Northern Nightmares 1400–2020

We humans spend one third of our lives sleeping, and during our sleep we often dream. Not all dreams are pleasant; dreams can be agonising and even terrifying. Like pleasant dreams, nightmares and bad dreams are connected to the experiences we have had when awake: in one way or another, our dreams deal with and draw from the circumstances present in the world in which we live. This makes them not just a personal experience, but a historical and cultural phenomenon that merits further study. In our project, we will analyse nightmares and bad dreams drawn from Finnish history and contemporary culture.

The research project ”Northern Nightmares 1400–2020”, funded by the Academy of Finland, studies nightmare experiences and the ways in which they have been narrated among populations in Finland. The project explores the circumstances and situations that have been seen as causing nightmares, and attempts to contextualise historically and culturally the bad dreams that have been described in a wealth of different historical and folklore sources. Another important question is the thematic content of bad dreams: what do dream themes tell us about past cultures and the people living in them? Have the themes changed over the course of time, or do people living in the 21st century have similar nightmares as people who lived in Finland centuries ago?

The concepts and methods employed in this project mainly derive from cultural and social history and folklore studies, but the research team also collaborates with colleagues in other disciplines. As the period examined is long and source material scattered and manifold, even the combining of different kinds of source materials requires cooperation over disciplinary boundaries. We are especially grateful to the archives of the Finnish Literature Society and the Swedish Literature Society in Finland that cooperative with us and collect nightmare experiences from present-day people.

”Northern Nightmares 1400–2020” proposes a highly innovative study within the field of humanist dream studies. It focuses on Finland but simultaneously takes general European and global contexts into consideration. The project enjoyes lively international cooperation, shown already in its kick-off conference, held in Helsinki 19-20 September 2019. Moreover, it strives towards interdisciplinarity and a relatively rare long-term approach towards the forms and contents of nightmares. It also acknowledges the multicultural character of the population in Finland in different time periods. The main emphasis of the project is academic, but the results are aimed at both the academic community and the general public. Dreams, nightmares and sleep disorders form a topic that is discussed regularly, whether in everyday coffee-table conversations or on social and other media platforms, and they can have a direct effect on our day-time activities and well-being. Thus, the results of the project will have also societal relevance, offering interesting new insights into the historical aspects of and explanations for bad dreams, and showing what these experieces have meant for the people of the past.


Members of the research team:
Professor Anu Korhonen, project leader
Dr. Kirsi Kanerva
Docent/Adjunct professor Kaarina Koski
Professor, Docent/Adjunct professor Marko Lamberg