The evaluation report
In 2006, the Research Council of Norway (RCN) established a committee to evaluate the quality of historical research carried out by Norway’s four main universities and four of the university colleges. The committee consisted of five Nordic historians, Professors Bo Stråth, Anette Warring, Dorthe Gert Simonsen, Thomas Lindkvist and Nils Erik Villstrand. In spring 2008, the committee submitted its report, entitled Beyond the Nation in Time and Space: Power of the Past and Prospects of the Future in Norwegian Historical Research (our translation).
Main findings were that historical research holds a strong position in Norwegian public debate, and that there is a high demand for academic research. The bulk of Norwegian historical research, however, is in the vein of what the report terms ‘methodological nationalism.’ This defines a tendency among Norwegian historians to conceive of, carry out, and also disseminate their research projects and findings within the confines of a national framework. Most projects rely upon the nation state as their frame of reference regarding collection of material and analysis, and there is also limited dissemination of results to international audiences. While the evaluation does not criticize the focus on Norwegian history as such, it encourages a more international, comparative approach, which would consider topics in Norwegian history within a larger, international context.
The evaluation committee’s report furthermore argues that ‘there is an urgent need for a more realistic, non-teleological theoretical reflection on time and space. Historiography can make a major contribution in that respect through a focused problematization of temporal and spatial borders under reflection on the connections between continuities and discontinuities and on the complex connections between local, regional, national, international and global borders.’ The committee believes that Norwegian historians may contribute to such a development, however ‘a convincing contribution would require a more explicit discussion of strategies and priorities and stronger methodological and theoretical connections of the empirical research items. A stronger historical agenda setting, with problematization of main stream political, social and economic theories, could lead to a realization of an under-exploited potential in Norwegian professional historical research.’
How the OCIHN meet the reports main critizisms and suggestions
In view of the evaluation committee’s report, the Oslo Contemporary International History Network (OCIHN) was designed to contribute through adressing the following problems:
1. The ‘methodological nationalism,’ highlighted by the evaluation report and exemplified by the tendency of Norwegian historians to focus on ’Norwegian’ topics, within the parameters of the nation state, may impose unfortunate methodological limitations. This project proposes a transnational approach to historical research, moving beyond the traditional boundaries of the nation state through a greater use of comparison and/or a more international, global view on historical development, carried out within a global community of scholars.
2. Furthermore, the methodological nationalism also entails a limited participation of Norwegian historians in ongoing historical debates through contributions to refereed journals or publishers with international readership. This project will encourage increased publication in international journals.
3. The evaluation emphasizes that the field of economic history has not been sufficiently prioritized. The project will encourage increased emphasis on economic history.
4. The evaluation points out that only three out of ten Norwegian historians at the evaluated institutions are women, and that the gender gap does not seem to be decreasing. The project aims to include female scholars in professional networks.