Finnish History of Technology at the Turn of the Millennium
Timo Myllyntaus, Tiina Männistö and Riikka Jalonen, University
Introduction 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  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
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. 
In Finland lecturing on the history of technology started in 1976-77 on
the temporary basis.  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
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)  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.  Further information at: http://www.torus.oulu.fi/torus_in_english.htm  The first lecturer was Kathleen Ahonen, a
Canadian living in Finland; see Myllyntaus (1996b).
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Utopian ideals and everyday realities, 1930-1997, New Haven [Conn]: Yale
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Antila, Kimmo and Panu Nykänen, Suomen tekniikan historian
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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,'
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