Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Scholar Spotlight: Mia Korpiola

Next in our Scholar Spotlight series is Mia Korpiola, University of Turku. Prof. Korpiola was one of three female contributors to the recently published Oxford Handbook of European Legal History.

Mia Korpiola is a professor of legal history at the Faculty of Law at the University of Turku. She lives in Vantaa, adjacent to Helsinki, in Finland.

Website: https://www.utu.fi/en/people/mia-korpiola  

Degrees: Candidate of Laws 1996, Licentiate of Laws (legal history) 1998, Doctor of Laws (legal history) 2004, title of Docent in Legal History (2007). Alma mater: University of Helsinki, Faculty of Law.

Fields of interest: reception processes, ecclesiastical law, family law, legal work, legal literacy

Describe your career path. What led you to where you are today? Finnish academic life has undergone profound changes during the last two decades. After I started my postgraduate studies, post grads and post docs have become increasingly dependent on external funding. Consequently, my so-called career resembles more a patchwork of funding and research projects than a path. Between 1997 and 2014, I had 12 different contracts, including post doc funding from the Academy of Finland, the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies and the Turku Institute for Advanced Studies. Practically all were acquired through competition. Young researchers have to “sell” their research ideas and themselves as realizing these to funding institutions. Only a small percentage is successful. I have been lucky not to have other career breaks than maternity/parental leaves and even more fortunate to be hired in 2014. This was my first permanent job. I am currently one of the three professors of legal history of Finland. To my knowledge, I am also the first female full professor of legal history in the Nordic Countries. As for personal qualities, I am really passionate about research. When my scientific curiosity is awakened, I will dig until I get answers. Legal history research allows me to combine many interests: history, law, languages, people, art and so on. Writing is also fun and I have no difficulties in producing text.

How would you describe the places where you live and work? My university is situated three hours by public transport from where I live. The distance – and the overall situation – is far from ideal. On the other hand, my Faculty understands that commitment and productivity are not dependent on living and working in the same town. I am normally required to be present one day a week. Naturally more often when I am in the middle of my teaching period. However, I miss being a daily part of a scientific community. I also miss having “a room of my own”, as Virginia Woolf once expressed it. I have an office in Turku, but not where I work the most, at home. However, this is the price to be paid for the luxury of my permanent job as my family keeps me in Vantaa.

What projects are you currently working on? I and my research group are currently busy with the book Modern Vehicles, Risks and Regulation in Finland, 1830-1950 to be finished in 2019. I am also doing research related to my other research project Legal Literacy in Finland ca. 1750-1920: A Case of Popular Legal Learning in Premodern Europe (https://blogit.utu.fi/oikeudellinentietotaito/in-english/). In addition, I am part of an international research group writing a book on the history of medieval and early modern Nordic inheritance law.

Have your interests evolved since finishing your studies?
Yes, they have very much. This has partly been organic, partly conscious, as I did not want to be classified into the niche “medieval and early modern family law” – a marginalizing label – I had already received a couple of times when applying for a job. I felt this label did not do my research and publications justice, and I decided to widen my research topics to the twentieth century and the history of legal professions. Otherwise, one thing has led to another quite organically.     

What’s the most fascinating thing you’ve ever found at the archives? When I was reading Swedish ecclesiastical court records from the 1590s for my thesis (Between Betrothal and Bedding: Marriage Formation in Sweden, 1200–1600), I came across a cause initiated by a nobleman alleging that he had discovered on the wedding night that his young wife was no longer a virgin. This had created a huge family scandal causing a leading noble family to have its dirty linen washed in public – something that rarely happened. My curiosity awakened, I started to look for traces of the protagonists.  To my great amazement, I unearthed bits and pieces in various Swedish archives: letters and drafts, receipts, financial accounts, entries in German university enrollment registers, etc. I could never have believed that so many sources related to the case still existed. It felt almost as if the persons themselves wanted that their story be told. The result was an article, “Kerstin Oxenstierna’s Lost Maidenhead: Honour, Sin and Matrimonial Law in Late Sixteenth-Century Sweden”.

Photo caption: Mia Korpiola giving a speech at the Centenary of the ​Supreme Court of Finland, 1st October 2018. From the Collection of the Supreme Court of Finland, photographer Marjo Koivumäki, Studio Apris.