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The Contemporary Turn: Debate, Curricula and Swedish Students’ History
Umeå University, Faculty of Arts, Department of historical, philosophical and religious studies. (History and Education)
2012 (English)In: Journal of Educational Media, Memory, and Society, ISSN 2041-6938 (e-print 2041-6946), Vol. 4, no 1, 40-60 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

In the Swedish media during 2010 a proposal for a new syllabus for history was criticized for emphasizing contemporary history at the expense of ancient history. The present study shows how UNESCO and the Council of Europe’s guidelines, like the national curriculum and guidelines and students’ work since the 1950s, have increasingly focused on contemporary history. In the 1930s graduating students chose to focus mainly on the early modern era, but from 1950 contemporary history became more and more dominant in students’ work. Even though history and civics were given separate status as school subjects in 1961, students’ work in history continued to focus contemporary subjects. This study shows that the dominance of contemporary history in students’ history is by no means a new phenomenon.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Berghahn Journals , 2012. Vol. 4, no 1, 40-60 p.
Keyword [en]
UNESCO, Council of Europe, curriculum, history teaching, debate, teachers, students, contemporary history.
National Category
History Didactics
Research subject
didactics of history; didactics of history
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-43776DOI: 10.3167/jemms.2012.040104OAI: diva2:415882
History Beyond Borders
Swedish Research Council, 2007-3419
Available from: 2011-05-10 Created: 2011-05-09 Last updated: 2013-03-27Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. History in the Service of Mankind: International Guidelines and History Education in Upper Secondary Schools in Sweden, 1927–2002
Open this publication in new window or tab >>History in the Service of Mankind: International Guidelines and History Education in Upper Secondary Schools in Sweden, 1927–2002
2011 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Alternative title[sv]
Historia i mänsklighetens tjänst : internationella riktlinjer och svensk gymnasieundervisning i historia, 1927–2002
Abstract [en]

In this study the guidelines of the League of Nations, UNESCO and the Council of Europe are investigated in relation to Swedish national curricula, teachers’ perceptions of and students’ work in history, from 1927 to 2002.

Inspired by John I Goodlad’s notions of curricula and implementation, the formulation of history is studied. The ideological curricula are analyzed via the international guidelines directed to Swedish history teaching. The formal curricula are examined in national guidelines and also how history is formulated in final examinations and inspectors’ reports. The perceived curricula are studied in teachers’ debates and interviews with experienced teachers. The experiential curricula are examined through looking at students’ choices of topics in final exams, 1,680 titles of students’ individual projects in history and an in-depth analysis of 145 individual projects written between 1969 and 2002.

The study shows that the means and goals of history education have been formulated in both different and similar ways within and between curricular levels.  On all the curricular levels studied the history subject has become more internationally oriented. After World War II national history landed in the background and the world history, favored by UNESCO, became dominant in Sweden from the 1950s onwards. Despite the fact that the Council of Europe’s Euro-centrism became more prominent in the 1994 syllabus in history, students still preferred world history over European history. International and national guidelines also stressed the value of paying heed to marginalized groups, local cultural heritage and contemporary history.  These orientations were also represented in the teachers’ views of history teaching and in the students’ work in history.

The results of the study suggest that the implementation of the international guidelines were more than a top-down process. During the entire period studied, guidelines have been formulated and transacted, but also reinterpreted and in some cases, ignored. Teachers and students seem to have been co-creators in the transformation of history education.

History as a subject, according to the study, encompassed an ever expanding geographical area and more and more perspectives. Not least on the student level, the subject was formulated and dealt with in manifold ways, often oriented towards contemporary world history. Students’ history had great similarities with the international notion of history education in the service of mankind. Students expressed a rejection of war, an understanding of minorities and a wish to safeguard the local cultural heritage. Even if there were exceptions, students’ history appears to have been influenced by international understanding during a century filled with conflicts.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Umeå: Umeå universitet, 2011. 80 p.
Umeå studies in history and education, 5
history teaching, League of Nations, UNESCO, Council of Europe, curriculum
National Category
History Didactics Educational Sciences
Research subject
didactics of history; didactics of history
urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-43817 (URN)978-91-7459-185-9 (ISBN)
Public defence
2011-06-10, Hörsal F, Humanisthuset, Umeå universitet, Umeå, 10:15 (Swedish)
History Beyond Borders: The International History Textbook Revision, 1919–2009
Swedish Research Council, 2007-3419
Available from: 2011-05-11 Created: 2011-05-10 Last updated: 2014-11-14Bibliographically approved

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