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A Scandinavian Model of Civil Rights? The Origins of Civil Rights in Scandinavia, 1766-1814

Carlsbergfondets internationaliseringsstipendier

What

I will investigate how civil rights emerged in Scandinavia during the late Enlightenment. The Scandinavian countries experienced periods of relatively open public discussion in the late 18th century, which caused a proliferation of ideas about civil rights and civil liberty that would not only survive the following years of conservative reaction and authoritarian rule but also find their way into the Norwegian constitution of 1814, the first modern constitution in Scandinavia. This project will provide a synthesis of why civil rights developed in the way they did in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. It also offers a novel transnational perspective, and it adds a gender perspective by examining the relationship between civil rights and women.

Why

The origins of civil rights in Scandinavia are not well understood. Most research has focused on freedom of speech or examined civil rights in only a legal sense. We still lack a more comprehensive understanding of the historical development of civil rights in Scandinavia during this period. This is particular important in relation to understand why civil rights generally were not discriminatory against women at a time when gender discrimination was the norm. By looking at the Scandinavian region as a whole, the project will also highlight the peculiar characteristics of a Scandinavian model of civil rights in comparison with other parts of Europe and the United States.

How

By applying methods from conceptual history and legal studies, the sources are analyzed by close readings of how civil rights are placed in relation to other concepts, e.g. synonyms, antonyms and generic terms. This analytical strategy makes it possible to examine how selected concepts relate to each other (e.g. between “civil rights” and “women”). The primary source material is pamphlets, speeches, verdicts, governmental statutes, and textbooks from key actors. The Department of Archaeology, Conservation and History at the University of Oslo provides the best research environment for this project, as the Department hosts leading scholars of both civil rights history and Scandinavian history.

SSR

Civil rights are one of the fundamental elements of modern democracies. However, the rise of populism today has challenged the legitimacy of civil rights in ways that were unimaginable only a few years ago. Returning to the historical origins of civil rights, the project has contemporary resonance and holds a potential to qualify vital debates about democracy and the rule of law.