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The property history and constitutional affiliation of Finnmark, the northernmost county of Norway, differs significantly from that of the rest of the country, insofar as a dominant conception up to the present time has been that the government has been the owner of Finnmark «from the earliest times». Despite significant research during the last half decade, there is still a prevailing opinion that private ownership in Finnmark originated through a normative act of the Government in Copenhagen in 1775.
The theme of this article is to study the property history of Finnmark with an aim to examine the existence of private property independently of the government land acts. The article argues that new research and sources not previously consulted, which are relevant for the property history of Finnmark, must be used to a greater extent in the legal clarification process in Finnmark.
Although state ownership has been questioned for a long period, the arguments for the existence of private property that is not derived from state ownership have encountered an insurmountable threshold due to the absence of documentation. Through use of sources previously not applied in a property law context, the article sheds new light on the property history of Finnmark.
In 1789, Hammerfest and Vardø were the first settlements in northern Norway to be granted rights as independent market towns. To monitor the development, especially of the growing trade with north-western Russia, customs offices were established. The main tasks for the officials were to list the goods and the ships entering and departing their ports.
In recent years, customs records from the 18th and early 19th centuries have been made accessible online. Hitherto, little systematic use has been made of this source. After presenting the trade history of Finnmark before 1789, this article shows how the customs records can be used to shed light on similarities and differences between trade towns, exemplified by an analysis of the main characteristics of trade in Hammerfest and Vardø. The author describes how the war and the British blockade of Norwegian ports affected the trade, and thus the records from 1807, and eventually led to their suspension in 1810–11. The author argues that as the new trade regime was not tried out very long under normal circumstances, it is difficult to say if it catalysed the economic improvements hoped for by the government.
Historical research on social development in the Scandinavian north used to be dominated by stories of ruthless taxation and economic exploitation of the Sami people. Stories of the violent actions of the so-called bircarlians were told again and again. These bircarlians were considered to be a group of greedy merchants originating from areas bordering on the Gulf of Bothnia.
The old stories of evil tax collectors harassing the Sami are no longer universally accepted. Nowadays the bircarlians are described as locals, agriculturalists and traders engaged for centuries in exchanging goods with the Sami, benefiting both themselves and the indigenous nomads.
The bircarlians used to be regarded as holders of royal privileges granting them special rights in the trade with the Sami. This view has also been challenged. The system involving Sami and local tradesmen seems to be much older than the impression given by Swedish authorities in the late middle ages. Bircarlian activities long outdated the royal Swedish colonization of the north. Their independent and decentralised trading traditions are now instead considered important stages in the development of the Swedish unitary national state.
Isaac Olsen was a Norwegian person who went to Finnmark at the beginning of the 1700s and worked there as teacher and preacher among the Sami population until 1716. He wrote a copybook which is preserved today in the Museum of Cultural History, Norway. Parts of this copybook have been published, but the parts on which this article is based, have not been published previously. Mostly written in his own hand, the copybook contains his lectures on history and mythology as well as religious texts for teaching purposes. In addition, the book contains some official documents related to his stay in Finnmark, among other Isaac Olsen’s instructions for his work, issued by the Nidaros bishop Peder Krog, Olsen’s supplications to the Finnmark government officials and their responses to the supplications. The book also contains texts related to contemporary popular culture, such as moral stories, ghost stories and popularized religious texts. The article focuses on the way Isaac Olsen performed his work. At the time, school teaching and mission work went hand in hand, so that Isaac Olsen’s work may also be seen as mission work in Finnmark prior to the formalized mission.
Archival leadership and the role of the archivist during the 1800s have been studied by examining two of the leaders of the Norwegian National Archives at that time. Documents from Henrik Wergeland were chosen as he was the first in the position. Michael Birkeland's material was studied because he was in the chair for the longest period. Both of them have made important contributions theoretically and practically to the development of public archives in Norway.
The findings show that the professional challenges met 170 years ago are quite similar to those faced today, even though the medium then was paper, and the hot topic today is digitally transmitted material. The core questions were: What to keep? How to get an overview over the material? How to store it? Who is going to take care of it? How to communicate the information to the users?
The archival description is an important instrument for opening the archives to future users. These descriptions are written by archivists. For the purpose of source criticism, we need to know the role and competence of these authors at different times. Development of archival practice is a leadership task. This task is regrettably little studied.