Visions of Empire in Russia’s Western Periphery

Project leader

Susanna Rabow-Edling

Project period

2017- ongoing

Project description

When the Finnish part of the Swedish realm was ceded to Russia in 1809, the autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland was formed. This meant that Finland became part of a vast empire, stretching from the Åland Islands to Alaska, which had important implications for the development of the country and for the opportunities and imaginings of its inhabitants. In fact, the Russian era was to become a very important century in Finnish history when the conditions for modern Finland were created.

From the 1830s, Finnish people started to benefit from this vast realm. They played a major role in the colonization of Alaska, in the Russian-American company, and in the whale fishery in the Pacific. This experience influenced notions of Finland’s relationship to the Empire and to the rest of the world. In this paper I investigate how these imperial experiences, which were linked to Finland’s self-image and to conceptions of modernization, were expressed in the Finnish press from 1809 to 1867, when Alaska was sold to the United States. I am interested in the dreams and visions that this colony sparked in Finland and its impact on the creation of an imperial identity. What image of the colony and the empire was conveyed in its western periphery? How was Finland’s own role in relation to the colony and the empire’s civilizing mission in the new world portrayed? In what way could the empire contribute to the modernization of Finland? How were imperial hierarchies expressed?