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Tuomas Heikkilä

Tuomas Mikael Heikkilä
Born January 26, 1972, Helsinki

Master of Arts 1996, Licentiate 1997, and PhD 2002 (general history), University of Helsinki
European Diploma in Medieval Studies 1997 (Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana)

Docent in general history 2003–, University of Helsinki
Docent in general history and church history 2006–, University of Helsinki
Docent in Finnish history 2013–, University of Turku
Director, Finnish Institute in Rome (Villa Lante), Rome
University lecturer of general history and church history 2003, 2005–07, 2010–13, University of Helsinki
Principle investigator of the Studia Stemmatologica­ research network 2009–12
Principle investigator of the Kirjallinen kulttuuri keskiajan Suomessa (‘Literary culture in medieval Finland’) research project 2006–11
Visiting Research Fellow, Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study, Uppsala 2010
Professor of general history 2004 and 2008–09, University of Helsinki
Commissioner 2001–07, Institutum Romanum Finlandiae Foundation
Research fellow 2007, Academy of Finland
Senior research associate in European history 2004 and research associate 1999–2003, University of Helsinki
Researcher 1998–2001, Diplomatarium Fennicum, National Archives of Finland
Researcher of general history, 1997–98, University of Helsinki

Publications, research projects and other academic activity

Research themes: monasteries in the High Middle Ages, the cult of saints in the medieval period, literary culture in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, computer-assisted stemmatology, digital humanities, the period from late Antiquity until the Renaissance.

Awards and special achievements:
Luminous Middle Ages Prize 2012, awarded by the Society for Medieval Studies in Finland
Head Marshal of the conferment ceremony of the Faculty of Philosophy, University of Helsinki, 2010
Lauri Jäntti Foundation honorary award 2010
Winner of the Vuoden kristillinen kirja (‘Christian book of the year’) prize (together with Liisa Suvikumpu) 2009
Invited to reside in the University of Helsinki’s apartment Tiedemies-kunniakoti (‘Honorary scholarly home’) 2006
Finnish Science Book of the Year prize 2005
The Yrjö Koskinen medal 2006
Vuoden historiateos (annual prize for the best work of history) 2005
Finnish Academy of Science and Letters scholarship for an outstanding doctoral dissertation 2003
Doctor Primus 2003
Snellman Foundation prize for an outstanding master’s thesis 1997

Written by Tuomas Heikkilä (Riitta-Ilona Hurmerinta, ed.)
Translated by Matthew Billington

On the heels of St Henry

In the mind of the general public, Tuomas Heikkilä’s name is associated with St Henry and Lalli. A decade ago the results of a young researcher caused a media sensation: the universally known person of St Henry could not be directly linked to a historical figure. Because Finns’ beloved Lalli, St Henry’s nemesis and enfant terrible of Köyliö, also disappeared from the pages of history books, the stir also made it onto the front page of the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat in the form of a spoof death-threat and an invitation to travel to Köyliö to resolve the matter.

In reality Dr Heikkilä’s study concerned the legend of St Henry, the oldest of the roots of our national literature. A Latin text was composed in Turku at the end of the 13th century, and it is the earliest literary work known with certainty to have been composed in Finland. Dr Heikkilä traced versions of the manuscript all around Europe, and located dozens of them. It was a veritable literary hit, a successful cultural export ante litteram. The reason was the clear international nature of the text: it followed foreign role models and was composed in the lingua franca of the age, Latin. At the same time it was nevertheless a tale of how Finland was born: it told the official version of how Finland was Christianised and incorporated into the Swedish empire. Dr Heikkilä’s study, which received several awards, also included a scholarly edition of the text.

The question of the historical nature of St Henry was a mere subplot for Heikkilä; after all, it had long been known to experts in the field that the figure of St Henry was a classical conglomeration of myths. Nevertheless, he was undoubtedly founded on a real person connected to the Christianisation of Finland who was attributed, down the centuries, the needed and desired characteristics at each given time. The stir that arose around St Henry also demonstrates that even distant research themes can have significance in the everyday life of modern times.

Photo: Tuomas Heikkilä’s archive


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