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  • Visions of Past Glory: Nationalism and the Construction of Early Finnish History
  • Timothy Scott
Fewster, Derek , Visions of Past Glory: Nationalism and the Construction of Early Finnish History ( Studia Fennica Historica 11), Helsinki, Finnish Literature Society, 2006; paperback; pp. v, 555; 173 illustrations; ISBN 9517467877.

This study is a detailed, methodical and fascinating analysis of nationalism and ethnic self-imaging in nineteenth and early twentieth century Finland. In it, Dr. Fewster not only tracks how a nationalist consciousness emerged in Finland in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but also how this consciousness propagated itself throughout Finnish culture and society. The near-complete lack of pre-modern sources for Finnish history, and the reliance of Finnish nationalist historiography on its Germanic and Slavic counterparts, makes Fewster's work a significant case study for those looking at the interaction between nationalism and history. His work is linked to discourses on nationalism and, in particular, with the work of A.D. Smith on national identity and the general myth of descent. Fewster's theoretical framework for nationalism engages with the works of Benedict Anderson, Ernest Gellner, Eric Hobsbawm and David Lowenthal.

Fewster starts with the early historical traditions that formed the basis for conceptualising 'Finnish Antiquity' (pp. 50-114). Finland was a part of the Kingdom of Sweden and as such was a part of Swedish historical curiosity about the origins of the realm. He examines how this active interest in 'Finnish Antiquity' was received by eighteenth-century nationalist Finnish historians, such as Daniel Juslenius and Henrik Gabriel Porthan. Cultural artefacts became crucial in locating and creating the heritage of the Finnish nation. The Finnish skull cap and other aspects of national dress, Pehr Hilleström's and Anders Fredrick Skjöldebrand's collections of oil paintings depicting peasants in 'traditional' costume or carrying out 'Finnish' roles, and oral history traditions compiled as the Kalevala were all employed as markers of Finnish ethnic identification.

The second chapter looks at 'Finnish Antiquity' and the role played by intellectuals in a political environment subject to resurgent Russian authority over Finland (pp. 115-183). The professionalisation of antiquarian research [End Page 135] fostered the transition from a romantic or cultural sense of identity into one that was inherently political. Finnish academia, through organisations such as the Finnish Antiquarian Society, the Philosophical Society of Finland, and the Finnish Historical Society, actively promoted a Finnish national identity. This professionalisation complemented the popular diffusion of national identity. The Kansanvalistusseura (Society for Public Education) had a role to play in encouraged a sense of national spirit. Publications reached out to all parts of the country and the Society organised regular song festivals. Other manifestations of the Finnish national spirit were to follow.

The Finnish academic preoccupation with national enlightenment resulted in an emergent Finnish national culture in the 1890s that was promoted and accepted in all areas of Finnish society (pp. 184-304). Fewster shows how, inspired by archaeological finds and artistic depiction, reconstructed costumes such as Aino and Tuukkala came to be thought of by the Finns as accurately depicting an aspect of 'Finnish Antiquity'. During this period the Kalevala was seen as representing 'typical' scenes of Ancient Finland. Even satire promoted an archetypal 'ancient Finn', accepted through its ridiculing of conceptual enemies. Fewster explains how the consolidation of a national identity took place with an intellectual mobilisation that rekindled an interest in local and regional history. Annual song festivals strengthened a collective, national spirit through emphasising common heritage. Printed material complimented rising literacy rates amongst the general public and therefore allowed for the diffusion of nationalist concepts through collections such as Oma Maa ('Own Country'). Similar approaches were seen in schools. 'Finnish Antiquity' became a part of the syllabus, with teaching resources such as textbooks, wall posters and historical charts promoting the ancient past. The crowning achievement was the opening of the National Museum of National Ethnicity in 1916.

In chapter four, Fewster shows how Finland's independence from Russia in 1917-1918 saw the ancient basis of Finnishness embraced in its entirety as politicians looked to secure both contemporary Finnish unity and the future (pp. 309-393). Politicians and intellectuals were now looking to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1832-8334
Print ISSN
0313-6221
Pages
pp. 135-137
Launched on MUSE
2007-01-10
Open Access
No
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