Finland People . Nation . State is a collection of essays edited by Max Engman and David Kirby, covering a broad range of subject matters relevant to Finlands History , from the colonization of Finland to Finland as a post-industrialisation state. This review isnt going to look at the factual accuracy of the text because, being a collection of essays one would naturally assume that that was checked by the editors. I am going to give a critique of the text generally and looking specifically at three of the essays, being :Perceptions of Finalnd by W.R Mead, The Womens Movement by Irma Sulkunen and Finland as a Nordic Society by Erick Allardt.
As one would expect by a text written by multiple authors , the relevance and ability greatly varies between the essays. There are three general criticisms that I found with the text, ( note that these criticisms are not with direct reference to every single essay). Some of the Essays seemed to rely more on padding and tangents into the irrelevant than actual factual history. More specifically, they jump from thought to thought without devoting much time to exploring the one idea. For example in Perceptions of Finland, the author discusses the perception of Finland broadly as all things to all men, jumping from discussing how all countries are interested in how others perceive them , to statements on how Finns are rather less given to nostalga than most Europeans In itself this suggests a discrepancy as the author implies at various points that nations care about their image but this isnt reflected if the Finns are depicted as nonchalant about their history. It also jumps from discussions of Finlands image stemming from its geography, to its maritime prowess, its epic winters, its art, wilderness, to its peripheral location in Europe etc. While each of these points are relevant and particularly interesting, I felt that the essay was too short to cover such a broad range and thus each idea wasnt pursued to its maximum potential.
Another problem I found with some of the essays was that they expected the reader to already have a broad knowledge of Finnish history. While this is fine for those who do, I dont think a good essay should require the reader to have a stack of text books next to them whilst they read so that they can understand when the author name drops , especially when they base their arguments on a historical event or figure without explaining who or what that actually was. For example, in The Womens Movement, Sulkunen presents three major theories on why Finland was the first European nation to grant women equal sufferage. The second theory is based on the role played by Governor General Obolensky, however the essay doesnt explain who he is or what he actually did, rather just drops his name into the essay rather randomly. Granted the essays are short and cant go into an in-depth discussion of every fact refered to, however, things which major arguments are based on I felt shouldve been further explored.
One final criticism is that things were sometimes oversimplified. While they mayve been further qualified later in the discussion, their presence in a limited essay seemed to take up space which couldve been devoted to further exploring ideas which were sometimes neglected. Eg in Finland as a Nordic Society, the two varied Nordic systems are explained by the following Finland is close to Sweden, while Iceland and Norway are closer to Denmark. This seems overtly simplistic, especially since no further explanation is given within that paragraph.
Although I have presented these criticisms with the text, doesnt mean that it was an unworthwhile read. In its merit, Finland People . Nation . State is a great starting point if you want a basic and broad overview of Finnish history. I found the collection of essays from different authors to be intriguing because it presented different perspectives and takes on topics. Also it covered varied interest points which different people specialize in, which mightnt have been covered if reading a text by one author. Two major points which seemed to emerge about Finland as a concurrent theme can be summarized in the following quotes. Firstly Edward Clarke is quoted to having said that Finland is a nation in all things given to excess, whether on the brighter or the darker side This is expressed through discussions as broad as its extreme weather, to in 1906 giving women the vote, to the indulgence of Finns in saunas and alcohol. The second major theme which is presented throughout is the political objective of Finland, first presented in 1871 by Zachris Topelius who said that the Finnish political aims is To be neutral, to be self-sufficient, to have the freedom to look after ones own interests. These two themes reflect an important starting point when trying to grasp the gist of Finnish culture, politics, environment and history.
Overall, Finland people. Nation. State is a good text for a basic introduction to Finnish history. While it has faults such as oversimplification, vagueness and tangents, it is a good starting point for looking at a broad history of Finland . The multitude of authors gives a broad and interesting information base and areas of speciality. Further this varies the writing styles which helps maintain reader interest. I wouldnt use this text as a sole source of information as it is prone to not fully exploring issues raised and making major arguments on people/ events which it doesnt actually explore in any detail. However, as far as getting a basic overview and starting point for further research, Finland People. Nation. State is a great introductory text.
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