Whereas early 19th century international comparisons were mainly found in travelling accounts, the second half of the 19th century offered new ways of comparison through international exhibitions (Dittrich 2010). The international World’s fairs were among the “few genuinely international cultural institutions” of their time (ibid., 17). When opening the first World’s fair exhibition in London in 1851, Prince Albert of the United Kingdom declared the importance of education, but it was in London in 1862 that education first got its own department at a World’s fair (Giberti 2002, Werner 2008, Ekström 2010, Lundahl & Lawn 2014). From the start, the international exhibitions contributed to make comparisons between states, based around identity and production, increasingly transparent and organized. Together they constituted a new mode of production in education, parallel to that of schooling.
Investigating the history of comparative education implies a transnational perspective on history. A transnational perspective on history pays interest to contacts between communities, polities and societies and their exchanges, interactions, integrations and de-coupling. We also need to look at the trends, patterns, organisations, individuals that exist between and within our different historical entities (Saunier 2013) – the ones mainly representative for being transnational.
This paper is about the people “allowed” to become transnational in the sense of learning and sharing at the international scenery constituted by the World’s fair. More specifically it is about the parliamentary debates in Sweden were it was decided how much Sweden could afford to pay for participating with own exhibits at ten major World’s fairs (1851 – 1904), and how much Sweden was prepared to fund “learning journeys” to these fairs.
The analyses of the parliamentary debates show that becoming international was not an obvious thing – who was supposed to go and what interest would it gain? Even pedagogical issues were raised: is it possible to learn something from just studying it at an exhibition? How much can we say about Sweden without claiming too much, and what if we “loose” compared to other countries? These are questions about representations in international comparison and about who should have access to it. We can easily find them in the history of international comparisons, but they are just as important today.
This paper is part of a four-paper panel called: The Rise of Comparative Governance in Education - exhibitions, trade, sun trips and the visual
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Glasgow: University of Glasgow , 2016. 69-70 p.