Author Archives: Suzie Thomas

About Suzie Thomas

University Lecturer in Museology. Interested in community engagement, alternative and outsider approaches to the past, museum security, and dark heritage.

New article published

Another article out of the Lapland’s Dark Heritage research! Suzie Thomas has recently published an article reflecting on experiences in both Finnish Lapland and Scotland, which appears in the Italian European Journal of Post Classical Archaeologies. The article builds on a presentation Suzie made at a workshop in 2018 in the beautiful Lake Garda region of Italy, which was organized by the University of Padua.

Suzie has permission to share her article: Doing public participatory archaeology with “difficult” conflict heritage: experiences from Finnish Lapland and the Scottish Highlands 

The abstract is as follows:

Public participatory archaeology can take many forms, and there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to engaging with communities and non-professional enthusiasts. Similarly, not all archaeological heritage is the same, and some comes with the label of ‘difficult’, ‘contested’ or ‘dark’ heritage. Particularly, in this article I explore how archaeological heritage that is connected with periods of conflict, namely the Second World War, fares in the sphere of public archaeology. My case studies from Scotland and Finland also illustrate very different community heritage models, and I reflect on the role of the public archaeologist in these scenarios.

Keywords: Participatory research; public archaeology; dark heritage; Finland; Scotland

Full reference:

Thomas, S. 2019. Doing public participatory archaeology with “difficult” conflict heritage: Experiences from Finnish Lapland and the Scottish Highlands. Post Classical Archaeologies 9: 147-167.

LDH lives on – introducing Legacies of Conflict project

In December 2018, a small group stemming out of the Lapland’s Dark Heritage group were lucky enough to gain a University of Helsinki Future Fund grant to develop our ideas in new but related and interesting directions.

The Legacies of Conflict project sees members of the original Lapland’s Dark Heritage collective team up with specialists from the Universities of Ghent and Utrecht. We focus on three main areas: conducting analysis of archival aerial photographs and lidar data to create a meaningful survey of Second World War remains; analysing this data against the official heritage site records for the region to trace the selective heritagization of this conflict, and mapping personal stories and memories connected to Second World War sites. Our case study area for this small project is Kilpisjärvi.

The University of Helsinki Future Fund is a seedcorn grant intended to help researchers develop their ideas to see if a larger project is possible later on. So, we hope that we will be able to open out the Legacies of Conflict project in the future.

Suzie Thomas talking about Cultybraggan

Project researcher Suzie Thomas is giving a talk on Friday 19th January at the University of Helsinki about her experiences as a Visiting Fellow at the University of Glasgow last year, and her fieldwork with Dr Iain Banks and Masters students from the University of Glasgow’s Centre for Battlefield Archaeology, at Cultybraggan Camp, in Comrie, Scotland.

Her talk is the opening event of Hel’s Culture Club, a new talk and social series for the new Department of Cultures (and anyone else interested) for staff and students to talk about research, teaching, and whatever else they have been doing and would like to share.

Her abstract for the talk, entitled “Asset? Burden? Cultybraggan” is:

In 2007, the residents of the village of Comrie, in Perthshire, collectively bought the site of Cultybraggan Camp and nearby hillside land through a ‘community buy-out’ scheme under the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003. The site is managed through a Development Trust made up primarily of voluntary trustees from the village, and has goals of promoting environmental awareness as well as the unique cultural heritage of the site. Cultybraggan’s history of being first a Prisoner of War camp known as “Camp 21” during the Second World War, intended to hold ‘hardcore’ Nazi prisoners, and then as a Ministry of Defense training camp, engenders mixed feelings from residents and visitors alike. In my presentation I reflect on the weeks I spent in Comrie in summer 2017 as a Royal Society of Edinburgh Visiting Fellow at the Centre of Battlefield Archaeology, University of Glasgow. I use the case study to problematize the concept of community ownership of cultural heritage sites, especially those perceived as having a difficult or controversial history.

The talk starts at 16:00, in room A109, Unioninkatu 38, Helsinki. All welcome!

Exterior of a Nissen hut at Cultybraggan, Perthshire. Image by Suzie Thomas (June 2017).

More talks this week, in Scotland and Canada!

On 9th November, Oula Seitsonen is talking at the Calgary Finlandia Cultural Association on the topic:

Digging Lapland’s Dark Heritage:  Archaeologies and Heritage of the Second World War German MILITARY PRESENCE IN FINNISH LAPLAND

Over the last decade archaeologists and other cultural heritage professionals have started paying attention to the material legacy of Nazi German presence in Finnish Lapland during the Second World War (WWII), as Finland’s co-belligerent in the fight against the Soviet Union. At the peak of their military built-up there were over 200 000 German troops and about 30 000 of multinational Prisoners-of-War and forced labourers in this thinly inhabited northern periphery of Europe. The Finno-German “comradeship-in-arms” came to an end after Finno-Soviet cease-fire in 1944, under increasing Soviet pressure, and caused the outbreak of Lapland War between Finns and Germans 1944–1945). This ended up with the retreating German troops resorting in the scorched earth tactics, and with the so-called “Burning of Lapland”. Owing to this complex history, Finno-German relations in WWII have been a sensitive, silenced and little-discussed issue throughout the post-war decades. However, there are ruins of thousands of over-grown German military sites in northern Finland, especially in Lapland’s vast wilderness areas. The question of the cultural heritage status and value of this material legacy has been raised only recently, and is still an open and ongoing debate. However, during the archaeological and ethnographic inquiries it has been highlighted how important these material traces are for the local inhabitants, as an integral part of their ancestral, embodied every-day lifeworlds. Many locals express a strong sense of ownership and custodianship towards the material remains on their “own lands”. The traces of war have become to act as important agents of the transgenerational communal memories of war, destruction, and a host of other issues beyond those, closely intertwined with contemporary questions, such as land ownership and land-use rights. These also mirror Lapland’s long colonial history and, real and perceived, marginalization by the southern authorities, and the enduring north-south confrontations.

On 10th November Oula is talking in the Chacmool conference at the University of Calgary, on the theme of “Archaeology, National Identity and Globalization”.

On Friday 10th November, Suzie Thomas is participating in the Scotland’s Community Heritage Conference, hosted at Strathclyde University, Glasgow. She will talk about “Public & community archaeologies of German PoW camps in Finnish Lapland”. The event is an annual celebration of community-based archaeology and heritage, and this year features many examples also from around the world.

Suzie Thomas talking at Esille event in Ateneum soon

Esille – the museum and exhibition research forum – is organizing a one day event on 9th November in Ateneum Art Museum in Helsinki.

Among the speakers, Suzie Thomas will give a presentation on the research of Lapland’s Dark Heritage.

The programme is as follows (rest of the content is in Finnish):

10.15–10.30 Tervetuliaissanat, Susanna Pettersson

10.30–11.15 Suzie Thomas: Lapland’s Dark Heritage

11.15–12.15 Sessio 1 (pj. Taina Syrjämaa)

  • Satu Savia: Tuntematon Tyyne – digitaalinen rekonstruktio
  • Riku Manni: Eriarvoisuuden estradilla. Vuosien 1851 ja 1862 brittiläiset maailmannäyttelyt ja eriarvoisuuden esittäminen

12.15–13.15 Lounas (omakustanteinen)

13.15–14.45 Sessio 2 (pj. Leila Koivunen)

  • Taina Syrjämaa: Näkymättömyyttä ja näkyvyyttä – eläimet 1800-luvun näyttelymediassa
  • Pia Koivunen: Kenellä on oikeus puhua Leninistä ja miten? Tampereen Lenin-museo Moskovan näkökulmasta
  • Anne-Maija Malmisalo-Lensu: Kävijöiden motiivien, odotusten ja kokemusten tutkiminen – Haastattelututkimus metodina Alvar Aallon talomuseoissa

14.45–15.00 Tauko

15.00–15.45 Anne-Maria Pennonen (Veljekset von Wright -näyttelyn pääkuraattori): Suurnäyttelyä tekemässä: tutkimuskysymyksistä näyttelyksi

15.45 Lopetus

Digging Cultybraggan and searching for escape tunnels

Next week from Monday 19th June LDH researcher Suzie Thomas and our project colleague Iain Banks will be busy looking at Second World War internment heritage in Scotland.

Historic Environment Scotland has provided sponsorship for an excavation at Cultybraggan Prisoner of War (PoW) Camp, outside Comrie in Perthshire.  The camp was originally built for holding Italian PoWs, but later in the Second World War, was used for German PoWs.  Cultybraggan was part of a network of PoW camps across Britain, but was important as one of only two ‘Black’ camps in Scotland along with Watten in Caithness: both High Security camps where prisoners considered to be the most dangerous PoWs were held.

Location of Cultybraggan camp in Scotland.

We know that there were escape attempts from the compound, and that inmates had attempted to tunnel their way out of the camp.  None of the attempts were successful. The purpose of the excavation is to locate traces of tunnels in the camp’s Compound B, so that they can be compared to the tunnels of Stalag Luft III, which the University of Glasgow Centre for Battlefield Archaeology and GUARD excavated in 2011.

After the war, the camp was used for a variety of purposes, including as a training camp for the Army, the Territorial Army, and finally for a range of youth groups.  It has survived very well because of the subsequent uses, but it does mean that there have been many alterations to the camp.

Iain and Suzie will work alongside a team of MLitt Conflict Archaeology & Heritage students from University of Glasgow, as well as with volunteers from the local community; there will also be a contract archaeologist from GUARD Archaeology Ltd on site. A core goal of the fieldwork is to involve members of the community to promote the site on behalf of Comrie Development Trust, and to give local residents in the Comrie area the opportunity to participate in archaeological fieldwork.

View of Cultybraggan PoW camp, image courtesy of Iain Banks.

Suzie is also interested to talk to local people about the meanings and values they associate with the site, as part of her research at the University of Glasgow through a Royal Society of Edinburgh / Caledonian Research Fund European Visiting Fellowship. Please contact her if you are interested in speaking with her! suzie.e.thomas @

On the evening of Saturday 24th June, Iain will be giving a lecture in Comrie about PoW camps and the work that we have done at Cultybraggan. Everybody is welcome!

Lapland’s Dark Heritage fieldwork preparations

Vesa-Pekka Herva, Oula Seitsonen and Suzie Thomas are in the Inari area for a few days to make some plans for the eagerly anticipated #InariDig2 coming up in August. We have had a short visit to Utsjoki, checked in with our colleagues at Siida museum, and are making contact with local community members close to the sites we are considering investigating in the summer.

19th -century church in the village of Utsjoki, in Utsjoki municipality; the northernmost municipality in both Finland and the EU. Photo: Suzie Thomas

Along with us is Dr Tehmina Goskar, a museum professional and researcher from Cornwall, UK, who is carrying out research under the Change Makers programme funded by Arts Council England.

You can follow our work and adventures via our Twitter feed @DarkLapland and also follow Tehmina at @tehm.

Suzie Thomas talking about Lapland’s Dark Heritage in London

On Thursday 9th March, Suzie Thomas will give a lecture entitled “Lapland’s Dark Heritage: Understanding the Material Legacy of the Second World War in Northern Finland” at the Society of Antiquaries of London.

Her lecture has the description:

“In this lecture I will talk about current research at the Universities of Helsinki and Oulu, with which I am involved as a Researcher. In the project “Lapland’s Dark Heritage”, we are investigating the ways in which local residents and visitors to Finnish Lapland engage with and understand the material culture left behind by both the German military presence in Finland, and the so-called “Lapland War” (1944-45). This research has revealed varied, and sometimes surprising, interactions with the material heritage of this period – which itself ranges from collectible military memorabilia through to the traces of former structures, including PoW camps and military depots, in the Lapland wilderness. In this talk, I will give a historical overview of Finland’s experiences in the Second World War, and share some diverse case studies from the research. This includes a potentially controversial exhibition in a Lapland museum (and visitor reactions to it), individual history hobbyists and artefact collectors – often with very personal stories and reasons for engaging with the wartime material – through to “alternative” expressions of touristic activities and attractions.”

The lecture is open to Fellows of the Society of Antiquaries of London and their guests, and will also be recorded to be available to watch via the website.

By Tony Hisgett from Birmingham, UK – Burlington House Gates 2Uploaded by tm, CC BY 2.0,

UPDATE: The film of the lecture is now available to view online.

New publication / Uusi julkaisu: “Ghosts in the background” and “The price of the war”. Representations of the Lapland War in Finnish museums

Project Researchers Suzie Thomas and Eerika Koskinen-Koivisto recently had a paper published in the journal Nordisk Museologi. The article, entitled “Ghosts in the background” and “The price of the war”. Representations of the Lapland War in Finnish museums, stems from an assessment of the different ways in which selected museums across Finland address the theme of the Lapland War (1944-45). The paper’s abstract reads as follows:

Museums decide which events and perspectives to privilege over others in their exhibitions. In the context of “difficult” or “dark” histories – in which the subject matter might be painful, controversial or in some other way challenging for one or more community or interest groups to reconcile with – some events may be marginalized or ignored. This may also happen due to official narratives diverting attention to other events that have come to be seen as more “important” or worthy of discussion. We explore the ways that information about the Lapland War (1944-1945) is incorporated into permanent exhibitions at five Finnish museums: the Provincial Museum of  Lapland; Siida – the National Museum of the Finnish Sámi; the Gold Prospector Museum; the Military Museum of Finland, and the Finnish Airforce Museum. Despite the significant social and environmental upheavals brought about by the brief but destructive conflict, it seems surprisingly rarely addressed.

The journal issue’s contents list is available online, and the articles will also appear online later in they year. The print version is already available.


Thomas, S., and Koskinen-Koivisto, E. (2016) ‘Ghosts in the background’ and ‘The Price of War’: Representations of the Lapland War in Finnish museums, Nordisk Museologi 2016(2): 60-77.

Photo: Information about crashed aircrafts at the Finnish Airforce Museum. Eerika Koskinen-Koivisto.

Projektin tutkijat Suzie Thomas ja Eerika Koskinen-Koivisto julkaisivat hiljattain artikkelin Nordisk Museologi -aikakauslehdessä. Artikkeli käsittelee Lapin sodan representaatioita viiden eri museon perusnäyttelyissä. Tässä artikkelin abstrakti suomeksi käännettynä:

Museot päättävät jokaisen näyttelyn kohdalla, mitä tapahtumia ja näkökulmia ne haluavat painottaa. Vaikean tai synkän kulttuuriperinnön kohdalla valinnat saattavat johtaa jollekin taholle ristiriitaisten tai  kipeiden aiheiden sivuuttamiseen ja marginalisointiin. Näin voi esimerkiksi käydä, jos aihetta katsotaan virallisen koko Suomen käsittävän sotakertomuksen näkökulmasta tai nostetaan esiin jokin tapahtuma tärkeimpänä tai keskeisimpänä Suomen kohtaloa sodassa määrittävänä tekijänä. Artikkelissa analysoimme viiden suomalaisen museon – Lapin maakuntamuseon, Saamelaismuseo Siidan, Kultamuseon, Sotamuseon ja Suomen ilmavoimamuseon – perusnäyttelyitä. Huolimatta sen merkittävistä vaikutuksista alueen asukkaisiin ja luontoon, Lapin sota (1944-1945) saa yllättävän vähän sijaa museoiden pysyvissä näyttelyissä. 

Nordisk Museologi -lehden numero 2/2016 ilmestyi tammikuussa. Sen sisällysluettelo on jo verkossa ja kaikkien artikkeleiden PDF-versiot ilmestyvät samalle sivulle piakkoin.