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Päiviö Tommila

Juhani Päiviö Tommila
Born August 4, 1931, Jyväskylä

Bachelor of Arts (Finnish History) 1954, Master of Arts (valedictorian) 1957, Licentiate 1960, PhD (valedictorian) 1964, University of Helsinki

Rector of the University of Helsinki 1988–92
Dean of the Department of History and Language Sciences 1987–88, University of Helsinki
Dean of the Faculty of Arts 1967–71, 1973–75, University of Turku
Professor of Finnish history1965–76, University of Turku
Docent in Finnish history 1962–67, University of Helsinki
Research assistant in History 1959–65, University of Helsinki
Employee of the Nurmijärvi District History Committee 1955–57

Federation of Finnish Learned Societies 1989–2000
Executive Board of the Finnish Institute in Estonia 1993–2002
Project leader of Suomen lehdistön historia (‘the history of the Finnish press’) 1975–92
Board of Trustees of the Finnish Cultural Foundation 1978–85, Chairman 1985–87, Supervisory Board 1987–96, General Secretary 1994–96
Editor-in-chief 1983–90, Historiallisen Aikakauskirja

Awards and honours:
Honorary title of Academician 2004
First Class Commander of the Order of the White Rose of Finland
Commander of the Order of the Lion of Finland
Honorary PhD 1998, University of Jyväskylä
Member of the Estonian Academy of Sciences

Photo: Faculty of Arts
Written by Olli Siitonen
Translated by Matthew Billington

My Dream

Päiviö Tommila, who enrolled at the University of Helsinki to study history in the early 1950s, has not regretted his choice of subject. His studies led to a long academic career with professorships and major research projects, and culminated in his becoming rector. The professor emeritus shares his ideas on the nature of his research.

“Historical research changes with new discoveries and the perspectives that are chosen. As a field of research, history is comforting in the sense that it is always growing. History is always being made, and there is no shortage of possible research.”

A career as a researcher has its end, but this also creates opportunities for younger scholars. Research has taken a backseat in the life of the professor emeritus, but his extensive output will keep future generations of historians busy. Tommila does not regret the research left undone, and instead feels optimistic about the future of field. The professor looks back on his own career and its effect on Finnish historical research.

“A researcher is not a researcher unless he has goals, even somewhat unrealistic ones. You think about all that you should have studied. Ultimately all this is just a bunch of what ifs, and you should not waste too much energy on that. Rather, you should be glad that it was possible to last this long and write so many books. At the same time you hope that all the teaching you have done over the decades was beneficial and that it has advanced research and given a clearer picture of the past.”

An example of this is the ten part historical work Suomen lehdistön historia (‘The History of the Finnish Press’), which concludes at the turn of the 1990s. Although communication and the press have undergone radical changes over the past few years, the press still keeps on going. Future research is the responsibility of younger scholars, but the project led by Tommila offers a strong foundation for their efforts.

Portrait of Päiviö Tommila at the University Main Building. Photo by Mika Federley.


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