In 2007 the Helsinki City Museum published a comic book detailing its archaeological research in downtown Helsinki. The book was so successful that last year the museum was able to publish a version in English, which thankfully means I had a chance to read it myself. It’s called Digging Around in Helsinki’s Past and I love it. So do all the Americans who have come to visit me—they keep on picking it up off the coffee table in my apartment. Not only does it describe various archaeological digs around the city and what they have uncovered about 17th and 18th-century life, it also explains how archaeologists do their work.
The idea for the book was more or less organic. The museum happened to have on its staff an archaeologist, Jaana Mellanen, who is also a cartoonist. She did a few cartoons in the museum newsletter and they were well-received. So they put her to work. The result is informative, easy to understand, visually rich, and even funny at times. It’s a great example of public history because it distills a rather complex topic into something a lay person can understand, without losing all the interesting details. Bravo to HCM for taking a creative risk, and for recognizing Mellanen’s talents, even if they fell quite far outside her job description.