Norwegians at the world’s poles and the university’s explorers

In 2011, the Norwegians have two special anniversaries to celebrate: it is 150 years since the birth of Fridtjof Nansen and 100 years since Roald Amundsen and his expedition arrived at the South Pole.

Norwegians at the world’s poles and the university’s explorers

– For both Norway and Finland, it was important in the late 19th century to create a national image which emphasised the special character of the country, says Professor Markku Löytönen from the Department of Geosciences and Geography.

– For example, the Grand Duchy of Finland was significantly different from Russia: Finland was oriented to the West and had its own languages, own currency and own administrative tradition.

Science was also used in creating an image of a special country. A good example of this is the first national atlas of the world, the Atlas of Finland, published in 1899. Finland and Russia were separated by a thick line symbolising a national border, although such a border did not actually exist.

– The "Finnishness" or "Norwegianness" of the explorers was similarly capitalised on in the construction of the special image. Thus the Finns celebrate A. E. Nordenskiöld as a Finn while the Swedes celebrate him as a Swede.

– Today’s research lays down the path for new discoveries – just like the great explorers of old. Today, the expeditions made by Nansen, Amundsen and Nordenskiöld, for example, mainly have value from the perspective of the history of learning. However, at the time they represented top-level research and were thus invaluable milestones on the way forward, says Löytönen.

– Just like in the past centuries, researchers go on expeditions even today. Every day we try and find solutions to new scientific problems, which requires on-site field research. You should also remember the exploration of space and cosmology research. This equipment-intensive research is the present-day version of an expedition to distant lands. Every day such 'expeditions' bring us new information about space and the universe. Researchers at the University of Helsinki are also involved in exploration in many fields – biology, geology, geography, social sciences, archaeology, comparative religion, palaeontology, anthropology, space research and cosmology, to name just a few, Löytönen concludes.

Further information on the Nansen–Amundsen year » »

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Text: Karin Hannukainen
Photo: Nasjonalbiblioteket, Norja (bldsa_3b113)
Translation: AAC Global

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