Reflections on trans-national comparative history from an Anglo-Swedish perspective

Katarina Friberg, Mary Hilson, Natasha Vall

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The renewed interest in transnational history unfortunately does not seem to have led to comparative history becoming more widespread than before. Comparative history has been criticized for only reinforcing each studied case as unique. Based on the authors' own research, this study aims to show that comparative history is not at all incompatible with the ambition to break with the national history as the trans-national history stands for. Hilson has conducted a comparative study of the British Labour Party and the Swedish Social Democratic party's emergence in late 1800 - and early 1900s. The study, which examined the evolution of a city in the country, shows how much of the party building in both countries focused on the involvement of local already constituted working groups that fought for political goals and political influence. In this reciprocal process, in which the trade unions also played a role, both local and national levels were affected. Friberg has undertaken a comparative study of English and Swedish consumer cooperative, from its beginning until the triumph of consumer society. The underlying question is why the Swedish cooperative movement led the Swedish transformation of today's retail systems, while the English cooperative movement, on the contrary had to adapt. Friberg used the local union materials and the experience of how the different countries 'regulations concerning the organization has played major role for the unions' structures and hence their different ways to meet consumer society challenges. Vall compares two cities in her study of Malmo and Newcastle's attempts to respond to de-industrialization. Public housing is discussed in elation to both cities. The three authors point out that Sweden and Britain have often been seen as being opposites of economic and political history over the last few centuries. But the significance of these differences should be questioned. These differences are not explained as much as the specific issues that the authors worked on in their research, and they have therefore chosen not to allow them to dominate their studies. Of course, you can not ignore national differences, but local, comparative studies make it possible to think in new ways about how local issues and national structures are interrelated and provide the end results that can affect the perception of the national situation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)717 - 737
JournalHistorisk Tidskrift
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2007

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