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Per Nyström. det svenska historikersamfundet och den fjättrade Clio
Linnaeus University, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, School of Cultural Sciences.
2012 (Swedish)In: Scandia, ISSN 0036-5483, Vol. 78, no 1, 35-59 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Per Nyström was one of a group of young Lund academics who in the 1930s developed historical materialism as a scholarly theory and method for empirical research.  The same period saw Nyström begin work on a doctoral thesis on urban industrial workers before 1800, but his studies were interrupted by a long stint in office in the Swedish government.  He only completed his thesis in 1955, and he only really first came to prominence in the world of research in the 1970s, when he returned to research on his retirement. His earlier research was republished and did much to enthuse a younger generation of historians inspired by historical materialism.

Nyström’s thesis was commended both by its examining committee and by the new generation of historians in the 1970s, despite Nyström himself pointing out that the thesis was only ‘a fragment of the planned monograph’. In considering why the thesis did not turn out as Nyström hoped, I show here that it was his historical-materialist ambitions that were not realized: in the event, rather than being the promised study of urban industrial workers, it was limited to a disquisition on Das Kapital in the class relations that underpinned early industrial capitalism. Moreover, he had crammed a number of liberal terms into the historical-materialist introduction – a brilliant description of early mercantile capitalism in Western Europe – which he had otherwise completed back in the 1930s.

The main question addressed here is why his thesis turned out as it did. The answer can only be tentative, but I would argue that its disposition can be ascribed not only to a lack of time, but also to the Cold War, which had an impact on the social climate even in the Social Democratic Sweden of the 1950s. The very limited work that exists on Swedish historical research in the immediate post-war period has completely disregarded the Cold War’s effects. Taking as a starting-point Peter Novick’s analysis of the Cold War’s significance for the marginalization of historical-materialist research in the US, I argue that the corresponding process in Sweden may explain why Nyström did not complete his analysis of ‘the making of the Swedish working class’.  The support and encouragement extended in the 1930s to Nyström as a historical materialist by his mentor in Lund  – the leading figure of the ‘liberal-democratic paradigm’ (Odén) and in 1928 the founder of Scandia, Lauritz Weibull – was to have no equivalent during the Cold War.  On the contrary. There was not the least room for historical-materialist-inspired research then. It would not be until the 1970s that historical-materialist literature on methods of production and class relations began to appear on history department reading lists (not least Per Nyström’s articles from the 1930s in Atheneum and Scandia, along with his thesis), that these articles had any successors in Scandia, or that historical materialism would once again be accepted by the academic world as the basis for historical scholarship. By analysing of Nyström’s thesis, I argue here for the importance of understanding the state of historical research and historiography in Sweden at a time when the ‘liberal-democratic paradigm’ had a hegemonic grip on Sweden, and even historians laboured in the shadow of the Cold War.

 

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Lund, 2012. Vol. 78, no 1, 35-59 p.
Keyword [en]
historiography, historical materialism, Nyström, industrial capitalism, working-class history, the Cold War.
Keyword [sv]
Per Nyström, historiografi, historisk materialism, industrikapitalism, arbetarklassens historia, kallakriget
National Category
History and Archaeology
Research subject
Humanities, History
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:lnu:diva-19980OAI: oai:DiVA.org:lnu-19980DiVA: diva2:533926
Available from: 2012-06-14 Created: 2012-06-14 Last updated: 2012-09-25Bibliographically approved

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