Interrelating Distance and Interaction (IDI) / East Asia and the West in the 19th and 20th Centuries Encounters, Interaction and Images (EAW)

PI Prof. Olavi K. Fält


Members of the research group:

  • Professor Olavi K. Fält (olavi.falt(at)
  • Doctoral student Hanna Aranne (hanna.aranne(at)
  • Postdoctoral researcher Riika-Leena Juntunen (riiku_juntunen(at)
  • Postdoctoral researcher Tuula Okkonen (tuula.okkonen(at)
  • Postdoctoral researcher Juha Sahi (j.sahi(at)
  • Postdoctoral researcher Ari Uusitalo
  • Docent Juha Saunavaara (juha.saunavaara(at) external research cooperation/partner


Ongoing research:

  • Fält: Mental images and globalization as challenges in East-West relations
  • Suomi ja suomalaiset Mantshukuossa. Suvereniteettitulkinnan ja strategian tasapainottelu Suomen Itä-Aasian -politiikassa (Finland and Finns in Manchukuo. Interpretation of Sovereignty and Strategic Balancing in Finnish East Asian Policy)
  • Juntunen: Mobility of places and ideas in early twentieth and twenty-first century China: Theorizing spatial transfer (Ongoing postdoctoral research)
  • Okkonen: Yhdysvallat ja maailman kulttuuriperinnön suojelu toisen maailmansodan ja Japanin ja Saksan miehityshallinnon kontekstissa (The United States and the protection of the world's cultural heritage in context of the Second World War and the occupations of Japan and Germany) (Ongoing postdoctoral research)
  • Sahi: Suomen metsäteollisuuden vientiverkostojen evoluutio Itä- ja Kaakkois-Aasian markkinoille 1945–2020  (The evolution of the Finnish forest industry’s export networks to East and Southeast Asian markets 1945–2020) (Ongoing postdoctoral research)
  • Uusitalo: United States and Philippine Independence 1930-34
  • Saunavaara: Hokkaido regional development; cooperation between Arctic and northern regional governments


1. Scientific goals and innovativeness

Although the increasing interaction and mutual dependence between East Asia and the West—the first-mentioned referring mainly to China, Japan and Korean Peninsula and the latter understood roughly as the countries and societies of Europe and its descendants who share similar traditions, values, religions, etc.—are often described as distinctive phenomena characterising the past decades and especially the anticipated future, these developments cannot be described as new or ahistorical processes. While the recent trends can only be understood in connection with their historical roots, they can, however, be used as indications that speak on behalf of the importance of studying transcultural encounters and interaction in the context of East Asia. The EAW group defines transcultural encounters widely as including interaction between states, interaction between cultural phenomena, actions made in the name of a state(s), on behalf of a state(s), as well as actions of non-governmental organisations and private enterprises.

This identification is built on a solid and well-established foundation. The study of the modern history of East Asia, especially Japan, in the University of Oulu has a history of its own, dating back to the 1970s. This research has been conducted within the discipline of History in cooperation with Japanese studies and East and Southeast Asian studies and it has resulted in seven doctoral dissertations, over 30 Master’s theses, many books and an array of journal articles.

While cooperation between scholars in different stages of their career has been close throughout the years, the existence of a research group with a clear identity and aims is believed to bring added value to the existing situation. While the EAW group consists of researchers whose projects have specific spatial, temporal and thematic outlines, they are all connected with phenomena such as modernisation, westernisation, spread and spreading of values (Christianity, democracy, liberalism, capitalism, socialism, etc.) and globalisation.

These phenomena are essential parts of the historical context in which the key processes of interaction between East Asia and the Western world took place during the 19th and 20th centuries. These processes are: 1) Growing consciousness/awareness that has been interlocked with the growing interaction and increase in information; 2) Evaluation and reaction to the increase in consciousness, interaction and information; and 3) Adaptation, resistance, admiration, coexistence, conflict that has followed the original reaction and re-evaluation.

While the door is open for new focus areas, it is especially hoped that the cooperation with other research groups/individual researchers within the ‘Transcultural Encounters’ group will lead the way to comparative studies. It is believed that when the processes that have so far been studied in the context of East Asia are compared with relevant counterparts that represent different spatial and temporal contexts, both our understanding concerning the nature of the process and its special characteristics in East Asia will improve.

While many projects have been funded by personal researcher grants, it is believed that implementation of a more coordinated research plan offers possibilities for and guides toward application for project-level funding. The increasing cooperation is not to restrict individuals’ freedom of research, but to assist, for example, in creating and consolidating relations between researchers in Oulu and abroad, especially in the East Asian region.

In general, the EAW group strives for recognition as one of the leading Asian studies groups in Finland and the Nordic countries. In its focus areas, the group aims at global recognition. In addition, continuous participation in popular discussion concerning Asia in the role of an expert is found an important and highly valued function. The surge in general knowledge and interest in Asia has both increased the need for specialists’ input to the discussion and raised the bar for the content of these inputs.


2. Scientific merits and research environment

The research group’s publications and success in the competition for research funding are the main indicators verifying the high level of significance and quality. In addition, it can be assumed that the existing international cooperation speaks on behalf of the appreciation felt toward the research group and its individual members.

Regional studies are multi- and interdisciplinary almost by definition. In addition, international cooperation comes as a standard when a Finland-based research group studies East Asia. Each individual member of the research group already has their established contacts in East Asia and also has fieldwork experience. Therefore, it can be argued that the members of the group are already familiar with the research environment that is formed by the network of institutions, organisations and individual actors located not only in Oulu or Finland, but also in different parts of East Asia and the rest of the world.      


3. Position of the research group in the field

Individual members of the EAW group are already known among the specialists of their fields. They have participated actively in international conferences and have other types of dialogue with their colleagues around the world. While the Department of History, University of Oulu, is nationally recognised as a location where studies on East Asia, especially Japan, are conducted, international visibility has come through the acts of individual researchers and through organised international symposiums; for example, ‘Japan and Finland in Transition, 1945–1990’ in 2009.

Furthermore the EAW group has hosted several visiting scholars from different East Asian universities. These visitors have not only contributed to the research conducted in Oulu, but their knowhow has also been integrated into the teaching of History, Japanese studies and East and Southeast Asian studies. The research group’s contacts in East Asia concentrate on Japan. Osaka University, Meijo University, Hokkaido University, Keio University, Hitotsubashi University and the German Institute for Japanese Studies (DIJ) are examples of institutions with whom the group is actively cooperating.

Last updated: 8.4.2019