History of SLS

Tidens vinge, ett glasverk av konstnären Brita Flander.

Finland was part of the Kingdom of Sweden for several hundred years up until 1809 when Finland became part of the Russian Empire. When Finland was separated from Sweden, a Finnish national identity was created. As part of the construction of this national identity, the Fennoman movement emerged, which promoted the Finnish language and Finnish culture. Up until that point, Swedish had been the dominant cultural, academic and administrative language.
The reason for the foundation of SLS in 1885 was the view that the Swedish language and Swedish culture in Finland were under threat or might even die out. In the 1880s, the Fennoman movement was gaining ground as an important political movement. It was therefore seen as important to found an organisation whose task was to collect material and publish books about Swedish culture in Finland. This was seen as important not only in order to preserve the material and information for future generations but also to strengthen and consolidate the identity of Finland-Swedes and their understanding of themselves.

The fear that the Swedish language would die out in Finland waned after Finland’s constitution was written, which secured the needs of both the Finnish and the Swedish language groups, and the Language Acts of 1922 and 2004 have firmly established the position of the Swedish language as a national language in Finland.

Finland-Swedes at work and leisure

Since 1885, SLS has collected historical and literary documents and manuscripts of various kinds. SLS was founded in memory of the Finnish national author Johan Ludvig Runeberg, which is why a large body of material about Runeberg was collected. SLS also maintained the key research for and publication of J.L. Runeberg’s collected writings. SLS has also received archival material about artist Albert Edelfelt, author Edith Södergran, writer and visual artist Tove Jansson and many others who have contributed to cultural life in Swedish in Finland.

Initially, SLS also focused strongly on collecting as much older folklore as possible. Students were sent out into the countryside in order to note down information about folk medicine, folk tales, riddles, crafts and ways of life. Right up until the 1960s, the Society’s work was very much focused on documenting the very oldest of Swedish culture in Finland, which was disappearing fast. Today, SLS’s work is about how the Swedish-speaking population in Finland live today: how Swedish is spoken, what traditions are celebrated, working life, everyday folklore and social structures. Information like this can be entirely forgotten even after one generation.

Today, the SLS Archives constitute a key cultural history archive for all things Swedish in Finland. The Society also has an extensive scholarly library specialised in book history.

Books, research and prizes

An important part of SLS’s activities right from the start has been the publication of books about all things Swedish in Finland. The SLS publication series began in 1886 and the first books were often collections of letters or other publications of sources, and dictionaries. Today, around 800 works have been published in the series.

An important part of SLS’s activities today is research. SLS is one of the main funders of research in the humanities and social sciences through scholarships and project funds. For many young researchers, funding from SLS is of great importance.

SLS began to award literary prizes in 1889, and thanks to good financial management, awards of such prizes have increased substantially in recent years. Today, SLS awards between 15 and 20 prizes to prominent writers and researchers who write in Swedish. The Karl Emil Tollander prize of EUR 40,000 is our foremost prize.