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The History of Finland -- Suomen Historia
by Historian Jason Lavery, Ph.D.

Summer Course in Helsinki in August 2012

New Addendum to my book: Finland since 2006


The book The History of Finland

- helps readers to understand the particular facts of Finland's history within global developments.
- elaborates on Finland's relationships to Sweden and Russia.
- investigates the impact of the cellular phone on Finnish society and across the world.
- provides a review of the archaeological data from Finland's first settlement shortly after the Ice Age through the Iron Age.
- examines the rise of Helsinki, the establishment of the Finnish language, the Finnish sauna, among other issues.
- includes a timeline of historical events, maps, and a bibliographical essay for further reading.
- describes 45 of the 100 Finns voted by the public as the most notable Finns in Finnish history.

Current Research Project: Lutheranism's Frontier: The Reformation in Finland 1523-1611

The inspiration for this project came as a result of my most recent book, entitled The History of Finland. In researching for the book I was struck at how little attention historians have given to the role of religion in Finlandís overall historical development. In this project I intend to make a case for putting religion more prominently in the overall narrative of the history of Finland and the Swedish kingdom to which Finland belonged until 1809.
This project is based on the hypothesis that the impact of the Reformation in Finland is best illuminated by understanding Finland as a regional unity, or more exactly stated, a frontier. In the English language the word frontier has many definitions, almost all of which can be applied to Reformation-era Finland. A frontier is understood as a border area. The border between Finland and Russia served as the northern demarcation between Western and Eastern Christianity. Sparsely populated, Finland was a frontier in a demographic sense. New settlements were still being created in the sixteenth century at a time when elsewhere in Europe the age of new settlement had ended centuries before. With new settlements came the building of new parishes and churches. Like in many frontier areas, there was relatively little social stratification. Taxpaying peasant farmers held over ninety percent of the farmland in Finland, compared to slightly more than fifty percent in the Swedish kingdom west of the Gulf of Bothnia. A frontier is often a contested space. Finland served as the staging ground for the wars between Russia and the Swedish kingdom. When the Swedish king wanted to make peace with Russia, he sent to Russia prelates from the Finnish Church as ambassadors. Finland provided a battle ground for the internal political and ecclesiastical battles that would lead to the victory of Lutheran reform throughout the entire Swedish kingdom.
Most important for this project is that a frontier can also be the physical limit of a system or authority. This understanding implies that the authority or system in question is at its weakest in the frontier. Applying this definition, Finland was a frontier of Lutheran reform. Finland represents the easternmost extent of Lutheran reform in Europe. Influences of Lutheran reform came to Finland from the western part of the Swedish kingdom, through the eastern Baltic, and directly from Germany. Throughout the sixteenth century, tens of young Finnish students received their theological training in Wittenberg and other German Lutheran centers. Upon returning to Finland, none of them sought to make Finlandís church look exactly like its German Lutheran counterpart. Reform for these prelates in Finland and their similarly trained colleagues elsewhere in the Swedish kingdom meant emphasizing the authority of scripture and putting the Word of God into the vernacular rather than implementing the whole Lutheran theological apparatus of justification by faith, the priesthood of believers, and so forth. The Church in the Swedish kingdom was reformed along Lutheran lines but in a very slow, selective way. Scholars recognize that the pace of Lutheran reform was slower in Finland than in other parts of the kingdom. In a frontier such as Finland outside ideas and influences are often easily resisted, rejected, or altered to meet local conditions.
This research project will make several contributions to the extant scholarship. It will be the first monograph in any language on the Lutheran Reformation in Finland. This studyís focus will serve as a model for additional regional studies in respect to the Swedish kingdom and Scandinavia. Local and regional Reformation studies, while plentiful in respect to other European countries, are lacking in respect to Scandinavia. Regional and local studies have proven useful in understanding the diversity of social, political, economic, and cultural aspects of religious reform. This study will refute the assumption, particularly in English-language scholarship, that the Swedish kingdom, to which Finland belonged until 1809, went irrevocably over to Lutheranism during Gustav Vasaís reign.
In this project I will examine both published and archival primary sources that examine the entire period. Although sources materials are in a quantitative sense thin in many respects, quantitatively they yield much to scholars applying different frames of theoretical reference and questions, especially those diverging from the very heavy political, linguistic, literary, and national approaches of scholars up until now.
The book has a projected publication date of 2017. In the meantime, this project has already produced several articles. Their bibliographical information is available on my resume.

Professional Background

Jason Lavery is a professor of history. Since 1997, he has been a member of the Department of History at Oklahoma State University. .
Jason Lavery received his B.A. (with high honors) in 1988 from the University of California, Berkeley, an M.A. and and M.Phil in 1994 from Yale University, and a Ph.D. in 1997 from Yale University. All degrees were in the field of history.
His doctoral dissertation entitled The Holy Roman Empire and the Danish-Swedish Rivalry 1563-1576 was published in 2002 under the title Germany's Northern Challenge: The Holy Roman Empire and the Scandinavian Struggle for the Baltic, 1563-1576 by Brill. The navigation link Other Publications leads to more information.
Jason Lavery has served as president of the Society for the Advancement of Scandinavian Study (SASS) and the Society of Historians of Scandinavia.
Jason Lavery has served as a peer reviewer for Academy of Finland and for professional journals such as the Sixteenth Century Journal and Scandinavian Studies.

Chat with the author at jason.lavery@okstate.edu
Website created December 2006; last revision March 2012

Cover of The History of Finland
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