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SAMKUL-Samfunnsutviklingens kulturell

Petitions and Petitioning in the Nascent Democracy. Norway in the long 19th Century

Alternative title: Petisjoner og petisjonskultur i det gryende demokrati. Norge i det lange 1800-tallet

Awarded: NOK 8.0 mill.

Petitions are a central element of people’s political participation in modern democracies. Nevertheless, we know little about the modern history of petitions and petitioning in Norway. This project will investigate how different population groups contributed to the development of a participation-based and popular political culture through the use of petitions in the long 19th century. Petitions are important sources to the voices of all social groups in society. Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish archives have extensive collections of preserved Norwegian petitions from the 19th century. These have never been investigated systematically, which is a shame, as petitions give us access to the political language, communication, and identities of the Norwegian people in the 19th century. While most literature on 19th-century political history often highlights the ideas and actions of the few who held political citizenship and voting rights (typically men of a certain status and income), this project will highlight the political communication of all social groups. The project will investigate changes in petitioning culture in Norway from 1790 to 1910, a period of significant political and social changes. These include the end of absolutism and the Danish-Norwegian monarchy in 1814, the creation of a representative national parliament and corresponding new political culture from 1814, the Norwegian-Swedish union from 1814 to 1905, national independence in 1905, and struggles on citizenship and social rights for different population groups. In the long 19th century, petitioning culture changed from a primarily individual practice to a more collective form of participation. That contributed to the development of interest groups, new identity formations, and social movements. The project will be the first research project of its kind to examine petitions after the year 1800.

The project 'Petitions and Petitioning in the Nascent Democracy. Norway in the long 19th Century' is the first to investigate petitioning in modern Norwegian history. Petitions are unique sources for researching the voices of people of all strands of society. Petitions became a widespread form of political participation in the 19th Century. However, little work has investigated petitioning in Norway after approx. the year 1800. That is a shame since petitions are the largest body of source material available to the political language, political communication, and identity of all social groups in the 19th Century. The project group will collect petitions sent to different public authorities and create an online open-access database that will open the field of petitioning for future scholars. We will use the collected material to perform quantitative and qualitative analyses of Norwegian petitioning culture in the long 19th Century. We will examine how different social groups, regions, ethnicities, and genders petitioned, which authorities they preferred to address, and which problems they petitioned on. We will examine how these patterns changed during a century of significant social and political changes, including the end of absolutism in 1814, changes in union-partner from Denmark to Sweden, national independence in 1905, and the establishment of a representative political system from 1814. The project will emphasize the petitioning of disenfranchised and/or marginalized groups, whose voices are often left out of 19th-century political history. We argue that the development of petitioning culture in the 19th Century is a central – but overlooked – part of the history of the emergence of a participatory, democratic political culture. Emphasis is placed on Norwegian history, but we will produce new knowledge on petitioning in other Scandinavian countries.

Funding scheme:

SAMKUL-Samfunnsutviklingens kulturell