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M. A. Castrén

Matthias Alexander Castrén (1813–1852) was by far the most significant Finnish linguist of the 19th century. Not only was he a linguist but also a multidisciplinary scholar equally adept in the fields of ethnography, folklore, mythology, archaeology, history, and human geography. He served as Docent of Finnish and Ancient Nordic Languages and Tribes at the Imperial Alexander University in Helsinki (now the University of Helsinki) and later as the first Professor of the Finnish Language.

Castrén collected a huge corpus of field data during his prolonged expeditions to Karelia, Lapland, Arctic Russia, and Siberia between 1838 and 1849. His aim was to find the original homeland of the Finns, and he approached this question with the help of linguistics, comparative mythology, archaeology, and history.

As a professor, Castrén emphasized the scholarly community’s duties to society outside of academia. His work has influenced not only academia, but also the Finnish society, identity, and understanding of history.

During his brief tenure in academia, Castrén had little opportunity to synthesize his collections, a situation aggravated by his rapidly progressing and ultimately fatal illness. Therefore, a major part of his scholarly heritage remained unpublished at the time of his death.