Treasures from the archives to be released

Do alphabet books from the 1920s or advertisements from 19th century London sound interesting? A research material survey by the Faculty of Arts has unearthed material accrued over the decades by researchers and teachers, and it will soon be released to the public.

The oldest Master’s theses are from the 19th century, and you can tell because they were written in ink. By the 1930s, students had started using typewriters. However, the page numbers are still written by hand, and images and maps are glued onto the pages of the Master’s thesis booklet. Many of the thesis topics have to do with the regional dialects of Finland, for example, the dialect in the town of Kitee, different words for “bread”, and Helsinki slang.

These Master’s theses in the Finnish language were among the treasures discovered in the archives of the Faculty of Arts over the course of the From Data to Publication project.

Aiming for accessibility and use

 “The project involved many different types of material: theses, notes left behind by researchers as well as collected research data. Approximately one quarter of the material is in a digital format,” explains Amanuensis Mari Siiroinen, who coordinated the project.

The intention is to make this material available not only to the academic community but also to the community at large. One way of preserving the material is to donate it to suitable archive organisations. The National Archives, the folk poetry archive of the Finnish Literature Society and the Society of Swedish Literature in Finland store a variety of material in their collections. These archives are typically open to all.

Solutions to the need for open archives have already been proposed elsewhere. For example, the arXiv open archive of physics, astronomy, computer science and mathematics celebrated its 25th anniversary in August. ArXiv contains more than a million studies, and has accrued a total of 139 million downloads. Information Specialist Ursula Virolainen from the Helsinki University Library writes about arXiv in her Finnish-language blog post.

Snooping in the archives

Student Petri Lahtinen was able to study the archives for his traineeship. He became particularly familiar with material from the Department of World Cultures.

 “My idea and experience of what it is like to work in an archive surveying research data was a little romanticised. I got to dig around and study forgotten documents and other material from around the world, some of it centuries old. I sometimes felt like a character unearthing a mystery in an Umberto Eco novel.”

Lahtinen is worried about the future of the material once the people who know the most about it eventually leave the University.

 “The Department of World Cultures has a lot of interesting and valuable material, and only a frustratingly small number of people know exactly where it is and what it contains. I truly hope that my own work in this project has helped to preserve this material and publicise it among the broader University community."

Open information is the way of the future

Making the material accessible promotes open information. One advocate of open information is Dean Arto Mustajoki from the Faculty of Arts.

 “Opening the different types of research material to the research community is a modern way of thinking in the spirit of open data. In the best case, this will generate research which would have otherwise been impossible. The long-term preservation of the research data is also important for coming generations," Mustajoki states.