Research Project St. Petersburg–Helsinki

The project studies the mutual influences in Helsinki and St. Petersburg from the second half of the 19th century up to the 1920s. The group of scholars in Finland co-operates with colleagues in St. Petersburg State University (financed by the Russian Academy of Sciences).

Alexander II Statue in Helsinki
Photo: Sami Syrjämäki

This period has been rather well covered in historical research as regards political struggles between Finland and Russia (the “Finnish Question”) and further developments, which led to Finnish independence. Other questions (such as the Finnish migration to St. Petersburg and the importance of St. Petersburg for Finnish artists) have also been examined.

However, almost nothing is known about the mutual influences in a wider context. Who were the Russian officers in Helsinki whose presence was so important in Russian cultural life, theatre and concerts, schools and libraries? To what extent were such Russian cultural items as works of art present in Helsinki? In which way was the booming urbanization of the two capitals reflected in their image of each other? How did the Russian institutions function in comparison with the Finnish institutions?

While political tension certainly was the main tenor in Finnish-Russian relations, this did not mean that mutual influences did not exist. Until now, the bigger picture of a crucial period of modernization and urbanization of both Finland and Russia has remained unknown. This is true also of the Russian experience and the Russian colony in Helsinki.

The Finnish-Russian research project considers the Russian point of view without forgetting the Finnish background. The Russian point of view and knowledge of the culture and social history of St. Petersburg is represented by our colleagues in St. Petersburg. The Finnish researchers will contribute to the joint effort through their knowledge of relevant Finnish research.

The Russian-born doctoral students, as well as the Finnish researchers are able to use the large collections of Russian-language sources available in Helsinki. So far these have been in little use. In St. Petersburg, the project is conducted by a group of historians in the State University and by a scholar of cultural history.


Directed by Docent Arto Luukkanen

Academy of Finland project
Department of World Cultures (University of Helsinki)

Reseach Group