University of Oulu

Kalle Kananoja (2021) Literacy and healers’ tactics in Finnish folk medicine, 1850–1950, Social History, 46:1, 22-46, DOI: 10.1080/03071022.2021.1850053

Literacy and healers’s tactics in Finnish folk medicine 1850–1950

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Author: Kananoja, Kalle1
Organizations: 1University of Oulu
Format: article
Version: accepted version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 0.4 MB)
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Language: English
Published: Informa, 2021
Publish Date: 2022-08-10


Folk medicine inevitably declined and was pushed into the margins with the spread of literacy and the proliferation of modern, scientific biomedicine. However, it remained the primary route to health in peripheral regions of Europe, such as rural Finland, well into the twentieth century. The spread of literacy affected folk medicine in ways that enhanced many folk practitioners’ healing resources. Drawing on newspaper articles, reports by medical doctors and journalists, written reminiscences by lay informants, and court records, this article argues that literate healers prescribing pharmacy medicines were far from a rare phenomenon in the Finnish countryside up to the early twentieth century. Finnish folk medicine became increasingly a hybrid medical practice, combining herbalism with methods learned from popular health guides and scientific literature. By discarding superstitious practices and employing hybrid methods, folk healers sought to enter modernity as peasant intellectuals. This article presents a novel analysis of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Finnish folk medicine not as a tradition passed from generation to generation but as a modernizing undertaking with literacy as a key resource.

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Series: Social history
ISSN: 0307-1022
ISSN-E: 1470-1200
ISSN-L: 0307-1022
Volume: 46
Issue: 1
Pages: 22 - 46
DOI: 10.1080/03071022.2021.1850053
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 615 History and archaeology
Copyright information: © 2021 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Social History on 10 Feb 2021, available online: