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.

Recent publication – Towards a Cooperative Approach to Hobby Metal Detecting: The European Public Finds Recording Network (EPFRN) Vision Statement

Earlier this year, University of Helsinki Cultural Heritage Studies scholars Suzie Thomas and Anna Wessman were co-authors of a new publication “Towards a Cooperative Approach to Hobby Metal Detecting: The European Public Finds Recording Network (EPFRN) Vision Statement“, which is published in the European Journal of Archaeology  (JUFO level 3).

The article, co-authored with colleagues from the UK, Denmark and the Netherlands, connects to the FindSampo project (funded by the Academy of Finland), and also the recently launched European Public Finds Recording Network, which represents the various initiatives across Europe to record archaeological discoveries made by metal detectorists and other non-professionals.

The article outlines the goals of EPFRN, with the following abstract:

Hobby metal detecting is a controversial subject. Legal and policy approaches differ widely across national and regional contexts, and the attitudes of archaeologists and heritage professionals towards detectorists are often polarized and based on ethical or emotive arguments. We, the European Public Finds Recording Network (EPFRN), have implemented collaborative approaches towards detectorist communities in our respective contexts (Denmark, England and Wales, Finland, Flanders, and the Netherlands). Although our motivations are affected by our national circumstances, we base our work on an agreed set of goals, practices, and visions. This article presents the EPFRN’s vision statement and provides insight into its underlying thoughts. We hope to create a debate on how to develop best practice approaches that acknowledge the inherent challenges of hobby metal detecting while realizing its potential.

Full citation information:

Dobat, A., Deckers, P., Heeren, S., Lewis, M., Thomas, S., & Wessman, A. (2020). Towards a Cooperative Approach to Hobby Metal Detecting: The European Public Finds Recording Network (EPFRN) Vision Statement. European Journal of Archaeology, 23(2), 272-292. doi:10.1017/eaa.2020.1

Nothing to do with us? New book sheds light on illicit trade of cultural objects

Nothing to do with us? New book sheds light on illicit trade of cultural objects

A new edited volume in the publication series of the Finnish Museums Association shows that the illicit trade in cultural objects is a topical issue also in Finland. It requires the attention of decision-makers, antique dealers, cultural heritage professionals and scholars alike. The civil war in Syria and the rise of terrorist organizations such as ISIS across the Middle East and North Africa have produced an ongoing humanitarian disaster. They have also created a wave of crimes involving ancient objects and significant cultural and historical sites. Media reporting has revealed this destruction of cultural heritage, as well as the looting and trafficking of antiquities. It is often assumed that these violations are confined to the countries of origin of cultural objects or to international centres of trade like Brussels, London and New York. However, illicit trafficking of antiquities and related distribution networks are a grave concern in the Nordic countries as well.

Cover image for WCOM book
Cover of new WCOM book, designed by Joonas Kinnunen

The collection Working with Cultural Objects: Provenance, Legality, and Responsible Stewardship consists of ten contributions. Articles by the renowned international experts Patty Gerstenblith, Neil Brodie and Christopher A. Rollston are translated into Finnish, and they provide an up-to-date understanding of the ongoing international debate. Rollston focuses on the history of counterfeiting, which is closely related to the illicit trade in antiquities, while Brodie evaluates the responsibility of scholars in working with cultural objects of uncertain provenance, and Gerstenblith examines the 1970 UNESCO Convention and its implementation in different market countries.

Other articles in the collection are in English and written exclusively for this volume. Raila Kataja, Magnus Olsson and Josephine Munch Rasmussen describe efforts to prevent illicit trade of cultural goods in Finland, Sweden and Norway. Anni Guttorm discusses the repatriation of Sámi artefacts, Eero Ehanti presents ICOM’s measures to prevent illegal trade, and Nidaa Dandachi summarises how Arabic-language news reporting has reported on the plundering and trafficking of Syrian cultural heritage.

The publication is an outcome of the University of Helsinki research project Working with Cultural Objects and Manuscripts (WCOM), and the articles are based on presentations given at an international symposium organized at the National Museum of Finland in 2017 ( That event brought together scholars across various academic disciplines and representatives from several Finnish and international cultural heritage institutions. The aim was to raise awareness on illicit trade of cultural objects in the Nordic countries and Finland in particular. It is also vital to acknowledge that the international community of scholars and heritage experts are increasingly emphasising the responsibility universities and museums have towards cultural objects of questionable provenance.

The project and the international symposium were funded by the Future Fund of the University of Helsinki and the publication also by the Department of Archaeology, University of Turku, the Centre of Excellence in Ancient Near Eastern Empires, and the Centre of Excellence in Changes in Sacred Texts and Traditions, both at the University of Helsinki. In addition, the project was supported by the National Museum of Finland and ICOM Finland.

Link to the publication:


Further information in English: please contact Suzie Thomas

Also posted here

Pilot run of the MOOC course Avoin digitaalinen kulttuuriperintö

Doctoral Researcher Heidi Kovanen reflects on the pilot run of our new online course Avoin digitaalinen kulttuuriperintö (Open digital cultural heritage), for which she is the moderator and tutor.

After six weeks of the Avoin digitaalinen kulttuuriperintö course (Open digital cultural heritage, 5op, KUMA-MU503/512, KUMA-KP505) it has come time to reflect a little on how the course has progressed from a teacher’s point of view.

Screenshot of the open digital heritage MOOC contents page

The Avoin digitaalinen kulttuuriperintö course that is designed as part of the optional cultural heritage studies forms around six to seven modules or weeks, each containing a sub-theme related to the main topic. For this first trial run a total of 15 students were chosen for the course – 10 from inside the University of Helsinki and 5 from the Open University – and they were given a set of online tasks to complete each week. A typical week on the course consisted of 1-10 introductory videos and articles, three 250-300 word terminology-definitions, a multiple choice weekly exam, and a practical task where the students got a chance of using some of the online research tools introduced to them on the course. From a teacher’s point of view, the amount of tasks set for each week seemed adequate and the workload that each of the course weeks produced with 10-15 students could be squeezed into one working day. For bigger groups some adjustments might be in order, however, especially if the group sizes are to grow into several dozens and contain students from multiple language platforms and universities, as is planned.

Screenshot of tasks from open digital heritage MOOC
Screenshot of tasks from open digital heritage MOOC

Some re-designing and -adjusting is apparently needed also on the side of the students’ planning and time management, which came obvious already at the beginning of the course and even more clear as the weeks proceeded. After six weeks, unfortunately a few of the students had fallen behind or simply ceased to return their weekly tasks. Of course the end of the year and some personal study habits are something that could have had an effect on the amount of time used for such independent studies as these, but messages related to the workload and a steady number of people quitting or delaying the course assignments for some reason or the other is something that we need to be aware of and try to help students avoid in future runs of the course. After this first trial run it is obvious, that at least some of the introductory course pages in Weboodi and other similar platforms need some revising, so that the students that are interested in participating and choosing this course can evaluate in advance how much time and effort it is going to require to pass. We could for example already indicate in these descriptions what kinds of assignments will be required, and what kinds of deadlines they have attached to them.

Screenshot of video from MOOC - Ville Rohiola and Anna Wessman talk about citizen science and the SuALT project
Screenshot of video from MOOC – Ville Rohiola and Anna Wessman talk about citizen science and the SuALT project

On a more positive note it has to be said that the MOOC platform, that was a new acquaintance for both the designers of the course and for me as the teacher this year, has proved to be a helpful tool for online teaching. Even though there still remain a few cosmetic flaws that need to be taken care of and much still needs to be done concerning the parallel English and Swedish versions of this particular course (which will be rolled out in 2020, there has been no big issues whatsoever with this “technical” side of the course. All in all it has been an interesting and surprisingly successful first fall with this MOOC site and once adjusted a little, there is no doubt that it will become a very handy tool both in teaching and learning in and outside of the University of Helsinki.


Two public lectures coming up in September

On Sept. 5, 2019 at 14.00-18.00, Think Lounge, in Tiedekulma (second floor). Open to all.

Think Lounge
Think Lounge space in the University of Helsinki’s Think Corner. Image from University of Helsinki

Special presentations from Dr James Nisbet, Associate Professor at University of California, Irvine, USA and Dr Catherine Laws, Reader in Music at the University of York, UK.  This event is co-organized with the 3D3 Doctoral programme of Falmouth University, Plymouth University and University of Western England, who are in Helsinki for the week. The event complements the Doctoral Programme in History and Cultural Heritage annual Summer School, but is open to all.

James Nisbet is an art historian whose research addresses contemporary art, theory, and criticism, with a particular focus on cultural issues on ecology and environmental history. He received his PhD in Art History from Stanford University in 2011, and is currently Associate Professor at the University of California, Irvine in the Department of Art History and PhD Program in Visual Studies. His first book, Ecologies, Environments, and Energy Systems in Art of the 1960s and 1970s, was published by MIT Press in 2014. Recent essays have taken up more contemporary environmental politics, as well as tracing the deeper roots of scientific theories of energy within the history of photography. His writing has appeared in publications including American Art, Artforum, Art Bulletin, Art Journal, Grey Room, Modernism/modernity, Photography and Culture, and X-TRA, in addition to many edited volumes and catalogues. Nisbet’s research has been supported by fellowships from the Getty Research Institute, Harry Ransom Center, Georgia O’Keeffe Research Center, and Dumbarton Oaks. His talk examines the wide-ranging concept of energy and its intersection with contemporary visual art.

Catherine Laws is Reader in Music at the University of York, UK, and a Senior Artistic Research Fellow at the Orpheus Institute, Ghent. As a pianist Catherine specializes in contemporary music, working collaboratively with composers and often drawing other artists, especially theatre and film makers, into her projects. Her artistic research is focused variously on processes of embodiment, subjectivity and collaboration in contemporary performance practices. She currently leads the research cluster ‘Performance, Subjectivity and Experimentation’ at the Orpheus Institute, exploring how subjectivity is produced through performance practices associated with new music: the co-authored book Voices Bodies Practices: Performing Musical Subjectivities (Leuven University Press, 2019) is one of the outcomes of this research and includes extended discussion of her recent multimedia performance piece, ‘Player Piano’. Catherine’s research in the field of word-and-music studies examines the relationship between music, language and meaning, focusing especially on Samuel Beckett and composers’ responses to his work. Her book, Headaches Among the Overtones: Music in Beckett/ Beckett in Music, came out in 2013.

Young World Heritage professionals shared experiences and discussed future challenges in Baku

Oona Simolin participated in the Young World Heritage Professionals Forum in Baku, Azerbaijan, from 24 June to 2 July 2019. The 1.5-week forum had 30 participants all over the globe. Read more on Oona’s experiences on the Forum and insights on the challenges of World Heritage.

In what context do we usually hear about World Heritage? Probably when planning holidays and searching for things to see and do in your destination. We check Tripadvisor or even read a city guide and there it is: one of the main attractions is described as being on the Wold Heritage list. Being recognized by an international organization like UNESCO is like a certificate for heritage saying, “this is worth seeing”.

Despite this popular use, many are not familiar with the process through which the sites actually get on the list. I was really lucky to be able to get a first-hand experience on this process in July when I attended the World Heritage Young Professionals organized in Baku, Azerbaijan in conjunction with the World Heritage Committee session.

The Old City of Baku Icheri Sheher was the first Azerbaijani property to be inscribed on the World Heritage list in 2000. The Old City is architecturally distinct from the newer parts of Baku. Image by Oona Simolin

The forum consisted mostly of site visits, lectures and discussions. Throughout the forum, more experienced World Heritage professionals generously shared their experiences and insights on World Heritage under the subtitle “Local insights for global challenges”. During the last few days of the Forum, we had the opportunity to attend the Committee meeting. There we delivered a declaration that reflects our group’s understanding about the issues that World Heritage community could work with to become more inclusive. The declaration as well as a video documenting the forum is available on UNESCO’s website (

Becoming part of the World Heritage community

Maiden Tower
The Maiden Tower is one of the UNESCO inscribed monuments of the Old Town and a symbol for whole Baku. According to UNESCO, the earlier structures of the tower date back to the 7th or 6th century BC. Image by Oona Simolin

Though the practical outcome of the forum was the aforementioned declaration (and a global active network of young professionals), one of the main outcomes for me was to hear insights from the Committee sessions and nomination processes as well as practical site management experiences from all over the globe. Learning about the practical dimension of cultural policy and site management processes definitely give new perspectives to my current work as a doctoral candidate. When you are using most of your days with books, your research materials and a writing software, it is rewarding to hear stories from people who approach World Heritage from different perspectives in their daily work.

Moreover, I felt an important part of the forum was to immerse ourselves in the procedures and discourses of World Heritage. We pondered what authenticity and integrity mean in the context of different sites and discussed about the values and attributes attached to the places we saw. Our training in the so-called UNESCO-ese didn’t end here: we also simulated the Committee meeting before attending the actual Committee meeting. The goal of the full-day simulation was to understand the process through which the Committee’s decisions are made. Valdimar Hafstein, who has worked extensively with intangible heritage in UNESCO, describes UNESCO’s high-level sessions as metafolklore, a performance with its own scripts . Based on this experience and as a trained folklorist, I recognize this viewpoint. The simulation, as well as drafting the declaration, can be regarded as initiatives to ‘acculturate’ us young professionals to this global (meta)heritage community.

One of the exercises was a World Heritage Committee session simulation where we discussed whether the imaginary site of the Magic Lands should be inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger. Image by Oona Simolin

Current challenges for World Heritage

The intensive forum gave us no illusion about the future of the World Heritage Convention: there are several prevalent challenges.  In few words, the core of 1972 Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (‘the World Heritage Convention’) and UNESCO as an organization have been to protect heritage globally and therefore to nourish respect and peace between people. Today the ever-growing World Heritage list already has 1,121 properties and it has run into some fundamental questions. Can the listing continue endlessly? Are the goals of heritage protection and peacebuilding still there or have they been lost somewhere on the way?

One of the most discussed challenges of the World Heritage initiative is tourism. It is indeed a challenge for conservation and environment. Moreover, uncontrolled or poorly managed tourism may affect the local communities and their cultures in many ways and even harm the income of the local residents. However, several sites have done great work in planning and managing tourism, predicting trends, limiting or controlling access to certain places and establishing partnerships and networks.

One of the site visits was made to Lahij, a village whose tradition in copper craftsmanship has been inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Having a photo break on the way. Image by Oona Simolin

During our lectures, we also recognized another tricky challenge, the question concerning professionalism and expertise. In the case of World Heritage, I see this challenge as something coming from three directions. Firstly, the status of heritage expertise has changed within the World Heritage Committee. As stated in the convention text, the representatives in the Committee used to be trained experts in the field of heritage. Lecturers in the forum illustrated how this changed: today the delegations coming from the States Parties include more professionals from other fields. This illustrates how the political meaning and economic interests related to World Heritage have become more prevalent. The critiques say that this has led to the situation where the outstanding universal value and the ten criteria for the inscription – the factors that should be the arguments for inscription – are overlooked and the decisions may be affected more by other things.

The heritage of Baku has many layers and has been influenced by Eastern and Western cultures. This building used to have text in Arabic but it was covered with a star during the Soviet era. Image by Oona Simolin.

On the other hand, the whole concept of outstanding universal value has been challenged as an elitist notion that gives heritage experts the priority to classify, evaluate and valorise heritage from above. From the critical viewpoint the search for universally outstanding heritage does not make sense: the importance and values of heritage should be evaluated from the viewpoint of the groups to whom it belongs. Furthermore, the idea of universal values has been regarded as inherently Western which has been reflected in the World Heritage list – just have a look on the spatial distribution of the inscribed properties ( To respond, UNESCO has worked with the concepts like intangible heritage and historic urban landscape that have served as ways to take new paths in the implementation of the Convention.

Finally, the challenge for World Heritage and all other experts comes from the changing society where the status of experts is increasingly questioned. As discussed in the forum, the future heritage specialist should be ready to argument the importance of their work and be transparent about the positive and negative impacts their actions might have on the communities. I think that listening to the aforementioned critical voices and grass-root communities as well as organisations are also necessary qualities for the future professionals working with World Heritage.

The natural heritage of Azerbaijan includes mud volcanoes. This volcano is located on the way to the Gobustan Rock Art Cultural Landscape which is also inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Image by Oona Simolin



Heritage students! Help doctoral research with this survey

By Annemarie Willems

My name is Annemarie Willems and I am doing my PhD research at the University of Helsinki. In order to get an idea about experiences and expectations of students doing a higher education program in heritage related studies, or Heritage Management Education (e.g. archaeology, heritage management, critical heritage studies,) and to analyze the relationship between students’ expectations, learning outcomes and real needs of Heritage Management (HM) practice I would be grateful if you would fill out this questionnaire:

All information collected in the survey will be treated confidentially. Individual survey respondents cannot be identified in any report of the results.

Contact: Annemarie.willems @

Thank you for your assistance!



Investigating and Policing Antiquities Trafficking and Forgery in a Digital Age

Researchers at the University of Helsinki are involved with a workshop series funded by the Nordic Research Councils, titled Changing Hands, Changing Meanings: Researching Cultural Heritage Trafficking in the Nordic Region. 

The first of these workshops, focusing on the impact of digitization on both research of the illicit antiquities trade, and also the process of illicit trade itself, took place at Stockholm University and featured an impressive lineup of specialists, researchers and practitioners from the Nordic region, North America and Australia.

Although some of the issues discussed were too sensitive to share over social media, it is possible to capture much of the debate, bother during and since the workshop, by following the #kulturkrim hashtag on Twitter.

Group photo
Some of the participants at the Stockholm University workshop

The workshop organizers come from Stockholm University, University of Turku, University of Agder and University of Oslo in addition to the University of Helsinki. The next workshops of the series, both scheduled for 2020, will take place at University of Agder in Norway, and the University of Helsinki.