In the Language Bank: Lotta Leiwo

Kielipankki – The Language Bank of Finland is a service for researchers using language resources. Lotta Leiwo tells us about her research in folkloristics, digging into the life and work of Finnish-American T-Bone Slim.

Who are you?

I am Lotta Leiwo, a doctoral researcher at the University of Helsinki, where I am studying for a PhD in history and cultural heritage. My dissertation in Folklore Studies examines the political role and nature-related rhetoric of Finnish-American women in the Finnish Socialist Federation (FSF) in the early 20th century. My main research data consists of FSF documents and a newspaper called Toveritar. The Toveritar, a mouthpiece of the FSF, targeted women and was edited and written mainly by women.

Prior to my doctoral project, I worked for two years as a research assistant on the project T-Bone Slim and the transnational poetics of the migrant left in North America (Kone Foundation 2022–2023). My main responsibility in this international project was the construction of the T-Bone Slim corpus and database. During the project, I wrote my Master’s thesis on Finnish socialist women in North America and found the topic for my dissertation.

What is your research topic?

In the T-Bone Slim project, an international research team studied the life and literary works of the second-generation American Finnish Matti Valentinpoika Huhta (1882–1942), also known as T-Bone Slim. Huhta was born in Ashtabula, Ohio, to a Finnish family that emigrated from Kälviä, Central Ostrobothnia. He spent his childhood and youth in Finnish communities in the US, working as a dock worker and as a correspondent for the local chapter of the temperance movement. In the 1910s, Huhta abandoned his family and took up a life as a ’hobo’ or itinerant worker. By the 1920s, Huhta became radicalised, joining the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and becoming a columnist for IWW newspapers and periodicals. He continued his writing career under the pen name T-Bone Slim until his death. Huhta lived his last years in New York, where he worked as a deck scow captain. In May 1942, he was found drowned in New York’s East River and was almost forgotten for several decades. For further exploration of the unresolved questions surrounding T-Bone Slim’s death, please visit our project blog and read Saku Pinta’s two-part text ”Who Killed T-Bone Slim” Part I and Part II.

In the late 2010s, musician John Westmoreland, a relative of Slim’s, discovered his ”Uncle Matt’s” T-Bone Slim writing career. Around the same time, academic interest in Slim, who had a Finnish background, began to grow, and his relatives and researchers found each other over T-Bone Slim Studies. The research continued in a project funded by the Kone Foundation, which brought together John Westmoreland and scholars from Finland, the UK, the US, Canada, and Australia. Kirsti Salmi-Niklander is the Principal Investigator of the project. We collected the T-Bone Slim materials gathered by the researchers from various archives organizing them into a corpus to enchance accessibility for others interested in the subject. In total, data from 14 archives across three continents and five countries – the United States, Canada, Finland, Sweden and Australia – provided the materials.

The corpus encompasses a total of 1294 texts written by T-Bone Slim and published in English in IWW periodicals. However, Slim also wrote in Finnish on occasion and occasionally used Swedish. Furthermore, the corpus also includes the surviving manuscripts written by Slim.

The texts written by T-Bone Slim are a gold mine for researchers. Slim used language cleverly, combining different genres and means of expression. In addition, the historical, literary and cultural references found in the texts provide an opportunity to examine the IWW movement, transnational migration and history in the United States from diverse perspectives. The language employed in the texts is rich, insightful, and even playful, and may be of interest to linguists. As the material comprises both published and unpublished texts, it offers insights into both the editorial processes of political publishing and the writing practices of an individual author.

Within the framework of the project, I have examined the literary practices, literacy acquisition of Finnish migrant-settlers and Slim’s utilization of genres from a semiotic perspective. Notably, Slim’s texts exhibit multilingualism in both background and content, incorporating intertextuality and multimodality across various genres and oral-literary practices. Such practices are evident, for example, in his song lyrics. In typical IWW style, Slim wrote lyrics addressing social injustices to popular song tunes known to readers. The lyrics were thus written to be sung, with the aim of provoking the reader/singer to reflect on the message of the lyrics. As Owen Clayton, a collaborator on our project, has observed, T-Bone Slim sought to activate and engage readers through language and words. I, too, am continually amazed and delighted by Slim’s skilful written expression.

How is your research related to Kielipankki?

In the early stages of the project, we thought long and hard about a suitable repository for the T-Bone Slim corpus and database. Our priority was to find a long-term storage solution for the materials that would ensure the materials’ widespread accessibility. Equally important was the need for the corpus to be explored and analysed through digital humanities methods.

The T-Bone Slim corpus and database will be published in April 2024 in Kielipankki, which fulfills all our storage and access requirements. The collection consists of photographic and microfilm scans of the original materials (newspapers, periodicals and manuscripts) with transcriptions and a database. The database includes all the texts in the corpus accompanied by metadata (date of publication, publication, title of the text, archive from which the material was collected, language, etc.). Additionally, we have experimented abstracting the data into a subset of the materials. For example, the people and places mentioned by T-Bone Slim and information about the poems or songs contained in the texts are listed in the abstracted data. The purpose of the database is to facilitate data navigation and serve as a foundation for more detailed abstraction of the data by other researchers.

T-Bone Slim Corpus and Database Launching Event

Welcome to the Resurrection – T-Bone Slim Corpus and Database Launching Event on Monday May 20th, 2024 at 15:00–17:00. The launching event is open to the public and the program can be followed both via Zoom and on-site at the Finnish Literature Society (Hallituskatu 1, Helsinki). More information and registration for remote participants:


Apajalahti, Eeva-Lotta et al. (2022). ”Ihmistieteelliset näkökulmat metsiin tuottavat tietoa moninaisista metsäsuhteista ja niiden tulevaisuuksista.” Vuosilusto 14(2022): 13–51.

Leiwo, Lotta (2024). ”When One’s Life Becomes the Field. Assessing the Field in Collaborative Autoethnography.” Marburg Journal of Religion 25(1).

Leiwo, Lotta (2023). ”Luontokin näkyy olevan köyhälistöä vastaan.” Luonto kolmantena tilana Toveritar-lehden paikkakuntakirjeissä 1916–1917. Master’s thesis. Helsinki: University of Helsinki.

Leiwo, Lotta (2023). ”Suomen koloniaalin osallisuuden kontekstit haltuun: Hoegaerts, Josephine, Tuire Liimatainen, Laura Hekanaho ja Elizabeth Peterson (toim.). 2022. Finnishness, Whiteness and Coloniality.” Elore, 30(2), 142–147. Book review.

Mäkelä, Heidi Henriikka, Leiwo, Lotta, Linkola, Hannu ja Rinne, Jenni (2023). ”The spiritual forest: an ethnographic exploration on Finnish forest yoga and the forest landscape.” Landscape Research.


Entries from the Research Project’s Blog

Leiwo, Lotta (2023). ”T-Bone Slim Database – Final Steps.” T-Bone Slim and the transnational poetics of the migrant left in North America -tutkimushankkeen blogi. Published 18.12.2023.

Leiwo, Lotta (2023). ”T-Bone Slim Database – Next Steps.” T-Bone Slim and the transnational poetics of the migrant left in North America -tutkimushankkeen blogi. Published 22.6.2023.

Salmi-Niklander, Kirsti (2023).”’T-Bone Slim’ eli Matti V. Huhta ajatteli ja kirjoitti kahdella kielellä kulkurielämästä ja työläisten oikeuksista” Vähäisiä lisiä -blogi. Published 12.5.2023.

Clayton, Owen (2023). ”Technocracy and T-Bone Slim’s Break with Ralph Chaplin”. T-Bone Slim and the transnational poetics of the migrant left in North America -tutkimushankkeen blogi. Published 1.3.2023.

Dalbello, Marija (2022). ”From my Archival ‘Digs’, part I. Finding Slim!”. T-Bone Slim and the transnational poetics of the migrant left in North America -tutkimushankkeen blogi. Published 12.12.2022.

Pinta, Saku (2022). ”T-Bone Slim’s Forgotten Finnish-Language Writings in the IWW Press”. T-Bone Slim and the transnational poetics of the migrant left in North America -tutkimushankkeen blogi. Published 20.10.2022.

Leiwo, Lotta (2022). ”T-Bone Slim Database – First Steps”. T-Bone Slim and the transnational poetics of the migrant left in North America -tutkimushankkeen blogi. Published 5.10.2022.

The FIN-CLARIN consortium consists of a group of Finnish universities along with CSC – IT Center for Science and the Institute for the Languages of Finland (Kotus). FIN-CLARIN helps the researchers in Finland to use, to refine, to preserve and to share their language resources. The Language Bank of Finland is the collection of services that provides the language materials and tools for the research community.