The phenomenon of letters to newspapers developed into a nationwide and pervasive culture of local letters in the mid-1800s Finnish-language press. A characteristic feature of this culture was that the readers’ letters published in the press were written in the names of local communities. Thus, the writer of the letter claimed to represent the entire local community. This interaction between different locations via the press transformed local into societal and societal into local.

In a wider sense, the culture of local letters in Finland opens a ‘from below’ perspective on how the local, national, societal and political intertwined in the construction of the modern state and its civic society. At the core of it was a new kind of social interactivity that went beyond face-to-face communication. This transformed the notion of local to something that could be seen as ‘translocal’, which included the new idea of national. Indeed, the ‘translocal’ is the conception of local that is familiar to us today. It is the ‘pre-modern non-translocal local’ based solely on face-to-face interaction which is difficult for us to access. In Finland, the local letters were the first societal interface that extended the idea of local in this way.

‘Local letters’ often told about every day local things that had happened in some parish or town. Usually, the topics included information about yields, the state of health of the inhabitants and curious incidents. However, there was also more general discussion about social reforms and abstract reasoning on topics like for example, what is society, nation or publicity. The writers of the letters came from the wide spectrum of the society. There are hundreds of identified writers who came from the lower stratum of society. Therefore, the letters are a good source for ‘history-from-below’ approach. Indeed, the local letters are the first larger source of this kind in the Finnish-speaking culture.


The Translocalis Project collects and researches this forgotten cultural heritage of 19th century Finland and creates a new digital cultural heritage from it. The project is implemented in collaboration with the Academy of Finland Centre of Excellence in the History of Experiences (HEX) and the National Library of Finland. The objectives of the project are:

  1. Collect all the local letters to the Finnish-language press from the era of 1775-1885
  2. Publish this database as the part of the digital collections of the National Library of Finland
  3. Produce the first comprehensive historical research of the phenomenon of local letters.
  4. Prepare the follow-up project that seeks to collect the letters from the turn-of-the-19th-century press digitally in collaboration with the computational scientists.

Currently, there are over 70,000 local letters that have been manually collected from the digitalized newspaper material by HEX with the tools provided by the National Library of Finland. During the collection work, the letters have been enriched with metadata, such as the place of writing and the named writers of the letters. The database is fully optical OCR-recognized; thus, it enables the methods of digital humanities.


The culture of local letters had decisive influence on the development of Finnish society, nationalism and civic society in the nineteenth century.Besides the history of Finland, the database will allow analysing the 19th century global phenomena through a case study of the Finnish society. It will enable a wide range of research topics and open a path to various research approaches, especially the study of human experiences.

The Tranlocalis database will create a new digital cultural heritage as the database will be open-access published as a part of the  Digital collections of the National Library of Finland in 2023.


The National Library of Finland awarded Translocalis in 2019 with the Customer of the Year prize. By the award National Library wants to recognise the producers of the Translocalis database as active users of the Library’s resources who are developing these resources into new formats while creating important and interesting research. The National Library of Finland wants to use the Customer of the Year award to highlight the important work done by the customers who use the Library’s resources and services. See:



In March 2021 TransLocalis Database was awarded the major cultural project grant of the Alfred Kordelin Foundation. A 2-year project will carry out research on the nationwide phenomenon of readers’ letters in the 19th century Finnish-language press and publish a digital database of the readers’ letters online.

Scholarly collaboration

Academy of Finland Centre of Excellence in the History of Experiences

Digital collections of the National Library of Finland

Time Machine: Invigorating European History with the Big Data of the Past

Constellations of Correspondence: Large and Small Networks of Epistolary Exchange in the Grand Duchy of Finland (CoCo)