Memorials reflect people's identity

The cemetery in Pargas. Photo: Lara Band.

(Published 2013-07-11)
In large parts of Europe and in the Anglo-Saxon countries; studies of memorials have been a successful way to explore social and cultural identity. In the Nordic countries, however, memorials have rarely been approached from an archaeological perspective. This fact did not stop Lara Band when she decided to investigate ‘Ålandic identity’ by comparing memorials in three different cemeteries.

Lara Band’s research material is available through SND and consists of photos and descriptions of 304 memorials between 1881 and 1939 from burial grounds in Mariehamn (Åland), Parga (Finland) and Norrtälje (Sweden). These three towns were chosen for their geographical proximity and for their similarities: they are the main towns of their region, they all have seafaring connections, and they are all Swedish speaking areas.

‘Ålandic identity’ has for decades been a subject of much social and political debate. Åland has been a part of both Sweden and Russia, and since 1921 it is an autonomous region in Finland. The established image of ‘Ålandic identity’ is that it is strongly associated with Sweden and Swedish culture. Lara Band’s research results challenges this idea. Her study shows that social relationships and practices in Åland are in fact stronger related to the Swedish speaking parts of Finland.

– I have to say that these results were a bit of a shock!  The idea that Åland is 'westwards looking' is incredibly strong, and something I'd never questioned, and wouldn't really have thought of questioning until I'd done this work, says Lara Band.

One of the differences between Åland and Parga on the one hand and Norrtälje on the other hand, was that the gravestones in the Swedish town showed more patriarchal patterns. In Norrtälje it was significantly more common with a single headstone for the whole family with only the family name or the father's family name and surname. In Mariehamn and Parga, there were higher percentages of female names on the memorials.

Another result of Lara Band’s study concerns Mariehamn and the period between 1917 and 1922, ie the period just prior to and in connection with the declaration of independence. During this period, the proportion of memorials with individual identity markers linked to family relationships (husband/wife, mother/father, brother/sister, etc.) and professional roles (sailors, farmers, fishermen, etc.) increased to 80 percent. During the previous six years (1911-1916) the corresponding figure was 38 per cent, and during the following six years (1923-1928) only 25 percent.

– This result seems to express a search and a need for individual identities at a time when any national identity was uncertain, under threat and in the hands of others. When the national affiliation was more clarified, there were no corresponding individual needs, says Lara Band.

But how much of the social, cultural and individual identity is it possible to capture by studying memorials?
Lara Band believes that it is possible to deduce quite a lot.

– Research has shown that memorials provide a good general view of the identity of a population. They reflect a very emotional moment in people's lives. But we need more studies in this area in order to establish how far we can go in our conclusions.

DOI allows citation of research data

Lara Band’s research data will soon be published in Journal of Open Archaeology Data. For this reason, the data has been assigned a DOI name from SND. DOI is a Digital Object Identifier, a tool to allow citation of research data in the same manner as citation of research articles and other electronic publications.

SND is a member of the international organization DataCite, which has worked with DOI labeling of research data since 2009. The basic idea of ​​the system is that the DOI string provides access to citation information, such as the creator of the data, year of publication, research institution, title and country of origin.

SND has, through its membership in DataCite, the right to give a DOI name to data submitted to SND, and to disclose so-called prefixes to other long-term research infrastructures so they can distribute their own DOI names. Two of the organizations awarded such prefixes from SND are ECDS (Environment Climate Data Sweden) and BILS (Bioinformatics Infrastructure for Life Sciences).

Starting this fall, all research material submitted to SND, as well as the data already available at SND, will be assigned a DOI name.