Researcher of the Month: Mats Fridlund

Mats Fridlund
Photo: Mats Fridlund


Kielipankki – The Language Bank of Finland is a service for researchers using language resources. Professor Mats Fridlund tells us about his research that is related to digital history and supported by the tools and corpora available via Kielipankki in Finland and via Språkbanken in Sweden.

Who are you?

I am Associate Professor of History of Science & Ideas and Deputy Director of the Centre for Digital Humanities at the University of Gothenburg. My background is that I am a diploma engineer in Engineering Physics and a PhD in History of Technology from KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. During 2013-2018 I worked in Finland as Associate Professor in the History of Industrialization at Aalto University.

What is your research topic?

As an historian of science, technology and innovation and an emerging digital historian my research is focused on infrastructure history and on the political history of technology.

Within infrastructure history I initially did research on the role of users in the development of electric power and telecommunications systems while during the last couple of years I have broadened these interests towards digital infrastructures. I especially focus on how academic users such as historical researchers have changed their professional practices to take advantage of the affordances of new digital infrastructures such as those made possible by the Language Bank of Finland. Connected to this is also my most recent interests in digital humanities.

Since 2012 I have been involved in various efforts in Finland and Sweden to develop digital humanities in general and digital history in particular. I have been principal investigator of two Kone Foundation funded projects to develop and strengthen Finnish digital history (see Paju et al 2020). Since 2019 I am deputy director of the Centre for Digital Humanities at the University of Gothenburg where I get several opportunities to practically materialize these interests together with language technologists and engineers to develop new digital infrastructures for scholars in humanities and social science and for the wider public.

My current research on the political history of technology is focused on the global history of technology of terrorism from the late 18 century until the present. I currently lead two research projects on the history of terrorism: Things for living with terror: a global history of the materialities of urban terror and security funded  by the Swedish Riksbankens Jubileumsfond, and the large research project Terrorism in Swedish politics (SweTerror): A multimodal study of the configuration of terrorism in parliamentary debates, legislation and policy networks in Sweden 1968–2018 that is part of the digital humanities DIGARV research program initiated by the Government of Sweden and financed by the Swedish Research Council, Riksbankens Jubileumsfond and the Royal Swedish Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities. In SweTerror I collaborate with the National Language Bank (Språkbanken) in Sweden to analyse and make digitally accessible the text and audio corpora of the political debates of the Swedish Parliament.

How is your research related to Kielipankki?

As a part of my research on the history of terrorism I use various large digital text corpora to analyse various media discourses to trace the historical emergence of terrorism as a political and cultural phenomenon. One of the projects that I am currently involved in is conducted together with language technologists from Swedish Språkbanken and with support from Swe-Clarin where we analyse historical Swedish-language newspaper corpora accessible through two national CLARIN B-centers: the National Language Bank (Nationella språkbanken) in Sweden and the Language Bank of Finland (Kielipankki) to determine how the modern meaning of terrorism emerged from the 18th century. This research is part of an initiative of Swe-Clarin to develop genuine interdisciplinary collaboration between researchers in humanities and language technology, using e-science tools for large-scale corpus studies. Thus, the project combines history domain knowledge and language technology expertise to evaluate and expand on earlier research claims regarding the historical meanings associated with terrorism in Swedish and Finnish contexts.

Primarily, we are interested in testing the hypothesis that sub-state terrorism’s modern meaning was not yet established in the 19th century but primarily restricted to Russian terrorism. Using a cross-border comparative approach we explore overlapping national discourses on terrorism. By using the Korp tool, installed in the Swedish as well as in the Finnish language banks, we have been able to efficiently investigate terrorism-related words and their historical contexts to show a more complex image of the history of terrorism in the Nordic countries, especially the meanings associated with salient state terrorism and various forms of ethnic sub-state terrorisms within Great Power empires, i.e. Finnish terrorism within the Russian empire, Macedonian terrorism within the Ottoman empire and Indian terrorism in the British empire. Together with Finnish historians of terrorism and language technologists, we are planning to extend the analysis to the wider Finnish context via the corresponding Finnish-language newspaper corpora in Kielipankki. Furthermore, the study allows us to develop the concrete practices of cross-border comparative studies by utilizing the extensive corpus resources of Swe-Clarin and FIN-CLARIN. There are great opportunities for researchers in the humanities and language technologists to conduct cross-disciplinary, comparative big data studies on national online newspaper corpora.

Kielipankki have also been important not just through the tools it provides but also in other less direct ways in my work on strengthening digital humanities research in Finland. In 2018 as Principal Investigator of the Kone Foundation project “From Roadmap to Roadshow: A collective demonstration & information project to strengthen Finnish digital history” I organized a roadshow to the six Finnish universities of Oulu, Jyväskylä, Eastern Finland, Turku, Tampere and Helsinki. At each university we arranged a one-day digital history methods workshop with lectures and hands-on workshops with experienced digital historians, language technologists and information technology specialists from Finland, Sweden and the United States. Among them was Kielipankki’s application specialist Tero Aalto who participated with a very appreciated lecture on “Digital Methods in Language Research”. The great enthusiasm that the roadshow lectures generated among Finnish historians led to an unplanned expansion and continuation of this project. In May 2018 I together with my two postdoctoral researchers Mila Oiva and Petri Paju organized a workshop where we matched up digital humanities curious historians with language technologists and information technology specialists to jointly explore, develop and conduct digital history research projects. In December 2020 several of these project ideas are published as peer-reviewed research articles in one of the first Open Access books of Helsinki University Press Digital Histories: Emergent Approaches in the New Digital History edited by myself together with Mila Oiva and Petri Paju.

Publications related to Kielipankki

Mats Fridlund, Leif-Jöran Olsson, Daniel Brodén & Lars Borin, 2019 ”Trawling for Terrorists: A Big Data Analysis of Conceptual Meanings and Contexts in Swedish Newspapers, 1780–1926,” in Melvin Wevers, Mohammed Hasanuzzaman, Gaël Dias, Marten Düring, & Adam Jatowt, eds. Proceedings of the 5th International Workshop on Computational History (HistoInformatics 2019) co-located with the 23rd International Conference on Theory and Practice of Digital Libraries (TPDL 2019) Oslo, Norway, September 12th, 2019, CEUR-WS  vol. 2461 (Aachen:, 2019), 1-10,

Mats Fridlund, Leif-Jöran Olsson, Daniel Brodén & Lars Borin, 2020 ”Trawling the Gulf of Bothnia of News: A Big Data Analysis of the Emergence of Terrorism in Swedish and Finnish Newspapers, 1780–1926”, in Costanza Navarretta & Maria Eskevich, eds. Proceedings of CLARIN Annual Conference 2020 (Virtual edition: CLARIN, 2020), 61-65.

Mats Fridlund, Mila Oiva, & Petri Paju, eds., 2020 Digital Histories: Emergent Approaches within the New Digital History (Helsinki: Helsinki University Press, 2020), 3-18.

Mats Fridlund, 2020 “Digital History 1.5: A Middle Way between Normal and Paradigmatic Digital Historical Research”, in Mats Fridlund, Mila Oiva, & Petri Paju, eds., Digital Histories: Emergent Approaches within the New Digital History (Helsinki: Helsinki University Press, 2020), 69-87.

Paju, Petri & Mila Oiva. ”Digitaalisen historiantutkimuksen opetuskiertue”, Historiallinen Aikakauskirja 1/ 2019, pp 89-94.

Petri Paju, Mila Oiva & Mats Fridlund, 2020 “Digital and Distant Histories: Emergent Approaches within the New Digital History”, in Mats Fridlund, Mila Oiva, & Petri Paju, eds., Digital Histories: Emergent Approaches within the New Digital History (Helsinki: Helsinki University Press, 2020), 3-18.


The FIN-CLARIN consortium consists of a group of Finnish universities along with CSC – IT Center for Science and the Institute for the Languages of Finland (Kotus). FIN-CLARIN helps the researchers in Finland to use, to refine, to preserve and to share their language resources. The Language Bank of Finland is the collection of services that provides the language materials and tools for the research community.

All previously published Language Bank researcher interviews are stored in the Researcher of the Month archive. This article is also published on the website of the Faculty of Humanities of the University of Helsinki.