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Tuomas Lehtonen

Tuomas Martti Samuel Lehtonen
Born January 8, 1960, Helsinki

Master of Arts (General History) 1987, Licentiate of Philosophy, 1994, and Doctor of Philosophy (History), 1996, University of Helsinki
Docent, European History, 1999, University of Helsinki

Secretary-General, Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura - Finnish Literature Society, 2004-
Director, 2001– 2004, Renvall Institute, University of Helsinki
Researcher, 1988– 2000
Editorial secretary, 1987– 1988, Tiede & Edistys (‘Science and progress’) journal

Publications, research projects and other academic activities
Research interests: relation between spoken and written cultures, mediaeval history and Roman letters, mediaeval and modern era historiography, rhetoric and poetry.

Photo: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura
Written by Tuomas Lehtonen and Riitta-Ilona Hurmerinta
Translated by John Calton

Ever the researcher

Tuomas M.S. Lehtonen's academic background is in medieval studies. He is a docent of European History at the University of Helsinki. In addition to being the Secretary General of the Finnish Literature Society, he still finds time to conduct research.

– Just now I am researching the relationship between oral and literate cultures in medieval and early modern Finland. Juggling administrative work and research has taken a lot of practice. For example, nowadays there is no way I can go on long trips to collect data, even though the society has provided me with the opportunity to conduct research for short periods of time. Immersing yourself in research also gives you the opportunity to think about how research services should be developed, when you yourself are in Finland, in the customer's shoes, as it were, or abroad from time to time.

Conducting solitary research has been replaced by research conducted in groups. At the moment, Lehtonen is in charge of the project Oral and Literate Culture in the Medieval and Early Modern Baltic Sea Region: Cultural Transfer, Linguistic Registers and Communicative Networks (2011–2014). The project is nearing completion with a compendium volume in preparation: Re-forming the Early Modern North: text, music and Church art (Amsterdam University Press, forthcoming) The book deals with the cultural change which took place during the so-called long reformation: the commercial and cultural networks; the changes in folk and religious singing culture; how those with learning conceived of popular beliefs, as well as of the peasantry and indigenous people; church art; and the remnants of the cult of the saints in Sweden, Finland, Estonia and Latvia.

The six-person research team is currently writing a Finnish-language monograph. It paints an overall picture of the changes in oral and written culture, especially in Finland and Estonia in the 16th and 17th centuries, and in part later. The book deconstructs the traditional dichotomy between scholarly and vernacular, written and oral, and major and minor traditions. Cultural hierarchies are naturally a matter of fact, but the interaction and the parallels between different cultural layers have often been ignored. The learned 16th-century priest was not disconnected from the surrounding folk culture; nor were folk traditions detached from, for example, ecclesiastical beliefs and rituals. People did not live in a linguistic vacuum back then either, since people, ideas and items travelled across the Baltic Sea.

– It has been exciting to conduct your own research and be present when others do things you are not competent to do yourself. If we take the 16th century, for example, all of the vestiges of the oral culture have been preserved in writing. But if there are methods and tools, we can overcome the limitations of the data. When you get to work with a group where the other members can do things that are beyond your own abilities, you can achieve great things through collaboration. Towards the end it is exciting to see that you no longer recognise who came up with what. It truly is about collaborating. Of course in the writing stage everyone works on their texts on their own as well, but in effect what is written started out in the group.

Tuomas M.S. Lehtonen's publications, research projects and other scientific activities

Photo: Gary Wornell.​
Photo: Gary Wornell.​
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