A strategy for the Humanities at the University of Oslo
The humanities are important for the University of Oslo, and represent a key part of its strength. In varying degrees, the humanities are represented in all faculties and museums at the UiO. Therefore, this is a strategy for the humanities pertaining to the entire university.
The humanities strategy is a strategy for all of UiO. Photo: Anders Lien/UiO
The strategy follows UiO's Strategy 2030 and will apply for the next decade. The strategy will help to strengthen the position that the humanities hold at UiO and aims at highlighting the contributions that the humanities make towards solving the major societal challenges of our time.
The humanities at UiO hold a leading position nationally and are excellent in an international context. This was confirmed by the Research Council of Norway's Evaluation of the Humanities in Norway in 2017, which stated that UiO has many academic environments in the humanities that rank in the international top tier.
Norway's leading humanities university
The Research Council's evaluation of the humanities in Norway in 2017 ascertained that UiO is the country's foremost humanities university.
- Excellent publication profile
- Strategic approach to research
- 18 out of 20 research groups at UiO were classified as excellent
- the following research groups were classified as world leading:
- FourMs – Music, Mind, Motion, Machines (aesthetic studies)
- MultiLing – Centre for Multilingualism in Society across the Lifespan (Nordic languages and literature)
- Political, social, and ideological changes in the Middle East (modern and classical languages, literature and area studies)
- Childhood and perceptions of childhood in history (history, archaeology, and cultural studies)
QS World University Ranking by subject 2019
- Philosophy no. 25 in the world; along with anthropology the highest-ranking individual subject at the UiO.
- Media studies and theology among the top 50 in the world.
- Linguistics, archaeology and history among the top 100.
This is also demonstrated by the fact that the humanities at the University of Oslo are successful within the European research arena.
The European Research Council (ERC) and Nordic cooperation
Researchers in the humanities have a high success rate on European arenas, in particular regarding schemes developing young researchers.
ERC Starting Grants
In 2019, the UiO was at the top in the Nordic region and in the collaborative organisation, The Guild, with five Starting Grants in the humanities and social sciences.
Maria Sklodowska Curie Actions (MSCA)
Thanks to targeted efforts involving academic meeting places for young researchers, all the nine MSCA grants that were awarded to UiO in 2019 went to the humanities.
Dialogues with the Past research school
The Nordic research school in archaeology includes more than 20 participating institutions from all the Nordic countries, the Baltic states and Germany. The school's goal is to improve national doctoral degree programmes in archaeology and contribute towards developing Nordic archaeology.
UiO's leading position in Norway is the result of long traditions and good strategic work with academic development. It is a great responsibility to manage environments of such high quality, a responsibility UiO is keenly committed to and wishes to express through the present strategy. The overall goal of the strategy is to fortify the position of the humanities at UiO so that we will continue to be the foremost humanities university nationally, with an ambition to hold the same rank at the Nordic level.
The humanities have been central to the University of Oslo since its establishment in 1811. Several disciplines within the humanities were organized in the "Faculty of Philosophy" along with mathematics and the natural sciences. At the same time, the humanities were a natural part of the profession-oriented educational programmes at the Faculty of Theology and the Faculty of Law.
Since then, the university has grown and adopted a stronger division of labour, increased specialization and additional disciplines. Nevertheless, the idea of offering a comprehensive set of studies that has been inherent since the founding of the university in 1811 is still present today, but in other forms: The humanities are represented in most of UiO's faculties and museums. In the university’s educational programmes, there is only one common subject, and that is the humanities’ examen philosophicum. Research fields that explicitly cut across what used to be called "the two cultures" are medical history, research ethics, history of science, biology, social medicine and energy and environmental research. The boundary between the social sciences and the humanities is not always clear. They are often referred to as a single field, but the disciplines also have both different and complementary approaches to issues.
The humanities cover specific knowledge of human history, language and cultural forms of expression that a modern society cannot function without. At the same time, the humanities impart knowledge and skills that go beyond the subject-specific and disciplinary confines. Critical thinking and contextual understanding are central to the humanities and are in high demand in working life. Most students will go to jobs that will entail interdisciplinary work. The reality of today’s research is that it is also becoming more and more interdisciplinary; historians use economic models, linguists and literary scholars use digital technology, and laboratories are becoming an integral part of the humanities. Interdisciplinary work is important in our efforts to help find solutions to major societal challenges. The humanities at UiO have succeeded very well with their interdisciplinary Norwegian Centres of Excellence (SFF). UiO aims to expand these, while at the same time facilitating the establishment of more SFFs within the humanities.
UiO can nevertheless do even more to become a more distinct contributor towards understanding and finding solutions to societal challenges by making greater use of its full academic breadth. Pollution and climate change, mass migration as a result of war and poverty, rising economic inequality, cultural conflicts, racism and xenophobia, pandemics, automation and democracies under pressure have global causal factors with local consequences.
- Today's considerable academic breadth and high quality in the humanities at UiO will be managed in line with academic and societal needs so that the potential competitive advantage it represents for interdisciplinary research can be realised.
- The Humanities at UiO will respond to the government's expectations for the university to strengthen the societal relevance of academic subjects by becoming an even more distinct contributor to research on the greatest societal challenges of our time, such as climate and environmental issues, cultural encounters, migration and the development of democracy, also in cooperation with the social sciences.
- The humanities at UiO will improve research and teaching within established disciplines, be open to new disciplines and work to develop binding interdisciplinary relations with other disciplines both at UiO and outside the institution.
- Humanities education at UiO will provide key competencies in an education for the 21st century: knowledge of national and global development trends, critical thinking, ethical assessment ability, collaboration and social skills, historical awareness, aesthetic understanding and creativity.
- The quality of education shall be enhanced through a better learning environment, forms of learning that promote in-depth study and collaboration between students, and measures to strengthen students' opportunities to complete their studies within given frameworks.
- The humanities at UiO shall further develop their participation in one of the country's largest five-year teacher education programmes. Many apply to UiO due to the academic strength of the programme.
- The humanities at UiO shall be further developed through, strategic initiatives for integrative humanities, such as medical humanities, environmental humanities and digital humanities.
- UiO will utilize the opportunities in interdisciplinary areas of collaboration by having at least one major thematic initiative with a centre of gravity in the humanities.
- The humanities at UiO will better avail themselves of the opportunities to obtain support for good science in international competitive arenas such as Horizon Europe.
History, cultural heritage and aesthetics
Knowledge of the past, culture, identity and of complex cultural change processes is essential to understand the present and to help meet the challenges of the future. Disciplines in the humanities create and impart knowledge about the world's material and non-material cultural heritage – language, religion, history, archaeology, art, music and literature.
As a doctrine of sensory experience, aesthetics has significance far beyond the actual experience of art. Our lifeworld is aesthetically shaped and imparted to us, just as teaching, research dissemination and public information, mass media, marketing and politics use aesthetic instruments to influence us. Aesthetic disciplines represent a major part of the humanities at the University of Oslo. The disciplines cover art, literature, media and music, as well as theoretical subjects within the field of aesthetics.
At the same time, UiO is an important cultural institution, and the university museums offer multifaceted experiences to students, staff and the general public. The museums and libraries at UiO represent a significant platform for interaction with the public and are therefore of great societal value.
As stewards of cultural heritage, UiO assumes a great responsibility for knowledge sharing and is therefore also challenged in the encounter with schools, the public and new population groups. Cultural heritage contributes towards unity, identity and aesthetic refinement and experiences, but is also subject to politicization. It is necessary to remain consciously aware of the legacy we want to preserve for future generations, and the ways by which we demonstrate its relevance. The humanities at UiO generate knowledge and discussion concerning culture and history. With its museums and libraries, UiO also has opportunities and advantages as an academic humanities institution. They represent an important arena for direct relations with the public.
Cooperation between UiO's museums, humanities and scientific environments pertaining to cultural and natural heritage can be further developed and can strengthen UiO's position as the country's most important steward of cultural heritage.
Other cultural institutions such as theatres, museums and libraries are valuable partners that are visible in Oslo and central to the national arena of expression.
UiO will maintain, develop and disseminate expertise in cultural and natural heritage. The humanities at UiO will contribute knowledge-based and critical thinking about history and aesthetics. UiO will be further developed as an arena for societal intervention with historical awareness and depth.
- UiO will work politically in relevant channels to ensure that the Research Council of Norway develops programmes and calls for applications pertinent to natural and cultural heritage, with a view to strengthening a research and education portfolio that reflects active platforms for cooperation.
- UiO will continue to work through The Guild and/or other relevant channels to integrate the humanities into Horizon Europe (and subsequent initiatives).
- UiO will work to strengthen the relevance of historical and aesthetic subjects at UiO through efforts to connect with working life and to show the relevance of a research-based education to students' future careers outside academia.
- UiO aims to distinguish the campus and university museums as historically rooted platforms for interaction with society.
Knowledge and education
The production and use of knowledge always takes place within cultural, historical and linguistic contexts, where perspectives from the humanities are essential. One of the strengths of the humanities lies in the study of how different traditions and institutions meet. However, humanists alone cannot carry out such studies; it requires cooperation with other knowledge traditions, including those found at UiO. The social science environments stand out as particularly relevant in this context. UiO's museums and libraries are also central sources of different knowledge traditions.
Teacher Training Programme
Four of the five specialisations in the Five-year Teacher Training Programme are within the humanities, and many students in the one-year course Teacher Education Programme (PPU) take subjects within the humanities.
- Language, literature, and society in the English-speaking world
- Language, literature, religion, ethics, and society: French, Spanish, German
Cultural and social sciences
- History, social sciences, religion, and ethics
- Norwegian and Nordic literature and language
- Norwegian as a second language for the multicultural classroom
The humanities help to stimulate a knowledge-based discussion about values, normative sources and affiliations within a wider global and European context, where historical and contemporary, theological and philosophical sources are made objects of criticism but also become a resource for interpreting our era.
Students of humanities subjects acquire interpretative skills and ethical competence that are frequently in demand in work and public life and are a natural part of the skills incorporated in an education for the 21st century.
The school is the humanities' most important interface with society. The humanities provide students with knowledge about how we have become who we are and with an understanding of societal challenges. The humanities also help students develop good skills in reading, writing and the ability to express themselves orally so that they can participate actively in public democracy. Pupils, students and workers encounter the humanities throughout a lifelong course of learning: in the 13-year-long basic education, higher education and adult education. The social mission of the humanities in the schools includes both teacher education, development of the subjects, curricula and teaching materials. The Humanities are an important contributor to the teacher training programmes at UiO. The humanities play a significant role in research, innovation and competence development in the schools.
UiO shall further develop its programme portfolio to ensure interdisciplinarity, learning via proximity to research and contact with the schools and working life. It aims to prepare students for a life in society and the workplace that is undergoing increasingly rapid changes.
- UiO will develop new forms of interdisciplinary education, for example through honours programmes across existing master's programmes. Administrative structures shall be adapted to enable such projects to be carried out.
- UiO will further develop humanities study options for the Five-year teacher education programme (Lektorprogrammet) and the collaboration connected to it. UiO shall be an important contributor to continuing and further education for schoolteachers in humanities subjects through the Research, Innovation and Competence Development programme (Norwegian acronym FIKS).
Language and cultural competence
Language is the basis for understanding. UiO has research expertise in a wide range of languages and several cultural areas. The academic breadth and strength of the humanities gives UiO a particular advantage to conduct research on major cultural and ideological change processes in a long-term perspective. It is important to take advantage of this opportunity by linking course subjects to larger areas of knowledge. At UiO, there are great opportunities for language studies to be combined to a greater degree with, for example, economics, political science, anthropology and subjects in the natural sciences.
Interdisciplinary area studies
- One of three inter-faculty initiatives at UiO, along with UiO:Life Science and UiO:Energy
- World leading research initiative bringing together researchers from the humanities, social and natural sciences, and medicine
- New knowledge about the Nordic countries' historical preconditions, challenges, paradoxes, and future opportunities. Connects education and research.
- Insights from linguistic and literary studies, history of religion, history, anthropology, and political science to understand developments in the Middle East and North Africa.
- Studies of religion, politics and political culture in one of the world's most populous regions.
- Language, culture, history and social anthropology.
- Language, culture and society in Russia and the post-Soviet states, Central Europe and the Balkans.
The humanities at UiO are a natural base for interdisciplinary area studies. With expertise in language, culture and history in different parts of the world, the humanities offer special advantages for describing global development, where the dynamics of the interaction between different factors are taken into account.
The humanities are at the heart of comprehending the challenges raised by migration from other parts of the world to Europe and to Norway. This potential must be developed and strengthened. It should also be better utilised by UiO through closer cooperation between the humanities and social sciences. Competence and research on the relationship between law, ethics and politics at the global level are particularly relevant today.
Research in language, media, culture, literature, music, history, politics, ethics, philosophy and religion can help us understand conflicts, the transformation of identities and changing religious expressions. The humanities can promote an appreciation of cultural diversity, by conducting research and helping us to maintain respect and an understanding of cultural differences and the need to preserve language, history and material and non-material culture.
It is important to maintain and develop knowledge of Norwegian majority and minority cultures, but there is also a need to instil an understanding of global cultural diversity. Through humanities research and education, UiO can help Norway succeed as a multicultural society, among other things by further developing a modern education for religious leaders from different faiths.
International staff members bring new perspectives and thereby strengthen the humanities’ academic environments. At the same time, UiO shall be the foremost institution in managing and developing knowledge about Norwegian language and history. Today this also requires research and studies in multilingualism and the function of languages in a culturally complex society. English and modern foreign languages are increasingly important in a globalized world and in a new situation with language and machine learning, while knowledge in older languages provides a necessary window to our history.
Centres of Excellence (SFF)
Centre for the Study of Mind in Nature - CSMN (2007-2017)
Research identifying and investigating normativity in human agency.
- Philosophy, linguistics, law, political science and economics
Research providing knowledge about the opportunities and challenges posed by multilingualism for society to effectively manage linguistic diversity.
- Linguistics, sociology, psychology, pedagogy, anthropology and brain research
Centre for the Study of the Legitimate Roles of the Judiciary in the Global Order - PluriCourts (2013-2023)
Research on the legitimacy of international courts. How can and should international courts react and how do they react.
- Jurisprudence, political science, philosophy
This centre explores the basic cognitive mechanisms that underlie human rhythm and the experience of time.
- Musicology, computer science, psychology
UiO will continue to have the country's best study programme in language studies promoting an understanding of culture, history and societies. UiO will manage the subject portfolio so that the potential that is inherent in academic breadth can be utilized to establish knowledge about areas in step with changes in the world around us.
- UiO will follow up on the Report to the Storting on The Humanities in Norway, which recognizes that the most difficult language subjects, Japanese, Arabic and Chinese, require longer teaching time, and ask the Ministry of Education and Research for funding to establish 4-year bachelor's degrees.
- UiO will leverage the cooperative platforms with the alliance partners in The Guild to ensure that a broad range of languages will continue to be offered.
- UiO will work politically in relevant channels to ensure that the Research Council of Norway develops programmes and calls for applications aimed at cultural diversity and political mobilisation of culture/religion in an international context.
Sustainable development and climate change
The humanities are life sciences, but the life studied is human - the man-made in interaction and exchange with the natural environment, technology, institutions and culture. The current challenges to the environment and sustainability require that the connections between these areas of knowledge be re-ascertained and re-tested in new contexts. The interdisciplinary focus at UiO on aspects of life through the lens of Life Science offers opportunities for innovative, groundbreaking collaboration between the humanities, natural sciences and social sciences.
One of the biggest and most important challenges for which UiO will deploy its entire academic breadth is the climate and environment issue. We still lack sufficient knowledge to solve the climate crisis. In the natural and social sciences, climate and environment are well established fields of research. We also need humanities research on how people relate to the knowledge that exists, how people respond to climate change itself, and how to adapt. The historical sciences show how people and societies have responded to dramatic changes historically, and this adds depth to the understanding of our own situation. There is a need to better understand how knowledge is used and abused, and how it can motivate people to act. In this respect, perspectives from the humanities are essential. With the Oslo School for Environmental Humanities, UiO has a dynamic interdisciplinary environment with a great potential for further developing the university’s contribution towards finding answers to issues concerning the climate and environment.
The climate crisis challenges us as human beings as well as all of humanity. The humanities provide new and complementary perspectives and analyses of changes in climate and nature and the discourse around them. The humanities help to put events in context, explain causes and formulate constructive critique of dominant choices and values, as well as formulating alternative visions for what a sustainable society can be. A prerequisite for meeting many of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals is that the international rule of law is not weakened any further. By promoting systematic reflection on the set of basic moral values in the current legal order, UiO can contribute to a national and international discussion about how it can be safeguarded and renewed.
Disciplines and researchers in the humanities must be an integral part of UiO's strategies and initiatives, and will actively participate in work pertaining specifically to the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the climate challenges in particular.
- The emphasis on the environmental humanities in interdisciplinary relationships with the social sciences and natural sciences will be strengthened.
- UiO's academic portfolio will be developed with the aim of establishing an internationally distinct and attractive study offer for students across the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences related to climate and the environment.
Technology as cultural form and a way of life
Technology and technological solutions are intertwined with historical and economic conditions, visions of the future and culture in a broad sense, and they can and must be studied and understood using methods from the humanities and in new interdisciplinary contexts. Human use of technology and conditions associated with it require humanities knowledge of, for example, bioethics and ethical issues related to technology and artificial intelligence.
Digital humanities and related subjects
- A website relating Norwegian history in an accessible format. From the Stone Age to the present. Presented by scholars.
- An online introductory course in philosophy, free of charge and open to all
- An archive of national cultural history consisting of texts and images from over 300 collectors
- A collection of several Ibsen archives as well as a database of productions
- Including Henrik Ibsen's writings, archives for Nordic medieval texts, literature written in Bokmål 1550-1900, Norwegian farm names, the Oslo Papyri, etc.
- Dictionaries, corpora, lexical databases, glossaries, digital resources for working with language development and difficulties
- CELL works to expand experience-based learning in a digital age to educate the future lawyer. CELL became a Centre for Excellence in Education Initiative (SFU) in 2020.
- Location-based storytelling that uses the mobile phone as a window to visualise other versions of reality
Historical and comparative studies of technological transformations and social changes contribute important and critical perspectives on the digital shift and the societal consequences brought by it. New forms of technology are changing the assumptions behind citizenship, creating new public spaces, but also exclusion. Humanities competency yields necessary understandings and constructive insights into these social changes.
Today, artificial intelligence is presenting humankind with very peculiar challenges related to communication between humans and computers. The humanities play an important role in understanding and describing how the interaction between man and computer can work. At UiO, there is great potential in closer cooperation between the humanities and disciplines such as computer science and pedagogy to develop a collective and inclusive intelligence.
Digitisation changes the conditions of our lives by changing how knowledge is produced and legitimized in today's society. This applies not only to the emergence of so-called fake news, but more basic processes that define the type of knowledge that gains legitimacy and the ability to influence public discourse and political and institutional processes. UiO's academic environments in the humanities, legal sciences and social sciences, together with the technology environments, can ascertain the premises for this development and provide information about it. There is potential for high-level research cooperation.
The use of digital technology and digital methodology is becoming increasingly important in the humanities as research and subjects of study. Digital humanities is a field that requires methodological innovation and an adequate research infrastructure. Responsibilities and division of labour at the university and between UiO and relevant partners will be important to establish in order to find an appropriate solution for institutional support functions for the digital humanities. The libraries' expertise in library science and informatics will be an important component in this work.
The humanities will contribute research-based knowledge and education that will help to achieve more sustainable technology development in cooperation with other disciplines at UiO.
- UiO will make humanities research and expertise relevant to life sciences, IT and technology more accessible to these environments by creating resource centres or hubs that disseminate information and build bridges between the humanities and these fields. Research cooperation will be reflected in the development of the study portfolio.
- UiO will follow up the recommendations in the report "Follow-up of the evaluation of humanities research in Norway", recognize the needs of humanities research infrastructure and find an appropriate solution for the provision of institutional support functions for the digital humanities.
A key societal task for a university is to educate students to become good citizens. The humanities contribute towards the understanding of democratic principles, trust and an open and constructive public dialogue. Analytical and rhetorical skills (rhetorical citizenship) are an increasingly important prerequisite for participating in democratic processes. Obvious challenges are fragmentation, polarization and a digital culture in which different groups relate to their own, but not to other groups.
Humanities across disciplines
- Interdisciplinary teams and project work in the natural sciences and the humanities
- Annual crosscutting themes. For the class of 2019, this was artificial intelligence.
- A combination of courses from philosophy, political science and economics gives a solid foundation for understanding and addressing current societal challenges
- Language and public administration
- The role of language in democracy and the rule of law
- Knowledge and analytical skills to understand current conflicts.
- A national research school bringing together legal subjects, the humanities and theology
- Forum for theoretical and methodological reflection related to textual studies, and interdisciplinary feedback on thesis work
- An interdisciplinary meeting place for the humanities and natural sciences, with an emphasis on mathematics, life and language
- A parallel study programme for master’s students interested in climate change studies
- Interdisciplinary and creative teaching with lectures, projects and excursions
Through access to almost infinite information, it is a challenge for media users to distinguish between credible information and relativized representations, and in tandem with political marketing, fake news is challenging democratic development.
Humanities research examines how technology influences information flow and democratic processes, and education in the humanities promotes systematic thinking, sensible judgment, ethical reflection and empathy, as prerequisites for democratic development. Such competence is a central part of the concept of education for the 21st century.
The tension between democratic popular ambitions and authoritarian regimes is a central driver of a development towards conflict in many regions. With expertise in language, culture and history, the humanities make decisive contributions to understanding such tensions. In a globalized world, the humanities can act as a counterweight to simplistic messages and group thinking that creates conflict.
Aesthetic expressions challenge and contribute towards alternative visions of what, and for whom, politics is. Humanists' expertise in exploring and describing new aesthetic forms and relationships provides the basis for exploring policies that complement classical political theory.
At UiO, through the inter-faculty thematic initiative UiO:Norden, several academic environments have helped formulate a constructive critique of the Norwegian societal model based on theological, literary, legal and philosophical sources that establish normative impulses and a new vision of an ecologically sustainable society. UiO has the country's strongest research environment in political communication, which focuses on election campaigning, political participation and the role of the media in democracy. In this subject area there are clear interfaces between the humanities and the social sciences.
Through the university alliance Circle U, UiO is in favour of establishing a programme of study in which education and research collaborate to educate citizens who participate in society's efforts to solve the major scientific and societal challenges. UiO's humanities environments will be a natural input factor in this programme.
UiO will have research and education in the humanities that contribute towards the understanding of what strengthens and weakens democracy and democratic processes.
- UiO has research strength on issues related to democracy, both in a national and global perspective, and will facilitate convergence environments where UiO clusters resources, creates networks and develops existing programmes of study to utilize this research strength.
Strategy work group
UiO's humanities strategy has been developed by a working group led by Dean Frode Helland of the Faculty of Humanities (HF) and consisting of Professor Brita Brenna, Professor Mette Halskov Hansen, Professor Hilde Hasselgård, Professor Øystein Linnebo, Professor Kim Christian Priemel (all HF), Professor Marius Timman Mjaaland (Faculty of Theology), Professor Katja Franko (Faculty of Law), Professor Rita Elisabeth Hvistendahl (Faculty of Educational Sciences), Professor Kristin Asdal (Faculty of Social Sciences) and Section Manager Anne Lene Melheim (Museum of Cultural History).