Biggest Nordic humanities prize to Heikki Pihlajamäki

Professor Heikki Pihlajamäki has received the most prestigious Nordic humanities prize, the Gad Rausing Prize. He accepted the prize at the annual meeting of the Royal Swedish Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities at Stockholm City Hall on 20 March.

Academy Professor Heikki Pihlajamäki, Professor of Comparative Legal History at the University of Helsinki, has won the Gad Rausing Prize for Outstanding Humanities Research. Pihlajamäki was awarded the prize, worth 1.5 million Swedish krona, for his ingenious and groundbreaking research in comparative legal history.

“It was a wonderful surprise. I see it as encouragement for not just myself, but also the whole research community in legal history, which has in recent decades made major strides in both international and Nordic contexts,” says Pihlajamäki in a press release from the Royal Swedish Academy (in Swedish).

“My research field has developed from a national to a European and global discipline using historical, legal and social scientific methods to understand change and continuity in law and society. We legal historians engage in a continuous dialogue with colleagues interested in current topics, such as colonialism and cultural and religious interaction,” he notes.

Pihlajamäki was awarded for playing an influential role and gaining significant international recognition in the field of legal history for his keen empirical and theoretical acuity and his extensive chronological and global perspectives. His research is characterised by a profound understanding of legal technicalities in the past and the ability to use comparative methods to uncover legal principles and practices, including their basis in legal philosophy.

Pihlajamäki’s research covers extensive time periods, from mediaeval canon law to modern times, and major geographical areas including Finland, Sweden, the Baltic countries, Russia, France and even Latin America. His work has identified new directions in research on legal history and produced truly outstanding results of long-term significance.

At present, Pihlajamäki heads the research project Comparing Early Modern Colonial Laws: England, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain examining the legal strategies of key colonial powers (England, the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal) during the early modern period. The judicial systems of the colonies are explored in two contexts: with a view to the mediaeval law of the colonial powers on the one hand, and to European legal development on the other. The project will also compare different colonial legal systems.