The elementary schoolhouse was a phenomenon that gained both national and international importance during the nineteenth century. It was attributed great significance as a beacon of civilization, and was often perceived as a symbol for the entire school system. The iconic North American little red schoolhouse is perhaps the most famous example of this.
The establishment of a national mass education system in Sweden during the nineteenth century entailed an increased interest in the design of school buildings. Accordingly, numerous international study tours were made. For example, the physicist and teacher Per Adam Siljeström (1815-92) and author Fredrika Bremer (1801-65) travelled around the western world observing elementary schools’ architecture and organization. The Swedish central government also began to pay attention to elementary school buildings. In 1861, government school inspectors were introduced, and in 1865 the first building plans were issued.
The national and local adaptations of transnational visions of the schoolhouse have been examined by the expanding research on the space and material cultures of schooling. These studies have contributed immensely to our understanding of the schoolhouse as architecture, experience, educational discourse and practice. Despite this, there are still a number of fundamental issues of economic and organizational character that requires further studies. This paper addresses some of them through a study of schoolhouse building projects in Sweden, 1842-1900, examining the funding, organization, technology and materials of these ventures.
This paper focuses mainly on how the increased government involvement, as well as the socioeconomical transformation of the Swedish society, affected the building process and its results. What impact did, for example, the growing industrial sector and the modernization of the credit market have on the Swedish schoolhouses? Of particular interest is the role played by government inspectors and architectural plans. How did they affect the building projects, and how was the government’s directives altered in the process?
Adding this perspective of economic history to the existing research on school buildings, this study addresses themes such as the local translation of national and international phenomenon and the changing role of the State in education. It examines the changes in central government and local community involvement which made an increasing standardization of the schoolhouses possible. It thus shows how the local Swedish adaption of the internationally recognized concept of schoolhouse was a matter of both explicit resistance towards the powers of central government, and factors such as modernized taxation and the emergence of construction firms. Thereby both the specificity and the generality of this translation process will be highlighted.
Methodologically, this paper utilizes source materials that have been under-studied in the research on the material culture of schooling, including building accounts, cost estimates, insurance policies, title deeds and school board records. These materials have been gathered from an extensive study of 73 building project’s in one of Sweden's most rapidly changing areas in the 1800s: The saw mill district of the Sundsvall region.
International Standing Conference in the History of Education, 27-30 June 2012, Geneva