On the 200th anniversary of the Finnish National Archives Service

On the 25th of November 1816 Emperor Alexander the First signed the decision to establish the permanent position of an archivist in the Finnish Senate. This date is considered as the founding date of the National Archives Service of Finland.

The archives of the Senate were divided into two sections. The old archives included documents acquired from Sweden on the basis of the Hamina peace treaty from 1809. These included documents related to governance from recent times, as well as other documents dating from the Middle Ages onwards. The old archives soon found itself in wide use by researchers of history.

The new archives housed documents from the Senate. The task of this archive was much like the one the National Archives has today: to ensure that documents belonging to the national cultural heritage are preserved and to promote their use for research, as well as guiding the records management and archives administration of authorities.

The emphasis on research increased as time passed. In 1869 the Senate Archive was rebranded as the National Archives, while it still operated within the Senate building. Its Director General received the title of the National Archivist of Finland in 1880. In 1889 it finally received its own building in Kruununhaka, Helsinki, which has ever since been its centre of operations (whilst being expanded and refurbished as time has passed).

Provincial Archives begun to be founded from the 1920s onwards, and the number of staff begun to grow steadily until 2003, when countermeasures to limit the growth of the public sector begun to take place. From that time onwards, the number of people working in the archives sector has steadily decreased, but this development has been dampened slightly by project-based funding.

E-services were introduced in the 90s with the Vakka Archival Database. Today more than 90 per cent of our customers primarily use our services on-line. The most central materials are either digitized or born-electric. From the beginning of next year (assuming that the new law on the National Archives is passed in Parliament) we gain the permission to destroy paper copies of digitized materials. A new archive building is being built in Mikkeli, which will most likely the last building ever to be built for the National Archives (the Provincial and National archives will be merged into a single entity with this name according to the new law).

The National Archives Service has gone through wide ranging changes during its 200 year life, but its main duties have remained the same. This is uncommon in the realm of Finnish authorities, where organizations have been founded, dismantled, merged together and renamed time and time again. Even so, we are far younger than the oldest creator of archives in our country: the Cathedral Chapter of Turku was established in 1276, and still operates under the same name.


Jussi Nuorteva

The National Archivist of Finland