The Terrible Visitation”

Famine in Finland and Ireland, c. 1845-1868:

Transnational, Comparative and Long-Term Perspectives

I would again urge upon the charitable consideration of the public the terrible visitation which has befallen the poor Finlanders and would repeat that further contributions will be most thankfully received.1

Famines were a recurrent feature of pre-industrial Europe, persisting well into the later nineteenth century. The Great Irish Famine – during which around one-eighth of the population, one million people, died, and a further million emigrated – is generally seen as a break, or disconnect, in Irish national history. It has given rise to vast amounts of academic and popular literature, informing Irish identity up to the present day. By contrast, a recent economic history of Finland explained almost casually that ‘in the late 1860s Finland experienced the last known major peacetime famine, losing one-tenth of its population through starvation’, tackling this catastrophe in a single sentence before proceeding to brighter matters.2 One of the most renowned Irish economic historians, Cormac ó Gráda, has described the Finnish famine of 1868 as the ‘last great subsistence crisis of the western world’, but has also complained that it remains ‘unduly neglected’, calling repeatedly for more rigorous comparative studies with Ireland.3 Ó Gráda has often alluded to Finland in his own work, but in a limited way, demonstrating the need for more concerted interdisciplinary, international collaboration. Thus, while it must be acknowledged that the Finnish famines are not completely ‘neglected’ in the national historiographies, this research project will be the first major study of these events from an external perspective. The project culminates in Autumn 2017, the 150th anniversary of the 1867-68 Finnish famine, with an exhibition (“NÄLKÄ!” [“HUNGER!”]) at Strokestown Park.

Footnotes:

  1. The Times, 19th March 1868.
  2. J. Ojala et al (eds), The Road to Prosperity: an Economic History of Finland (2006), 73.
  3. C. Ó Gráda, Ireland: A New Economic History (1994), 208.