In June 1992, I taught for the first time the course Finland Prehistory to Present for the Helsinki Summer University. Little did I imagine then that I would teach the course every summer, with a handful of exceptions, for the next twenty-five years. The last lecture of the course in 2017, which covered Finland since the end of the Cold War, examined many events that had not yet occurred when I first taught the course, such as Finland’s accession to membership in the European Union, the introduction of the euro, and the zenith and fall of Nokia as a producer of mobile telephones.
The course has been the one constant in my career as a professional historian, despite the fact that teaching it has done little to advance my career. Nonetheless, I have found teaching the course a rewarding experience for several reasons.
The course has provided the only opportunity to regularly teach one of my main scholarly specialties—the history of Finland. At my permanent place of employment, Oklahoma State University, I have to teach some courses in European history, because they are tied to my position. Other courses that I teach must be broad enough that they will attract student interest. As a result, I teach a course in the history of Scandinavia as opposed to just Finland.
Finland Prehistory to Present offers stimulating pedagogical challenges different from what I face in the United States. At Oklahoma State University, most of my students are 18-22 years of age. The participants in my course in Finland range from teenagers to octogenarians. While Finns are the largest single group in the course, most participants are originally from outside of Finland. Most already have university degrees, many of the rest are studying at university. Many already have some knowledge of Finland’s history. Most students at OSU take my courses to fill some requirement for a degree. Most participants in the Finnish history course desire information in order to make sense of their current country of residence, whether native or adopted. I feel a sense of accomplishment that I have contributed to the integration of foreigners into Finnish society over the last quarter century.
I teach the course, because I find it inspiring. Even though the course offers academic credit, most participants attend lectures without doing the written work for formal academic credit. In this age of decreasing attention spans and increasingly visual edutainment, it is truly uplifting to find people who come voluntarily to listen to lectures for twenty-four hours over two weeks. These challenges and inspirations should sustain me for at least a few more years of teaching this course.
Kirjoittaja opettaa Helsingin kesayliopistossa kurssia History of Finland myös ensi kesänä.