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Karl Collan

Born January 3, Iisalmi. Died September 12, 1871, Helsinki

Master of Arts 1850, Licentiate 1860 and PhD 1864, Imperial Alexander University

Librarian 1866–71, Imperial Alexander University Library
Librarian 1858–64, Student Library
Lecturer of German 1859–66, Imperial Alexander University
Amanuensis extraordinary 1852–53, Imperial Alexander University Library
Teacher 1849, 1852–60, Helsingfors fruntimmersskola
Teacher 1845. 1856–57, 1859, Helsinki Lyceum

Acting curator of the Faculty of History and Literature 1859–60
Treasurer of the Finnish Literature Society 1856–62

Photo: Museovirasto
Written by Tomas Sjöblom
Translated by Matthew Billington

Inspiring and popular teacher

After graduation, Karl Collan supported himself for several years primarily as teacher at a number of schools in Helsinki. He had teaching experience from his student days, as well as a diploma testifying to his practical teaching ability.

Collan first received a temporary post at Helsingfors fruntimmersskola (Helsinki Swedish Girls' School) in 1848, and at the beginning of 1853 he was appointed Second Teacher. The next year he was already promoted to Principal Teacher of the girls’ school. He taught history, geography, Swedish, and German. There was no reading book for Swedish, so the pupils had to learn by reading literature. Later Collan was to remedy this by publishing anthologies of both lyrics and prose especially aimed at the young. He is said to have been an inspiring and popular teacher who particularly sparked his students’ interest in history and poetry.

Collan supplemented his teaching salary by writing for Helsingfors Morgonblad, edited by his brother Fabian Collan and Helsingfors Tidningar edited by Zacharias Topelius. In the 1850s Collan concentrated on writing music reviews, and he became one of the leading Finnish music critics of the day. As music critic, his forte was developing his public’s appreciation of domestic music, for which he set exacting standards.

In 1856, Collan and some friends planned to establish their own newspaper, to be called Dagen, but the project failed to find favour with the Governor-General and could proceed no further. In 1863–1865 Collan edited Litterär tidskrift, a periodical on cultural policy.

Karl Collan also wrote textbooks. Here, the cover of his introduction to geography. Photo: National Library of Finland, Doria database.

In 1859, Collan was appointed Lecturer of German at the University. Initially, his salary was no improvement his remuneration from the girls' school. However, he received a surprise raise and was appointed Acting Curator for the Faculty of History and Literature, as deputy for Professor Carl Gustaf Estlander. His years as a lecturer were full of work. In addition to his classes, he translated literature and conducted his own research. Under the guidance of Professor Fredrik Cygnaeus , he completed his Licentiate's dissertation, Öfversigt af Serviens [sic] historiska folksånger, in 1860.

In addition to his other works and while applying for the position of Librarian at the University Library, Collan finished two more dissertations. The first was Scandinavia’s first dissertation in library studies, Om biografiska systemer och biblioteksmetoder (1861), the second, Königinhofer- och Grünberger-handskriften (1865), was on the history of literature. He received his PhD in 1864.

Karl Collan in 1864. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.


  • Tarja Lehtinen, Karl Collan (1828 – 1871) kulttuurivaikuttajana, ('Karl Collan as cultural figure'), unpublished Master's thesis, Helsinki 1987.
  • Esko Häkli, Collan, Karl, National Biography of Finland online publication. Accessed 14 December 2015.
  • Jari Tolvanen, Karl Collan. Maria Elisabeth Collan-Beaurain. Coll. 317, Introduction to the catalogue of Karl and Maria Collan Archives. Accessible through Doria Database. Accessed 14 December 2015
  • Collan, Karl”, Nordisk familjebok 1880, 466 – 467. Projekt Runeberg online publication. Accessed 14 December 2015.
  • Suomalainen Wirallinen Lehti (‘The Finnish Official Gazette’) 14 September 1871.
  • Karl Collan, Wikipedia. Accessed 14 December 2015.
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