country report : finland

Finnish History of Technology at the Turn of the Millennium

Timo Myllyntaus, Tiina Männistö and Riikka Jalonen, University of Turku

The 20th century is gradually sliding into history, while our experience on the new century is accumulating. Do these centuries already have clear differences or is the continuity the overwhelming feature? This article focuses to examine the Finnish research on the history of technology during the past eleven years, 1996 - 2006. Several surveys and bibliographies have been published on events and trends in the field in the late 20th century [1] but later developments have not yet been studied.
Thanks to earlier surveys, it is possible to compare what changed in our discipline at the turn of the century. The history of technology is such a tiny field of research in this small country of 5.2 million inhabitants that even mainstream historians have possibly never heard about this discipline, although they have hardly managed to avoid noticing several museums of technology around the country. Invisibility in the academia or mass media does not mean that the history of technology is nonexistent in Finland. The field exists but it attracts the attention of special and heterogeneous circles from retired engineers and government officials to museum curators and humanist students of cultural studies. The Finnish history of technology (FHT) has some features of a subculture, which survives in some distance from the lime lights of public historical discussions. Historians of technology are mainly discussing on their own forums and their links to artifacts and museums are generally closer than colleagues in the other fields of historical studies.
Our aim is to concentrate on five key sectors of FHT (education, research, museums, associations and journals) and highlight their main characteristics. Emphasizing new, emerging trends we attempt to examine whether the discipline is really orienting to novel directions or predominantly sticking to traditional approaches. Our argument is that finding a balanced and sensible relationship to our technological past is a major challenge for the present century. Technology has penetrated so deeply and tangibly into our lives that its impact on the paths of history cannot be neglected any more. Technology has become a core element of historical explanation.

In Finland there are no academic departments or research centers focusing on the history of technology. Therefore, teaching on the subject had only been available occasionally. To change this situation and gather together Finnish education, multidisciplinary expertise and research on the history of technology and science, Torus network was founded in 2000. From the beginning of the year 2001 web-based courses organized by a nation-wide education and research network have provided most of the Finnish university students with the possibility of studying the history of technology. Most Finnish universities have joined the network, which is coordinated by the Department of History at the University of Oulu, and their students can take part in its education, either by studying singular courses or by completing a degree in the history of technology and science.
Most of Torus teaching takes place in an interactive Internet environment. Up to ten web-courses annually have been provided by diverse academic units. Beside introductory courses they have included, for example, courses on the history of water infrastructures, traffic, electricity, industrial sites and information technology as well as on the philosophy of technology and the relationship of technology and gender. Students from around Finland, representing annually some 70 different major subjects, have participated in the courses. The network has also organized theme seminars bringing together researchers of the history of technology, as its long-term objective has been to increase the number of research programmes in this field. Torus network has proven to be a true life line of the Finnish history of technology education, and therefore we hope for and trust in that the Finnish government and the participating universities will continue funding the network. [2]
In Finland lecturing on the history of technology started in 1976-77 on the temporary basis. [3] Teaching became more regular in the 1990s when Timo Myllyntaus was nominated to an adjunct professor (dosentti) of the history of technology to the Tampere University of Technology and the Helsinki University of Technology. One step forward in the institutionalization of cultural, social and also historical study of technology was taken in 2004, when Jaakko Suominen, having prepared his doctoral thesis about the Finnish history of experiencing information technology, was nominated the professor of the newly founded chair of digital culture in the Degree Programme in Cultural Production and Landscape Studies at the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Turku.

Until the 1990s the Finnish history of technology was closely related to manufacturing industries. While the focus was from invention to the use of various machines and production methods, the influence of economic and company history was prominent. Although this tradition has continued, at the turn of the century, a widespread diversification took place. At the first social history arrived to the field and it was soon followed by cultural and gender history.
The history of teaching and studying technology as well as associations of engineers became a topic of research. Connecting consumption and technological development is another theme where the approaches of social history have been applied. The book "How technology is tamed: From the science of consumption to the art of consumption" by Mika Pantzar is a well-known example of this genre. The professor of cultural history Hannu Salmi in turn examined fears, experiences and the mental history of technology in general in his book "To the moon by an atom bomb." Perhaps the enthusiasm of the postwar baby-boomers to nostalgia has boosted research in the history of Finnish design during the past years; several retrospective design exhibitions have been opened and books examining the "golden age" of Finnish design have been published. Meanwhile, studying the use and consumption of diverse devices by commonplace persons has gained interest among social historians. A recent doctoral dissertation by Tiina Huokuna, "Revolution at home! Visual changes in everyday life in Finland in the late 1960s and early 1970s," is a case in point.
While the scope of approaches and topics has expanded, the history of technology has begun to interest also other than professional historians and historically oriented engineers. Various kinds of social scientists and humanists have found that the history of technology can contribute our vision on the past and present. For example, the professor of women studies Marja Vehviläinen has studied technological development from the aspects of gender. Her research has focused on information technology, which has in fact been the most popular topic in the discipline during the present decade. At least a handful licentiate theses or doctoral dissertations have been prepared on the history of computers, mobile telephones and relationships of technology and media.
Another popular topic of studies has been the history of transport, which theme has studied from various aspects, such as the development of road network, history of various vehicles and their trade, and change in the culture of car driving. The history of technology has, as a rule, been embodied in these studies. Most of the historical studies on vehicles have still during the past decade been written by amateurs and enthusiasts, especially when considering motoring. These writings are directed to the general public and other amateurs and they are usually based on nostalgia. However, there has been published also a few, more academic, studies about vehicles during the past few years. In 2000 Ismo Vähäkangas edited a collection of articles called "Hundred in the speedometer," which includes articles of car driving in Finland during its history of approximately hundred years. Kalle Toiskallio has in turn edited a book called "Wagon of temptation," which examines the change in the Finnish driving culture. Furthermore, Lotta Wessberg wrote an article in English about driving from the viewpoint of gender and modernity.
The development of other types of infrastructure has also attracted some students. A group at Tampere has been active in examining the supply of water and sewage services, while Henry Nygard has become the leading historian of carbage. These studies are generally quite multidisciplinary and classifying them as the history of technology is not self-evident.
The intellectual and science history has not gained a significant foothold in Finland although there has been at least one professorship and an active but fairly small society in the discipline for decades. Among Finnish historians of technology, the history of science has raised some interest. A doctoral dissertation and some other publications on the history of Finnish chemistry by Panu Nykänen, for example, are openings to that direction. Ismo Lindell has continued to popularise the history of electrical technology and published a revised and expanded textbook on that field. More publications on the interaction between the history of science and the history of technology are under preparation; hence, research is going on in that field as well.

There is a wide range of museums associated with technology in Finland. Most of them are state-owned, but during the past decade there have arisen several private museums, too. Some of these small-sized businesses are open only on summer times and they are aimed more at vacationers. There are also several museums organised by different societies, funded by both public and private support. The biggest and most famous museums are the Museum of Technology in Helsinki and the Finnish Science Center Heureka in Vantaa.
The Museum Center Vapriikki is located in an old workshop of a factory in the city of Tampere. It was opened in the fall 1996 (the former museum damaged in a fire in 1989) and has exhibition space in four floors with the total area of 5000 squaremeters. Themes of successive exhibitions vary a lot and extend from archaeology to modern art and from manual skills to latest technology. During the past years, the history of technology has caught a lot of attention in the museum. From April 2007 until February 2008 the museum has an exhibition called Velomania! - which introduces and examines cycling as part of people's everyday life from the 19th century to the 21st century and creates a view on the origin and development of the Finnish bicycle industry.
The Finnish Museum of Horology in Espoo is the only museum in the Nordic countries specialised in the history of time measuring, clocks and watches, and the profession of a watchmaker. Most items of the collection are ordinary everyday watches and clocks from Finnish households, but there are also plenty of specialities and unique items. There are approximately 6000 articles from the 17th century to the present on display. The museum has been opened to the public already since the end of the 1980s, but new exhibition spaces and more extensive opening hours have made the museum well-known during the past ten years.
When considering technology of transport and vehicles, there is no shortage of museums in Finland. There are altogether dozens of road transport, railroad, maritime and aviation museums around the country. Mobilia in Kangasala, in southern Finland (in its current location since 1994), is a national museum specialised in the field of automobile and road. Besides annually changing exhibitions, Mobilia offers also maintenance services for museum vehicles, research services and different experience events. This year's exhibition presents the strategic automobiles and vehicles that the National Defence Forces have been using during war and peace times from the early 20th century to the present. The exhibition has been set up to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the independence of Finland.
As all of these three museums presented, more and more of museums of technology have diversified their services. Because of the rise of historical study of different technologies, the museums want to serve besides the general public also the academic scholars and other researchers by offering archive- and library services. But since they are also businesses with expectations of visitors, they have also invested in different kinds of experiences and events for people.

Associations and Journals
Finland has been described as a "land of associations," therefore there has been one also for the history of technology since 1928. At first its name was Suomen Teknillinen Museoyhdistys (Finnish association for technical museums), because its members considered their main task to set up and support museums of technology. In 1995, this association changed its name to Tekniikan historian seura (The Finnish Society for the History of Technology), while its strategy was redefined. The newly organized society decided to focus on promoting academic and non-academic interests in the history of technology and publish Finnish research reports dealing with the subject. Lately the most lively and visible part of this society's activities has been its quarterly journal Tekniikan Waiheita, which is published in Finnish with English abstracts. This journal, founded in 1972, is functioning as the main link between Finns interested in the history of technology. Since 1983 it has been published under its present title Tekniikan Waiheita. A sign of the journal's popularity is its considerable circulation that has risen to 1700 copies at maximum in 1999.
When in the 1990s the focus of the journal's content was still on industrial heritage, engineering history and museum news, the turn of the millennium brought with it considerable renewals. A new generation of contributors came forward, starting to publish research articles with a broad range of subjects and dealt also with the methodological questions of the history of technology. Reports from international academic conferences started to appear on the pages of the journal. The journal has also gained interest and boosted its image as an academic journal by publishing theme issues for example on the popularization of technology, technology and the environment, electricity and culture, plastics and design, technology in cities, gendered technology, and information and communications technology.

Although the research of industrial heritage and history of engineering is still found important, several new fields of study have emerged since the mid-1995s, while new generations have entered in the Finnish history of technology. Popular fields include information technology, social approaches to the use and consumption of technology, design history and the history of infrastructure. Methodological sophistication has started as Finnish researchers have learned to know better international trends of historical research. The journal Tekniikan Waiheita has become an ever more significant national forum in searching for new methodological directions as well as presenting recent research results.
In the past eleven years, the history of technology has attracted new interest among academic research, which can be seen in the rising number of both ongoing and completed Master's and Licentiate's theses and doctoral dissertations. Diversification is another prominent characteristic for the period 1996 - 2006, because the research topics have become more versatile than earlier. Meanwhile research results have not any more published only in Finland and in Finnish. In contrast, Finnish historians of technology have begun to study also the past of foreign countries and publish their works in international forums. The change has been conspicuous and epochal; therefore, we are inclined to claim that the Finnish research in the history of technology made its breakthrough at the turn of the millennium. Will the rise continue also in the next decade is uncertain because there are no signs that institutional support will rise in the near future. Nevertheless, the public has become interested in the history of technology and that may inspire new researchers to enter in the field.

Footnotes (back to top)
[1] See e.g.: Myllyntaus, Timo, Teknologian historia tieteenalana, Historiallinen aikakauskirja vol. 82 (1984) no 1, 56-62; Myllyntaus, Timo, A Survey on Recent Finnish Research in the History of Technology, Polhem. Tidskrift för teknikhistoria vol. 3 (1985) no 1, pp. 47-50; Myllyntaus, Timo, Polhem, Tidskrift för teknikhistoria, Special issue "History of Technology in the Nordic Countries" vol. 10 (1992) no 4b; Myllyntaus, Timo, The History of Technology in Finland, SHOT Newsletter, The Society for the History of Technology (1996b) no 70 n.s., 13-15; Antila, Kimmo and Panu Nykänen, Suomen tekniikan historian ja museotoiminnan lyhyt historia, Tekniikan Waiheita vol. 18 (2000) no 1, 28-43; Toivanen, Hannes, Teknologian tutkimus ja teknologian historia Suomessa, Tekniikan Waiheita vol. 18 (2000) no 2, 6-13.
[2] Further information at:
[3] The first lecturer was Kathleen Ahonen, a Canadian living in Finland; see Myllyntaus (1996b).

Aav, Marianne and Nina Stritzler-Levine (eds.), Finnish modern design: Utopian ideals and everyday realities, 1930-1997, New Haven [Conn]: Yale University Press and The Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts, 1998.

Aav, Marianne, Ebba Brännback and Eeva Viljanen (eds.), Timo Sarpaneva collection, Helsinki: Designmuseo, 2006.

Antila, Kimmo and Panu Nykänen, Suomen tekniikan historian ja museotoiminnan lyhyt historia, Tekniikan Waiheita vol. 18 (2000) no 1, 28-43.

Huokuna, Tiina, Vallankumous kotona! Arkielämän visuaalinen murros 1960-luvun lopussa ja 1970-luvun alussa, Diss. Helsinki : Yliopistopaino, 2006, Summary in English.

Juuti, Petri and Tapio S. Katko (eds.), Water, time and European cities: History matters for the futures, Tampere: 2005.

Juuti, Petri, Tapio Katko and Heikki Vuorinen (eds.), Environmental history of water, Global views on community water supply and sanitation, London: IWA Publishing 2007, Online version at:

Lindell, Ismo V., Sähkötekniikan historia, Espoo: Helsinki University of Technology and Picaset, 2001.

Manninen, Ari T., Elaboration of NMT and GSM standards: From idea to market, Diss., Jyväskylä: University of Jyväskylä, 2002.

Myllyntaus, Timo, Teknologian historia tieteenalana, Historiallinen aikakauskirja vol. 82 (1984) no 1, 56-62.

Myllyntaus, Timo, A Survey on Recent Finnish Research in the History of Technology, Polhem. Tidskrift för teknikhistoria vol. 3 (1985) no 1, 47-50;

Myllyntaus, Timo, Polhem, Tidskrift för teknikhistoria, Special issue "History of Technology in the Nordic Countries" vol. 10 (1992) no 4b.

Myllyntaus, Timo, "'The Best Way to Pick Up a Trade,' Journeys Abroad by Finnish Technical Students, 1860-1940," ICON, Journal of the International Committee for the History of Technology, vol. 2 (1996a), 138-163.

Myllyntaus, Timo, The History of Technology in Finland, SHOT Newsletter, The Society for the History of Technology (1996b) no 70 n.s., 13-15.

Myllyntaus, Timo, Phases of a network. From a breakthrough to a national system, Helsinki: Fingrid Oyj, 1999, available also in Finnish.

Myllyntaus, Timo, "Discovering Switzerland, Internationalisation among Nordic Students of Technology prior to World War II," Travels of learning. A geography of science in Europe, Edited by Ana Simoes, Ana Carneiro and Maria Paula Diogo, Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science, Amsterdam: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2003, 299-328.

Myllyntaus, Timo, "Foreign Models and National Styles in Teaching Technology in the Nordic Countries," La formation des ingénieurs en perspective. Modeles de référence et réseaux de médiation, XIXe et XXe siecles, Eds. Irina Gouzévitch, André Grelon & Anousheh Karvar, Collection Carnot, Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2004, 141-152.

Nygard, Henry, Bara ett ringa obehag? Avfall och renhallning i de finländska städernas profylaktiska strategier 1830-1930, Diss., Abo: Abo Akademis förlag & Tibo-trading, 2004, English summary: A prophylactic perspective on sanitary services in Finland, 1830-1930.

Nykänen, Panu, Bensiinihiilivetyjen valtiaat: Voitelu- ja moottoripolttoaineiden tutkimus Suomessa vuoteen 1948, Diss., Helsinki: Tekniikan historian seura, 2000.

Nykänen, Panu, Gustaf Komppa (1867-1949): Master among chemists, Helsinki: Finnish Academies of Technology, 2003.

Nykänen, Panu et al., Around the roll: A century of Finnish paper machine and papermaking technology, STH julkaisuja nro 9, Helsinki: Society for History of Technology: Finnish Academies of Technology, 2005, also in Finnish.

Paju, Petri, Ensimmäinen suomalainen tietokone ESKO ja 1950-luvun suunnitelma kansallisesta laskentakeskuksesta, Licentiate thesis, University of Turku 2002.

Pantzar, Mika, Kuinka teknologia kesytetään: Kulutuksen tieteestä kulutuksen taiteeseen, Helsinki: Tammi 1996.

Parikka, Jussi, Koneoppi: Ihmisen, teknologian ja median kytkennät, Diss., Tampere: University of Turku and Tammer-Paino 2004, English summary.

Saarikoski, Petri, Koneen lumo: Mikrotietokoneharrastus Suomessa 1970-luvulta 1990-luvun puoliväliin, Diss., Jyväskylä: University of Turku, 1st ed. 2004, 2nd ed., 2005, English summary: The lure of the machine.

Salmi, Hannu,"Atoomipommilla kuuhun!" Tekniikan mentaalihistoriaa, Helsinki: Edita, 1996.

Sarantola-Weiss, Minna (ed.), Rooms for everyone: Perspectives on Finnish interior design 1949-1999, Helsinki: Otava, 1999, available also in Finnish and Swedish.

Stenros, Anne (ed.), Visions of modern Finnish design, Helsinki: Otava, 1999.

Suominen, Jaakko, Koneen kokemus: Tietoteknistyvä kulttuuri modernisoituvassa Suomessa 1920-luvulta 1970-luvulle, Diss., Tampere: Vastapaino, 2003.

Toiskallio, Kalle (ed.), Viettelyksen vaunu: Autoilukulttuurin muutos Suomessa, Jyväskylä: Gummerus, 2001.

Toivanen, Hannes, Teknologian tutkimus ja teknologian historia Suomessa, Tekniikan Waiheita vol. 18 (2000) no 2, 6-13.

Vehviläinen, Marja, Gender, expertise and information technology, Diss., Tampere: Department of Computer Science, University of Tampere, 1997.

Vihma, Susann, Designhistoria: En introduktion, Stockholm: Raster, 2003, available also in Finnish.

Vähäkangas, Ismo (ed.), Sata lasissa. Kaarina: Kaarinan Tasopaino Oy, 2000.

Wessberg, Lotta, The woman and the car: A study of the car, the woman and modernity, Ethnologia Fennica 29 (2001), 33-44.

Homepages of Finnish museums of technology

The Helsinki museum of technology, information in Finnish at:

Heureka's webpage in English at: .

Vapriikki at:

The Finnish Museum of Horology at:

The homepage of Mobilia at: