Goodbye, Helsinki!

After more than seven years of working at the University of Helsinki, most recently as acting professor and then associate professor of Cultural Heritage Studies, I am moving on after the summer to a new role as a professor of Heritage Studies at the University of Antwerp in Belgium.

I have thoroughly enjoyed working in Helsinki, and especially having had the opportunity to develop and teach Museum Studies and Cultural Heritage Studies, and to carry out research firstly on the Lapland’s Dark Heritage team and later as PI of the FindSampo project. I’ve learned a lot, made some fantastic colleagues and friends, and really grown as a professional academic.

The teaching for Cultural Heritage Studies on the KUMA programme will be left in the talented and very capable hands of Dr Johanna Enqvist, and I am happy to be continuing as a supervisory team member for several doctoral researchers.

Helsinki is such a beautiful and welcoming city, and the university has been a great ‘home’ for me. I know I will keep coming back here, as travel restrictions hopefully ease, and that I will keep collaborative connections with many people in the university.

My last weeks working here will feel strange and a bit poignant, but I am also very optimistic about the future, and looking forward to my next challenge. See you all around!


Indeterminacy in the cultural property restitution debate

A new open-access publication has recently been released in the International Journal of Cultural Policy, written by University of Helsinki doctoral candidate Pauno Soirila. Titled “Indeterminacy in the Cultural Property Restitution Debate”, the abstract reads as follows:

The debate over the restitution of cultural property is usually framed as the dispute between what John Henry Merryman defined as ‘cultural nationalism’ and ‘cultural internationalism’: the opposite viewpoints that argue whether cultural heritage objects should be returned to their countries of origin or spread around the world as determined by other principles. I argue, however, that the concepts are problematic both in their definition and their perception as two dialectically opposed sides of a dispute. This article analyses the restitution debate by examining some of the most important arguments and counterarguments used in the debate and by comparing them to the international law ‘New Stream’ theory. It is revealed that a similar indeterminacy which defines international law in the theory also defines the restitution debate, and that cultural nationalism and internationalism do not in fact provide answers to the debate but only function as two entry points that echo each other without a way to end the debate. Therefore, it is necessary to see beyond the two concepts in order to find solutions to the disputes.

The article argues that to frame the restitution debate as a contest between these two concepts is counterproductive, not only because they are too narrow to encompass the true scope of debate but because in reality both sides use arguments from both cultural nationalism and cultural internationalism to create a convincing case, eventually mirroring each other’s arguments. Therefore, it is impossible to resolve any restitution case through reference to these types of arguments alone.

Instead, if we examine recent museum practice, we can see that a new surge of restitution cases has come through a fundamental inclusion of human rights thinking into museum work which has highlighted the unequal power relations especially between indigenous peoples and Western countries. While such power dynamics may not have as strong a pull in many state-to-state claims, using museum practice as an example, future resolution should instead seek other such external principles to find resolutions which can satisfy both sides of the debate.

The article is available online, though yet to be assigned into an issue. (Current) full reference information:

Pauno Soirila (2021) Indeterminacy in the cultural property restitution debate, International Journal of Cultural Policy, DOI: 10.1080/10286632.2021.1908275

Politics of Memory and Oblivion: “We thought that it would be easier for us if we changed it”

In a continuation of presenting work of students from the 2020 “Politics of Memory and Oblivion” course, here is the second of two blog posts put together by Jonni Karlsson, Grisell Macdonel, Laura Nissinen and Essi Nurmi on the theme of difficult heritage. The two original blog posts can be viewed here.

”We thought that it would be easier for us if we changed it.”

Old logo (Helsingin Sanomat)
Old logo (Helsingin Sanomat)

In June 2020 Teivo Teivainen, a professor of world politics in the University of Helsinki near-accidentally noticed that the controversial symbol for the Finnish Air Force, a winged swastika was no longer in as use as their official signet.

After consulting the communications department of the Finnish Air Force, Teivainen got a confirmation that the symbol had been changed in order to ”unify the symbolism of the divisions within the Finnish Defence Forces”.

What was interesting is that the change had in fact been conducted as early as in 2017. However, neither the Air Force, nor the Finnish Defence Forces in general, apparently saw no reason to inform the public about the change at all, even if the swastika as the symbol for the air force has been a from time to time heated debate ever since the end of WWII.

Even when the use of the symbol made headlines in Finland in 2018. The Air Force did not see any reason to tell the folks publicly debating about the use of the symbol that it is no longer in official use.

12.9.2018 Seura-Magazine: ”American Newspaper wonders: Why is Finland still using the black swastika?” (Seura)

”We thought that it would be easier for us if we changed it”, commented brigade general Mikkonen finally to Helsingin Sanomat when the use of guerilla tactics with changing of the symbol caused some media attention after its reveal by Teivainen.

Until this day the Air Force has not given any official announcement about changing the symbol. This reveals a clear narrative of a dark symbol that is by action deemed so controversial that even removing it has been thought best kept hidden.

Svastika, Fylfot or Hakaristi? The Symbol of Many Names and Origins

The new Air Force logo (Helsingin Sanomat)
The new Air Force logo (Helsingin Sanomat)

Svastika is an ancient and universal symbol that has appeared in various cultures around the world since the Stone Age. The name “svastika” originates to Sanskrit and was only adopted to western cultures in the end of 19th century. The oldest know figures resembling swastika are Paleolithic Stone Age figures from present-day Ukraine. The symbol has also been used as a decorative pattern or a magical sign in American Indian cultures and in Africa.

Näle, 1883
Embroidery in woman’s shirt, linen.
Finnish-Ugrian collection, SU4531:159
The National Museum of Finland (Finna)

In the Iron Age and the Middle Ages, the svastika and its many versions were used in Scandinavia and Slavic cultures as a sign of magic or protection engraved on objects. In Scandinavia the symbol was called “fylfot”. In the Middle Ages, the symbol appears in both secular and ecclesiastical contexts across Europe. In Finland, the painted figure of svastika has been found in the medieval Christian church of Nousiainen.

Pyyhinliina, 1911 Cloth used in religious ceremonies, linen Ethnographic collection, VK4886:12 (Finna)

A decorative pattern resembling the svastika was used in the bronze spiral patterns of the Iron Age and early medieval aprons in Karelia, an area situated today in the Eastern Finland and bordering Russia. Later in historical times, the svastika or as it is named in Finnish, “hakaristi”, is known to have been used in Karelian area as a sign of happiness in embroidering clothes, protecting buildings and cattle, and also as a peasant wooden sign.

Sorokka, 1903
Woman’s headgear, linen and wool. Finnish-Ugrian collection, SU4291:44; P71 ,The National Museum of Finland (Finna)

In the late 19th century, the symbol was associated with Karelianism, the national romantic admiration of the area and culture of Karelia. The symbol was used by the Karelian enthusiast, painter Akseli Gallen-Kallela (1865–1931) in one his versions of the painting Aino (1889). The painting depicts a story from Kalevala (1835), the national epic of Karelia and Finland. Painting’s other version, one without the swastika symbols, is located in the permanent exhibition of the Finnish National Art Gallery.




Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Aino (1891), Triphych, Painting on canvas, 157,7 × 314,7 cm (Bank of Finland)

In the early 20th century, the svastika became a symbol of several anti-Semitic movements and the Nazi-Germany. Today the symbol is popular among various racist groups. Due to negative associations, the swastika is currently banned in many European countries other than as a tool for teaching history.

”Considering the controversy related to the symbol, it is actually surprising that the Air Force held on to it for that many years”, argues activist-journalist Jari Tamminen in Voima-magazine. It has been suggested that by abandoning the symbol one would admit it unsuitable for such use and thus being forced to face the baggage of using the symbol for decades.


Politics of Memory and Oblivion: The Finnish Lion

In a continuation of presenting work of students from the 2020 “Politics of Memory and Oblivion” course, here is the first of two blog posts put together by Jonni Karlsson, Grisell Macdonel, Laura Nissinen and Essi Nurmi on the theme of difficult heritage. The two original blog posts can be viewed here.

”I can be what I want, I am proud and honored to carry a Finnish jewel: The Finnish Lion.”

According to Harmo (2011) the history of the Finnish lion dates from the sixteenth century when Finland was part of the Sweden crown, and the Swedish King John III received both: the title of “Grand Duke of Finland and Karelia”, and the coat of arms with the first version of the Finnish lion. Since these times, the Finnish lion has been the national symbol of the country.

Finnish lion (via Flickr)
Finnish lion (Flickr)

The coat of arms is composed by an anthropomorphous figure of a lion holding a sword and having another one under its inferior paws. Harmo (2011) explains that the symbolism of coat of arms represents the political/military conflict between Sweden and Russia in those times: The superior (Christian) sword represents Sweden, and in the one under the lion’s paw appears a Russian sword. Harmo (2011) claims that the Swedes used the coat of arms as propaganda device because of their combative position against Russia.

Finnish lion via
Finnish lion via

In the recent times, the Finnish lion have been adopted by far-right groups as a symbol for representing their nationalistic believes and anti-immigrant agenda. In this manner, the Finnish lion represented as a jewel in earrings rings, and necklesses that has been worn proudly specially by the far-right militants. Thus, it is common that the Finnish lion with its military narratives appears shining on the streets of Helsinki and other cities of Finland. Even when the Finnish lion is an official national symbol, and its deviated use is illegal, the far-right militants appropriated it. This act that has been considered shameful by the Finnish society in general.

In recent times, the Finnish lion’s fiercely and combative meanings, have been reclaimed also by Finnish nationals, and immigrants who summoned the lion’s symbolic powers but against the far-right propaganda. One of the strongest public voices who supports this interpretation of the lion has been the pop-singer Alma, who in 2011 at the Official party of the National Finnish Independence Day wore a neckless with the Finnish lion in similar fashion that the Neo-Nazi militants, but as an act of redemption of the national symbol. In an interview, she accompanied her provocative fashion’s gesture against the far-right groups by exalting the historic and symbolic value of the Finnish lion, but also her idea of a multicultural but still united country.

via Ilta Sanomat
via Ilta Sanomat

“When I wear this, I think that for me Finland is multicolor, multicultural, and everybody can be what they want. I can be what I want, I am proud and honored to carry a Finnish jewel: The Finnish Lion.” (Alma, 2017)

”Kun mä kannan tätä, niin päässäni ajattelen, että Suomi mulle on monivärinen, monikulttuurinen ja kaikki saavat olla sellaisia kuin haluavat. Mä saan olla sellainen kuin haluan ja mulla on ylpeys ja kunnia kantaa Suomi-korua, Suomi-leijonaa. ” (Alma 2017)

via Kalevalakoru
via Kalevalakoru

Kalevala Jewellery, a company specialising in creating unique jewellery with roots in strong national romanticism, has tried to reclaim the lion as a symbol to be proud of by releasing a line of female lion pendants. The lionesses are described as symbols of justice, equality, fairness and female strength, the opposite of what the traditional male lion is now affiliated with.

The female lion is not wielding any weapons but retains the fierce stance of its male counterpart. The pendant offers an alternative for showcasing national pride, without the right-wing politics, and at the same time gives the lion its place as a previously much-loved symbol of Finnish resilience.

The jewellery line was advertised in 2019 with the help of the successful Finnish national ladies’ ice hockey team, also referring to themselves as lionesses. The campaign’s face was Alma. The company and the hockey team are sending a message of resistance, they are ready to fight for the lion as a symbol for Finnish pride and perseverance and have not yielded it to the sole use of the far-right, trying to avoid repeating the fate of the swastika.


Politics of Memory and Oblivion: The case of Beslan

In late 2020, students taking part in the “Politics of Memory and Oblivion” course, a part of the Cultural Heritage Masters programme, created blog posts and podcasts on the subject of difficult heritage. The online course was open to domestic and exchange students at the University of Helsinki, and additionally open to students in the UNA Europa network of universities. In the coming weeks we showcase some of their work.

The following podcast and introduction are by Alina Tibilova, Anna Heikkilä and Minna Taikina-aho (all University of Helsinki) and Hanna Martynenko (Jagiellonian University in Krakow).

We made a podcast about the memorial of the Beslan school attack in 2004. Here we’re discussing the 2020 state of the gym building ruins from the perspectives of ‘dark’ heritage and embodied collective trauma. It was important for us to raise this theme because today’s condition is quite controversial. We will be grateful if you listen to the podcast, but be prepared for the fact that listening and talking about this topic is always very emotionally difficult.

Listen to Podcast



Recent new open access article on professional and amateur engagements with WWI heritage in Western Flanders

A new article involving Cultural Heritage Studies researchers from the University of Helsinki was published just before Christmas and is open access.
Unexploded ordnance collected during excavations by De Diggers at the football field at Langemark on 8 April 2006 (photograph Pol Lefever, courtesy of the In Flanders Fields Museum archive).

Associate Professor Suzie Thomas and Dr Pieterjan Deckers (Århus University) have recently published an open access article titled “‘And now they have taken over’: hobbyist and professional archaeologist encounters with the material heritage of the First World War in western Belgium” in International Journal of Heritage Studies.

The abstract for the new article, which stems from research carried out in Western Flanders during a research visit to Vrije Universiteit Brussel by Thomas and a collaboration with Deckers as part of the Lapland’s Dark Heritage project, reads as follows:

Since almost immediately after the fighting ended, the

First World War (WWI) sites of conflict in Western Flanders, Belgium, have attracted attention from visitors and collectors. Heritage management questions came to the fore especially in the run-up to WWI’s centenary years (2014–2018), and professional archaeologists representing the authorities in Flanders had already begun to take a greater interest in the war’s archaeological remains. The activities of hobbyist amateurs, particularly metal detectorists, came under greater scrutiny. In this article, we explore the perspectives of local hobbyist enthusiasts and heritage professionals in the context of changing attitudes towards and values associated with the material heritage of the WWI in Western Flanders. We reflect upon the tensions that emerge when different interest groups clash, the disagreements between professional and amateur interests, and also upon the particular context of conflict heritage when there are numerous interests and stakeholders involved.

Full reference information:

Suzie Thomas & Pieterjan Deckers (2020) ‘And now they have taken over’: hobbyist and professional archaeologist encounters with the material heritage of the First World War in western Belgium, International Journal of Heritage Studies, DOI: 10.1080/13527258.2020.1858142

Kulttuuriperinnön tutkimuksen opintoja Avoimessa yliopistossa!

Kuva: Pixabay. Lasinpuhallus.

Avoimessa yliopistossa on perinteisesti järjestetty uniikkeja kulttuuriperinnön tutkimuksen opintoja. Tämä perinne jatkuu myös lukuvuonna 20–21. HY läsnä olevana tutkinto-opiskelijana voit osallistua näille kulttuuriperinnön tutkimuksen kursseille maksutta.

Sukella Euroopan kauhuihin

Lokakuussa alkavalla verkkokurssilla pääset sukeltamaan Euroopan kauhuihin 1400–1600-luvuilla monitieteisestä näkökulmasta käsin. Tätä kurssia varten tehdyt asiantuntijaluentovideot syventävät tietämystä keskiajan lopun ja varhaisen modernin ajan suurista ilmiöistä, jotka ovat aiheuttaneet kauhua, huolta tai pelkoa aikalaisihmisissä. Kurssilla käsitellään esimerkiksi seuraavia kysymyksiä:

  • Mitä keskiaja lopun ja esimodernin ajan ihminen pelkäsi?
  • Oliko menneisyys kurjaa ja kamalaa?
  • Miten pelkoja käsiteltiin ja mitkä asiat toivat ihmisille lohtua?

Mikäli innostut noituudesta ja noitavainoista, kummitustarinoista ja painajaisista, rikollisuudesta sekä ruokapulasta, on tämä kurssi sinua varten!

Ilmoittautuminen kurssille on käynnissä Avoimen opinto-ohjelmassa: Euroopan kauhut 1400–1600-luvuilla, syksy 2020. Korvaavuudet: KUMA-KP506, KUMA-KP507.

Kestävä, mutta hauras lasi

Maaliskuussa 2021 alkavalla kurssilla tutustut laaja-alaisesti lasiin ja lasin käytön historiaan. Materiaalina lasi on monipuolinen ja taipuu siten teolliseen tuotantoon, käyttöesineeksi ja design elementiksi.

Lasia on käytetty vuosisatojen ajan erilaisissa käyttötarkoituksissa. Tällä opintojaksolla sitä käytetään esimerkkinä, jonka kautta tarkastellaan eri ilmiöitä kuten keskiajan kirkkotilaa, Suomen teollistumisen historia ja suomalaisen designin läpimurtoa 1900-luvulla.

Ilmoittautuminen kurssille aukeaa tammikuun lopussa. Voit tutustua alustavaan ohjelmaan jo nyt: Tuhkasta desingiin, kevät 2021. Korvaavuudet: KUMA-KP506, KUMA-KP507

Ennakkotietoa kesän 2021 opinnoista

Myös kesään 2021 on suunnitteilla kulttuuriperinnön tutkimuksen opintoja, erityisesti kulttuurisen kehityksen teemasta. Kesän 2021 opintojen ennakkotiedot julkaistaan joulukuussa Avoimen yliopiston sivuilla.

Tervetuloa opiskelemaan!

Siina Nieminen
Joanna Veinio
Helsingin yliopiston Avoin yliopisto

SIEF 2021: Helsinki!

The 15th congress of the International Society for Ethnology and Folklore (SIEF) will come to Helsinki. Helsinki is known for its laid-back and safe atmosphere, its internationality and open-mindedness, and the proximity of urban culture and mesmerising nature. The congress will be hosted by Prof. Hanna Snellman, Vice-rector of University of Helsinki, Finland’s largest and oldest academic institution (est. 1640).

With the theme ‘Breaking the rules? Power, participation and transgression’, SIEF2021 invites and encourages participants to explore the dynamics, modes, arenas and implications of breaking the rules and to revisit and discuss underlying concepts. To break rules is an agent of change and reveals the (dis)ruptures in our societies, and we propose to examine what “breaking the rules” has implied and implies in social, economic, political, cultural and academic contexts.

SIEF 2021 logo
Logo of SIEF 2021

The Call for Panels, Roundtables, Workshops and Combined Formats is now open and will close on 21 September at 23:59 EEST (Finnish time). If you are interested in participating, please read the theme, then go to the Call for Panels etc page to read all about the formats, rules and instructions and find the link for proposing your contribution.

We are looking forward to your contributions and hope to welcome you to Helsinki in June 2021!

New open access publication

In the latest issue of the journal Antiquity, Associate Professor Suzie Thomas has written a Debate piece with Professor Bonnie Pitblado (University of Oklahoma), titled “The dangers of conflating responsible and responsive artefact stewardship with illicit and illegal collecting”.

The article is Open Access, and has the following abstract:

Archaeology and private artefact collecting have complex and inextricably linked histories. Archaeologists have long drawn attention to criminal activity among collectors, but to assume that all private owners of cultural material—and any archaeologists who interact with them—have ill-intent or engage in illegal behaviour can cause as much harm to the archaeological record as the criminal actions themselves.

In addition to the article are three Response pieces, from Pieterjan Deckers (Århus University), Joe Watkins (The Archaeological and Cultural Education Consultants, and Society for American Archaeology), and Morag Kersel (DePaul University), with a final reply from Pitblado and Thomas. The Responses are not open access, but contact Suzie Thomas for more information about these.

Reference information:

Thomas, S., & Pitblado, B. (2020). The dangers of conflating responsible and responsive artefact stewardship with illicit and illegal collecting. Antiquity, 94(376), 1060-1067. doi:10.15184/aqy.2019.201

Deckers, P. (2020). Archaeology’s awkward allies. Antiquity, 94(376), 1068-1070. doi:10.15184/aqy.2020.50

Watkins, J. (2020). ‘Not with the same brush’. Antiquity, 94(376), 1071-1073. doi:10.15184/aqy.2020.45

Kersel, M. (2020). Engaging with demand and destruction. Antiquity, 94(376), 1074-1076. doi:10.15184/aqy.2020.62

Pitblado, B., & Thomas, S. (2020). Unravelling the spectra of stewards and collectors. Antiquity, 94(376), 1077-e1079. doi:10.15184/aqy.2020.99

UNA Europa and Cultural Heritage

In 2019, the University of Helsinki joined the UNA Europa alliance – a group of eight top research universities from across Europe. The universities, from Finland, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Scotland and Spain, work together to find new collaboration opportunities for teaching and research.

Map showing the locations of the UNA Europa participating universities
UNA Europa map of the participating universities.

In particular, UNA Europa has several focus areas, of which one is Cultural Heritage. Through the work of the Self-Sustaining Committee on Cultural Heritage – made up of representatives from all eight universities – UNA Europa is working to develop research partnerships to respond to upcoming funding opportunities in Europe, and also to develop new educational opportunities. These include the development of professional training certificates, and a joint PhD in Cultural Heritage offered across all the UNA Europa universities.

Professor Maria Gravari-Barbas. Chair of the Self-Sustaining Committee in Cultural Heritage, talks about the joint PhD in Cultural Heritage.

As a first step, UNA Europa will offer doctoral workshops over the coming years, open to students from the participating universities. The first workshop takes place in October in Paris (or online depending on the coronavirus situation at that point), hosted by Université Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne. The workshop focuses on the complex issue of heritage hybridisation. Future workshops will be announced soon, including a workshop hosted jointly by the Universities of Helsinki and Edinburgh.

The alliance is still in its early stages, but it is open for participation from both staff and students at University of Helsinki. For updates about the Cultural Heritage activities, please follow the new Facebook page. More information was also recently presented in a webinar – which can also still be viewed online.