The years following the First World War saw an emerging collaboration among decision-makers, diplomats and scholars on issues of international peace and cooperation. The International Studies Conference was perhaps the central academic forum for this endeavour during the interwar years, and also set the scene for Nordic efforts in cooperation within the new field of “International Studies”. In turn, interwar efforts in networking and collaboration would have a lasting impact on the way Nordic academic elites oriented themselves toward each other and the outside world.
| The International Studies Conference, 1928-39
With the peace agreement at Versailles weeks away, on the evening of 30 May 1919 twenty-eight experts from the British delegation to the Paris Peace Conference met with nine American colleagues at the Hotel Majestic in Paris. They each saw a need for a form of scholarly collaboration that would be international in both its object of study and its method. For a peaceful world order to last, it was necessary to establish a regular forum of liberal international thinkers. These plans first resulted in the creation of two sister institutes for research in international affairs in Britain and the United States.
The long-envisioned creation of an International Institute of Intellectual Cooperation (IIIC) under the League of Nations in 1926 created the platform for an expansion of this enterprise. From 1928, an annual International Studies Conference was organised under the IIIC. The membership of the conference consisted not of government representatives but a number of European and American research institutions, or think-tanks, many set up in the wake of the Treaty of Versailles. For the purposes of the ISC, these were “institutions for the scientific study of international relations,” yet they were more diverse than this label would suggest, encompassing institutes with a broad range of focus areas within social, economic, political, historical and legal research.
The first conference was hosted by Berlin’s Deutsche Hochschule für Politik in 1928. This was followed by plenary sessions in London (1929, 1933, 1935), Paris (1930, 1934, 1937), Copenhagen (1931), Milan (1932), Madrid (1936), Prague (1938) and finally Bergen, Norway (1939), an abbreviated session held mere weeks before the outbreak of war. From 1931, the ISC took on a more permanent character and it was decided to pursue biennial “study cycles” devoted to specific topics of general interest. The 1932-33 cycle was devoted to the theme of “The State and Economic Life” (Milan and London); 1934-35 to “Collective Security” (Paris and London); 1936-37 to “Peaceful Change” (Madrid and Paris); and finally 1938-39 to “Economic Policies in Relation to World Peace” (Prague and Bergen).
| The Nordic countries and “International Studies”
Founded in Copenhagen in 1926-27, Institutet for Historie og Samfundsøkonomi (IHS) was considered a Nordic “centre” in the network of institutes connected through the ISC. This was as an interdisciplinary research institute connected only loosely to Denmark’s first and only university, the University of Copenhagen. The initiative was taken by of a group of intellectuals led by P. Munch, a historian and leader of the centrist Social Liberal Party who served as Denmark’s foreign minister from 1929 to 1940. Munch himself would head the institute until his death in 1948. The board of IHS comprised, among other elected members, the University’s instructors in history and economics, reflecting its focus on the cooperation between these two disciplines.
Introducing the institute, its key figures stressed the need for cooperation and collaboration modelled on the natural sciences, seeing interdisciplinary social science research as an emerging necessity, and acknowledged existing research institutes both economic and political – soon connected through the ISC – in Britain, France, Sweden and especially Germany. They also lauded the support for the European social sciences given by the New York-based Rockefeller Foundation, which would become the institute’s largest source of financing with a multi-year grant awarded in 1928.
Among the most prominent scholars in residence were the Danish economists Jørgen Pedersen, Carl Iversen and Frederik Zeuthen – as well as a young Swedish professor of economics, Bertil Ohlin. Each would represent the Copenhagen institute at the International Studies Conference, some on several occasions – Pedersen took part in five conferences and Iversen three – from 1929 until 1939. The institute itself played host to the annual meeting in June 1931.
In Norway, the establishment of the Chr. Michelsen Institute in 1930, established through a bequest from the wealthy shipping magnate and politician who gave the institute its name, would create a new academic centre for the “4th area” specified in Michelsen’s will: “cultural and scientific work to foster tolerance between nations and races – religious, social, economic and political.” This was generally understood as a two-sided project – the study of international affairs on the one hand, public information and education on the other.
The ISC took a strong interest in the research environment emerging in Bergen and – along with the influential Rockefeller Foundation – urged that the work of CMI be coordinated with that of the Nobel Institute in Oslo (and individual Norwegian luminaries in the field) through a newly formed Norwegian Committee for International Studies chaired by Christian L. Lange from 1936. In the mid-1930s, Norwegian scholars such as Frede Castberg, Axel Sømme and Jacob Worm-Müller began participating in the ISC, which furthermore employed the Norwegian historian of ideas Halfdan O. Christophersen as Secretary-Rapporteur. For the ISC’s general meeting in August 1939 – fatefully cut short by the imminent outbreak of war – CMI in Bergen was chosen as the host venue.
In Sweden, a similar coordinating committee was first set up, but here it was only as the brief forerunner to the creation of the country’s first and only Utrikespolitiska institutet (UI) in 1937, which was backed by a three-year grant from the Rockefeller Foundation. Bertil Ohlin reappeared as a co-founder, a similar role to that he had played in the creation of the institute in Copenhagen a decade before.
| Nordic Links – Visible and Invisible
In 1935, a series of plans for collaboration in the field of international studies between these three national bodies (two of which were only on the drawing board) began to appear. This was again set in motion by the Rockefeller Foundation, whose European officers had notified the Danish institute that it was phasing out general grants in the social sciences and focusing its support for the study of international relations in Europe.
This began a flurry of activity. In Copenhagen, a highly ambitious strategy document for potential international activities – especially emphasising efforts in public information – was drawn up. Sydnor Walker, a Foundation representative, suggested that Danish, Norwegian and Swedish scholars together present some form of “Scandinavian plan” to the Foundation, but there was little certainty about the sort of plan she had in mind. This goes some way of explaining why, then, two Scandinavian proposals with the support of their respective foreign ministers both failed – to little surprise. Meanwhile, other ad hoc funds continued to be sought – and awarded and joint-Scandinavian projects such as one study referred to in Danish as “Neutralitetsværket” emerged.
In fact, Miss Walker’s idea of a “Scandinavian plan” seemed ultimately to bring an entirely new institutionalization of the Scandinavian institutes’ relationship: Meetings between prominent Danish, Norwegian and Swedish “international studies” representatives became a frequent occurrence until the former two were occupied in April 1940.
The Copenhagen institute’s first post-war report, issued in early 1946, claimed that there was now a strong effort “to resuscitate international connections from before the war”, yet the aim of discussions over future Nordic cooperation, it also claimed, was “to expand the cooperation that [we] had succeeded in maintaining even during the war.” Formal collaboration was revived already from the summer of 1945 through meetings in Denmark, Sweden and Norway, where it was decided first to “revive” a body of which little is known – the so-called “Nordic Program Committee for International Studies”  – and later agreed to publish a series of books entitled Internationale Studier.
“The Danish Institute,” argued the Rockefeller Foundation in 1938, “led the Scandinavian countries in creating a center of interest in international relations, and served as the model for the centers set up by Norway and Sweden” . Whether accurate or boastful, this claim suggests that the tendency to paint early Nordic efforts in international relations as simply the transplant of an Anglo-American institutional model have been too simplified, and that there is still much that can be discovered about transnational dynamics of early international studies collaboration – Nordic and beyond.
| Selected literature
Friis, Søren, “International Studies as Social Science Diplomacy: Copenhagen’s Institute of Economics and History, the International Studies Conference, and Beyond,” paper presented at ESSHC – European Social Science History Conference 2018, Belfast, 6 April 2018.
Riemens, Michael, “International academic cooperation on international relations in the interwar period: the International Studies Conference,” in Review of International Studies, 37 (2), 2011, 911-28.
Steine, Bjørn Arne, Fred, forskning og formidling. Internasjonale studier i Norge og Sverige 1897-1940. PhD dissertation, Dept. of Archaeology, Conservation and History, University of Oslo, 2016.
Wright, F. Chalmers, The International Studies Conference: Origins – Functions – Organisation. International Institute of Intellectual Cooperation, Paris, 1937.
 Institut for Historie og Samfundsøkonomi, “Beretning om Virksomheden i 1945,” in Økonomi og Politik, 20 (1), 1946, p. 72.
 Rockefeller Foundation, The Rockefeller Foundation Annual Report 1938, New York, 1938, p. 264. For instance, UI’s official 75th anniversary publication claims that the Chatham House model served as the Swedish institute’s primary inspiration. UI, The Swedish Institute of International Affairs 75, 1938-2013, Stockholm, 2013.