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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

From researcher to Secretary General

After graduating with an MA, Tuomas M.S. Lehtonen worked as an editorial secretary for the multidisciplinary journal Tiede & edistys (‘Research and progress’). On securing his first research grant, he set off to Paris to work on his doctoral dissertation. He returned to Finland for his military service, but when the Academy of Finland gave him funding to continue his research, he packed himself, his wife and their two-month-old baby boy in a Lada and headed back to Paris.

After three years in France, Lehtonen and his family returned to Finland. He got his doctorate in history with a thesis entitled Fortuna, Money, and the Sublunar World. Twelfth-century Ethical Poetics and the Satirical Poetry of the Carmina Burana (1996). He then worked as a postdoctoral researcher at the Renvall Institute for Area and Cultural Studies in Helsinki University. Eventually, he rose to the position of Acting Director of the Institute.

– A research career was what interested me the most. When I didn’t have funding, I did translations. I thought then that the career of a researcher in the arts is not so much a career, more a way of life.

Becoming Secretary-General of the Finnish Literature Society (SKS) was a surprise. His application for the post was serious enough but didn’t believe he was going to get the job.

– At first, I was scared and unnerved by the job. I was encountering every situation for the first time and never knew beforehand what exactly to do or how I might proceed. I learned by not being afraid to ask questions. After all, the most stupid thing you can do is to pretend you know something you don’t.

Being a society, SKS is independent, although it does get funding from the government. Lehtonen’s tasks include manoeuvring between the various forms of funding and ensuring that the society is able to function. SKS employs almost one hundred people, which puts it in the same league as a large university department.

– My normal week at work involves plenty of meetings. You have to put together a schedule that isn’t going to kill you. I want to go to a meeting prepared and hope that it always leads to specific outcome.

Under Lehtonen’s leadership, SKS has become more integrated, and the society has developed its research, archives and library as well as its publishing, and it has strengthened its role in exporting Finnish literature. The society has placed an emphasis on open-access web services and publications, in addition to providing and utilising digital data. Its online (Finnish-language) presence includes critical editions of Finnish literature, the National Biography of Finland and a database of old Finnish poetry.

SKS consists of Folklore Archives, Literary Archives, and a research library, a publishing house, a research department as well as FILI, the arm of the society that deals with exporting Finnish literature. Each section has its own director, apart from the research department, which is led by Lehtonen.

– Each section is led by an expert. I only take part in decisions where I am needed. The research department allows me to keep a finger on the pulse of research. It’s great to be able to create research opportunities for others.

On account of being the Secretary General, Lehtonen is sought after for various positions of trust. He has learnt to be selective about the positions that he accepts.

– You have to be able to choose what to go into and what you can spend your time on. It’s frustrating to be in a position that you’re not really drawn to. But being chairman of the board of directors in the foundation for the Finnish Institute in Rome is something I’m happy to do. I myself have been able to work in Villa Lante [a Roman villa in which the Institute enjoys usufruct]. Working on the board, I have learnt a lot about creating the operational preconditions for a research institute together with academics, administrators and business professionals. I have also been involved in the Finnish Institute in Estonia. Outside of academia, I am now chairman of the Finnish Sauna Society.

In addition to the societies mentioned, Lehtonen has served on the boards of some academic and cultural organisations and in specialist roles both in Finland and abroad.

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

Tuomas M.S. Lehtonen’s current positions of trust (a selection)

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