Good Recent Swedish Popular History

I don’t read much in Swedish. On a whim I decided to check what recent Swedish books I’ve read and liked outside work. Turns out they’re all popular history. Alla rekommenderas varmt för den som delar mina intressen!

  • Kring Hammarby sjö. 1. Tiden före Hammarbyleden. Hans Björkman 2016. Local history.
  • No, I’m from Borås. Ola Wong 2005. Eventful family history in China and among German-speaking Romanians, Banater Schwaben. (Yes, the title is in English.)
  • Svenskarna och deras fäder – de senaste 11 000 åren. Bojs & Sjölund 2016. On DNA and the post-glacial peopling of Scandinavia.
  • Det svenska hatet. Gellert Tamas 2016. On the Swedish Hate Party and Scandinavian terrorism.
  • Jorden de ärvde. Björn af Kleen 2009. On big landowners in the Swedish nobility and how they avoid splitting up their estates.
  • Newton och bibeln. Essäer om bibeltexter, tolkningsfrågor och översättningsproblem. Bertil Albrektson 2015. Essays on Bible philology by an atheist professor who served on the last Swedish state-sponsored Bible translation committee.
  • Finna dolda ting: en bok om svensk rollspelshistoria. Daniel & Anna-Karin Linder Krauklis 2015. On Swedish roleplaying-game history.
  • Äventyrsspel: bland mutanter, drakar och demoner. Orvar Säfström & Jimmy Wilhelmsson 2015. On Swedish roleplaying-game history.
  • Drömmen om stormakten. Börje Magnusson & Jonas Nordin 2015. On Erik Dahlberg and the great 17th century topographic work Suecia Antiqua et Hodierna.
  • Vid tidens ände. Om stormaktstidens vidunderliga drömvärld och en profet vid dess yttersta rand. Håkan Håkansson 2014. On Johannes Bureus and North European 17th century mysticism.
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Yeah, Screw You Too, Academia

I recently received a long-awaited verdict on an official complaint I had filed: there was in fact nothing formally wrong with the decision by the Dept of Historical Studies in Gothenburg to hire Zeppo Begonia. Since the verdict didn’t go my way, as planned I am now turning my back on academic archaeology. The reason is that qualifications don’t count in Scandyland.

Being friends with people inside, and preferably being a local product, is what gets you academic jobs here. I need to cut my losses and move on. I would call this post a burning of bridges if there were any to burn, but there are none. Fourteen years on this joke of a job “market” have demonstrated that it doesn’t matter whom I piss off now: there won’t be a steady job for me either way.

I’ve been applying for academic jobs all over Scandinavia since 2003. The longest employment I’ve been able to secure was a 6-month temp lectureship at 55% of full time – during one of three happy years when I headed freshman archaeology in remote Umeå. But time and time again, I’ve seen jobs given to dramatically less qualified colleagues.

Norwegian university recruitment is particularly ugly. There, rules stipulate that the “external” hiring committee has to be chaired by a senior faculty member from the hiring department itself – with predictable results. The most egregious case I’ve seen was not long ago at the University of Oslo’s archaeological museum, where a [uniquely young] recent [University of Oslo] PhD with hardly any publications at all got a steady research lectureship. She had been working closely with a professor at the museum. Who chaired the hiring committee. And who was once, prior to this, super angry with me when I complained about the Norwegian system on Facebook, haha! I’ve seen the same thing at the Oslo uni department and at NTNU in Trondheim recently. Local people with poor qualifications who could never compete anywhere else get permanent positions.

Denmark’s system is completely non-transparent. You don’t get a list of who applied and you don’t get to read their evaluations, like you do in Sweden and Norway. What tends to happen in my experience is that you get a glowingly enthusiastic evaluation, which feels super nice, and then they hire some Dane. The country has only two archaeology departments that produce these strangely employable Danes.

Finland’s university humanities used to be poorly funded. To boot they have recently been radically de-funded from that prior low level. The Finns understandably never advertise any jobs at all.

Sweden is no better than its neighbours. Our hiring committees for steady jobs are fully external, so that’s good. But you get steady jobs on the strength of your temping experience. And temp teachers are hired with no external involvement at all, like in the recent case of Zeppo Begonia in Gothenburg. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me. The Faculty of Humanities at this university, let me remind you, was severely censured by the Swedish Higher Education Authority back in May for many years of gross misconduct in their hiring practices. Local favouritism is the deal here.

There are quite a few people in Scandy academic archaeology whom I’d like to see driving a bus for a living. Zeppo Begonia is not one of them. He is a solid empiricist prehistorian of Central European origin whose work I respect and admire. If you ask me who should get research funding, I will reply “Zeppo Begonia”. I would like to see many more Zeppoes in my discipline. I think we should import them to replace some of our own shoddy products. But look at our respective qualifications for this measly one-year temp lectureship at 60%.

  • The ad specified that you needed solid knowledge of Scandy archaeology to do the job. I’m 45 and I’ve worked full time in Scandy archaeology for 25 years. Zeppo is 39 and started working and publishing here four years ago.
  • I have published five academic books. Zeppo has published one.
  • I have published 45 journal papers and book chapters in a wide range of respected outlets. Zeppo has published 23.
  • Zeppo and I have both been temp teachers for some percentage of four academic years.
  • I have published 29 pieces of pop-sci, including one book, plus eleven years of this blog. Zeppo has published no pop-sci.
  • Out of Zeppo’s research output, little deals with Scandy archaeology, but several of these pieces are co-authored with senior figures in archaeology at the University of Gothenburg. Hint, hint.

This, as you can see, is just ridiculous. And there is no legal recourse unless you are discriminated against on grounds of race, gender etc. The appeals board has proved to ignore qualification issues. Believe me, I’ve tried.

To finish off, a few words for my colleagues at Scandinavian archaeology departments. Have you published five academic books and 45 journal papers? Are you extremely popular with the students? Have you worked in Scandinavian archaeology for at least 25 years? Have you got other heavy qualifications, like an 18-year stint as managing editor of a major journal and 11 years of keeping one of the world’s biggest archaeology blogs? If your answer to any of these questions is no, then I would have your job if Scandy academic archaeology were a meritocracy.

The head of department, Helène Whittaker, has declined to comment on the case of Zeppo Begonia. I use this pseudonym for him to emphasise that he has done nothing wrong. He just applied for a job.

Hiking In Abisko

Abisko national park is in the mountains of extreme northern Sweden, Sámi country, reindeer country, where half of the year is lit by constant sun and the other half is frigid darkness and aurorae.

Getting there takes 17½ hours by train from Stockholm Central. There’s a sleeper train with no changes, so if you only count time when you’re conscious, the trip takes 10 hours. You can fly to Arlanda airport and get right onto this train without making the detour into Stockholm. And the trail head is next to the platform when you get off.

Some friends and I went up hiking over the Mid-summer weekend 22–27 June, spending three nights in Abisko and two on the train. There are many huts and hostels in the area, so none of us brought a tent or a sleeping bag. Only Mårten brought a portable stove – to make espresso.

You don’t actually even need to bring a water bottle. There’s clean water in every stream. We arrived right at the start of the area’s hectic summer, with meltwater rivulets everywhere, innumerable flowers and a bewildering variety of bird calls. Very few mosquitoes bothered us. The treeline is near, so the landscape varies dramatically as your path lifts and dips. With a GPS or map and compass, of course, you needn’t even follow paths. The King’s Trail suffers from erosion, so the less people use it the better.

Check out the Swedish Tourist Association’s mountain hiking site.

My Ancestry

Inspired by Karin Bojs’s and Peter Sjölund’s recent book Svenskarna och deras fäder, I’ve looked into my ancestry by means both genetic and genealogical. Here’s a few highlights.

  • Like most Stockholmers, I’m of mixed rural Swedish stock. My great grandpa’s generation contains 16 people born mainly in the 1880s. Only one of them was born in Stockholm. His parents were born in Värmland and Södermanland provinces. The other 15 were born all over rural southern Sweden: Bohuslän (two people), Småland (two people), Södermanland, Skåne and Närke. They went to Stockholm to find work, met and got married.
  • My Y chromosome is type R1b-M269, which is the second-most common one in Sweden and the most common one in Western Europe. My closest modern matches form dense clusters in England and New England. There’s clearly an Englishman in my recent pedigree, most likely in the 15th or 16th centuries judging from a combination of genetic statistics and genealogy. In the mid-1600s my paternal line was already in Värmland with Swedish names.
  • My mitochondrial DNA is the very common type H with my closest modern matches clustering in Finland. This means that my maternal line points east to a very great grandma in West Asia about 25,000 years ago. Of Europe’s three original major population components, this would represent the Ancient North Eurasians.
  • I found the first Rundkvist! In the 1800s a lot of rural Swedes quit using the patronymic and took family names instead. My grandpa’s grandpa Johan Jansson (1853-1925) took the name Rundkvist and moved to Stockholm from Fryksdalen in Värmland. His brother Magnus Jansson instead chose Söderqvist for some reason.
  • Update 14 March: Aard regular Lassi pointed out something enlightening. Parts of modern Sweden saw state-sponsored immigration from Finland in the decades around 1600. This is the simplest explanation for why I have a Finnish maternal line. Its earliest member known to me, Helena Helgesdotter, was born near Gothenburg in 1775.

Archaeology Programmes At Swedish Universities Evaluated

The Swedish Higher Education Authority (Universitetskanslersämbetet) has evaluated our basic university programmes in a long series of subjects. The results for archaeology were published yesterday, based on the status 2012. There were 21 BA (3 yrs), Mag.Phil. (4 yrs) and MA (5 yrs) programmes at the country’s archaeology departments. The median grade they’ve received is “high quality”, which translates to a pass here. Let’s look at the eleven programmes that flunked or passed with distinction.

  • Gothenburg. Mag.phil. in Mediterranean archaeology. Very high quality.
  • Gothenburg. BA in Mediterranean archaeology. Very high quality.
  • Gothenburg. MA in Scandinavian Prehistory. Insufficient quality.
  • Gothenburg. BA in Scandinavian Prehistory. Insufficient quality.
  • Gothenburg. MA in heritage management. Very high quality.
  • Lund. MA in Mediterranean archaeology. Very high quality.
  • Lund. BA in Mediterranean archaeology. Very high quality.
  • Lund. BA in historical archaeology. Insufficient quality.
  • Stockholm. MA in various archaeological specialities. Insufficient quality.
  • Umeå. Mag.phil. in Scandinavian Prehistory. Insufficient quality.
  • Umeå. Mag.phil. in environmental archaeology. Insufficient quality.

Overall, the places that come out on top here are Gothenburg and Lund, though even they have problems with some of their programmes. Umeå places last, though I hasten to add that they have had at least one incredibly good-looking and keen temp teacher on the Scandy Prehistory programme this academic year, after the one evaluated. One point that makes me sad is that not a single one of the country’s programmes in my subject, Scandy Prehistory, passed with distinction. One funny point is that the Mediterranean archaeologists in Gothenburg must now be really smug at the same time as their Scandy prehistorian colleagues are really angry.

Mind you, the evaluation methodology is controversial. A correspondent of mine at one of the evaluated departments writes “It’s been a lot of work for an evaluation system that isn’t approved by the EU, has no scientific backing and uses evaluation goals that are 30 years out of date”.

The last time I looked at results of a similar evaluation in 2009, archaeology at Gotland University College received severe criticism. That entire campus has now become a branch of the University of Uppsala and so hasn’t been evaluated separately.

Update 27 December: Ulla Rajala pointed out something important. Formally speaking, the University of Stockholm doesn’t offer specialised archaeology programmes like the other universities do. This means that the grade that is differentiated at e.g. Gothenburg is a mashed-up average at Stockholm. When the Stockholm MA programme flunked, there may actually have been an extremely good programme in e.g. osteology hidden behind that grade. It all comes down to the random sample of student papers that the evaluation looked at. It seems to have been proportional to the number of students in each programme.

Thanks to Ing-Marie Back Danielsson for the tip-off.

Between Technocracy and Populism

I’m confused by this political science paper I’m editing. The guy wants to find a middle way for the EU between two kinds of authoritarianism: technocracy and populism.

I understand the first word to mean ”rule by academic experts who don’t care what the voters say”, and the second to mean ”rule by uneducated clowns who will do whatever gets them votes”. This doesn’t seem to apply to Sweden, where both our elected representatives and the voters typically have middling education, or in a worldwide perspective, an enormously high general level of education.

There are hardly any PhDs in Swedish government, so we run no risk of technocracy. And we have so few uneducated and unemployed male yokels that the populist Xenophobic Party gets only c. 10% of the vote (though sadly their numbers are rising slowly).

So I suppose the reason that I don’t understand the point of this political science paper is that most of the EU does not have Sweden’s general education level.

Not Great Impulse Control, Not Great Planning

Here are two pages out of this week’s Swedish crime chronicle, showcasing the rare beauties of the small-town criminal mind. Both remind me of the movie Fargo in different ways.

  • The first one is awesomely stupid. Wednesday shortly after noon a young couple were driving through the outskirts of Fagersta. Two police officers recognised them and flagged them down as the driver was known to have no licence.

    The couple gets out of the car and starts arguing with the police, and then the man grabs one of the officers in a stranglehold and starts banging her head against the car. The woman hits the other officer on the back of the head. All this in broad daylight and in full view of many three-story apartment buildings! Both get pepper sprayed and taken into custody.

    The man is now held in suspicion of attempted manslaughter, threats against an officer of the law and aggravated driving without a licence. The woman is held in suspicion of violence against an officer of the law. Both are suspected of being shatteringly stupid rural meth heads.

    And Americans, take note. See how these things play out in an environment without many guns?

  • The second one is more kind of sad but also amazing. After a burglary in Höganäs Tuesday or Wednesday, the police managed to chase the three burglars down. To their surprise they found that one of the three, a woman of 40, was in an obvious and advanced state of pregnancy. She told them that she was feeling labour pangs, and they rushed her to hospital. Luckily, it was a false alarm and she could soon join her confederates at Helsingborg police station.

Sweden’s Main Contract Archaeology Units To Merge With Main Archaeological Museum

Contract archaeology is the current term for what used to be called rescue archaeology: documenting archaeological sites slated for destruction through land development. (Swedes sometimes fall for a false friend and translate an old word of ours, exploateringsarkeologi, into “exploitation archaeology”, suggesting fieldwork undertaken by people in pimp/ho outfits to the soundtrack from Shaft.)

Swedish contract archaeology has seen steady growth measured decade by decade since the end of WW2, both in terms of the number of active field archaeologists and of the number of units. I seem to remember that there are about 45 units right now, running the organisational gamut from benevolent foundations to government branches to limited companies. The oldest and biggest ones — known collectively by the beautifully opaque name UV, originally Undersökningsverksamheten, “the Investigation Occupation / Activity / Business” – are part of the National Heritage Board.

Somebody has to keep an eye on these organisations from a quality standpoint, making sure that Joe’s Diggin’ & Dynamitin’ Ltd. doesn’t get away with cheap sub-par work while obliterating the archaeology. That somebody has always been the National Heritage Board. This is a problem along the lines of Juvenal’s “Who watches the watchmen?”. It’s been on the cards for decades that UV will have to be cut off from the Board. The question has been where to put it instead. And now that question has finally been answered.

From 1 January 2015, UV’s several regional units will be part of the Swedish History Museum in Stockholm, one of Scandinavia’s largest archaeological museums (being somewhat misnamed). For about 150 years, almost every really interesting archaeological find from Sweden has ended up in this museum’s stores and display cases. Now a lot of the people who make those finds and document their contexts will be working for the museum.

I think this is excellent. With a few shining counterexamples, Swedish field archaeologists don’t know enough about finds. And with a few shining counterexamples, in recent decades the staff of the History Museum have not had much up-to-date fieldwork experience. I am confident that the merging of these two organisations will benefit both and prove a boon to Swedish archaeology.

Thanks to Niklas Ytterberg for the heads-up.

Deservedly Forgotten Swedish Drink

Sweden used to have its own version of Irish Coffee: kaffekask. It was big in the 19th century and I believe it dropped from favour during our 1917-55 period of liquor rationing. Nobody seems to drink kaffekask anymore.

A kask is a type of helmet like the ones worn by English bobbies. But that’s apparently not the etymology of kaffekask. More likely it comes from Low German karsch, “harsh”, “abrasive”.

Kaffekask consists only of coffee and 40% (70° proof) potato schnapps plus optionally a sugar cube per cup. Swedish schnapps (brännvin, “burn wine”) is usually flavoured and does not to my knowledge go through the barbarous vodka process where you distill nearly pure alcohol and mix it down again with water. But that is not to say that it is anything like Irish whiskey. Brännvin nowadays is an old folks’ drink taken only at a few ritualised feasts a year to the tune of old drinking songs.

Should you still want to try this blast from the past, there is a traditional way to get the proportions right. You put a silver coin and a copper coin in your cup. Pour coffee into it until you can’t see the silver coin anymore. Then top up with brännvin until you can see the copper coin again. It will be harsh.

Saltsjöbaden Train / House Crash

Damn, I must have ridden those very train carriages thousands of times! The crash happened just four stops up the commuter train line from where I live. My wife and I went there this morning with our camera. Details here.

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Update 21 January: On the basis of first reports and information from a former railway employee, I thought this was an ostentatious suicide attempt. Now there are indications that it was a horrific accident caused by the unsanctioned habits of train drivers. Apparently they routinely jury-rig the safety apparatus for convenience, and in cold weather, to keep the brakes from freezing stuck. This works fine as long as only trained drivers come near the controls. But the cleaning ladies don’t receive any driver’s training, and they too have to enter the cramped cockpit.