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Higher Seminars at the Division

While many people slow down and prepare for vacation, the higher seminar coordinator is in heavy planning for the fall. The Higher Seminar is the colloquium series of the Division where invited guests as well as our own researchers presents seminar on themes from our core areas of history.
The fall of 2021 offers a mix of doctoral defenses, mid-seminars and the annual Archipelago Lectures. Read more in the preleminary program, and feel warmly welcome to attend. This coming semester we hope to be able to have some on-site seminars, but we start on zoom. Do you want som background on the seminar series? See cooridnator Katarina Larsen’s text from our report below.

Higher Seminars at the Division

Text by Katarina Larsen, from the Biennial Report, 2019-2020

The higher seminar series at the division reflects the broad range of exciting topics of research. From “A sea change in Environmental humanities” to studies of history of indigenous communities in the Arctic context, nuclear technology, educational imaginaries, science policy studies, health development projects and innovation in Mozambique, and urban water management. These were just a few of the topics that we had the chance to and discuss during 2019 and 2020. Usually, we have between eight to ten seminars per semester. Adding up the numbers for the past two years, we had about 34 presentations, in addition to a handful of doctoral dissertations and the annual Archipelago lectures.

The higher seminar has a longstanding history at the Division. A text is circulated about a week before the seminar, the author presents for 45 minutes and the next 45 minutes are devoted to discussion. The regular schedule is Mondays 13.15–14.45. The seminar is an institution allowing for scholars at the division to present their ongoing work and also for us all to hear invited speakers. Among presentations we also follow the process that graduate students go through in the program, from presenting the from doctoral plan (the “PhD PM”), through mid-seminar (at 50%) and the final seminar (80 to 90%). Both the mid-seminars and final seminar have invited discussants. Moreover, these presentations give a chance for doctoral students in early stages of their PhD-project to “open a window” to see how the final stages of the doctoral projects take shape and allowing for cross-cohort learning for doctoral students.The seminar series is an open to anyone. The schedule is published online and we frequently have quests in the audience. As organizer of the higher seminars during 2019–2020, I often get comments like “it seems like your colleagues really do show up at your seminars” and “you have some really interesting topics so I would like to hear more about the upcoming seminars”.

During spring 2020, the pandemic turned the higher seminars into an online event, which provided both limitations and opportunities. More scholars from universities abroad, and in Sweden, have found their way to our higher seminar series. This is reinforcing the idea that the series should be a place to meet and exchange ideas, present arguments, discuss virtues and limitations of different research methods, and constitute a space for scholars to learn across scientific disciplines and thematic areas. So, we hope to see you, too at the next higher seminar, starting Monday 13.15, Stockholm time!

Katarina Larsen,
Coordinator of the Higher seminar series, 2019–2020
Div. History of Science, Technology and Environment

When Research Interests Mix

The WaterCentre@KTH is a hub of expertise in water research at our university. Its director and longstanding researcher at our division, David Nilsson, is working together with several scholars from the fields of EKV Kraft- & Värmeteknologi, Vatten- och Miljöteknik, Industriell Bioteknologi, Resursåtervinning, and Hållbarhet, Utvärd och Styrning. Furthermore, it cooperates with Stockholm Vatten och Avfall. Partners of the centre are ivl – Svenska Miljöinstitutet, Stockholms Stad, Stockholm Environment Institute and Värmdö Kommun. Multiple researchers at our division are also involved in the centre’s work or have been in the past, such as the Water Centre’s Research Coordinator Timos Karpouzoglou.

Water is crucial not only for the survival of living organisms, but also for many industrial purposes. It is here that the research interests of the Water Centre converges with ongoing projects at our division. Since the research project Nuclear Waters tries to put water at the centre of its historical nuclear studies, common interests occur frequently. The following is a repost from a text published on the Water Centre’s Blog, highlighting one example where both interests came together.

Kola Nuclear Power Plant at Lake Imandra, above the Arctic circle. RIAN Archive, Licence CC BY-SA 3.0.

Repost from the WaterBlog@KTH

Why Water Matters for Nuclear Power

We tend to associate nuclear power plants with many different things: smoking cooling towers, Homer Simpson-like operators, or dramatic TV series like HBO’s Chernobyl. But something people generally do not associate nuclear power plants with are massive amounts of water. Still, water is at the centre of nuclear power’s historical development, contemporary challenges, and further future.

The connection between water and generating nuclear power goes back to the Industrial Revolution, when steam technologies such as boilers and steam generators were used to heat up water, turn that water into steam, and use the energy of that steam to generate power. However, this led to many steam explosions with deadly casualties. Countries like the U.S., France and Sweden enforced safety rules, which stipulated how the boilers had to be designed and what the allowed pressures and temperatures were.

In the 1950s, more and more countries saw the potential of using nuclear technologies to generate power. With its Atoms for Peace-program, the U.S. took the lead and promoted the reactor type they developed: the light water reactor. This reactor type uses normal water as a coolant and had its origins in both naval propulsion and fossil fuel power generation. This continuity thus made water-cooled reactors a relatively simple way of rolling out nuclear power fast.

The safety in nuclear power plants was therefore determined by the control of water and the understanding of thermal-hydraulic phenomena, such as transients and steam explosions. The pressure vessels, steam generators, valves, pipes, tubes, and pumps of nuclear power plants suddenly became subjected to the steam regulations of the Industrial age. This created new risks since these codes and regulations did not consider radiation. One of the codes that underwent revision was the Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME). The Code started travelling and was, for instance, almost directly implemented in all Swedish nuclear power plants. Gradually but surely, nuclear safety regulations in the West became more ‘nuclear’ as the intersection between water, steam, steel, and radiation became better understood and nuclear accidents, such as Three Mile Island, pushed governments for more safety legislation.

For the USSR water was equally crucial along all steps of the nuclear lifespan, such as mining, fuel element production, exploitation, and the storage of spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste. In general, all nuclear power plants were placed next to either a river, a lake or the coast – the latter being an exception. The most common source of coolant was river water. Interestingly, those rivers usually had to be previously ameliorated and often artificial water reservoirs were created.

A specific setup was used for so-called energy complexes, a special form of nuclear-hydrotechnical combine. They embodied the combination of nuclear and hydro power, agricultural irrigation, and fish cultivation in one location. Furthermore, constructing them meant to manipulate water bodies with newly created dams. In this way an energy complex was created to procure valuable synergies through the multiple usage and partial recycling of water.

Finding the right location was crucial for an envisioned energy complex. It needed to be a location with sufficient water supply, with suitable ground conditions, without earthquake or flood dangers. In addition, the complex needed to be within reasonable distance towards a (potential) industrial settlement to provide this population centre with electricity. Safe and ample water supply had to be considered during site selection and was one of the essential criteria for their construction. If there was not enough water, the complex could not be built.

A leading institute for the creation of energy complexes was Gidroproekt (Hydroproject). As the name suggests, Gidroproekt was a Soviet hydraulic research, design and construction agency. By joining its hydraulic expertise with newly introduced nuclear engineering, this institute was the very place where knowledge transfer between these two prestigious engineering communities took place. Here, the water-focused perspective prevailed and embedded nuclear technology into hydro-ameliorated aquatic systems. It promised prestige as well as quick results – and Gidroproekt readily delivered.

In sum, both in the East and the West, water played a crucial role in the development of nuclear power. In the West, knowledge about water was essential for developing nuclear safety practices. In the East, water was seen as a crucial resource, for powering energy complexes in the struggle for building a Communist state. Nuclear’s reliance on water meant that nuclear power plants and energy complexes were meeting places of different long-standing traditions and communities. Given the large number of water-cooled reactors in the world today, and including those under construction, it is fair to say that this crucial connection is there to stay.

By Achim Klüppelberg & Siegfried Evens
Doctoral students at the division for History of Science, Technology and the Environment, within the research project Nuclear Waters.

The power to define resilience in social–hydrological systems

Timos Karpouzoglou, researcher at the division, has published an article together with Art Dewulf, Jeroen Warner, Anna Wesselink and nine other scholars on the social implications of hydrological systems.

If you are interested in their work, you can find the abstract below and the full text here.


Since the early work on defining and analyzing resilience in domains such as engineering, ecology and psychology, the concept has gained significant traction in many fields of research and practice. It has also become a very powerful justification for various policy goals in the water sector, evident in terms like flood resilience, river resilience, and water resilience. At the same time, a substantial body of literature has developed that questions the resilience concept’s systems ontology, natural science roots and alleged conservatism, and criticizes resilience thinking for not addressing power issues. In this study, we review these critiques with the aim to develop a framework for power-sensitive resilience analysis. We build on the three faces of power to conceptualize the power to define resilience. We structure our discussion of the relevant literature into five questions that need to be reflected upon when applying the resilience concept to social?hydrological systems. These questions address: (a) resilience of what, (b) resilience at what scale, (c) resilience to what, (d) resilience for what purpose, and (e) resilience for whom; and the implications of the political choices involved in defining these parameters for resilience building or analysis. Explicitly considering these questions enables making political choices explicit in order to support negotiation or contestation on how resilience is defined and used.

New Division Report out!

From Transformative, to Defining, to the Intergrative Humanities. The Division has published reports since the beginning of the 1990s, but only in the last six years on a biennial basis. The first years the reports were annual, basic information on staff, courses, seminars, and activities. Since 2015 the reports are themed and open up to all the voices at the Divison with a mix of deep analyzis of publishing patterns, basic information on projects, staff, events etc. and personal reflections from the people who worked with the Divison during the two years represented. The report on Intergrative Humanities was released on June 17, and sums up the two very diverse years, 2019 and 2020.

The theme of the current report reflects our thinking around how humanities knowledge is gaining in significance, which is increasingly by engaging in broad and complex problems that require multiple competencies. – Sverker Sörlin

As a teaser we are republishing the following piece (pp. 14-15). If you want to read the whole thing, download the report and read it here.

Our Work Environment

By Sabine Höhler and Sofia Jonsson

From two hectic but very exciting years with numerous new projects, employees and events, the pace indeed slowed down somewhat during 2019 at the Division. We continued to fill our calendars with both bigger and smaller events. We also ordered noise-cancelling earphones and started a subscription to plants for our corridors. We stopped expanding and instead settled on a number of around 50 employees, which remained steady through the end of 2020. During this period, we also hired our third administrator, making the admin team complete.

Home office in Älvsjö, Ziggy Stardust the Cat

Trying to think back to 2019 during an ongoing pandemic is slightly challenging. We remember that it was the usual busy year full of events and full of the small things we all took for granted then. We started the year with an on-site Higher Seminar with our doctoral student Jean-Sebastién Boutet, and we continued with Marco Armiero’s Docent lecture. Per Högselius held his inaugural lecture as a new professor in history of technology. These events were likely framed by cake in the kitchen. We also initiated a Thursday afternoon fika, a regular coffee break for the intake of cake and other sweets. Our work environment was very much stomach-steered. Work place meetings would always involve the traditional “fralla” or bun. Our two corridors were filled with employees and guests, we met over a lunch, a coffee and a chat in the kitchen most every workday. Our families joined us for the annual picnic to kick off the summer break. To kick off the fall term, we travelled to Falun and climbed down into the old copper mines. A happy crowd decorated for Christmas before we all sang carols to a nice cup of “glögg” before the Holidays.

Being such a social work place, with a spirit built on collegiality, food, and a friendly atmosphere on site, the pandemic and the new restrictions it entailed were a huge adjustment and a struggle for many of us. In March 2020, new regulations sent us all into home office and our guests were forced to return to their home countries. Our workplace meetings moved to Zoom and the archives around the world were left unexplored. The spontaneous chat over a coffee in the kitchen seemed impossible to replace in the digital space. Some of us ended up in complete lockdown with kids at home, adding Teletubbies to their workday. On top of this, we experienced Zoom fatigue from all our online meetings and we developed a vulture neck after sitting crouched in a bad working position at a temporary desk for far too many hours.

Home office, Sabine Höhler

Was it all that bad? No, we did manage to create some great memories together after all. In June we had an open-air party to celebrate Daniele Valisena’s PhD defense. In August we had a “hub” kick off, where we met in smaller groups spread out over Stockholm in colleagues’ gardens, discussing teaching and work environment both in smaller groups on site and over Zoom. We had a small and spread-out mingle for Jesse Peterson when he defended his PhD thesis in October, with cheese, songs and tears in the kitchen. Not to forget that at long last we could welcome our overseas colleagues to our online Division meetings. In addition, we got to enjoy the unexpected delivery of a piano to the Division in Real Time during a work place meeting!

Siegfried Evens on Marcinelle and the European Coal and Steel Community

Our NUCLEARWATERS doctoral student Siegfried Evens, just got published with an article on the accident in the Bois du Cazier coal mine in Marcinelle, Belgium on 8 August 1956. You find the arcticle open access in European Review of History: Revue européenne d’histoire, or you can read a summary below!

Siegfrieds own, terrific summary which you also can find on his Twitter account:

In 1956, a terrible accident with a mine chariot happened in the Bois du Cazier coal mine in Marcinelle, Belgium. 262 miners died, of which 136 Italians. The disaster was in many ways transnational. Casualties came from all over Europe (mostly Italy), but the risks that led up to the disaster were similar in other countries too.

My argument: the European Community of Steel and Coal (ECSC) seized this opportunity to increase its power. In doing so, it laid the foundation of later risk management policies, or what we can call ‘the European risk society’. Marcinelle shaped how the EU deals with risk! EU historians have often argued that the impact of Marcinelle on the ECSC was limited and that ECSC failed in mine safety policy. While it was indeed not their proudest moment, we do not have to be too skeptical either. Yes, a lot of social measures regulating wages, working times, and immigration did not materialise. But a lot of other (more technical) measures did. Understanding the impact of Marcinelle thus means looking at risk management at large. The ECSC went all-in on social policy (still a difficult area for the EU today) and therefore created a (fake) contrast with other technical safety measures. Ironically, it is in the latter category it would be the most successful. Social and technical are hardly separable.

In the article, I follow the developments of a conference on mining safety and the foundation of the Mines Safety Commission. Both were important for internationalising many safety discussions and agenda-setting. They also brought risk assessment into the European institutions. Lastly, we have to analyse Marcinelle long-term. Whether the mines actually became much safer is doubtable. Many mines also closed soon after. But European risk management continued, especially in the Single Market. I even found references to Marcinelle in the Euratom archives.


Education instead of Prohibition – Sweden and the Covid-19 pandemic

Lina Rahm, Ragnar Holm postdoc at the division (Posthumanities Hub), has published a new article in Socialmedicinsk Tidskrift on Sweden’s approach to the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic. In Folkbildning som krishantering och krishantering som folkbildning a strategy was analysed, which instead of putting emphasis on restrictions and prohibition, focussed on citizen’s self-regulation. This highly relevant article joins the discourse at a time, in which the Swedish way of getting through the pandemic is hotly debated in other European countries. The article is a valuable contribution, definitely worth a read.

If you are interested, you can find it here.


Abstract in English:

The Swedish strategy for handling the coronavirus pandemic is internationally distinctive. While other countries shut down big parts of society and order citizens to stay at home, the Swedish approach is one of information and ”enlightenment” where citizens are expected to voluntarily regulate themselves. Swedish citizens are to be educated rather than prohibited. This article is based on interviews with 10 voluntary civil organizations, and explores the ”educational imaginaries” that signifies their actions during the crisis. The article shows that citizen education becomes a way to manage the crisis, by relaying governmental information to target groups that would otherwise be hard to reach, but also that the crisis becomes a way to initiate educational efforts both broadly and specifically, within the organization as well as towards its target groups.


Abstract in Swedish

Den svenska strategin för att hantera coronapandemin särskiljer sig internationellt. När andra länder stänger ner stora delar av samhället och beordrar medborgarna att stanna inne är istället Sveriges styrningsrationalitet en form av informations- och upplysningskampanj där medborgarna genom ökad kunskap förväntas frivilligt reglera sig själva för att minska den samhälleliga spridningen av viruset. Sveriges medborgare ska folkbildas snarare än hindras och förbjudas. Denna artikel bygger på intervjuer med 10 frivilligorganisationer och utforskar de ”utbildningspolitiska tankefigurer” som kännetecknar deras agerande under krisen. Artikeln visar att folkbildning blir sätt att hantera krisen på ett flertal sätt, genom att återge myndigheters budskap till grupper som annars kunde varit svåra att nå, men också att krishanteringen blir ett sätt att initiera utbildningsinitiativ på bred och fokuserad front, både inom organisationen och till dess målgrupper.

The Art of Arctic Podcasting – Liubov Timonina in Conversation with Eric Paglia

Liubov Timonina (or Liuba as we call her) is not only our doctoral student in the MISTRA Sport and Outdoor project. She is also affiliated with the Arctic Institute since 2018, and produces a podcast together with two colleagues: the TAI Bookshelf Podcast. In the latest episode she interviews our very own podcast host Eric Paglia!

With this podcast Liuba and colleagues are out on a mission! To make the Arctic easy and accessible to everyone, by serving the listeners in-depth conversations with scholars and experts. Eric was invited for a chat on the art of Arctic podcasting.

Svalbard, July 2016. Photo: Eric Paglia

– A relaxed and genuine conversation, which sheds light on the everyday of podcast-making, its challenges and funny moments, on the joy of sharing our thoughts and experiences with others and of being part of a dedicated community 🙂 Podcasts are indeed a great way of learning and communicating research, which makes our academic work so vibrant and fun, Liuba says about the episode.

Read more and listen to the podcast here!




Coming up: Corinna Röver’s Dissertation Defence

PhD-Colleague Corinna Röver is defending her doctoral thesis on 2 June, 2 p.m. (Stockholm Time) in the division’s Higher Seminar Series. Her dissertation with the title “Making Reindeer. The Negotiation of an Arctic Animal in Modern Swedish Sápmi, 1920-2020” will be discussed with opponent Prof. David Anderson, Chair in “The Anthropology of the North” at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland.

If you are interested in Corinna’s outstanding work, you can join via Zoom and in case that you need technical assistance for joining please contact history[at]

Here is the abstract of this valuable contribution:

The Arctic has long been perceived as a static, timeless place of shielded wilderness. This perception extended to the reindeer as both part of the Arctic environment and of traditional Indigenous livelihoods. Physically, the reindeer of Swedish Sápmi looks largely the same today as it did a century ago – an animal ostensibly unaltered and unchanged.

Nevertheless, this thesis argues that the reindeer has undergone a number of fundamental shifts of meaning in Swedish Sápmi over the past century. The dissertation asks how the reindeer’s roles and functions evolved in Swedish Sápmi from ca. 1920 to 2020 and examines how, why and by whom the reindeer has been negotiated. It explores the changing understanding of the reindeer’s role in society, studies emerging idea(l)s and purposes, and considers what mark they left on the animal.

This study is a history of the ideas, discourses and practices that shaped the modern reindeer. It examines ways of understanding and making reindeer. At different points in time, varying combinations of actors have sought to control, shape and re-define this Arctic animal. The meaning attached to it changed as a result, and with it reindeer-related policies. Swedish state policies towards the Sámi and reindeer husbandry have especially deeply impacted the way reindeer were understood and governed. Over the course of a century, policy efforts aimed to control the reindeer’s movements, health, reproduction and death, with varying success. Discourse and associated practices generated multiple versions of the reindeer. In terms of these changing versions, the thesis conceptualizes the reindeer as a changing technology and a socially constructed resource.

Five empirical chapters trace how the reindeer was negotiated, especially between the Swedish state and Sámi herders. They show how the reindeer’s role and purpose has been under repeated negotiation and discuss some of these roles. Restrictive border and grazing policies made the reindeer a trespasser at the turn of the twentieth century. From the 1950s onwards, a modernist improvement project envisioned it as economic resource. In the course of such rationalization efforts, the reindeer became an object of techno-scientific interest. Improvers attempted to transform reindeer into productive, reliable meat machines. These efforts faced a severe setback when the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986 contaminated considerable numbers of reindeer, turning it into a toxic animal and a threatened bearer of Sámi culture. In more recent years, we find the reindeer at an intersection of consumer demand for natural foods and Sámi agency. It has become a symbol for claims to self-determination. Sámi champions of food sovereignty and land rights have started to reclaim and promote the reindeer as traditional and wholesome source of food through the Slow Food Sápmi movement.

A closer look at these re-definitions reveals that the reindeer is no timeless, passive backdrop to human action. The reindeer itself has history – it is a historical animal with agency of its own, able to challenge efforts of control. Nevertheless, the different notions of the reindeer materialized into policies and ways of governing not only the reindeer but also their Indigenous herders. The (re)negotiations of what reindeer are or ought to be provide insights into the relationship between representatives of the Swedish state and of Sámi reindeer husbandry, as well as colonial legacies and persistently unequal power relations.


In Swedish:

Arktis har länge uppfattats som en statisk, tidlös och avskild ödemark. Denna uppfattning gäller även renar, som setts som en del av både den arktiska miljön och urfolkens traditionella levnadssätt. Renen i svenska Sápmi ser fysiskt i stort sett likadan ut idag som för hundra år sedan – ett djur som till synes förblev oförändrat genom tiden.

Ändå argumenterar denna avhandling för att renen har genomgått ett antal grundläggande betydelseförskjutningar i svenska Sápmi under det senaste århundradet. Den utforskar den föränderliga förståelsen av renens roll i samhället och den studerar framväxande idéer och syften och hur dessa påverkade djuret. Avhandlingen frågar hur renens roller och funktioner har utvecklats i svenska Sápmi mellan 1920 och 2020 och undersöker hur, varför och av vem renarnas förvandling har genomförts.

Denna studie är en historia som innefattar de idéer, diskurser och metoder som formade den moderna renen. Den undersöker sätt att förstå och “göra” renen som djur men också som inslag i ekonomi och samhälle. Vid olika tillfällen har olika kombinationer av aktörer försökt kontrollera, forma och omdefiniera detta arktiska djur. Som resultat förändrades dess betydelse, och därmed även den politiska styrningen av renen. Särskilt den svenska statliga politiken gentemot samerna och renskötseln har djupt påverkat hur renar förstods och styrdes. Under ett helt århundrade har politiska ansträngningar syftat till att kontrollera renens rörelser, hälsa, reproduktion och död, med varierande framgång. Diskurs och tillhörande praktiker genererade flera versioner av renen. Med tanke på dessa föränderliga versioner konceptualiserar avhandlingen renen som en socialt konstruerad resurs.

Fem empiriska kapitel spårar hur renen förhandlades, speciellt mellan svenska staten och samiska renskötare. Restriktiv gräns- och renbetespolitik gjorde renen till en inkräktare vid 1900- talets början. Från 1950-talet och framåt sågs renen som en ekonomisk resurs i ett statligt modernistikt förbättringsprojekt. Under dessa rationaliseringsinsatser blev renen till ett objekt av teknovetenskapligt intresse. Reformatorer försökte omvandla renar till produktiva, pålitliga köttmaskiner. Dessa ansträngningar mötte ett allvarligt bakslag när kärnkraftsolyckan i Tjernobyl 1986 förorenade ett stort antal renar och gjorde det till ett giftigt djur och en hotad bärare av samisk kultur. På senare år ser vi renarna i skärningen mellan konsumenternas efterfrågan på naturliga livsmedel och samisk agens. Renen har blivit en symbol för anspråk på självbestämmande, där samiska förkämpare för livsmedelssuveränitet och markrättigheter har börjat återta och främja renen som traditionell samisk och hälsosam matkälla genom Slow Food Sápmi-rörelsen.

En närmare granskning av dessa omdefinitioner visar att renen inte är någon tidlös, passiv bakgrund till människornas handlingar. Renen har en egen historia – det är ett historiskt djur med egen agens, som kan utmana kontrollförsök. Ändå omsattes de olika föreställningarna om renen till politik och sätt att styra inte bara renen utan också dess samiska ägare. Att förstå (om)förhandlingarna om vad en ren är eller borde vara ger insikter i förhållandet mellan representanter för den svenska staten och samiska renskötare, liksom förhållandets koloniala arv och kvarvarande ojämna maktförhållanden.

Language, Citizenship, and Sámi Education in the Nordic North

Otso Kortekangas, postdoc at the division, has written a new book. In “Language, Citizenship, and Sámi Education in the Nordic North, 1900-1940” Otso investigates how Sámi people were affected by nation state education doctrines in Finland’s, Norway’s and Sweden’s North.

One important part of the political context in the genesis of this book is the announcement of the Finnish government to form a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2019. Its task is to investigate, showcase and discuss injustice and oppression done by the Finnish state towards the Sámi, with the aim of reconciliation and a better future.

Otso presents his book in the following text, first published on McGill-Queen’s University Press’ Blog on 06 May 2021.

The year 2021 will witness the start of the work of a Sámi Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in Finland. A TRC is already working in Norway, and in Sweden, the planning for a Sámi TRC is under way. The main aim of the TRCs in each country is to review and assess earlier governmental policies targeting the indigenous Sámi population in Norway, Finland and Sweden, make Sámi voices and experiences visible, and to point toward ways forward.

Differently from the Canadian TRC (2008–2015) that focused on indigenous education and residential schools, the Nordic Sámi TRCs will take a comprehensive approach to historical policies targeting the Sámi and, in the case of Norway, the Finnish-speaking Kven minority. However, governmental educational policies will be a very important theme for the commissions to investigate, as assimilation and segregation applied in education is one of the external forces that have molded Sámi culture the most during the 20th century.

As elucidated in my book Language, Citizenship, and Sámi Education in the Nordic North, 1900-1940 (MQUP 2021), different educational actors had different approaches. Sámi education was traditionally organized by the Lutheran churches in each country. The high priority the Lutheran dogma ascribes to the intelligibility of the gospel and Christianity education by large entailed that Sámi language varieties were in use as languages of instruction in many schools with Sámi pupils in the Nordic north. Gradually, the governments of Norway, Sweden, and Finland took over the responsibility for elementary education from the church around the turn of the century 1900. The governmental educational authorities and politicians downgraded the importance of Sámi language in education, as quality of education and the mastering of each country’s majority language became paramount educational aims. In Norway and Finland, assimilation to the majority population was the norm in the governmental elementary schools, with certain exceptions. The nomadic reindeer herding Sámi in Sweden’s mountain regions were de jure separated to their own group, with the obligation to place their children in specific schools. These so called nomad schools were designed after the idealized notion Swedish elementary authorities had on the “true” Sámi way of life and efficient reindeer herding.

Sámi poet and teacher Pedar Jalvi in 1905. Credit: Armas Launis. Copyright: CC BY SA 4.0.

The educational reforms of the early twentieth century that led, in many individual cases, to the tragic loss of Sámi language, had a brighter side, as well. As in many other instances of minority education, the skills and knowledge Sámi pupils gained in the schools had, at least in some cases, an empowering function. Most of the powerhouses spearheading the early and mid-twentieth century Sámi cultural movements and the Sámi opposition to government policies were teachers, educated at schools and on teachers’ training courses to navigate both the Sámi and the majority culture contexts. These teachers were pioneers of promoting Sámi culture as an active, independent culture that existed alongside and independent of other Nordic cultures and states.

While the TRCs in each country are paramount for the future relations of the Sámi and the majority populations, it is important to keep in mind that the Sámi existed and exist also outside of the frame and borders of each of the three nation states. There is a certain risk of nationalization and further minoritization of the Sámi in Norway, Sweden and Finland if the various Sámi groups are always first and foremost treated as a national minority rather than a transnational population. It is critical that this historical transnational fact, together with the diversity of voices and perspectives within Sámi education, are included in the work of the TRCs in each country. Only by so doing will it be possible to reproduce a rightful picture of historical events as a base for future reconciliation processes.

If you are interested in reading more, check out Otso’s book here.

From Anthropocene Historiography to a New Understanding of The Present Ecocrisis

Postdoc-colleague Adam Wickberg has published a new article with the title “Reconfiguring Temporality in the Anthropocene. Coloniality and the Political Ecocrisis”. It is available in Resilience: A Journal of the Environmental Humanities.

Profile picture of Adam Wickberg

Adam introduces his text as follows:

“Decolonial History and Ecopolitical Resistance

In this article, I will argue for the need of a new form of history writing that takes into full account the environmental impacts of human history over the past five centuries. The purpose of this is to contribute to substantiating the Anthropocene as a new temporal unit beyond its origin in the geological sciences. I call this history writing attuned to human impact on the planet Anthropocene historiography. Such history could also be useful in response to the need to historicize the present ecocrisis, acknowledging that it did not emerge overnight or even just in the past two centuries but appeared as a new world order in the sixteenth century and to a large extent followed on the mutual developments of coloniality and mercantile to market global capitalism. Another benefit of an Anthropocene historiography could be to inject critical thought on temporality into the future dimension of climate change policy, which is currently governed by global climate models projecting changes according to different emission pathways.”

You can find the full article here.


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