The University of Helsinki scores highly in international comparisons of research and teaching in the humanities: it is among the leading Nordic and European universities and close to the top 50 in the world. The University’s high-quality multidisciplinary research in the humanities encompasses a wide spectrum of topics, from the past to the present and including languages and cultures. These topics are explored for the benefit of both the scientific community and the public. The research focuses particularly on cultural and linguistic diversity, interaction, language technology and corpora.
In the 2015/16 QS rankings, the Faculty was again ranked 67th in the world; in the 2016 THE rankings by subject, the University’s arts and humanities were ranked 55th. With the University of Aarhus (Denmark), the faculty is joint-ranked the highest among the Nordic countries. Furthermore, ‘arts and humanities’ is the best subject area at University of Helsinki, ranking higher than even medicine and natural sciences. The discipline of philosophy was ranked 30th in 2016 (46th in 2015) and linguistics was ranked 43rd (51st in 2015) in the QS World University Ranking by Subject. Modern languages, English language and literature and history maintained their position among the top 100. In 2016, a new comparison included archaeology. It is also ranked between 51 and 100.
An interpreter of languages and cultures
The world is becoming more and more global, and encounters between different people, languages and cultures are part of everyday life. These encounters emphasise verbal and cultural interaction and the need to understand difference.
The Helsinki Area & Language Studies initiative brings together linguistics specializing in various languages from all over the world, and produces in-depth knowledge concerning other cultures for the benefit of Finnish society. In Indigenous Studies, researchers turn their gaze towards the margins, focusing on indigenous peoples' knowledge and notions of cultures, languages, identity, history and the significance of indigenous peoples.
The up-to-date and precise linguistic and cultural knowledge can help in the solving of global problems related to the environment, climate change and well-being, and will benefit trade, tourism and immigrant integration.
The Helsinki University Humanities Programme is also part of the faculty. Programme's specific subjects are Indigenous Cultures and Languages and Environmental Humanities.
On the trail of shared experiences
How do we ensure mutual understanding? How does social interaction work? Linguists are addressing such questions with social scientists through the Intersubjectivity in Interaction project. This project is the Academy of Finland’s Centre of Excellence 2012–17 and is led by professor Marja-Leena Sorjonen.
Historical research looks at shared experiences and interaction from the point of view of the history of ideas, democracy and economy. Academy Professor Markku Peltonen studies the early stages of representative democracy. The Driving Forces of Democracy project takes a closer look at the patterns of democratization in Finland and Sweden. The Capitalism, State and Society research group, led by Professor Markku Kuisma, delves into the interaction between capitalism and society in Modern Europe.
Russia can be understood
There is no economics without politics and no politics without culture: the key to understanding Russia is a deep understanding of its culture. Finland is a superpower in the field of Russian studies, and Faculty of Arts’ Aleksanteri Institute is the field’s leading research community. Research in the humanities contributes to our wide-ranging understanding of Russia in the Academy of Finland’s Centre of Excellence in Russian Studies 2012–17. The Centre of Excellence looks at Russian modernization from the point of view of choices. Choices are impacted by the rules and resources of the society, as well as both economic and political challenges, defined by cultural preconditions with roots reaching far into the Russian past.
Humanities with a digital touch
The world of digital information would not function without a humanistic approach. The large corpora of the Faculty of Arts are internationally well known and attract top researchers to the Finnish capital. The historical corpus of the English language, maintained by the Varieng Research Unit, has been used for over 20 years and is still in the process of becoming more comprehensive. Knowledge of language technology is needed, for instance, in the development of automobile GPS systems and smartphones capable of recognizing speech. In addition to language studies, the new methods used in digital humanities open new perspectives for researchers in various disciplines from history to literary studies.
Research funded by European Research Council ERC
- Samu Niskanen's project Medieval publishing identifies the authors writing in Latin published original works during the period from c. 1000 to 1500.
- José Filipe Silva's project Rationality in Perception: Transformations of Mind and Cognition 1250–1550 aims to provide a more detailed and systematic account of the models of cognition that developed in the period 1250-1550.
- Marja Vierros' project Digital Grammar of Greek Documentary Papyri tries to develop an open access tool for studying Greek to benefit the academic community.
- Josephine Hoegaerts' Vocal Articulations of Parliamentary Identity and Empire project studies the political landscape of the 19th century as well as the impact of political rhetoric in European countries and their colonies.
- Maria Lasonen-Aarnio's project Success and Competence in Epistemology and Beyond develops and applies a new approach in epistemology.
- Tuomas Tahko's research project will pursue the question of what, if anything, unifies the natural sciences from the perspective of metaphysics and philosophy of science.
- Jörg Tiedemann's research tries to develop models for natural language understanding trained on implicit information given by large collections of human translations.
Jan von Plato’s project belongs to logic and its development. Its aim is to study the shorthand notes the Princeton logician Kurt Gödel, who was of Viennese origin, left behind.
Judith Pallot examines the specific features of the Russian system of punishment inherited from the Soviet period, which shapes how prisoners are managed in the correctional facilities of the Russian Federation at the present time and how this affects the experiences of the imprisonment of different ethnic minorities.
Volker Heyd aims to investigate how events from 5,000 years ago are still having an impact on European culture and genetic heritage.