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Historisk tidskrift 122:4 • 2002

Innehåll (Contents) 2002:4

Uppsatser (Articles)

Erik Lönnroth (1910–2002)

Rolf Torstendahl

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Erik Lönnroth (1910–2002)

This article is written on the occasion of of the death of Erik Lönnroth in March this year. Lönnroth, born in 1910, played a prominent role among Swedish historians and in the Swedish academic community. He was only 24 years old when he defended his dissertation and 7 years later, in 1941, he became full professor of history at Uppsala University. He moved to Gothenburg, his home city, 10 years later where the sole chair of history had just become free.

Lönnroth’s very early promotion was the object of a lively debate. At that time there was a rather sharp division among Swedish historians who adhered to the Weibullian school, with Lauritz and Curt Weibull as the leaders, and those of the Stockholm-Uppsala school of thought, which had been centred around the heritage from Harald Hjärne, who died in 1922. Though Lönnroth’s teacher was Curt Weibull, his two most important books from before 1941, one on the Union of Kalmar and the other on the State and its finances in medieval Sweden, made a great impression on Erland Hjärne, who was Harald Hjärne’s son and a medievalist. He recommended Lönnroth for the professorship going against the expectations of the academic community.

Lönnroth’s rapid academic career paved the way for external assignments and appointments and, as he showed a great ability for such tasks, the government and organisations heaped upon him honorary appointments. For the discipline of history, his most important appointment was as the president of the new Research Council for the Humanities when it was established in 1960. He kept this post when the council merged with the Council for the Social Sciences in 1977.

His membership in many academies, among them the prestigious Swedish Academy, diverted his interest from the Middle Ages to the eighteenth century, and he wrote an important biography on Gustavus III. A commission to write the final part of the History of Swedish Foreign Policy (Up to World War II) inspired him to transform his lively interest in Sweden’s political trends of the twenties and thirties into scholarly research.

It is no doubt that Lönnroth’s important contributions to different fields of research were the result of a serious struggle with source material and a critical attitude to it. Source criticism was a forte in the Weibullian school, and Lönnroth used it as a forceful instrument. It seems, however, that he paid less attention to the other part of the teachings of Lauritz Weibull, his reserve for conclusions, and that increasingly Lönnroth simply loved telling history.