The first museums in Finland weren't established until the latter half of the 19th century, and coincided with a growing national awakening. With this awakening came a concurrent pride in their language and cultural identity, and the first historical societies began to spring up.
Today there are 22 regional museums of cultural history in Finland. Although the primary focus of these museums is in research, documentation and exhibition work, the regional museums of cultural history also provide much support and guidance for the numerous other museums in their respective regions, and play a considerable role in their promotion. This in itself is no small task as there are over one thousand museums in Finland. The central control for all regional museums of cultural history is the National Museum of Finland.
The following incomplete list introduces some of the main historical museums in Finland.
Situated in a delightful building in the National Romantic style (designed by Gesellius, Lindgren, and Eliel Saarinen) in central Helsinki, The National Museum of Finland presents Finnish history from the Stone Age to the present day, through objects and cultural history in permanent exhibitions divided into 6 parts. These are: The Treasure Troves - collections of coins, medals, orders and decorations, silver, jewellery and weapons; Prehistory of Finland - the largest permanent archeological exhibition in Finland; The Realm - exploring the development of Finnish society and culture from the Middle Ages 12th century to the early 20th century; The Land and Its People - Finnish folk culture in 18th-19th centuries; and The 20th century exhibition which presents independent Finland and its united and international culture.
First opened in 1896, the Northern Ostrobothnia Museum presents the rich cultural history of Oulu and the surrounding province. In the permanent exhibition the regions history is explored from prehistoric times until the modern era. There is also a Lapland department containing a tribute to the life and work of Samuli Paulaharju, the influential and prolific Sámi author and folklorist.
Situated on the shores of Lake Inari in the Lapland village of the same name, Siida is home to the Northern Lapland Nature Centre, and to the Sámi Museum. The purpose of the latter is to document the cultural heritage, both material and spiritual, of the Finnish Sámi in its collections, and to display these collections. Since 1999, the museum has been given the status as the special museum for the preservation of Finnish Sámi culture.
Considering Finland's location between Sweden and Russia, and the number of wars fought between those two nations, it is hardly surprising that one of the country's largest museums is devoted to the military. The permanent exhibition displays Finnish military history from the 16th century until the modern era, with some prominence given to the 20th century.
The Winter War exhibition deals with the struggle against the Soviet invasion that took place between the 30th November 1939 and the 13th March 1940, through numerous items like uniforms, weapons, photographs and maps.
Located centrally in the city of Jyväskylä, the Museum of Central Finland serves both as a local museum for Jyväskylä and as the provincial museum for the region, and tells the history of the region from pre-history to the modern era. There are also temporary exhibitions which deal with aspects of cultural history, and art exhibitions also play a part in the museums programme. There are two craftsmen's houses restored and on display on the premises. Additionally, the Pienmäki Farm Buildings Museum in Hankasalmi, a School Museum at Jyväskylä Lyceum, Jyväskylä Museum of Municipal Engineering and the home of the Heiska artist family are all cared for by the museum.
Situated in the eye-catching Artikum building, designed by Alvar Aalto, the Provincial Museum of Lapland is primarily engaged with the cultural heritage and the unique natural habitats of the region. The main exhibition traces the development of life in the Arctic from prehistory to the present day through displays of its archeological, ethnological and natural historical collections and extensive photographic archive. Visitors to the museum will also find the University of Lapland's Arctic Centre in the same impressive building.
Situated in the historic Fortress of Lappeenranta, where most of the other buildings are also museums, the Regional Museum of South Karelia is housed in the grey-stone buildings which were once the artillery depot. The collections displayed here have been gathered from the museums of Lappeenranta, Vyborg and Käkisalmi (Priozersk). One of the main attractions of the permanent exhibition is a scale model of Vyborg, showing the town as it was on the 2nd of September 1939, prior to the Soviet invasion. The surface area of the model is 24 square metres, and it includes inhabitants, cars, trams, trains and ships.
Located in an impressive Art Nouveau building over 100 years old, the Museum of Cultural History serves as the provincial museum of Northern Savo, whose task it is to research, preserve and display the cultural history of the region. The permanent collection includes peasant artefacts and traditional interiors, and offers an insight into life from prehistoric times to the present day. The neighbouring Museum of Natural History has the distinction of being the only Finnish museum to include reconstructions of a mammoth as well as Neanderthal people - Finland's first inhabitants.