McDonnell Douglas professorship in American Studies

The McDonnell Douglas Aerospace fund is one of the private donation funds operating at the University of Helsinki, and its purpose is to support research on the culture and society of the United States in Finland. With the help of a donation made by the fund in 1996, a permanent McDonnell Douglas professorship in American studies was established at the Renvall Institute. At the time, it was the first endowed professorship at the Faculty of Arts, and the first appointee in 1999 was Markku Henriksson, doctor of social sciences and researcher in American studies, who is retiring from the position next autumn.

In the video below, Henriksson talks about his research and the benefit of the donation for American studies in Finland. A summary of the interview is available below the video.

According to Henriksson, the McDonnell Douglas professorship has been a significant factor in rooting the study of the United States and North America into the Finnish scientific community, and at the same time offering students another perspective in examining the world, also eventually in their professional life.

American studies are important already on the basis of the stature of the United States in world politics. The United States is also an important leader in the fields of military and culture. On the other hand, studying indigenous people is important because indigenous people have always been notable parties despite their small numbers. In the context of the United States, the majority of unused natural resources are located on indigenous peoples’ lands, and the principles of foreign policy in the United States stem from its Indian policy. The effect of indigenous people on popular culture is also extensive.

In research specifically related to North American indigenous people, Finnish researchers are of the highest international standard. “The Helsinki School of the American West” and “the Finnish Approach” are well-known terms. According to Henriksson, the Finnish interest in the United States and the quality of the Finnish research are based on the Finns’ perspective on the United States from afar as outsiders, free from the problems related to studying one’s own culture, and, therefore, able to find different research topics and entities. Basic education and researcher education of a high standard are also responsible for putting Finnish researchers on the map in American studies.

Henriksson became interested in the United States already as a child through his father, who worked in merchant shipping. To this day, he has kept postcards sent by his father from American ports. By the time he was writing his Master’s thesis, Henriksson started to focus on the United States due to its international importance, among other things.

In his own words, Henriksson is a general researcher of North America who has studied not only one specific indigenous people, but the Indian policy and the legislation of the United States in general. He has also conducted extensive research on North American history.

Henriksson welcomes willing donors to donate funds, since it is a good way to have a say in Finnish science. According to Henriksson, Finland has no actual donation culture comparable to, for example, the United States, and the new Universities Act makes the situation difficult: donations are needed, but those capable of making them are still living in a world where municipalities and the state take care of university funding. Henriksson is, however, thankful to foundations and parties that have extensively promoted Finnish research through donations.

In Henriksson’s mind, endowed professorships are important donation targets. Professorships guarantee at least temporary permanence for disciplines, a place for conducting research and preconditions for progress, as well as add weight to their words, since professors are the top experts of their fields.

According to Henriksson, it is equally important to support all disciplines. Hard sciences provide us with preconditions for life, whereas the soft sciences produce content for life and make it worth living.