Oldest University of Helsinki archives selected for UNESCO’s Memory of World Register

University of Helsinki

The chosen archival material encompasses the documents and other resources kept in archives by the Royal Academy of Turku and the Imperial Alexander University, the predecessors of the University of Helsinki, from 1640 to 1924. The archives constitute an integral part of Finland’s national documentary heritage.

Students’s address from 1821. (Image: Helsingin yliopiston arkisto)

The goal of the Memory of the World Register of UNESCO is to protect the world’s archival and library heritage, improve access to it, as well as increase awareness of the existence and significance of this heritage.

In September, the oldest archived materials of the University of Helsinki were added to the national Memory of the World Register. They constitute an integral part of the national documentary heritage, as well as of the history of Finland’s development in terms of scholarship, nationhood and statehood. Most of the material predates Finland gaining its independence in 1917, after which the University’s name was changed to the University of Helsinki in 1919.

“We are overjoyed about our archives being selected for the Memory of the World Register. This way, the documentary heritage of the University will get the attention it deserves. After all, the University has always managed its archives independently. Work on the archives is carried out on a daily basis, to which all employees of the University contribute in some way. The field is also facing new challenges posed by a changing digital operating environment,” says Vice-Rector Hanna Snellman, who is responsible for affairs pertaining to the University’s cultural heritage.

Comprehensive data illustrates the development of Finnish scholarship and culture

Finnish research, science and scholarship, culture and education, Finnishness, as well as the idea of independence originated and developed at the University. The archives carry national significance, as the Royal Academy of Turku/Imperial Alexander University was the only university in the country until 1918. Consequently, anyone who attended and completed higher education in Finland as of 1640 studied at the University.

“The archives describe the international networks of Finnish education and edification, scholarly travels as well as the spread of international ideals and ideas into Finland,” says Head of Archives Juha Hannikainen.

The documents and archived material in the archive collections include records, letters and petitions received by the institution, minutes, deposit copies, financial documents and other material produced alongside operations. The material comprises authentic original documents, which have always been retained by the University.

“With the exception of the losses caused by the Great Fire of Turku in 1827, the archives are comprehensive and well preserved. As presentations of and source material for the University’s history, they are unique and irreplaceable. There are no corresponding sources in existence,” says Archives Specialist Marianne Hirvonen.

Six new resources selected for UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register

In 2021, five other resources were selected for the national Memory of the World Register of UNESCO in addition to the University of Helsinki archives. The register now comprises a total of 20 archive and library resources.

The resources selected for the national register in 2021:

  • University of Helsinki: Archives of the Royal Academy of Turku and the Imperial Alexander University
  • National Archives of Finland: Pro Finlandia cultural petition 1899
  • National Library of Finland: Archive of Jean Sibelius’s composition manuscripts
  • Finnish Literature Society (SKS): Archive collection of publications by the Finnish Literature Society (1834-)
  • Society of Swedish Literature in Finland (SLS): Archive of the oldest folklore, ethnographic and linguistic collections of the Society of Swedish Literature in Finland (1874-1939)
  • Åbo Akademi University Library: Edvard Westermarck’s archive

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