Translocalis Database - Digital History project

In Grand duchy of Finland developed a nationwide and broad-based culture of letters to newspapers in spite of the tightened censorship of the press in the mid-1800s. Thousands of Finnish-speaking people wrote about their everyday experiences and sent letters to newspapers from the 1850s onwards during the first phase of industrialization. The characteristic of this phenomenon was that the letters were often written in the name of the local community. Especially in the mid-1800s, the ‘local letters’ covered a large part of the print sheets of the Finnish-language press.

‘Local letters’ often told about every day local things that had happened in some parish. Usually, the topics included information about yields, the state of health of the inhabitants and curious incidents. However, there was also more general discussion about social reforms and abstract reasoning on topics like for example, what is society, nation or publicity. The writers of the letters came from the wide spectrum of the society. There are hundreds of identified writers that were either peasants or came from the lower social layer. Therefore, the letters are a good source for ‘history-from-below’ approach. Indeed, the local letters are the first larger source of this kind in the Finnish-speaking culture.

The culture of local letters had an impact on the development of Finnish society, nationalism and civic society. The major significance of it was in the interplay between the experience of local and societal, which could be conceptualized with the notion of ‘translocal’. The phenomenon of local letters transformed the local into societal and societal into local.

The Translocalis Database is a digital database collected in the Finnish Academy Centre of Excellence in the History of Experiences (HEX). The Translocalis Database contains all the readers’ letters written in the name of local communities and published in the Finnish-language press during the period of 1850–1875, collected from the fully digitalized newspaper collection of the National Library of Finland.

Besides the history of Finland, the database will allow analysing the 19th century global phenomena through a case study of the Finnish society. It will enable a wide range of research topics and open a path to various research approaches, especially the study of human experiences. The database could be studied both qualitatively and quantitatively and with the methods of Digital Humanism.

Currently, the Translocalis Database includes about 27000 letters gathered from the time era of 1850-1875. There are plans to publish the Database in open access.

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Heikki Kokko
Ph.D., Postdoctoral research fellow

Twitter: @Translocalis