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The politics of property in a European periphery: The ownership of books, berries, and patents in the Grand Duchy of Finland 1850-1910

The politics of property in a European periphery: The ownership of books, berries, and patents in the Grand Duchy of Finland 1850-1910
Bruno Kamiński


Department of History and Civilization, European University Institute, I-50014 San Domenico di Fiesole (FI), ITALY.


In the late nineteenth century, the Grand Duchy of Finland benefited from its backward position in the peripheral corner of Europe; its export markets expanded, career opportunities were sought abroad, and foreign ideas and technology were translated and appropriated. At the same time, the identity of the young nation state as a part of the Russian Empire was being put together by its educated elite, whose national projects would react to foreign developments and amalgamate with the expertise acquired abroad. This included the reconciliation of private, collective and state interests over natural resources and intangible ideas.

This thesis explores and adds to the scattered knowledge of four areas of intangible and material ownership in the country: inventions and literary works, trees and wild berries (allemansrätt, public access to nature). The thesis aims to understand how ownership, in general, became defined and how these specific property rights were produced as part of the peripheral dynamics in the Grand Duchy. The study analyses the political processes around the key legislative reforms in which the existing structures of ownership became challenged and reshaped.

The thesis argues that the peripheral perception related to the economic and intellectual context was central to conceptualising "property". It allowed comparative reflection and learning from abroad, but the spatio-temporal relation served also to frame and guide the property reforms according to the interests of the political factions, for instance, by emphasising the particular or universal aspects of the reform. In general, a pragmatic, liberal line of thinking which favoured domestic interests permeated the reforms. The rhetoric of the sanctity of private property was commonly used, but in a way that incorporated the interests of the public; differences in the concept of property pertained especially to the role of the public and the way in which the common interest was seen to manifest itself.