Neither compulsory nor public or national?

Translating the Swedish terminology of 19th-century primary schools, teachers, and pupils


  • Johannes Westberg


Primary schools; translation; educational systems; history of education


The 19th century saw the rise of mass schooling. School acts were published, increasing number of teachers were trained and hired, and children increasingly attended schools. This development was strongest in Europe and North America, with schooling in the USA, France and Prussia leading the way. While this development with its national and regional variations continues to puzzle researchers, it also creates challenges of communication and presentation. What English language terminology should be used when denoting schools, teachers, and pupils in non-Anglo-Saxon countries? In this article, I address a part of this question by examining the case of Swedish 19th-century primary schools. By relating these schools to those in other countries, and the terminology used in the research literature, this article provides recommendations for English-language terms to be used when denoting these schools, the teachers who taught them, and the children who attended them. This terminology includes primary school, parish school and mass schooling, and the terms used to denote teachers and their training include junior schoolteacher, primary school teacher and term teacher training schools. As a result, this article problematizes the use of terms such as compulsory, public, state, and national when describing schools in 19th-century contexts such as that of Sweden, indicates the varying meanings of terms such as popular education, and highlights the problems of not translating terms such as folkskola.