This article examinesthe relations between so-called ‘Rucksack Russians’, itinerant traders fromRussian Karelia, and their local customers in late 19th and early 20th ruralFinland. Finland was a part of the Russian Empire, but, according to Finnish law,itinerant trade was illegal for people without citizenship rights in the GrandDuchy. The trade was, thus, illicit, although often seen through the fingers byboth customers and authorities. We study trader–customer relations throughemotions, trading practices and communication, with special focus on the roleof itinerant trade for the consumption of women. We argue that analysing therelations from these perspectives deepens the understanding of the functions ofitinerant trade in society in general and of the shaping of a consumer societyin particular. For access to a consumer perspective, we use ethnographicquestionnaires, a source type that historians have acknowledged only in recentdecades. The questionnaires complement and nuance the predominantly negativeattitudes towards itinerant trade conveyed in the newspapers, which mainlyrepresent the viewpoints of the authorities and local merchants. Previousresearch has shown that itinerant trade played an important role for answeringto the growing demand for consumer goods in the 19th- and early 20th centuries.This article, which applies recent theoretical perspectives presented withinthe field of consumption history, and shifts focus from the consumption of theelite to that of that of the lower strata of society, offers a fresh take onsuch aspects of trader–consumer relations that previous historical research onitinerant trade has overlooked.
- Itinerant trade
- Russian Karelia