Even though Johannes Schefferus’ Lapponia (1673) is a frequently employed source in historical studies on the Sámi people of Fennoscandia, the book’s history and the rich reception it aroused early on has never been studied in detail. Written in Uppsala, it was published in Latin for an international learned readership. One of the main intentions behind the work was to counter rumours about the presence of Sámi sorcerers in the Swedish military. In spite of this aspect of the commission, the result was a surprisingly factual account. Schefferus’ realistic description of the lappmarks, the regions where the Sámi lived, featured sections on topography, natural resources, plants, and animals. The book described the characteristics, customs, objects and commerce of the Sámi people in detail. This way, it should restore Sweden’s reputation and demonstrate that the lappmarks were subject to the Kingdom. Schefferus had never been to the lappmarks. Yet this did not hinder the book’s success; already during his works on Lapponia, news about the project spread. Adaptations in English, German, French and Dutch followed quickly.
This study centres on the coming into existence and development of Lapponia as a book and a piece of literature of knowledge. Based on the original Latin version, I analyse the structures of knowledge and the communicative network surrounding this early modern description of the Sámi people. With the help of archival sources and mainly unpublished letters, I reconstruct the history of Lapponia and its various adaptations.
My comparative analysis shows that the versions originating from Lapponia are widely different when it comes to content, structure, layout and literary traditions. Furthermore, I highlight the importance of several spheres of knowledge for the development of Schefferus’ monograph and its adaptations. Since he had not visited the area himself, Schefferus had to rely on eyewitness accounts from the northern parts of the Kingdom. Among the authors of these accounts, most of whom were clergymen, there were a few Sámi people. I discuss the role of the letter-writing community known as the Republic of Letters for Lapponia and vice versa. The study traces the further reception in the late 17th and early 18th centuries and exemplifies how early modern knowledge about the Sámi was disseminated all over Europe.