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Kustaa Vilkuna

Kustaa Gideon Vilkuna
Born October 26, 1902, Nivala. Died April 6, 1980, Kirkkonummi.

Master of Arts (Finnish Language) 1927, Licentiate of Philosophy (Ethnology) 1935, Doctor of Philosophy (Ethnology) 1936, University of Helsinki

Member, Academy of Finland, 1959–72
Minister of Education, 1958
Dean, Historical-Languages Division, University of Helsinki, 1952-57
Professor of Finno-Ugric Ethnology, 1950–59, University of Helsinki
Director, State Information Office, 1943–44
Head, war censorship office, 1939–43
Docent, University of Helsinki, 1936–50
Deputy Director, Sanakirjasäätiö (Lexicographical foundation), 1931–44

Photo: Helsingin kaupunginmuseo
Written by Tomas Sjöblom
Translated by John Calton

The agrarian academician

Kustaa Vilkuna was born into a farming family in Nivala in 1902. His younger brother Frans Joosef came to be in charge of the farm, giving Vilkuna the opportunity to pursue a different path. Vilkuna graduated from upper secondary school and began his Finnish studies at the University of Helsinki in 1923.

In addition to Finnish, Vilkuna studied archaeology and history as well as ethnology. Vilkuna received his Master’s in 1927. Over the next three years, with a scholarship from the Sanakirjasäätiö (the lexicographical foundation), he collected samples of the Nivala dialect from the districts surrounding the family farm. Eventually, in 1931, he was appointed vice director of the foundation. Vilkuna moved back to Helsinki and began work on his doctoral dissertation. He received his doctorate in ethnology with the dissertation Varsinaissuomalaisten kansanomaisesta taloudesta (‘On the popular economy of Southwestern Finns’) five years later and was awarded a docent’s title at the University.

Vilkuna grew acquainted with and then part of Helsinki's agrarian elite in the 1930s. He had a hand in establishing the Talonpoiskaiskulttuurisäätiö (‘The agrarian cultural foundation’), which to this day is committed to promoting research on and preserving the country's agrarian culture. During that time he met many of his life-long friends, such as Martti Haavio and Eino Jutikkala. Vilkuna was also involved in many other associations, societies and councils during his life.

Vilkuna’s academic career continued with a professorship of Finno-Ugric ethnology in 1950. He remained in this post until appointed member of the Academy of Finland in 1959. This appointment has been considered a political move on the part of President Urho Kekkonen. It was met with considerable approbrium at the time, and was considered a flagrant abuse of office even for a political appointment. Vilkuna wrote several academic studies during his career, however, as well as more popularised non-fiction and over a thousand articles in different magazines and journals.

Kustaa Vilkuna with his family. Photo: Helsingin kaupunginmuseo.​
Kustaa Vilkuna with his family. Photo: Helsingin kaupunginmuseo.​


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