Studia Historica Septentrionalia 73


Erkki Urpilainen, Nathanaël af Schultén’s student years

Nathanaël af Schultén, Professor of Mathematics at the University of Helsinki, pursued his studies at the University of Uppsala in the 1810s. His family belonged to the civil aristocracy, and, typical of that time, he was only 15 years of age when enrolling at the university in 1810, along with his one-year-younger brother Carl. A couple of years later they were joined by their youngest brother Otto. The Faculty of Philosophy served as a sort of basic faculty where all new students began their studies. In order to achieve the degree of Master of Philosophy, students were required to study each of the subjects offered by the Faculty and pass an oral exam in each of them. This is why it was common to take a broad range of subjects, in particular at the early stages of one’s studies. During their first year, Nathanaël and Carl attended lectures on history, physics and classical literature, and also on mathematics during the second year. They also independently studied classical Greek and modern languages, such as German, English and French.

Traditionally, all the subjects offered by the Faculty of Philosophy had been studied equally extensively. However, during the 1700s, students gradually began to concentrate on certain subjects, and this kind of specialization actually became very common by the early 1800s. During their second year, Nathanaël and Carl decided to specialize in chemistry instead of theology and related subjects. However, lacking all the basics in chemistry, they had to start by learning it on their own. During their third study year, they were finally admitted to participate in chemistry lectures and laboratory classes. For the subsequent two years, Nathanaël in particular would almost entirely focus on chemistry. Nevertheless, for some reason he finally quit studying it, instead taking up mathematics, which was to be the field of his publicly defended Master’s thesis.

Originally residing in Stockholm, the Schultén family moved to Turku at the beginning of 1813, which meant that the boys had to live on their own while studying. However, they did not have to be totally alone: their social network of upper class people was wide and very close. In Uppsala, the boys had many family friends - including some university lecturers - whom they kept visiting almost on a daily basis. The student life in Uppsala was vibrant as well, but the Schultén boys did not take a very active part in it. They would only attend semi-official rehearsal events arranged by student clubs for those preparing to defend their thesis publicly.

Nathanaël completed his studies in 1815, receiving his Master’s degree as ultimus. Instead of proceeding to the higher faculties, he returned to his family in Finland to become a lecturer at the Royal Academy of Turku, where he would stay until his death. Nathanaël af Schultén’s course of studies and his entire subsequent career can be described as clear, straightforward and rather boring. In other words, he was a regular, unnoticeable student whose studies left no particular mark on history.

Takaisin Studia Historica Septentrionalia 73