Centering Scandinavia: Nordic Cooperation and International Studies in the Interwar Decades

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.

Erik Arup, histo­rian and foun­ding IHS board member, intro­du­ces the Copen­ha­gen insti­tute in Poli­ti­ken, 1 December 1927.

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.

Arnold J. Toyn­bee, British profes­sor of history, gave a key address at the fourth Inter­national Studies Conference, hosted by the IHS in Copen­ha­gen, 8-10 June 1931. Excer­p­ted from Paci­fic Affairs.

 | 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” [1] – 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” [2]. 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.

 | Notes

[1] Insti­tut for Histo­rie og Samfund­s­ø­ko­nomi, “Beret­ning om Virk­som­he­den i 1945,” in Økonomi og Poli­tik, 20 (1), 1946, p. 72.

[2] 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.