Hanne Appelqvist to lead Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies

Interim Director Hanne Appelqvist has been appointed as the new Director of the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies (HCAS) for a five-year term to begin in January 2024.

Hanne Appelqvist has served as interim Director of HCAS since August 2023. Before that, she was the Deputy Director since 2019.  

Appelqvist is a philosopher and has worked especially on history of philosophy as well as philosophical aesthetics. After receiving her doctoral defense in 2007 at Columbia University in the City of New York, she worked for several years in research projects funded mostly by the Research Council of Finland.

“Being appointed as the Deputy Director of the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies was a significant change in my career”, Appelqvist tells. “At first I didn’t think that a leadership role in the academia would come naturally to me, as I had grown to think of myself first and foremost as a researcher. On the other hand, the more administrative side of the job has also been motivating, because I see it as the means by which one can promote the collegium’s primary purpose, namely, to offer researchers space and time for their curiosity-driven research”.

The five years she spent as the Deputy have prepared her for the challenges that the new position undoubtedly will bring. Hands-on knowledge of the current practices of the collegium also frees up mental space to think about the ways in which the institute could be developed further.

Appelqvist laudably fullfils the appointment criteria   

According to the preparation group, led by vice-rector Hanna Snellman, and the HCAS board, Appelqvist has shown clear motivation and enthusiasm for the position, as well as a realistic view of its challenges. The preparation group appreciated her strengths in finding solutions in new situations and in justifying her solutions in a logical and convincing way.  

Hanne Appelqvist has the ability to support researchers in a constructive manner, and her approach is collaborative  and dialogical. The preparation group also considered Appelqvist’s strategic vision for the Collegium to be well aligned with the strategy of University of Helsinki. 

Appelqvist is the first woman to be appointed for a five-year term as the Director of the Collegium. 

“While individual recruitments should, in my opinion, be based on academic merit, it is clear that in the Finnish academia leadership positions are still mostly occupied by men. Quite a few colleagues, both from abroad and from Finland, have been pleased that this recruitment process resulted in a woman being appointed”, Appelqvist says. 

“Personally, I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to continue my work at the collegium, because I am deeply committed to its cause. I have been touched by the many messages from fellows and alumni that express gratitude for the opportunity to focus on research during their fellowship term. In a way, this is paradoxical, given that research should naturally lie at the center of a researcher’s work anyway”. 

According to Appelqvist, the pressures resulting from teaching, administration, and external funding applications may lead, at worst, to a situation where a researcher has little time for the research that should provide the foundation for their teaching. 

“It is great to work in and for a unit whose goal is to make it possible for distinguished and most promising younger scholars to concentrate on their own academic passions”. 

According to Appelqvist, the most important duty of the collegium’s leadership is to champion for academic freedom, which she does not expect to be always easy. She expresses concern for the status of free academic research, which according to her faces pressures from several directions – both from political decision makers as well as from within the academia itself. For example, a great bulk of research funding has been directed to themes that are perceived as timely and strategically relevant. 

“My own experience is that many researchers will focus on topical themes in any case, but in order for us to have tools to address these themes in a groundbreaking and innovative manner, the foundations of our theoretical expertise must be strong. And this requires basic research also on topics whose immediate applicability is not always obvious”.

Collegiality and mutual respect between fellows are visible at the collegium

According to Appelqvist, one of the greatest features of the collegium is the spirit of mutual respect and collegial support between fellows, which is reflected in the good results the collegium keeps getting in the university’s workplace well-being surveys. 

“Over the academic year, our community grows together, and given that each fellow’s research is discussed at least once during the year, people get to know one another both socially and academically”, Appelqvist says. “The developing trust between fellows makes it possible to have open, critical, and at times feisty conversations, for instance at the collegium’s weekly seminar.” 

The research community of the Collegium is markedly international. Currently, almost 80 per cent of HCAS fellows are originally from outside of Finland.

“At the same time, it must be acknowledged that the global north is still better represented at the expense of some other geographical areas”, Appelqvist says.

She plans to look into ways in which the collegium could support the university’s goals of increasing the diversity and inclusivity of the academia”.

About societal impact 

According to Appelqvist, the primary mission of the university is to guarantee a broad, research-based and self-corrective knowledge and skill base and transmit this expertise to future generations. 

“Researchers are not only seeking solutions to the ‘wicked problems’ of our time, but critical thinking, understanding, and knowledge of the world are themselves values that must be fostered. Abraham Flexner, the founding director of the original IAS in Princeton, noted already in the 1930s that while such curiosity-driven academic project may at first glance seem useless, over the course of history it has proved to be surprisingly useful". 

According to Appelqvist, we cannot reliably predict what kinds of challenges the future will bring and what research topic or field will be needed to solve them. A research project that initially looked marginal may become indispensable overnight. 

“It is important to understand that the timescale of academic research is not in synchrony with the timescale of societal problems. This is why we should allow academic research to follow its own self-corrective and polyphonic course”.

What has Wittgenstein got to do with it?

Hanne Appelqvist also serves as the chair of the Nordic Wittgenstein Society.  When asked whether Wittgenstein is in any way relate to all of this, Appelqvist tells that, like Immanuel Kant, Wittgenstein thought that the natural sciences and the human sciences are different kinds of endeavors and aimed in his philosophy to provide an overview of the unique characteristics of the latter. When the natural sciences seek to explain and predict natural phenomena, the human sciences pursue an increased understanding of human action, language, and cultures. 

“Regardless of whether one agrees with Kant and Wittgenstein or not, their thinking and the philosophical developments thereof provide a fertile perspective for critical reflection of the scope of humanities and social sciences”.

Institute for Advanced Study

Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) is an international model for research institutes, drawing its inspiration from the original Institute for Advanced Study established in Princeton in 1930. Core values of any IAS are the promotion and protection of academic freedom and curiosity-driven basic research. Most IASs also promote multi- or interdisciplinary collaboration. There are currently some 150 IASs around the world.

The Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Study was founded in 2001 as an independent institute of the University of Helsinki to promote research in the humanities and social sciences. The Helsinki Collegium has been a member of the Network of European Institutes for Advanced Study (Netias) since the establishment of the network in 2004.

Hanne Appelqvist

Hanne Appelqvist (Ph.D. 2007, Columbia University) is Docent of Theoretical Philosophy at the Universities of Turku and Helsinki. At HCAS, she has served as the Deputy Director from 2019 to August 2023  and as interim Director since August 2023. Appelqvist’s fields of specialty are history of philosophy and philosophical aesthetics. She is editor-in-chief of Estetika: the European Journal of Aesthetics and chair of the Nordic Wittgenstein Society