On Monday, August 19, we flew from London to Rovaniemi and held WORKSHOP 1 at the Arctic Centre (University of Lapland) the next day. Nuccio Mazzullo and Florian Stammler hosted the event, and Akonwi Ayonghe and Lukas Allemann joined in. What struck our colleagues when reading about Linnaeus’s account of Sámi reindeer herding in the highlands (Padjelanta) was his level of engagement. The knowledge he assembled in his journal seems co-produced, that is, learned by interactions between Linnaeus, his hosts, the reindeer, and other animals like the parasitic reindeer gadfly.

We had a wide ranging discussion around two main talking points: First, about cultural memory and dynamic traditions; for example, what kind of relationships between memory, identity and place come into play in souvenir shops and national parks? Would Sámi artefacts, produced and sold by a foreign worker for a Sámi family, still be authentically Sámi? Can national parks be co-managed with those who inhabit them, and what does this mean for the aim of “conservation”? Current debates about cultural appropriation and its ethics often miss the point that appropriation is also essential for knowledge exchange. Whose memory is representative in contexts that have seen waves of de-colonisation at different scales (Finland from Sweden and Russia, Sámi from Finland) and of emigration and immigration? Can one turn the lens, and take in the perspective of those remembered, in order to break stereotypes? How far does cultural memory reach back, e.g. in oral history?

A second focus of our deliberations were human-animal relationships (including insects and microbes); Linnaeus’s journal may contain many inaccuracies but constitutes a specific memory that meets today with other living memories of past practices. The importance of the “reindeer revolution” for circumpolar people, in terms of transport and nutrition, is reflected in the power and wealth that these animals convey on those who own them. Linnaeus journal contains a lot of information on the relationship of wild and domesticated reindeer, their names for different developmental stages, and the seasonality of reindeer herding. We also noted Linnaeus’s ability to empathize with animals – as in his account of a ptarmigan afraid for its chicks, or of the reindeer gadfly and the reactions it elicits in its hosts – which contrasts markedly with the tendency for abstraction he shows in other contexts, for example in his Latin plant descriptions. His detailed observations of reindeer milking and dairy production provoked the question of whether they could be used in the revival of these practices. Reindeer milking was abandoned in the 1960s in Finland, and today survives among the Evenks in North-Eastern Asia only. Would it be possible to bring Evenks and Sámi together over Linnaeus’s journal in Padjelanta to work out together how reindeer milking was done there more than almost three hundred years ago? What other discussions would follow from such a meeting?

After the workshop, we visited the art museum in Rovaniemi, Korundi, to meet up with Matti Aikio. We talked about story-telling, the abuse of hospitality, and how to make other voices heard. Matti also told us about drawing as part of Sámi culture and how difficult it is to draw a reindeer.


On Wednesday, August 21, we went to Oulu, where science historian Maija Kallinen welcomed us at the train station. She and philosopher of science Jouni-Matti Kuukkanen had set up an afternoon SEMINAR at the History of Science and Ideas unit, in which we presented our project. Attendants included Sápmi historian Veli-Pekka Lehtola, Maria Julku, Georg Gangl, Sarviaho Samu, and Ilkka Lähteenmäki. We speculated whether Linnaeus’s negative views of Finnish peasants (he called them "children of darkness") may have been due to cultural shock, and considered methodological and epistemological problems: how re-tracking the journey may help to tap into tacit dimensions of travelling, and whether one can distinguish local/indigenous from global/universal knowledge. After the seminar, Maija took us to Haukipudas harbour, where Linnaeus had taken a ferry and noted the presence of iron. It is home to what is probably the smallest museum in the world.

Tallinn, Åland and Stockholm

From Oulu, we took the night train to Helsinki, and from there, the ferry to Tallinn. The Estonian port-city was hosting the annual meeting of the European Society for Environmental History, and Staffan spoke on Saturday, August 24, about his favourite topic, Linnaeus and the reindeer gadfly, in a panel on “Natural and Human Economies: Negotiating Boundaries in Human-Insect Relations” organized for the conference by Anastasia Fedotova.

Another ferry across the Baltic Sea via Åland and the skerries outside brought us to Nordiska Museet in Stockholm on Monday, August 26, where we visited the Sápmi galleries. While its ambition to provide a balanced view of Swedish-Sámi relations and right past wrong-doings was clear, the exhibition seemed to be framed by a logic of us and them.


Our next station was Uppsala, the town in which Linnaeus had studied and from where he had embarked on his journey to Lapland. On Tuesday, August 27, we had a get-together with Anna Foka, Agnieszka Backman and Karolina Andersdotter (skyping in from Athens) of Digital Humanities Uppsala. We learned more about the practicalities of building a gazetteer of place names and annotating movement for an on-line edition of Linnaeus’s journey.

The following day, Sven Widmalm welcomed us at the Department for the History of Science and Ideas for WORKSHOP 2, which was attended by Eva Nyström, editor of the Linnaean Correspondence, Hannah Hodacs from Dalarna University, Hans Ellegren, secretary of the Royal Society of Sciences in Uppsala, and Kalle Grandin from the Centre for the History of Science at the Royal Academy of Sciences, Stockholm. The main topic of this workshop was the cultural context of Linnaeus’s journey. The Royal Society for Sciences in Uppsala had funded this journey in its pursuit of a “patriotic” research program that emphasized domestic resources and wonders like the Northern lights. This led us on to questions of economic history: how much of the economy still lay outside of state control and how much room was there for smuggling and “doing things within the woods” (“Lapp” originally referred to those living in the wilderness). It also became clear in our discussion that Linnaeus stood in a continuous tradition of travel writing about Lapland. He revisited places of interest like the village Trödje, which Rudbeck the Elder believed was ancient Troy, and in turn used his own journey to make himself known to the learned world. We also examined the social dimension of learning and exploring together, especially when the pace of journeys was slower; how it mattered to his writing whether Linnaeus was hosted, or on his own, and whether translation between dialects and languages was an issue. In a speculative vein, the question was raised whether the journey might qualify as UNESCO Heritage like Struve’s Geodetic Arc. If so, whose heritage would be preserved with the journey, especially given the legacy of physical anthropology in Lapland, which was recently highlighted by the reburial of human remains from anthropological collections?

Höga Kusten and Umeå

On Friday, August 30, we set out North, taking a train to Umeå. Per Ramqvist, took us on a tour to Skuleberget on Saturday, which Linnaeus had climbed to admire a small cave that the Swedish King Charles XI had already admired prior to him. Skuleberget offers some wonderful views onto the glacial land- and seascape of Höga Kusten (High Coast), a UNESCO World Heritage site. Naturum, a visitor centre at the foot of Skuleberget, offers insights into life under rapidly changing natural circumstances.

In Umeå, on Sunday afternoon, we had tea with Lena Maria Nilsson at Tráhppie, a cultural centre run by Såhkie Umeå Sami Association. Lena Maria, together with Isabelle Brännlund, had kindly agreed to host WORKSHOP 3 at Umeå University the next day, but we also used the opportunity to talk to her, among other things, about the possible etymological links between the words site, sight and sieidi – conspicuously formed natural objects, usually of rock or wood, that play a role in Sámi spirituality.

The workshop next day took place at Vartoe, the Centre for Sami Research. Participants included, apart from Lena Maria, Isabelle and Per, Jing Helmersson, Moa Sandström, Gudrun Norstedt, Eavan O’Dochartaigh, Ekaterina Zmyvalova and Julie Poitras Santos, an artist from Maine (USA) who happened to be making work in Alingsås for the Göteborg International Biennial of Contemporary Art Extended, and was visiting Bildmuseet in Umeå.

We were surprised to learn that even an audience like this usually thought of Linnaeus as that “plant guy” on the old SKR100 bills. One major talking point on reading the journal was the fluidity of ethnic boundaries in the region, not only between Swedish settlers and Sámi but also between forest and mountain Sámi; at the time of Linnaeus, three communities intersected along Umeälv, and especially around the market town Granön, which Linnaeus passed: costal farmers who went fishing inland, forest Sámi, who partly engaged in agriculture, and mountain Sámi for winter pasture. Such intersections occurred against the background of a relatively stable topography. “Hearths” and various kinds of dwelling were quite permanent, and the river was divided into sections (selar) delimited by rapids, which today have usually been turned into power plants. Siida are another unit that is defined in part spatially, but also genealogically, and made to correspond with taxation lands and fishing rights in the early modern period; it was the community of the siida as a whole which was taxed, not individuals, and the tax was often paid in natural produce like fish.

As we learned, Linnaeus sometimes described this infrastructure in such detail that individuals he met – such as the woman who helped him out of dire circumstances in a swamp North of Lycksele – can be identified by historians today. He spoke of Sámi loyalty to Church and Crown, which partly endures to this very day, and we wondered whether complaints of injustices and mistreatment he recorded were meant to be relayed to these authorities. Linnaeus’s colonialism represents a colonialism for resources, not for labour force; thus he was taken aback by the fact that the extensive woods were not made use of for timber and tar.

Another talking point centred on health, food, and life style. Linnaeus stood in a Hippocratic tradition that closely associated climate, lifestyle, bodily temperament and disposition for specific diseases. And indeed, there are specific health conditions particular to the Sámi -- such as a certain tissue type related to rheumatic disease and malaria resistance -- currently leading to the formation of patient-led health networks and bio-banking projects. For Linnaeus, the Sámi were a model of healthy living, which brought them closer to nature. But this runs counter to other evidence he compiled on how they managed and exploited nature, and also drank and smoked like anyone else. We raised the question of whether Sámi food crops like Angelica archangelica or pine bark harvested in early spring may contribute to food sovereignty. We touched on issues such as breastfeeding and women’s work and mobility, as well as Sámi sport and their culture of fitness – all topics that Linnaeus addressed as well in his journal, which thus, we agreed, forms an interesting source to study the intersections of mythological, qualitative and quantitative perspectives on health and disease.

Lycksele and Arjeplog

Umeå was also the starting point of an experiment of re-tracking the journey. In the first instance we were keen to locate points in the landscape that Linnaeus might have crossed, and to see which memories, if any, of his journey were still resonating. We left on September 3, to drive up the Umeälv, across the land via Sorsele and Arjeplog to Jokkmokk, and down Luleälv all the way to Luleå and then along the coast to Umeå again. Here are some of places we passed through, their surrounding landscapes, and what we saw and experienced there:

In Gubböle, where Linnaeus described a fine sand that would be “excellent for making casting-moulds”, we visited the remains of a nineteenth-century river port, where tar produced from pine trees was collected and shipped down the river. Linnaeus’s dream about how to exploit the woods of Lapland had come true in the end.

Jämteböle provided us with a fine example of local communities engaging with Linnaeus’s journey. The old highway leading through the woods from Umeå, whose dire state Linnaeus made sure to document in great detail, has been reconstructed all the way from Spöland to here. A sign claims that this was an important trade route since medieval times, and that this particular section was called Linnévägen ever since Linnaeus passed through there in 1732.

In the evening, we arrived in Lycksele. Despite a large number of international “visitors”, it felt less welcoming with its rather stern monument to the settlers overlooking the river. We visited Skogsmuseet (Forest Museum), whose small, but exquisite Sámi exhibition has lots of historical interest, including a shaman drum confiscated by the parson Ole Gran, who appears in Linnaeus’s journal as one of his hosts.

Near the village Gunnarn, there is a bog called Lycksmyr, in which Linnaeus and his guides got stuck due to the spring floods. Again, there were signs pointing to a “Linnaeus” path, but it was difficult to find. After an hour’s drive through the woods, or what modern forestry has left of them, we had to rely on inhabitants of the landscape to show us the way. It was worth it, though; a mushroom-lined path led us through dense woods dripping with rain, until we reached a bright red plaque marking the point at which Linnaeus supposedly had to turn around. Some doubt he was ever there, though.

After a night in a hotel in Sorsele, we continued to Arjeplog and its Silvermuseum. Lars Liedgren introduced us to Sámi architecture, which Linnaeus carefully documented through drawings in his journal. During a tour through the rich collections of the museum, he gave us an overview of the dense archaeology of the region, including rock paintings, custodianship of sieidi, and the legacy of church towns. From Ingela Bergman we learned about how cultural practices of the past leave their marks in trees, and what it means to establish and run a research centre in a remote place. A film shown to visitors to introduce them to the region's heritage impressed us as a model of how to speak about intersections, multiple histories and diversity without labelling.


Arriving late in Jokkmokk, we noted that it had preserved, with its market and Sami museum Ájjte, the character of a central place, both of the tourism industry and the reindeer economy. We dedicated the next day, however, to a mountain North of the Town, Attjék, that Linnaeus mentioned as a holy site of the Sámi, but that so far nobody had been able to tell us much about.

The area around Attjék is currently prospected for iron ore (Kallak iron deposit), and the road that leads to its foot was lined with protest banners. When we arrived at the end of the road, there were people clearing up from a Rainbow Gathering that had been taking place here in the previous month. “Thunder hill” was clearly still attracting its worshippers, as one young man we met explained. We were keen to see if the peak had any signs of lightening, which Linnaeus mentioned had burnt bare the hill top when he was passing. From the top views reached across the dammed Luleälv, and to the snow-capped mountains of Padjelanta. Suddenly, everything fell into place: The centrality of this place for reindeer transhumance, the lightening it attracts as a sign of the divine, and the iron it contains, were all linked to each other in a passionate conflict of interests.

Before our journey ended with one last night in Luleå, we also revisited a place that Staffan had seen in 2016 already. Near Edefors there is a small island in the Luleälv, once famous for its salmon fisheries and rapids, but now, as so many other places along the river, a very quiet place. Linnaeus mentioned a tree mark here, that recorded the highest point the spring tide had reached in 1684. There is a dead tree here indeed that carries such a mark, albeit of 1758, but still demonstrating that people here, at least as far back as Linnaeus’s time, have been producing the same tokens and telling the same stories, over and over again, that create a feeling of having been there already in each visitor.