After a long and gray winter the recent couple of sunny days have made one feel just as happy as one may imagine cows to feel when they are for the first time in the spring let out from a barn. Because of this, it is perfect time to talk about paratexts, Finnish cows, and the 1900 Paris exhibition. These all three seemingly disparate elements came nicely together in a publication called Notices sur la Finlande which was published to honor Finland’s participation in the 1900 universal exhibition in Paris. The russification measures were at their height and receiving an invitation from the French to build a pavilion for the Fair was a propaganda opportunity Finns were not going to miss. First rank artists and architects were asked to design and decorate a pavilion that ticked all the boxes of the national-romantic Jugendstil. They did not even try to hide the allusions to the dire political situation in the artwork that adorned the pavilion. Russians were far less thrilled about this all and when the French awarded a grand prix to the Finnish pavilion the news was greeted with outrage in Russia.
If the pavilion was visually a celebration of the golden age of Finnish national-romantic art, eminent scientists and scholars highlighted in an equally jubilant fashion the modernity of Finnish industry, agriculture, education, and state in thirteen brochures. The leaflets that were handed out to the visitors, were also published in a one-volume edition, Notices sur la Finlande. The authors represented the crème de la crème of Finnish expertise and included, among others, Tekla Hultin, the first woman in Finland awarded with a doctoral degree in history (in 1896). The purpose of the pamphlets was, according to the preface in the Notices, to offer as briefly as possible highlights about Finland’s social, economic, and agricultural conditions. As Leo Mechelin, the author of the preface, concluded, this brevity made the leaflets appealing to the largest possible audiences. After all, he asserted how “De nos jours, tout le monde est si pressé, et il y a tant de choses a lire.” Hence, the shortness of the accounts was due to this consideration towards the readers, not due to lack of worthy topics to discuss.
Considering the visually rich pavilion, the typography of the brochures was restrained underlining the serious nature of the content. The impression of gravity was enhanced with numerous statistics that were inserted into the text illustrating, among others, the increasing number of postal operations, and quite oddly, the number of severe accidents in the different fields of industry. The articles were otherwise short of visual and paratextual hooks to attract readers – with only one exception. The piece about agriculture, L’Agriculture en Finlande vers la fin du XIXe siècle, was written by doctor Gösta Grotenfelt, was far longer than the other leaflets – 131 pages – and furnished with several paratexts. The text was accompanied with marginal notes that helped readers to navigate through it. Moreover, Grotenfelt had also illustrated his piece with statistical diagrams, maps, photographs, genealogical tables and this abundance of graphic material brings us to those happy Finnish cows.
In 1900, Finland was a rural country. Agriculture was vital for the local inhabitants and the improvements in the production, research, and education in the related fields were something to be proud of. Grotenfelt’s illustrations accentuated this national pride. Images as paratexts are pivotal in catching attention and indicating what is considered essential in the text. They educate, illustrate, and complement the textual message. Furthermore, visual paratext are important also because even those who do not read a text may familiarize themselves with them when browsing through books in libraries and bookshops. Consequently, these non-readers can create impressions and opinions about the book based on the graphic paratexts alone. Grotenfelt’s visual message was clear: Finland is an agricultural nation and proud of its achievements in breeding cattle.
Three maps, two foldable graphics, one genealogical table, and thirteen photographs promoted various aspects of agricultural life in Finland. Out of these paratexts, altogether eight pieces visualized themes related to cattle. Three photographs depicted indigenous Finnish cows and their grave, almost timid, keepers. Presenting a price-winning cow was a serious matter and nothing to smile about! One photograph documented four cow skulls and another one introduced the famous Aarni, the Ayrshire cow bred at the Mustiala institute of agriculture. Since Aarni was obviously an exceptionally significant representative of national cattle breeding, a genealogical table was attached to show its noble roots. As a sign of wider impact cattle breeding had for Finnish economy, two folded diagrams illustrated the export of butter and cheese since the 1850s. All this visualization was certainly enough to guarantee that even those who did not acquaint themselves with the detailed narrative grasped the significance cows had for Finland.
The technical developments in photography and printing enabled more efficient and affordable means to reproduce images during the last decades of the nineteenth century. This had an impact on how books were illustrated, texts visualized, and images interpreted. In learned publications, the advancing technology allowed a more diverse use of illustrations from complicated diagrams to photographs. The illustrations were not just decorations, but part of the message authors (and publishers) wished to convey. In terms of educating readers, the text and accompanying visualization were intended to complement each other. Of course readers could do nothing else than browse through books and casually stop to contemplate nothing else than the images. This selective reading gave graphic paratexts a key role in transmitting knowledge; the text was pushed into the margins and everything the audience learned was compressed into the illustrations – Finland sure was a country with great many cows. Dead and alive.