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Language Games in the Periphery of European Chemistry

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Dr Arthur Dudney.

A.E.Arppe (1818-1890) was a professor of chemistry and a rector of the of Imperial Alexander University in Helsinki, the new capital of the Great Duchy of Finland. In the course of his rectorship, Arppe commissioned a new chemical laboratory for the University. Built at a time of a famine that killed 1/10th of population of the Duchy, this venetian-style building – now known as Arppeanum – was both admired for its beauty and criticised for its lavishness.

In this talk, I adopt Arppe and the chemical laboratory as my focal points for examining languages in chemistry in 19th century Finland. I argue that Arppe’s command of several languages and his successful navigation of the language politics of the Great Duchy of Finland allowed him to improve the conditions of chemistry at home.

After the Finnish war, Finland became part of Russian Empire, making Finnish the majority language within a formerly Swedish area. However, Swedish remained the language of educated elite throughout 19th Century. The students of chemistry were expected to master not only Swedish and some Russian, but also English, German, French and Latin (Enkvist 1972, 22). Arppe’s knowledge of languages paved his way to the most influential laboratories in Europe. Upon his return back home, it came clear that he also had a good command of languages in another sense: Arppe’s intricate balancing of the language conflict in Finland meant that he secure a favourable position under the Russian authorities, and a push for a laboratory inspired by the European facilities he had visited.

This talk is part of the Darwin College Humanities and Social Sciences Group series.

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