Johan Vilhelm Snellman
Humanist of the day

Johan Vilhelm Snellman

In 1837, Johan Vilhelm Snellman, a docent in his early thirties, announced his intention to lecture on the subject of academic freedom. There followed a long-running dispute between the University hierarchy and the young teacher about what, in essence, a university should be. Snellman was later to gain recognition as the leader of the Fennoman movement and embodiment of the Finnish national conscience. In 1906, on the centenary of his birth, tens of thousands changed their surnames by deed poll into Finnish calques of their Swedish original.

Johan Vilhelm Snellman

Born May 12, 1806, Stockholm. Died July 4, 1881, Kirkkonummi.

Bachelor of Philosophy, 1831, Master of Philosophy, Imperial Alexander Institute

Professor of Moral Philosophy and Epistemology, 1856-60, Professor of Philosophy, 1860-3, Imperial Alexander University
Rector, Kuopio Senior School, 1843-9
Docent of Philosophy, Imperial Alexander University, 1835-39
Reporter, Saima newspaper, 1844-6, Maamiehen ystävä (‘Countryman’s companion’) newspaper, 1844-56, Litteraturblad journal, 1847-63

Senator, 1863-8
Parliamentary Representative, 1867, 1872, 1877-8

Ennobled, 1866
Knight of the Order of St Vladimir, third class, 1865
Honorary Doctorate, Imperial Alexander University, 1861
Chancellery Counsellor, 1859

Various public monuments around Finland

Named after Snellman
Anniversary, Suomalaisuuden päivä (‘Finnish Day’) May 12th
Largest denomination banknote, 1940-86, Commemorative coin, 2006
Snellman Institute, Kuopio, 1983
J.V. Snellman Home Museum, Kuopio, 1981
Streets and squares, incl. Helsinki, Kokkola, Kuopio, Lappeenranta, Mikkeli, Oulu, Äänekoski
Snellman University, Helsinki, 1980
Snellman schools in Turku, Kuopio and Helsinki
Commemorative postage stamp, 1956, 2006                            

Collected works (in Finnish)

Photo: Helsingin yliopistomuseo
Written by Juha Himanka and Tomas Sjöblom
Translated by John Calton

Coming from a family of clerics and clerical officials, Johan Vilhelm Snellman enrolled in the University in 1822. Initially he had intended to train for the ministry. Owing to financial difficulties he was forced to interrupt his studies on several occasions, but resolved to work towards a first degree in…

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The outcome of the altercation with his superiors was that Johan Vilhelm Snellman had to leave the University and he settled on the idea of returning to his birthplace, Stockholm. There he published a pamphlet entitled Om det akademiska studium (‘On academic studies’). It soon became an established classic on…

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Snellman’s dispute with the University administration lends itself perfectly to historical examination. On the one hand the reports of the proceedings from the consistorium and the court give us detailed information on how the events unfolded, and on the other Snellman’s own writings present with unusual perspicacity a balanced rationale…

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“This topic has been discussed over many years, and some steps have been taken on its behalf. But all that has been little more than a drop in the ocean. A name change every now and then—that is all that has been achieved. There has not yet been some universal lure, something that would pique the interest of one and all. Not even among the students, even though at many a springtime attempts have been made to set such a development in motion.”

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