Örebro University leading new research linking history to contemporary school issues

Johannes Westberg

Johannes Westberg is heading up the new research school, which is a collaboration between the universities in Örebro, Stockholm, Uppsala and Umeå.

Four universities are collaborating in a new research school to develop a novel research specialisation – applied history of education. The purpose is to establish history of education research that is directly relevant to contemporary schooling and policy debate. Nine doctoral students will be recruited as part of the initiative, which is funded with SEK 38 million by the Swedish Research Council.

“We want to heighten the understanding of pressing contemporary education policy issues and nuance the image of ‘the school in the good old days’ as represented in the media. We also want to highlight the conflicts and injustices that have characterised the history of education,” says Johannes Westberg, professor of education and director of the new research school.

The research school is a collaboration between the universities in Örebro, Stockholm, Umeå and Uppsala. The doctoral studentships are divided between the four partner universities.

The proposed research has two goals. One is to contribute to an increased ability among teacher educators to analyse how history has a direct impact on schools today. This aspect will reinforce the link between research and education within that part of teacher training.

“Teacher educators need to understand what role our interpretation of the history of schools is playing today. This is especially important as statements referring to a school in crisis and decline are used in the public debate with little or no grounding in historical reality,” says Johannes Westberg.

History of direct relevance today

The second goal is to make a principal contribution to the international research efforts within history of education, with the new research field of applied history of education.

“We’re looking at a historical analysis of direct relevance to contemporary educational policy issues. Anyone wanting to develop schooling is bound to history, as both they and schools are products of history. Besides, it is always on the basis of our interpretations of history that we make decisions about the future,” reasons Johannes Westberg.

The research school will be launched internationally in connection with the conference ISCHE 42, taking place at Örebro University.

“It will be an amazing opportunity to showcase our school for more than 300 researchers, representing every continent,” concludes Johannes Westberg.

The research school has a blog

Text and photo: Maria Elisson

Footnote: The picture on the previous page is taken in 1911 at the all-girls’ school Anna Sandströms flickskola in Stockholm. From Stockholm City Archives





The name of the research school is Schooling in perspective: A graduate school in applied history of education.

Örebro University has a call for three doctoral studentships, the remaining six are evenly distributed among the other three universities.

Projects may cover preschools, primary as well as secondary level. The research school has a broad research orientation. It may include studies of, for example, teachers’ status, inclusion, digitalisation, private schools, free-schools, educational ideas, regional development and the history of school crises.

An international reference group is linked to the research school, with members from universities in, among others, Italy, the UK, Australia and the Nordic countries.