On early modern academic families

Frans Hals, Portrait of a Dutch Family (c. 1635), Wikimedia Commons.

On the second week of February (9th–10th), scholars from Finland, Sweden, and Germany gathered to Tampere University to discuss early modern academic families. The workshop Professor’s Household in the Early Modern Times was organized by an almost similarly named project Professor’s Household – The Royal Academy of Turku as a Family Network in the 17th Century which is currently running at Tampere university and funded by the Jalmari Finne Foundation.

During the Middle Ages a professor was meant, as a clergyman, to spend his life unwed. After the Reformation the ideal of a university professor changed in the protestant areas of Europe. Professor was now expected to be a married man with a wife and children. He was also to act as a father figure for the students at the university. Professors have, however, quite rarely been studied as husbands, fathers, and as the heads of their family and household. Research has mainly focused on studying professors as scientists. We know even less about professors’ wives: who they were, what their contribution to the household was. Furthermore, more research on extended academic families/households is needed even though recently it has been proven that family connections were essential in creating larger academic networks.

The central themes that were discussed in the workshop were the concepts of family and household. How did the professors discuss these concepts in learned texts such as academic dissertations? And on the other hand, how do other historical sources such as wedding poems, funeral sermons, genealogical surveys, letters, court protocols, taxation documents and probate inventories portray academic family, kin, and household?

The workshop consisted of two days of presentations. Thursday (February 9th) opened with a session on social and material assets in academic communities. Christina Stehling gave a presentation on professorial families and their finances in the 18th century Marburg and Jacob Schilling on how the German academic communities took care of widows and orphans in the early 18th century. Robin Engblom ended the session with a presentation on extended families as part of scholars’ reciprocal relationships during the 17th century Sweden. His study focused especially on the academic Gezelius family.

In the second session, researchers discussed written manifestations of family in academic communities. Eeva-Liisa Bastman and Sari Kivistö discussed the professor’s family as a literary milieu. The main source for their presentation was the occasional poetry written by the Flachsenius family. Tiina Miettinen’s presentation concerned premodern genealogy and especially the Bure family. Minna Vesa gave the third presentation on academic ideas of family and marriage in the 17th century Sweden. Her presentation was based on academic dissertations written in the universities of Turku (Åbo), Tartu (Dorpat), and Uppsala.

The first day ended with a session on materiality and finances of academic households. This session was centered upon the academic families in Uppsala during the long 18th century. Annika Windahl Pontén’s presentation focused on the Linnaeus household. Hannes Eriksson spoke on the topic of material culture and status manifestation in the Ekerman/Aurivillius household. Gudrun Andersson discussed academic spouses and female assets in a professorial household.

Friday, the second day of the workshop (February 10th), opened with a session on mothers and fathers as heads of their families. Sini Mikkola discussed Martin Luther as a loving husband and exalted father. She brought forward Luther’s emotional practices in family life. Miia Kuha gave a presentation on lecturer’s wives in the diocese of Vyborg (Viipuri) in Sweden during the long 17th century. Mari Välimäki’s presentation on professors’ wives as mothers, spouses, and matrons of the household in the 17th century ended the session.

On Friday afternoon we came together for a final discussion. In the discussion we posed us a question of how we understood the key concepts related to early modern academic families. This opened many very important viewpoints such as what kind of an effect our sources have on our understanding of family, kin, and household.

The workshop was a launch for a joint book project and its results will be published for everyone to read in the future. Now we all proceed to writing!

The organizers of the workshop rejoicing after a succesful workshop. From the left Minna Vesa, Mari Välimäki & Robin Engblom. Picture: Katariina Lehto.


Mari Välimäki

PhD, PI for the Project Professor’s Household


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