Team Presentation

One of the partners of the Erasmus project StadtRäume/UrbanSpaces is Oulu, Finland. Oulu is the largest city in Northern Finland with about 210 000 inhabitants. It is situated by the Gulf of Bothnia, at the mouth of Oulu River, which is an ancient trading site. The city was founded in 1605 by King Charles IX of Sweden opposite the castle built on the island of Linnansaari. The name Oulu comes from a word in the Sami language meaning floodwater. Oulu has been the capital of Oulu province since 1776. From being a town known for pine tar and salmon, Oulu has evolved into a growing modern centre of high-tech industries.

The university of Oulu, founded in 1958, has been important for the development of the city and the region. The university was the first regional university founded in Finland. At first it emphasized natural sciences and engineering, but it grew rapidly to be one of the largest and most multidisciplinary universities in Finland. Today the University of Oulu has about 14 000 students in eight faculties and about 3000 employees. Oulu university has had considerable regional impact over the years in many ways. It has contributed to northern society, economy and self-esteem. Today University of Oulu is an international science university, which ranks among the world's approximately 17 000 to 23 000 universities in the top 3 % on average.

The first disciplines in the humanities were founded in 1965 in Oulu University, and nowadays the Faculty of Humanities provides a large variety of major subjects. The Research Unit for History, Culture and Communications includes degree programmes in Archeology and Cultural Anthropology, History, History of Sciences and Ideas as well as Information Studies. In addition, the research unit offers a master’s degree Programme in Science Communication. Disciplines represented in the Research Unit for Languages and Literature include English, Swedish Language, German Language and Culture, Finnish Language as well as Literature. Logopedics forms a research unit on its own. Teaching and researching Sami language and culture is a special national duty of the Faculty of Humanities and is the responsibility of the Giellagas Institute. 

Oulu representatives in the project StadtRäume/UrbanSpaces come from the Department of History at the Oulu University and the Finland-Germany Association in Oulu. The research conducted at the Department of History emphasises subjects that help understand and elaborate the relationship of past and present, such as transcultural encounters, history and memory politics, colonial medicine, networks of knowledge and development cooperation, environmental history, health and well-being in the Arctic, Nordic childhood and youth history, and forced migration and immigration policies. 

The StadtRäume/UrbanSpaces team at the Department of History consists of professor Tiina Kinnunen, university lecturers Matti Salo, Ainur Elmgren and Matti Enbuske, PhD Matti Mäntylä, doctoral researchers Roosa Tyni and Riikka Isoaho-Nousiainen and master’s student Heli Paananen. The representatives of the Finland-Germany Society in the project are chairman Gottfried Effe and vice Chairman and secretary Erwin Fisher.

City Presentation

The City of Oulu is the capital of Northern Finland, and the Oulu Region is one of the fastest growing regions in the country. The City of Oulu itself has over 210 000 inhabitants. 

Oulu is the logistic center of Northern Finland. All main roads meet in Oulu and railway station is one of the busiest in Finland. Oulu has an international airport and there are about 15 flights to and from Helsinki each day. Oulu Port is the largest general port in the Bothnian Bay visited by about 550 cargo ships every year.

Nowadays the Oulu Region is well known for its technology, the hi-tech growth having started after the establishment of Oulu University in 1958. There are two science parks in the region: Technopolis Plc, Scandinavia's first science park, and Medipolis Ltd., as well as a technology centre, Ii Micropolis Ltd. The region is home to many hi-tech companies, such as Nokia, and the sector currently employs over 10,000 people. There are several large research institutes in Oulu, including VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and the University Hospital. There is also the multidisciplinary Oulu University of Applied Sciences.

The Oulu Region also has a lively cultural climate. Oulu has the largest professional theatre in Northern Finland, Northern Ostrobothnia Museum, Oulu Museum of Art, Science Center Tietomaa, Oulu Symphony Orchestra and several other cultural institutions, events and exhibitions which provide a wide range of cultural experiences. In 2021 Oulu was elected the European Capital of Culture in 2026.

The mouth of Oulu river by the Gulf of Bothnia was important trading center already in medieval times, and Sweden and Novgorod competed for the possession of the region. Settlement from western Finland intensified gradually and the Swedish rule was established in the 15th and 16th centuries. Oulu Castle was completed in 1590 to protect the strategic interests of Swedish kingdom. Beside the castle a new town of Oulu was founded in 1605 by King Carl IX of Sweden.

Oulu remained small town with only some hundreds of inhabitants until the latter part of the 18th century. Oulu exported northern natural resources like salmon, butter and timber, but several wars between Sweden and Russia slowed down the development. Oulu also became an important school town, elementary school started in 1612 and secondary school in 1682. 

When Oulu received foreign trade rights in 1765 a new era of strong shipping business and brisk international trade connection started. The most important export good was now pine tar which was needed in building and maintaining big sailing ships around the world. In 1776 Oulu became the capital of Oulu province which comprised the whole Northern Finland. Oulu was the second or third biggest city in Finland with some thousands of inhabitants. 

Russo-Swedish war of 1808–1809 and fierce fire in 1822 were serious setbacks, but the shipping business and foreign trade recovered, now under the Russian rule in the autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland. Another setback for Oulu was the Crimean War in the 1850s, when most of the merchant fleet of Oulu was destroyed by the British naval forces. However, already in 1860s the city had again the biggest or second biggest fleet in Finland. Strong ship building industry and selling pine tar to big seafaring nations were the corner stones of Oulu economy for more than hundred years. All in all over 500 big sailing ships were built in Oulu in this period, and at the highest 7 - 8 million liters tar was exported per year.

Towards the end of the 19th century the wooden sailing ships started to give way to steam powered steel vessels. Oulu had to find a new basis for its economy. In 1863 was founded Brothers Åström leather factory, which became the biggest employer for many decades in Oulu. The big steam powered sawmills became the other main industry in the region. The railway reached Oulu in 1886 which enhanced the development of a city of about 10 000 inhabitants. 

Finland had hard times after gaining independence in 1917. The following civil war was bloody and left deep wounds. However, life continued also in Oulu and the right-wing parties and moderate social democrats managed to co-operate in city administration. Economic progress in the inter war period was slower than during the golden age of tar trade and shipping, but industrialization continued. The first pulp factories were founded in the 1930s and the traditional smokestack industry formed the backbone of the Oulu economy until the 1970s. More stone houses, schools and hospitals were built and city infrastructure improved in many ways in the 1920s and 1930s. Strong civil society activity was a distinct Finnish feature and the same applied to societal life in Oulu.

Oulu suffered damage during the Wold War II because of Soviet air raids, and it took many years to recover from the war. In 1950 Oulu was the sixth largest town in Finland. Pulp factories, sawmills, chemical industry, large garrison and the expanding service sector employed Oulu people. However, eventually Oulu faced the same problems as many other towns, gradually industry didn’t employ as much as it used to. There was a risk of regressive development especially in the 1970’s.

The founding of a multifaculty university in 1958 gave a new and big boost for the development of the city. Oulu started evolving into a modern center of competence. Oulu University also was an important factor in the formation of a new field of industry. Some small-scale electronics industry emerged already in the 1970s, and in 1982 was founded the first science park in the Nordic countries, Technopolis Oulu. Rapid development in the ICT industry followed from the late 1980’s onwards, and Oulu became one of the main development and production centers of Nokia Corporation and attracted also other high-tech companies. In spite of Nokia’s later difficulties, the high-tech sector as a whole remained important employer since.