Morals and institutional Change in 19th century Finland

Project: Morals and institutional Change in 19th century Finland
Funding period (Academy of Finland): 1.1.2007 – 31.12.2008
Researcher in charge: Olli Matikainen


The Finnish 19th century history is often represented as a cavalcade of political, judicial, economic and social reforms; in other words, as a key period in the birth of a modern civic society.

However, many fundamental issues of everyday morality and the system of values have drawn less attention. Only lately we have begun to learn more about how the presumed modernization affected human interaction at the grass-roots level or the ways it altered the fundamental ways of thinking.

Exploring the mental structures of the past is always a task easier preached than practised; however, we aim to bring form and content to the vague modernization dichotomies and address the standard expectations for “history from below” by introducing vital questions of social control in the context of late Finnish estate society.

A wide range of regulated practices that mediate action between humans (or supernatural) can be treated as institutions of social control: our project studies death penalty, prison, rural courts and, what perhaps most surprising in the context of social control, name-giving. A common feature for all these institutions is their development of a set of practises and rituals, some of which can be very long-lasting and seemingly unchanging (e.g. handling cases at rural courts, name-giving), some fixed in a state of transition questioned (death penalty) and others “new” and in the process of formation (prisons).The project combines two PhD studies and two post-doc projects; two of the studies are case-studies, while the other two are focusing on a more long-term development. Three departments of history are involved (Jyväskylä, Helsinki, Joensuu) in the project.