 1890-1905. With independence the origins of Finnishness were militarized even further, although the 'hot' phase of antiquarian nationalism ended, as many considered the Finnish state reestablished after centuries of 'dependency'. Nevertheless, the distant past of tribal Finnishness and the conceived Golden Age of the Kalevala remained obligating. The decline of public archaeology is quite evident after 1918, even though the national message of the antiquarian pursuits remained present in the history culture of the public. The myths, symbols, images, and constructs of ancient Finnishness had already become embedded in society by the turn of the century, like the patalakki cap, which remains a symbol of Finnishness to this day.
The method of approach is one of combining a broad spectrum of previously neglected primary sources, all related to history culture and the subtle banalization of the distant past: school books, postcards, illustrations, festive costumes, drama, satirical magazines, novels, jewellery, and calendars. Tracing the origins of the national myths to their original contexts enables a rather thorough deconstruction of the proto-historical imaginary in this Finnish case study.
Considering Anthony D. Smith's idea of ancient 'ethnies' being the basis for nationalist causes, the author considers such an approach in the Finnish case totally misplaced.
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© University of Helsinki 2006
Last updated 04.10.2006