Suutarinpojasta Venäjän tiedeakatemian akateemikoksi: A. J. Sjögrenin ura Pietarissa 1820-1855

Päivi Laine

Research output: Book/ReportDoctoral thesisMonograph


The starting point for this doctoral dissertation is the exceptional career of the Finnishborn scientist Anders Johan Sjögren, who went from learnt commoner to academician of the Russian Academy of Sciences and upper Russian official with noble rank during the years 1820–1855. Sjögren was born in Iitti in 1794 into a Finnish-speaking family of a shoemaker. With the aid of local clergy, he managed to attend an elementary school in Loviisa, proceeding to the Porvoo Gymnasium and then to the Royal Academy of Turku, where he adopted the Porthanian-Herderian ideology. Sjögren was one of the leading figures in the so-called Turku Romantic Movement. Unlike his contemporaries, Sjögren moved to Saint Petersburg in 1820 with the aim of becoming an explorer and residing permanently in Russia. Sjögren was the first Finn to become an actual academician in the Russian Academy of Sciences, joining the academy in 1844. An academician’s seat focusing on languages and ethnology of Finnic and Caucasian peoples was created for him. This period provides a fruitful perspective on Russian society in the era of Emperor Nicholas I, which can be described, in the words of Minister of Education and President of the Academy of Sciences Uvarov, with the concepts of Orthodoxy, autocracy and nationalism – an Orthodox, autocratic emperor coexisting with his Orthodox people. Russian society was first and foremost characterised by loyalty towards the emperor.

The aim of the dissertation is to outline the significance of favouritism in Russian science policy and administrative culture through the example provided by Sjögren. The central thesis is that Sjögren was adept at using the existing social system built into Russian society, through which opportunities to advance his career and rise through the ranks were realised. The dissertation analyses the relationships through which Sjögren advanced his career and as well as the relationships through which Sjögren advanced others’ careers. It investigates the individuals who were Sjögren’s patrons and clients. At the same time, it can be observed that the relationships formed networks that had increasing significance at career turning points. The main chapters of the dissertation are based on the turning points of Sjögren’s career and the functioning of networks during those periods. The primary sources used in the dissertation are Sjögren’s diary Allmänna Ephemerider, correspondence, the meeting minutes of the Russian Academy of Sciences (Protocolés) and the publication series of the Academy of Sciences (Bulletin Scientifique). The centre stage is held by Sjögren’s diary that has been analysed with egocentric network analysis.

Early in his scientific career, Sjögren’s most important acquaintances were academicians Frähn and Krug in the Academy of Sciences. Upon their proposal, Sjögren was elected into his first office at the Academy of Sciences as an assistant in Russian history and antiquities in 1829. Equally important acquaintances were the Academy members von Adelung and Gräfe. They all shared a non-Russian background and interest in languages and history. When Sjögren’s career became more stable, his social network expanded. After a Caucasian exploration, Sjögren’s contacts focused on researchers of Oriental peoples and languages, including Frähn, Brosset and von Böthlingk. His inner circle also encompassed academicians Krug, von Köppen and von Baer.

After becoming an academician in 1844, Sjögren consolidated his position in the Academy of Sciences. After this, Sjögren established a network of his own, consisting of young researchers more junior in terms of position and years in office, such as historian Kunik and Orientalist von Böthlingk. During Sjögren’s last years, the network remained unchanged but its significance for his career became diluted. Sjögren turned into a sickly old man who became increasingly withdrawn. Private life contacts and especially friends from youth were his most important contacts and also formed the circle of people that he enjoyed meeting also during his annual trips to Helsinki. This circle included his brotherinlaw Gustaf Laurell, professor Alexander Blomqvist and Baron C. G. Mannerheim. Sjögren’s only true clients were the Finnish-born M. A. Castrén and the Estonian-born Anton von Schiefner.

Sjögren’s career consisted in working for Russia, but on his own terms. Sjögren could skilfully combine his own research interests with the requirements of Russia’s science policy. In practice, this meant moving to an increasing extent from researching Finnic peoples to researching other minority peoples. The atmosphere at the Royal Academy of Turku and the ideas Sjögren adopted there were only part of the reality that guided his scientific thinking and career. The dissertation shows that Sjögren’s persistent and hard-working personality, ability to make good use of the opportunities offered by the new political situation and ability to establish and maintain relationships with important people were crucial characteristics explaining the exceptional nature of his career. Coincidence and luck also had a role to play.

According to the dissertation, the image of Sjögren has changed over years, from a prominent national figure to a so-called second-rate historical figure remaining in the shadow of Lönnrot, Runeberg and Snellman. The interpretation that has been emphasised during the past few decades is that of a marginalised scientist who would have deserved a more prominent position at the national level. The dissertation shows that Sjögren was the first Finnish-born academician of the Russian Academy of Sciences, with his research being appreciated at that time both in Russia and internationally. Sjögren deserves the honour of being remembered for this as well as for enabling M. A. Castrén’s entrance into the extensive West Siberian exploration organised by the Academy of Sciences, in this manner contributing to the creation of the first professorship in Finnish language, among other things.
Original languageFinnish
Place of PublicationTampere
PublisherTampere University
ISBN (Electronic)978-952-03-1567-2
ISBN (Print)978-952-03-1566-5
Publication statusPublished - 2020
Publication typeG4 Doctoral dissertation (monograph)

Publication series

NameTampere University Dissertations - Tampereen yliopiston väitöskirjat
ISSN (Print)2489-9860
ISSN (Electronic)2490-0028

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