The history of the Finnish Literary Research Society

The origins of the Society

Literary scholars in Helsinki started a private discussion club in 1926 where presentations and book reports were heard. The idea to found a society came up in spring 1927, a society that would act as a link between all literary scholars in the country and as a publication channel.

The committee set up to prepare matter included professor Viljo Tarkiainen and doctors J.V. Lehtonen and Eino Railo. The committee invited other literary scholars to negotiate the founding of a society. The decision to found a society called the Finnish Literary Research Society was unanimous among the 16 meeting participants, and it was entered into the Register of Associations on 12 November of the same year.

At the founding meeting, society officials were selected, a draft of regulations prepared by the interim committee was examined, members were registered and the members of the board selected.

In his concluding presentation professor Tarkiainen spoke about “the methods of literary research,” the most central of which he considered philological, historical, psychological, esthetic, social literary and comparative methods. As an addition to the psychological method, or as a sub-class, he mentioned the psychoanalytical method and study of style. Tarkiainen also considered whether there is a separate philosophical method or simply a school of thought that strives to bring literary research under the discipline of philosophy.

In the first year of activity, 20 professional members and one supporting member joined the society. A letter drafted for funding purposes by the board (dated 19 April 1928) specified the terms of membership: “The Finnish Literary Research Society only accepts as members active researchers who have in their publications addressed the branch of science represented by the society.”

The Literary Research Society’s annals and journal Avain

The Finnish Literary Research Society published its annals from 1929 to 2003. In 2004, the bookform publication transformed into a quarterly journal called Avain – Finnish Review of Literary Studies. The editorial responsibility of the journal is divided between different universities in Finland. The editorial board consists of ten professorial members, although the actual operative execution of the journal is the responsibility of the editors and the copy editor/layout editor.

In 2004-2006 the editors-in-chief were selected by method of application per publication so that the literary researchers of each Finnish university were equally represented. Since 2007 the editors have been selected for a year at a time.

The History of the Annals

The first Annals of the Finnish Literary Research Society was published in 1929 with the title “Bellman in Finland and other treatises”. The editors were J.V. Lehtonen, a docent of literary history from the University of Helsinki, and Rafael Koskimies, PhD.

In 1934, a letter signed by the Chair Eino Salokas and Vice Chair Vihtori Laurila stated that “our purpose is gradually to make this publication series biannual, so as to make the annals worthy of its name.” This goal was reached immediately. Yearly publication was achieved at the end of 1960s.

The Annals has often centred around a theme. However, in the 60s and 70s the Annals was published without a thematic title that would consolidate the publication. A few Annals were dedicated to influential researchers who had reached the age of 60. In more recent years, the Annals has been more focused on topical theoretical discussions. There has been a shift from the unannotated articles and essays of the 50s to a systematic referencing practice. At the same time the publication that was originally mainly a forum for professors has become a platform also for young researchers.

In the early decades, the Annals also included a French résumé of the entire publication, and later both the book and journal publications have included English summaries of all the articles. The publication follows a referee practice and all articles are listed in e.g. the MLA International Bibliography.

The Society Anniversary Conferences and Other Conference Activities

The Finnish Literary Research Society has celebrated its milestones in anniversary conferences in Helsinki in 1952 and 1957, in Jyväskylä in 2002 and again in Helsinki in 2007 and 2018 when the Society turned 90.

In addition to the anniversary conferences the Finnish Literary Research Society has organised national conferences annually since the 1990s – these events have gathered together literary scholars, teachers and graduate students from Finnish universities. The conferences always take place towards the end of May.

History of the Anniversary Conferences

The Society’s 25th Anniversary Conference was organised in Helsinki in 1952 with speeches from the Chair and Vice Chair. The 30th anniversary also took place in Helsinki with an anniversary speech, a presentation and poetry recitation. The central theme of the anniversary speech was the difference between literary research and the natural sciences.

The 75th anniversary conference was held in Jyväskylä in 2002 with speeches from Jean-Pierre Morel (Université de Paris III, Sorbonne nouvelle), Leena Kirstinä (University of Jyväskylä), Rein Veidemann (University of Tartu) and Kai Mikkonen (University of Helsinki) and with with sessions on a wide range of topics from the theory of the gaze to teaching literature and the study of creative writing.

The 80th anniversary in 2007 was organised in association with the National Doctoral School for Literary Studies. The keynote speakers were Dr Markku Lehtimäki (Tampere University) and Dr Kukku Melkas (University of Turku). There was a panel on “the directions and turning points of literary research”. The literary guest was the author, translator and literary scholar Kirsti Simonsuuri.

The 2008 and 2009 conferences were again organised in association with the National Doctoral School for Literary Studies. In 2008 the theme was “Multifaceted Mimesis”. The keynote speakers were academic Anders Olsson (the Swedish Academy), Dr Richard Walsh (University of York), professor Pirjo Lyytikäinen (University of Helsinki) and professor Erkki Vainikkala (University of Jyväskylä). In 2009 the theme of the more international conference was “Genre and Interpretation” with participants arriving from Justus Liebig University of Giessen, Germany.

In the autumn of 2018 the Society celebrated its 90th anniversary. The presentations of the anniversary conference are available on Youtube.