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Fragile mind, wellbeing and madness during the early modern and modern periods  



Online lecture series (March–May 2021) 

Emotional wellbeing is largely intertwined with a sense of security. Personal or social traumatic events and repetitive trauma may disturb this sense and leave the individual for instance fearful or anxious. Emotional bonds with other humans such as caregivers, family members, or friends serve as a base for wellbeing, but if these bonds are weak or even hostile, person’s mental wellbeing is endangered. For instance, continuous experiences of indifference, contempt, and rejection during childhood may have long lasting effects on the individual’s adult life.  


Within this online lecture series, the speakers study fragility of human mind and wellbeing with a wide time span from the 18th century to post-WW II. Definitions and manifestations of mental illnesses are culturally bound, but the contributions look on how emotional wellbeing and vulnerability associated with disempowerment may be described in different cultures and contexts. Lectures discuss poverty, illness, madness, mental disorders, criminal behaviour, and suicide as well as prerequisites of evolvement of social bonds through historical, archaeological, and osteological sources. Contributions provide new insights to generational and intergenerational effects of conflicts and traumatic everyday life experiences during both childhood and adulthood. Additionally, the contributions discuss resilience, adaption, societal developments, and empowerment arisen from the traumatic events and experiences, but also outcomes of social constrain and political exploitation.  



Lecture series was arranged by Sanna Lipkin and Tiina Väre, Archaeology, University of Oulu  

Past lectures

March 2021 
Thursday 18.3. at 17.00 (EET, Helsinki / 16.00 CET)
Sanna Lipkin 
Coping with trauma: Childhood and adolescence experiences during the 18th to 19th century wars and everyday life in Finland 


In Finland, wars such as the Great Wrath (1713–1721) and the Finnish War (1808–1809) affected the lives of children. Children were taken as captive and sent to work as slaves, they experienced violence and oppression, or at least saw violent death. This type of trauma may lead to disoriented or avoidant mentalities during adulthood and serve as a base for parental behavioural patterns. The patterns and mentalities are often inherited from a caregiver to their child and have long historical roots between generations. This lecture will explore both the wars as traumatic events and overall patterns of everyday neglect in the 18th to 19th century Finnish context through archaeological, historical and folkloric evidence. As a counterpoise, human resilience will be touched upon as well as the evidence of guiding philosophies and religious views regarding childcare, education and generally contemporary ideas of the status of children. 


Sanna Lipkin is archaeologist working as Academy Research Fellow at the University of Oulu. She runs project “Daily and afterlife of children (1300–1900): New perspectives in identifying childhood in the past” (2017–2023).  

Wednesday 24.3. at 17.00 (EET, Helsinki / 16.00 CET)
Eva Svensson (giving the talk), associate professor Martin Hansson, Dr Pia Nilsson (co-authors) 
‘As far below as you can come’? Historical archaeology on marginalization, vulnerability and strategies of paupers and non-proprietors in 19th century Sweden 


In the 19th and early 20th centuries there were numerous non-proprietors and paupers in the Swedish countryside, such as crofters, boarders and inhabitants of rural slums. In this talk, the living conditions, vulnerability, marginalization and strategies of paupers and non-proprietors will be examined in a couple of case studies targeting rural slums, industrial shut down and unemployment, and life on the wrong side of the law. Being poor also meant being more exposed to risks than people with greater resources, and having fragile safety nets. Marginalization could offer new possibilities to the poor, but also weaker security nets and increased vulnerability. 


Eva Svensson is a historical archaeologist currently working as Professor in Risk- and Environmental Studies, Karlstad university, Sweden. Her research mainly focuses on social, ecological and interdisciplinary approaches to forested landscapes in a long-term perspective, subaltern environment and lifescapes in the 18th–20st centuries and the role of heritage and nature in community building and rural development. She has, together with Martin Hansson and Pia Nilsson, recently concluded the research project: “De obesuttnas arkeologi och kulturarv” (The archaeology and heritage of the subaltern), on which this presentation is based. 

Tuesday 30.3 at 14.00 (EET, Helsinki / 13.00 CET)
Petteri Pietikäinen 
Social class and mental illness in late 19th and early 20th -century Finland 


Like in most European countries, access to health care in Finland was very much dependent on one’s wealth in the 19th and early 20th centuries. And as the majority of people in this predominantly agrarian country were poor at this time, the mentally disordered typically lived within the local community, either with their own family, or in receipt of a rudimentary form of municipal poor relief. As this presentation demonstrates, rather than being just one factor among other significant determinants shaping mental health care in Finland, social class was actually intrinsic to the very establishment of public mental health care itself. 


Petteri Pietikäinen is Professor of the History of Sciences and Ideas at the University of Oulu. His research interests include the history of madness and mental health; history of evolutionary theories; history of Utopian thought; and relations between the human sciences and society. His most recent book published in English is Social Class and Mental Illness in Northern Europe (Routledge 2019), a volume he has co-edited. 

April 2021 


Tuesday 13.4. at 17.00 (EET, Helsinki / 16.00 CET)
Tiina Väre 
Unattached mothers? 


Breastfeeding is highly regarded as the foundation of lifelong health and the base of attachment between the infant and mother. Much like the current official recommendations, in the past full breastfeeding was typically encouraged. Yet, it is known to have been avoided out of vanity as well as necessity. Stable isotope studies of dentin collected from archaeological remains may bring clarity to whether the mothers indeed neglected childcare. In addition, these results allow further considerations on the topic of investment in parenthood and caretaking in the populations concerned. The physical remains of the study subjects offer excellent opportunities to study the effect of insufficient breastfeeding on somatic health. Possible damages to their psychological health or in social interactions are, however, less readily observable. Is it possible to form an understanding on these effects using the breastfeeding data? Can we reach into the minds of our ancestors who lived centuries ago?   


Tiina Väre is a postdoctoral researcher funded by the Academy of Finland working at the University of Oulu. She studies breastfeeding in past populations using stable isotope analyses of dentin.  

Thursday 22.4. at 17.00 (EET, Helsinki / 16.00 CET)
Ulla Moilanen 
Burial of criminal corpses in Medieval and Early Modern Finland 


In Medieval and Early Modern Finland, the burial place and funerary rituals were mostly determined by ecclesiastical authorities. Special attention was paid to suspected suicide or crime victims and criminals, who may have been treated differently in death than the regular individuals. According to common beliefs, these individuals were not allowed to be buried in consecrated ground, but is this assumption correct? This lecture will take an overview of practices and regulations affecting the treatment, burial and disposal of bodies of criminals, sinners and suiciders and explores the archaeological evidence on the matter, as well as the concept of criminality in the period. The archaeological material also offers an opportunity to examine individual cases, as well as personal and intimate motives behind the varied treatment of the dead. 


Ulla Moilanen is currently finishing her PhD in archaeology at the University of Turku. Her thesis deals with atypical burials and variations in burial customs. She is also interested in the application of scientific methods in archaeology, new ways to produce holistic interpretations of the past, Late Iron Age and medieval Finland, and community archaeology. 

Thursday 29.4. at 17.00 (EET, Helsinki / 16.00 CET)
Heini Hakosalo  
Fragile and resilient: children in tuberculosis sanatoria 


The lecture discusses paediatric tuberculosis, its institutional treatment and the experience of being ill with and treated for paediatric forms of tuberculosis in 20th-century Finland. Characterised by extremely long treatment periods and often by strict immobilisation, the treatment of paediatric tuberculosis gave rise to very special childhood experiences, as well as specific forms of resilience and fragility.   


Heini Hakosalo works as a Senior Research Fellow in the History of Sciences and Ideas, University of Oulu. She specialises in the history of medicine and health. 

May 2021 


Thursday 6.5. at 17.00 (EET, Helsinki / 16.00 CET / 10 am EST)
Paul R. Mullins 
Abhorrent Bodies: The Relics of Evil 


This lecture examines how the material remains of history’s most abhorrent characters fuel contemporary politics. The corpse invokes the power of the deceased and is constructed as an active presence representing distinct values, so the bodies of reviled historical figures have the capacity to foster, amplify, or reproduce unsettling or unacceptable politics. The talk examines a series of people who had dark histories and charts how their burials function as dynamic politicized landscapes. 


Paul R. Mullins is Professor in the Department of Anthropology at Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis (IUPUI) and Docent in Historical Archaeology at the University of Oulu. He is the author of Revolting Things: An Archaeology of Shameful Histories and Repulsive Realities (Univ. Press of Florida 2021). 

Tuesday 11.5. at 17.00 (EET, Helsinki / 16.00 CET)
Lauri M. Moilanen 
Distress, anxiety, and weariness of life framing a suicidal murder in late eighteenth-century Finland 


The rural parish of Siikajoki, in Northern Ostrobothnia, Finland, encountered an extraordinary event on the 10th of September 1756. A local peasant farmer’s daughter Karin Ericksdotter Kåcko murdered her sister Margeta Kåcko’s child with the purpose to get sentenced to death. Karin committed a suicidal murder: a notorious crime type that became common in early modern Lutheran Europe. In this presentation, we will study Karin Kåcko’s crime by microhistorically analyzing court records. We will examine what kind of mental experiences led Karin, at first, to consider suicide and, secondly, abandon the idea of suicide and commit murder instead. Therefore, we will learn what kind of factors evoked distress, anxiety, and suicidality in early modern Finnish society. 


Lauri M. Moilanen is Doctoral Student in the History of Sciences and Ideas, University of Oulu. The lecture is based on the lecturer’s dissertation in the making; “Suicidal murder as a criminal phenomenon in Finland 1600–1800", and an article manuscript “Distress, anxiety, and weariness of life framing a suicidal murder in late eighteenth-century Finland”, published in 2021–22. 

Tuesday 18.5. at 17.00 (EET, Helsinki / 16.00 CET)
Jonas Liliequist 
Guilt, Shame, and Despair in Early Modern Sweden  


Guilt, shame, and despair were most prominent emotional features in the processes of early modern state building, confessionalisation and social disciplining. The framing of conscience and the inculcation of a sense of guilt were crucial to the process of confessionalisation and enforcement of stricter morals. Shame was frequently exerted by the church and early modern state for both reintegrative and stigmatizing purposes. The aim of this lecture is to show how guilt and shame produced fragile minds and despair sometimes resulting in desperate acts and deeds. Feelings of guilt and shame were often intertwined but an analytical distinction will be made between religious and social despair connected to excessive guilt and stigmatizing shame, respectively.  


Jonas Liliequist, professor emeritus Department of historical, philosophical, and religious studies at Umeå University, UGPS (Umeå Group for Premodern Studies) 

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