History of Education Society UK Podcast

3_02 Johannes Westberg - Bright Nordic Lights, A revitalized interdisciplinary history of education in the massified higher education of the Nordics

May 10, 2023 History of Education Society UK Season 3 Episode 2
3_02 Johannes Westberg - Bright Nordic Lights, A revitalized interdisciplinary history of education in the massified higher education of the Nordics
History of Education Society UK Podcast
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History of Education Society UK Podcast
3_02 Johannes Westberg - Bright Nordic Lights, A revitalized interdisciplinary history of education in the massified higher education of the Nordics
May 10, 2023 Season 3 Episode 2
History of Education Society UK

To accompany the 50th Anniversary special edition of the History of Education Journal, we spoke to some of the contributors.  These podcasts focus on two of the themes in the journal:
Geographical historiographies of education and
Thematic intersections with the history of education.
Episode 2- Geography
In this episode, Johannes Westberg, Professor of Theory and History of Education at the University of Groningen, presents a lucid overview of  the state of the field in the Nordics, to introduce his article, Bright Nordic Lights: A revitalized interdisciplinary history of education in the massified higher education of the Nordics.
Themes include epistemologies, institutional settings, questions of Nordic identity, language, and  culture.  
Recorded in conversation with Michael Donnay in 2022 and produced by Syeda Ali, May 2023.

Show Notes Transcript

To accompany the 50th Anniversary special edition of the History of Education Journal, we spoke to some of the contributors.  These podcasts focus on two of the themes in the journal:
Geographical historiographies of education and
Thematic intersections with the history of education.
Episode 2- Geography
In this episode, Johannes Westberg, Professor of Theory and History of Education at the University of Groningen, presents a lucid overview of  the state of the field in the Nordics, to introduce his article, Bright Nordic Lights: A revitalized interdisciplinary history of education in the massified higher education of the Nordics.
Themes include epistemologies, institutional settings, questions of Nordic identity, language, and  culture.  
Recorded in conversation with Michael Donnay in 2022 and produced by Syeda Ali, May 2023.

SPEAKERS

Michael Donnay, Syeda Ali, Johannes Westberg

 

MD  00:06

This is passing notes from the history of Education Society. 

 

Syeda Ali  00:09

In the second episode of the series of four to accompany the May special edition of the history of education journal. Michael Donnay speaks to Johannes Westberg about his article Bright Nordic lights, A Revitalised Interdisciplinary History Of Education In The Massified Higher Education Of The Nordics. I'll hand you back to Michael for the podcast. 

 

MD  00:31

Welcome to the podcast. I'm so excited to have you today and to chat a little bit about your article for this special issue of history of education. 

 

JW  00:39

Thanks, I'm also very happy to be here and have the opportunity to talk about the history of education in the noise. 

 

MD  00:45

Fantastic. Well, I think a great place to start would be just getting a brief overview of the article, I was wondering if you could give people sort of the quick summary of what you contributed for the journal issue. 

 

JW  00:56

A brief overview is that I tried to kind of map the field of history of education in the Nordics, identifying at least three phases in its history, starting from kind of a kind of history written by schoolmen for schoolmen, to the current situation, which is,  I describe as a multidisciplinary research field based on the disciplines of education, history, and many more, such as sociology of education, education policy. 

 

MD  01:28

Fantastic. And just for our readers who might not be familiar, when you say the Nordics, what are we talking about here?

 

JW  01:35

In one way, perhaps we're talking, of course, about some kind of cultural, social construction, but often when you talk about Nordic region, it's about Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, and Norway. And if you're more into the specifics include these kinds of geographic entities such as the Faroe Islands, Greenland Sapmi, Aland.

 

MD  02:02

And you mentioned a second ago there that it's a bit of a construction. What are some of the elements that make it make sense to consider these countries or regions together for this context? 

 

JW  02:13

When I got the question, to write this article, I really kind of consider why write this kind of article and isn't just a Nordic some kind of 19 or 20th century construction. But I think it makes sense because at least there is a shared history, and not least regarding the Scandinavian languages, that creates a unity but also other shared historical experiences, that makes it useful to talk about a field of Nordic history of education. 

 

MD  02:51

And then So turning to those sort of periods that you mentioned, thinking about the history of the discipline, going through a couple of phases, I thought it was really interesting how you focus not necessarily on theoretical trends, but rather on the institutional ones, and how they influenced the writing of the history. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about why you made that choice. And then what are the institutional periods you identified over the course of that development? Yeah, I think it's partly my background as researcher coming from social history.

 

JW  03:27

I try to ... kind of ... prefer to study structures, social, economical structures over ideas. So I think it's partly my theoretical inclination. But I think I would also argue, of course, it's a result of the kind of the Nordic setting in itself, because I guess if the institutional setting remains largely the same, it makes sense to focus on theoretical trends. But as in the case of the Nordics, if the institution context changes a lot, and we currently also have a wide variety of institutional settings, it makes sense to place the institution setting in the focus of such a kind of presentation.

 

MD  04:15

And then in terms of the trends, you you've sort of, I think, identified three different periods of sort of one institutional setting transitions to another and then ends up in this sort of multidisciplinary setting you identified a second ago. Could you tell us a little bit about what defines those sort of first two chunks of time?

 

JW  04:36

It's starting from kind of the first and I would guess that this history of the history of education in the Nordics has for sure similarities to the history you can see also in other regions and other countries, but you for sure can see a first period in late 19th and early 20th century, where really the history of education was produced. are written by men, for schoolmen. And that, of course, set the scene for the results. All this writing the books and articles written, that were really written from the perspective of the school profession of the teacher profession highlighting the progress of the Swedish education system.

 

MD  05:26

And I think one of the things that I found really interesting was the discussion you have in the article about organisations outside of the university that played a role in shaping the field. And I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about what those organisations were, and the role that they played in shaping this research and writing. 

 

JW  05:44

Yeah, they started to play an important role during first half mainly of the 20th century because in, like in many other countries, like in the UK, but also in Belgium and Netherlands, various kinds of national organisations were formed. And in the kind of the only part of the history of history of education in the Nordics. These national organisations were quite important. And it included like the Association for the Swedish history of teaching, the Finnish society for school history, the Swedish Association for school history in Finland, and also a destination for a school education history in Denmark. So there were lots of these kinds of national organisations. And since the number of universities in the Nordics, there were quite a few of them, and the disciplines of education and the disciplines of history, were really small.  The production of these national organisations were really important. And I think I mentioned in articles, something like that the Swedish Association produced like 100 volumes in the first half of the 20th century, while the number of dissertations doctoral dissertations were just a couple, so they played a really important role, like in terms of volume. 

MD And it's interesting, you should mention the Swedish examples there. I definitely got the feeling from your article. And I think you might have mentioned it even explicitly, that Swedish institutions play a really prominent role in a lot of this historiography, and sort of researched into the Nordic history of education more generally. And as someone who's sort of coming completely from an outside perspective, is there a particular reason why the Swedish institutions might be more prominent than, say, other institutions elsewhere?  

JW So I think there are several explanations, of course,it's partly because of the relative size of higher education in Sweden, which kind of is linked to the younger population of Sweden that Sweden has more students, like more than 400,000 students in Sweden, while there is more like, more like 300,000 Student students in Denmark. But I think if you look at the institutional setting, you see a few reforms that really, you can say has been beneficial to history of education research. In Sweden, we have the 1977 reform, which place teacher training at the universities at higher education institutions. And as in many other countries, teacher education had the tradition of history of education, teaching and research. We have in Sweden had a relatively supportive grant agency, which actually in our early audit, 21st century in 2001, they actually mentioned that history of education was part of the field of education and research, and such kind of eligible for grants, research grants. And that helps, of course, quite a lot of effected funded three credit schools, actually. And I would also say a third reason that for some political reasons, history of education also became a required part of teacher training in 2011. So there are these kind of few political institutional things that proved to be beneficial for for the research field in Sweden that in some respects lacks

 

MD  09:31

I can see how paying attention to this institutional context makes that really clear in a way that if you were just looking at theoretical trends might not be as apparent. 

 

JW  09:40

Yeah, and I think it is kind of striking when you look for example, at what kind of positions exists as the university. So for example, as a result of this reforming of the teacher training in 2011. New positions as Lecturer in history of education was appointed at various universities in Sweden, so you can really see that link quite nicely. 

 

MD  10:06

Yeah, that's so interesting. I'm curious, though you obviously do spend some time talking about theoretical trends and developments and methodology. And I was wondering if you could sort of give us a least a hint of what some of those trends in the last 20 or 30 years might look like in this area?

 

JW  10:25

Yeah, I think that's a really interesting question. And of course, I guess the Nordic field is affected by general trends in education, research, historical research and history of education as a field in general. So, of course, I guess those that you also would mention, like the linguistic term, some kind of rice or what's sometimes called the new culture, history of education, for example. But in my article, I highlight also that there are some kind of specific Nordic features that I'm not sure how well known that they are outside of the Nordics, for example. what's sometimes called the Swedish curriculum theory, has had a great impact on history of education. Research is when I guess you don't know what 

 

MD  11:16

I don't. My next question would be, what is that theory? 

 

JW  11:19

So now it's a theoretical framework for it's like, inspired by Bernstein, and others, a framework for studying how goals content and the methodology of educational processes are shaped in specific social and cultural contexts. And it's been really influential and inspired all kinds of historical research into like, barley and more than rhetoric, education, 19th century schooling, inspection, and even like 21st century teacher training reform. So I think that's an important trend. But also, I think it's not so known in other countries. 

MD And I, this just occurred to me that I probably should have asked this question a little bit earlier on. 

But when we're talking about history of education in the Nordics, Does that just mean people working on Nordic topics? Or is there also historians of Education who are based in the Nordics and using some of those frameworks, but looking at education in other countries or in other contexts outside of the Nordics. 

JW So I think it's a good way to define the Nordic field is that for sure, it's nor the field that takes place in the Nordic countries, Nordic regions, and Nordic geographical entities, but for sure, it's a field that also addresses other geographical areas. And there are quite a few that are, are more important than others, for example, the relationship between the Swedish educational institutions and the German, of course, sometimes the 19th century in Sweden, this is actually called the German century, because the German influence could be felt so clearly in all kinds of social, cultural and educational service. So the relationship between Sweden and German states for sure, there are quite a few that deals with issues regarding Great Britain. So of course, if you're talking about post war realities, the relationship between the Nordic countries and the US concerning for example, scholarships, and various mechanism or processes or of translation transformation, reception of ideas.

 

MD  13:45

So when you look at it, it is both focused in the Nordics. But then that, of course, brings it out into these broader transnational connections. So I'd love to turn now to a slightly more speculative question, which is, as you look at this historiography, what sort of future paths or developments Do you see it? Like? What direction basically do you think it's headed in? Or what directions? And are there any of those directions that you're particularly excited about that you would love to see people pursue further?

 

JW  14:17

There are so many of these, of course. But I think also in the future since history, education in the Nordics is so often based at Departments of Education, linked to teach training, I think historically, standards of education and policy and textbooks will remain important for the development of the field. So I think that's I'm quite excited about that. I think there are lots of opportunities to continue cooperation with, for example, the merging field of history of knowledge. They're interested in kind of the social production and circulation of knowledge. It's something that I think is the one certification can really inspired by I think solidly, at least myself, I'm really interested in the connection that historians of education can have with economic history of education, or so much interesting stuff is done on really kind of the social and cultural context of education.

 

MD  15:18

I think my last question about the article, or at least this part of it, is in doing this work and writing up this article, is there anything you've learned, whether it's the lens of analysis, or framing of a question that you think would be useful for other historians of Education who might not be working specifically in the Nordic context, but might help them think about their own research? 

 

JW  15:39

I think this is a really difficult, really difficult question. But I think, partly, as historian of education, we, of course, know about the importance of context. And we always tried to present a context in order to understand the object that we are studying. But writing, this article has really shown how context dependent also, our research is how it really kind of grows from certain settings, and it's in that way shaped also by it. So in that sense, I see those as an encouragement to try to understand the context that we are working in to make sure we can find some kind of fit with that context in order to promote our own ... .

 

MD  16:34

I do think one of the exciting things about this anniversary issue is that has prompted a lot of people to reflect not just on the field, but on their own practices as well. So it's interesting to sort of hear the institutional focus of the article leading into that kind of reflection about how to place your own work. 

 

JW  16:51

And it's also interesting, and I think that it will also be more evident from the entire special issue that you can see the kind of gaps or differences between different research strands, between different research groups. And I think that raises interesting questions of how to address those gaps, and whether there is certain potential in the differences between these strands, and something that we could use as a basis for future research.

 

MD  17:21

Definitely.  And speaking of that future research, we spent a lot of time today talking about other people's research and your sort of synthesis of that. But I'd love to take a little bit of time to talk about your own research and the projects that you're currently working on. Are there any that you're particularly excited about or have really been enjoying recently.

 

JW  17:40

So first, it's a project that I've been involved in for a couple of years now on regional variations in schooling. And we are starting to complete a quite unique data set on regional variations in enrollments, among other things across a number of European countries. So I'm really kind of interested in starting to work on the qualitative aspects of those quantitative deltas. So I think that's kind of the main thing I'm looking forward to do now that I, at that point of time, where we'll have more time to do.

 

MD  18:17

That sounds really fascinating. Can you talk a little bit more? Are you is part of the project to generate these data sets? Or is it about collection, sort of what is the process been like? 

 

JW  18:26

So the process has been that we collected all kinds of statistical data on the rise of primary schooling, most schooling from 1842 to 1940, and try to harmonise this data so that our measurement of enrollment school and enrollment are kind of similar across countries. And then you can see really interesting regional variations and how they change over time, not only within national education systems, but also across national educational systems, which raises interesting questions about border effects, and also the role of the region in the rise, 

 

MD  19:11

I can see why you'd be really excited to start digging into that. That sounds fascinating. I mean, like well, I want to thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today. It's been great to hear a little bit about your own research and about the article you've written and I really hope people get the chance to go check it out. Thank you very much.

 

Syeda Ali  19:35

Passing notes is a production of the history of Education Society, UK, our executive producer is Heather Ellis. And this episode was written by Michael Donnay and produced by me Syeda Ali, you can find a transcript of this episode, as well as more information about our events, publications and conferences on our website historyofeducation.org.uk