The Oulu Cultural and Heritage Center by Mirva Johnson

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COURSE: Scandinavian Studies – Area Studies Master’s Thesis

Oulu, WI is a small town originally settled by Finnish immigrants in Wisconsin’s Northwoods. A group of residents formed The Oulu Cultural and Heritage Center in 2014 to preserve and share Oulu’s history and culture through museum exhibits, demonstrations, and programming ( This film tells the story of one community’s unique response to economic changes and shifts that are happening in rural towns across the country; it focuses on the work the Center’s volunteers have done to preserve and restore area buildings and create a new gathering place for the community where people can come together and celebrate their heritage.

I first went up to Oulu, WI to conduct linguistic fieldwork with heritage speakers of Finnish in the spring of 2016. While there, I learned about the work that volunteers are doing at the Oulu Cultural and Heritage Center [OCHC] and the truly remarkable story of its creation. This film is my Master’s Thesis, and the culmination of two summers of ethnographic fieldwork and three years of collaboration with the OCHC. My goal was to tell the story of the OCHC using the words of those who are most involved and focusing on what they think is most important to tell about the Center and its creation. Some board members of the OCHC wanted to have some of Oulu’s history in the film, and so I made a point to include the origins of the community as a logging and farming locale and to paint the picture of linguistic and societal shift over the years. From the start, this film was intended to be useful for the Heritage Center in sharing their story with a wider audience and promoting their mission. I strove to show what role the Center plays in identity formation for many of those involved individually, but also for the community as a whole.