The Danish public school and hygienics

Student thesis: Master thesis (including HD thesis)

  • Kasper Altenborg Brockstedt
  • Rasmus Konnerup Havsager
4. term, History, Master (Master Programme)
This master’s thesis investigates how tuberculosis was included in medical sciences’ knowledge creation between 1900-1918, and how this affected the Danish “folkeskole” (public school). The investigation has set out to uncover how this knowledge creation has contributed to certain discourses and initiatives for an impending hygienic influence on the public school system. The historical tradition regarding tuberculosis in Denmark lacks this specific narrative and has been seen to focus on the founding of “Nationalforeningen til Tu-berkulosens Bekæmpelse” (National Association for the Fight Against Tuberculosis), as pio-neers in the Danish fight against tuberculosis. Consequently, the hygienic influence on pub-lic school children caused by tuberculosis has been inadequately researched in the Danish research tradition. The methodological approach has been to uncover how both power rela-tions and discourses regarding tuberculosis have contributed to scientific understandings and “truths” about disease and contamination in the Danish public school. Contemplating this, Foucault’s analytical framework about power and biopower has been adopted. Through Fou-cault's methodology, the analysis set forth to uncover how medical professionals, teachers etc. have negotiated discourses affecting children in public school.
The research has been on the medical sphere and on establishing knowledge about a medical association coined “school hygienics” that emerged throughout the last part of the 19th century. This was a group of medical professionals, including principals and teachers, who were devoted to hygienics. The tuberculosis epidemic of the early 20th century became an opportunity for certain medical disciplines to manifest their sciences as a hegemonic dis-course in matters concerning public health. The analysis thus focuses on uncovering how medical sciences transposed scientific knowledge to educate children and tackle issues re-garding tuberculosis in public school. Through the study of legal documents and contempo-rary medical journals, articles and books the analysis studies several scientific discourses which have been utilised in questions and issues regarding public schools and children be-tween 1900-1918.
First and foremost, the medical sciences succeeded in portraying tuberculosis as a threat to society. This understanding was assigned to the idea of making hygiene and hygien-ics a topical issue, while also becoming a solution to issues regarding the public health of society. In this context, discourses regarding impecunious people can be seen in the histori-cal context. Medical science thus regarded underprivileged people as impure and a threat to society. Hence, tuberculosis was often attributed to the own making of poorer people due to a lack of understanding about hygiene. Therefore, they were portrayed as a combined threat to public health. Since public school formed the framework for most of society, it became an argument to interfere with children in public school and engage in regulating behaviour and therefore constraining the common enemy of tuberculosis. Thus, it is argued that it became a strategy by medical science to expose and inoculate children to medical discourses about hygienics since it was generally understood that children were easier influenced.
A law regarding tuberculosis from 1905 is argued to be essential for the introduction of hygienics in Danish public schools. Between 1905-1912 the hygienic knowledge created by medical science focused on underprivileged parents and their bad influence and moral de-struction of children. Several contemporary hygienic debates are touched upon to clarify the new implications of hygienics at the time. It is argued that these reflect the newly estab-lished power of the hygienic association “Foreningen til Skolehygiejnens Fremme” as repre-sentatives of the scientific community dedicated to hygienics in public schools. The law was revised in 1912 and is argued to have expanded the power with which lawmakers and medi-cal professionals could practice their influence and control. Between 1912 and 1918 it is argued that tuberculosis lost its discursive impact, but at this time the medical sciences had already established hygienics in the public school.
The thesis brings an alternative narrative to the history of tuberculosis in Denmark. An insight is provided into the power mechanisms in the first decades of the 20th century, where medical-scientific discourses educated, controlled, and regulated children in public school, thereby laying the groundwork for a hygienic society.
LanguageDanish
Publication date31 May 2022
Number of pages100
ID: 471817281