Were there national school systems in the nineteenth century? The construction of a regionalised primary school system in Sweden: The construction of a regionalised primary school system in Sweden

Johannes Westberg*

*Corresponding author for this work

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The nation-state remains fundamental to our understanding of nineteenth-century schooling, which is commonly referred to in terms of national school systems or national education systems. While nineteenth-century school systems were often national in scope and promoted with the purpose of creating nationally minded citizens, this article examines whether such systems were national in the sense of being designed to impose national uniformity and standardisation on schools, teachers and pupils. Based on an investigation of public regulations of primary schooling in Sweden 1842–1920, this article shows that the Swedish school system promoted regional variation by officially sanctioning a wide range of school types, including ambulatory schools, junior schools and minor primary schools. As a result, this case study encourages considered use of the term primary schooling and raises questions as to whether nineteenth-century school systems are, in this respect, more aptly described as regionalised rather than national.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)184-206
Number of pages23
JournalHistory of Education
Issue number2
Early online date24-Feb-2022
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • history of education
  • methodological nationalism
  • nation-state
  • Primary schooling
  • regionalisation

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