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Markku Henriksson

Markku Ilmari Henriksson
Born September 4, 1949, Helsinki

Bachelor of Social Sciences, Master of Social Sciences (political history) 1973, Licentiate 1985, PhD 1988, University of Helsinki

Professor of American studies, University of Helsinki, Renvall Institute (now the Department of World Cultures), acting professor 1996–99 and professor 1999–2004
History lecturer 1990–99, Department of History, University of Tampere
Deputy director 1990–92, Revall Institute, University of Helsinki
Research assistant of non-European history (for several separate periods) 1975–90, Institute for Historical Research and Documentation (later the Renvall Institute)

Publication activities

Awards and honours
D.Litt. (hon), York University, Toronto, 1995
First Class Knight of the White Rose of Finland 2004
Honorary member of the Western History Association (the first outside the US)
American Indian History Lifetime Achievement Award 2013 (the first and to date the only outside North America)
University of Helsinki Badge of Honour for long service 2013
University of Helsinki medal 2014
The International Council for Canadian Studies Certificate of Merit, 2014

Written by Olli Siitonen
Translated by Matthew Billington

Scholar of North America

Markku Henriksson was already interested in North America as a small boy. His father worked the seas and one of the places from which he sent young Markku post cards was the United States. Flags of countries also played a role in his life from early on, as his grandmother made flags for a living and there was plenty of work in the field a year before the Helsinki Olympics. In addition to all this, American culture was taking over the world in the 1950s, and Finland was no exception.

“When I was a student, most of my friends were studying domestic politics or  relations with the East. I wanted to study something else, and when I searched for a topic for my master’s thesis, I went through American history from its westward expansion to the Kennedy assassinations with a look at imperialism on the way.”

Later on, Henriksson became a recognised expert on North America. In addition to legislation concerning Native Americans, he has studied the governments of the continent, the cultural history of the West, and European exploration and looting expeditions to the Americas. He has also written comprehensive introductory books on the United States and Canada, through which the reader can gain an idea of the world beyond the Atlantic.

According to Henriksson, being closely familiar with the research subject is of utmost importance to a successful project. It is simply impossible to experience everything by reading books, and it is sometimes necessary to leave the archive to engage in field work. The professor has led by example on this point, which is evident, for example, from the travels which influenced his writing when working on a book on Route 66.

“You can never overstate the importance of field work. Researchers have to know what it is really like in the area they are studying.”

Doing fieldwork in Masa Verde National Park, 1998.

In the 1970s, Henriksson had the opportunity to participate from the first in developing the modern study of Native American cultures. As a result, most of the leading researchers in the field have become familiar to him through the Western History Association. These connections have also proved useful to Henriksson’s students, as they make it possible to receive guidance and comments from a wide network.

“On many occasions my students and those of my American colleagues have collaborated. Moreover, there have already been third generation encounters.”

Finnish researchers are able to examine the United States from the outside, and they can also bring slightly different perspectives to academic discussions. The University of Helsinki has developed into one of the world’s leading research centres on North American Studies, and the biennial Maple Leaf & Eagle Conference attracts renowned visitors year after year. It is the longest running regularly held conference at the University of Helsinki, and the next one will be organised in the spring of 2016.

The 13th Maple Leaf and Eagle Conference, University of Helsinki, 2010.

Henriksson and his students have received numerous awards across the pond. It is a testament to the academic merits of Henriksson and others who have worked in the field that terms such as the Finnish approach and the Helsinki School of the American West have come to be used.

Henriksson was awarded the University of Helsinki Medal in 2014.


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