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Mauri Antero Numminen

Born March 12, 1940, Somero

Student at the University of Helsinki 1960–67 (philosophy, linguistics and sociology, as well as Inuit and Bantu languages, folk poetry, economics, ethnography, Finno-Ugrian languages, astronomy and politics)

Musician, author, cultural all-rounder
Record producer 1970–79, Love Records
Chairman 1997–2000, Finland’s Beer Society

The works of M. A. Numminen

Finland Prize 1993
Swedish-Finnish Cultural Foundation Cultural Prize 1997
The Alexis Kivi Society’s Esko award 2005
Honorary PhD 2001, Åbo Akademi University
Honorary PhD 2014, University of Helsinki


Photo: Dex Viihde Agency
Written by Mauri Antero Numminen, Juha Merimaa and Olli Siitonen
Translated by Matthew Billington

Memories from the University

The Somero born Mauri Antero Numminen already intended to go and study at the University of Helsinki when he was in upper secondary school. Planning a career as an economist, Numminen enrolled at the Faculty of Social Sciences in 1960. As his studies progressed, he applied to the Faculty of Arts and continued to study at both faculties. He had a particular interest in sociolinguistics, and his minors included Finnish and Finno-Ugric languages as well as folk poetry, ethnology and theoretical philosophy.

In 1999, Numminen published a semi-autobiographical novel that examined his youth, titled Helsinkiin (‘To Helsinki’). The novel follows the endeavours of a cultural aficionado, Juho Niitty, who moves from Somero to Helsinki. Numminen thinks that it is nigh impossible to pick the finest individual memories from the University. What follows intends to sketch the landscape of his memories through the experiences of his protagonist.

Being a student in the 1960s was in many ways different than it is today. The rector of the University would personally meet every student at the beginning of the academic year. Juho Niitty arrived at the appointment smartly dressed and received his study report book from Rector Edwin Linkomies, along with an exhortation to dedicate himself to his studies. The young man behind Niitty was met in a less cordial manner.

“As it happened, the young man who arrived after Niitty was not wearing a tie. What a disgrace! Edwin Linkomies blew a fuse over this boor so devoid of manners, and told him not to come back until next week, and to make sure he was properly dressed. Discipline and order were in the air!”

Some of the lecturers possessed a controversial approach to their work, fitting for a top university. Professor Uuno Saarnio, who was teaching logic, had earlier been employed in Turku, Tampere and Helsinki as the head of their city libraries and had participated in the development of studying and learning in connection with libraries. Education was no mere tool to him; it was an end in itself. Saarnio dazzled his students with his analysis of the history of education.

“Sad as it is, European civilization has suffered a great defeat over the centuries. Although Saarnio had himself written a book on the importance of education, it did not keep him from making the most peculiar statements. He believed that civilisation had hit the rocks three times. The first decline came with the Reformation, when the public had access to the great word in the vernacular. The second disaster was the education of workers brought on by industrialisation. And the true catastrophe happened when public schools were established. Now everyone had the opportunity to civilise themselves. But the more layers of society culture had to reach, the more its standards had to be lowered so everyone could understand what it was all about. In past ages princes and princesses had solved algebra problems in the letters they exchanged. Professor Saarnio visibly savoured the confusion these opinions were causing.”

According to Niitty, there were differences between the café in the Porthania building, favoured by students of the Faculty of Social Sciences, and the one frequented by humanities students in the University Main Building. These differences seemed to reflect the personalities of the students from these faculties. Niitty decided to investigate further.

“The next day, after his lecture, Niitty went to the café in the University Main Building. Once again he was both amazed and charmed by the difference in the atmosphere compared to the Porthania café. Social scientists, who know a great deal about society, were unable to generate the sophisticated atmosphere that was palpable here among students of the humanities. Were social sciences still so “hard” compared to historical and language subjects that they stifled liveliness? But they were nothing like mathematics and such when it came to hard sciences…

…almost every table seemed to be alive with cultural discussions in the café on the old side of the Main Building. However, Juho Niitty greatly valued his own faculty and considered it to be absolutely necessary to stick with sociology and political science, as well as social policy and practical philosophy, the latter of which he had not even begun studying yet. The philosophy lectures he had attended had been on theoretical philosophy. But the two philosophical disciplines went hand in hand, and therefore it was not necessary to belong to two faculties. The decisive difference between these two cafes—and apparently between the faculties—was that in the Main Building you could discover culture and meet people who possessed ways of thinking that were clearly novel.”

M.A. Numminen was granted an Honorary PhD at the University of Helsinki in 2014.


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