Before moving to Sirkkala, Cultural
History located in Arwidssonstreet's
wooden army barracks.
Cultural history studies how the people of the past interacted with their environment, how they experienced and conceived their world. Attention is paid to the agents of history that spun their webs of significance and also changed them to those social practices that connected and disconnected people of the past; and to that tangible, concrete, bodily world in which they lived and experienced their surroundings, both real and imagined. Cultural history, then, is not limited to the worlds of science, art and religion, but embraces ways of life as mental, material and social practices, also addressing them at the level of ways of thinking, mentalities and emotions.
Temporality, continuities and discontinuities, are integral notions to Cultural History. Meanings, signs, symbols and representations are, and were, in constant flow, under circulation and change, in a perpetual process of becoming. But there are slower rhythms, deeply rooted assemblages, like the gender system or religious beliefs, that need to be considered over a long period of time. Cultural History studies both, investigating long-term as well as short-term phenomena.
Research and teaching in the Department of Cultural History at the University of Turku
Research and teaching in Cultural History covers the history of Western civilisation from antiquity to the present day, emphasising historical and holistic perspectives. The subject aims at providing students with an understanding of the relationships between different domains of culture and to construct an overall picture of the past and different historical periods.
Cultural History in Turku is open to interdisciplinary approaches and new methodological insights. Research interests span ancient through medieval to early modern and contemporary fields: media history, gender history, the history of technology, place, material culture and environment, urban cultures and nineteenth and twentienth centuries.
When the Department of Cultural History was established in 1972, Cultural History was defined as a study of high culture. The definition was extended in 1978 on the appointment of Cultural History's first chair Veikko Litzen. In Litzen's view culture covered all human activity, so that in the eyes of a cultural historian the medieval cathedral and the 1920s T-Ford were both equally culturally significant. Litzen also emphasized culture's communicative nature in which the dialectic between humans and their surroundings was essential.
Next major change occurred in the 1980s when the linguistic turn and the emergence of "new" cultural history shaped the understanding of culture. Since then cultural historians have tended to emphasize the linguistic foundation of culture and human reasoning. Along with new cultural history came new and expanded viewpoints, such as history of everyday life, microhistory and gender history.
Today Cultural History is in its forties. It has matured into a versatile subject with strong international connections as an active member of the International Society for Cultural History (ISCH). Our international profile, together with our enthusiastic students and our researchers ensure that the discussion about the essence of cultural history continues.