Encyclopedia of Romantic Nationalism in Europe

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Education : Norwegian

  • EducationNorwegian
  • Cultural Field:
  • Author:
    Hoel, Oddmund L.
  • Text:

    The break-up of the Danish-Norwegian union in 1814 did not cause any immediate changes in the Norwegian educational system. General education had been introduced in Denmark-Norway in the 1740s alongside a separate elite education of private tuition and Latin / secondary schools. The University of Christiania (Oslo) was established in 1811, making Norway independent from the University of Copenhagen. Primary schools were strengthened by school reforms in 1827, 1848, 1860 and 1889. The 1860 school act provided for local schools even in rural areas and vocational training for all primary school teachers. Reading skills were common in Norway in the early 19th century, writing some decades later. Education and language were internal political issues not influenced by the Swedish-Norwegian union from 1814 to 1905.

    Nearly all pupils spoke Norwegian rural dialects, while standard Danish functioned as a spoken and written norm, and no separate Norwegian written standard language existed. The first minor attempts at spelling reforms in the Dano-Norwegian written language made in the 1830s (by Maurits Hansen) and in 1862 were pedagogic rather than national in their motivation, and debated in a common Norwegian-Danish discussion.

    A growing group of increasingly educated and organized primary school teachers became aware of language issues in the mid-century; during teacher meetings in the 1850s and 1860s, the need for language reforms was discussed. Under the influence of the Danish pastor, teacher, author and nationalistic ideologist N.F.S. Grundtvig, some 40 private folkehøyskoler (“folk high schools”) were established after 1864, giving young people from rural areas access to continuing education after primary school. Government-funded county schools were established as a countermove, but as they had to recruit teachers from the private schools they became close in outlook to them. From the 1870s, the folk high schools, county schools and the growing number of teacher-training colleges became rural strongholds for cultural nationalism, language reformism and radical politics, and formed an important basis for the liberal Left Party (Venstre) that came into power in 1884 after winning the 1882 parliamentary election.

    Around 1870 the government demanded that pupils in primary school should not only learn to write the Danish language, but also speak it. This standardization attempt provoked teachers and opposition politicians to legalize the school use of Ivar Aasen’s reconstructed Norwegian language, Nynorsk (named Landsmål by Aasen). After 1885, Nynorsk gradually obtained recognition alongside Dano-Norwegian, first in primary schools, then in secondary schools, teacher-training colleges and finally in the university (1908). Resistance to Nynorsk in favour of what became known as Bokmål was strongest in the cities and the densely populated south-eastern part of Norway (the Oslo region), and the urban secondary schools.

    In primary schools, history was made a separate school subject in the 1889 school reform. The first history textbooks were published in the 1860s, and a growing number were published in the following decades both for primary and for secondary schools, mostly by teachers. The books focused strongly on national history and the medieval “golden age” of Norway.

    Word Count: 482

  • Article version:
  • DOI:
  • Direct URL:
  • Bull, Tove; “Special linguistic developments in 19th-century Norway”, in Bandle, Oskar; Elmevik, Lennart; Widmark, Gun (eds.); The Nordic languages: An international handbook of the history of the North Germanic languages (2 vols; Berlin: De Gruyter, 2002-05), 2: 1468-1475.

    Haugen, Einar; Language conflict and language planning: The case of modern Norwegian (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1966).

    Haugland, Kjell; “An outline of Norwegian cultural nationalism in the second half of the nineteenth century”, in Mitchison, Rosalind (ed.); The roots of nationalism: Studies in Northern Europe (Edinburgh: John Donald Publishers, 1980), 21-29.

    Vikør, Lars S.; The Nordic languages: Their status and interrelations (Oslo: Novus, 2001).

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    All articles in the Encyclopedia of Romantic Nationalism in Europe edited by Joep Leerssen are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at https://www.spinnet.eu.

    © the author and SPIN. Cite as follows (or as adapted to your stylesheet of choice): Hoel, Oddmund L., 2022. "Education : Norwegian", Encyclopedia of Romantic Nationalism in Europe, ed. Joep Leerssen (electronic version; Amsterdam: Study Platform on Interlocking Nationalisms, https://ernie.uva.nl/), article version, last changed 16-03-2022, consulted 29-11-2022.