Johan Östling Photographer: Kennet Ruona

Johan Östling

Professor, Director, Lund Centre for the History of Knowledge (LUCK), Wallenberg Academy Fellow

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Personal profile


I am Professor of History, Director of the Lund Centre for the History of Knowledge (LUCK) and Wallenberg Academy Fellow.

My research is mainly devoted to the history of knowledge, but I have a more general interest in the intellectual, political and cultural history of modern and contemporary Europe, including the history of the university, historiography and biography.

After having studied and carried out research at the universities of Gothenburg, Uppsala, Sussex, Tübingen and Berlin, I defended my doctoral thesis about Swedish experiences of Nazism in the wake of Second World War at Lund University in 2008. My dissertation was awarded several prizes, including the Clio Prize and the Nils Klim Prize. In 2016 a revised English translation was published by Berghahn Books, Sweden After Nazism.

My main postdoctoral project was devoted to the Humboldtian tradition in modern Germany. As a Pro Futura Scientia Fellow in 2013–2017, I had the opportunity of being a visiting fellow in Uppsala, Potsdam and Berlin and to write my second monograph, Humboldt and the Modern German University (2018). I have continued to be interested in the history of the university, both as a way to explore the knowledge institutions of the past and to put today's knowledge society in perspective. In 2024, I will publish a concise overview of the global history of the university.

Since the mid-2010s, I have in close co-operation with my colleagues been engaged in establishing the history of knowledge in the Nordic countries and promote the development of the field at large. We have created a research environment at Lund, since 2020 in form of the Lund Centre for the History of Knowledge (LUCK). We have published several books, including The History of Knowledge (CUP, 2023) and the trilogy Circulation of Knowledge (2018), Forms of Knowledge (2020) and Knowledge Actors (2023).

In 2019–2023, I was a Wallenberg Academy Fellow, funded by the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation. My main research focus was the circulation of knowledge in postwar society. Within this framework, I have together with other researchers analyzed the humanities in the postwar Swedish and West German public spheres. In 2022, we published a monograph in which we examined key public actors and arenas, and in 2023 we released an edited volume on the humanities in the Swedish welfare society. In addition, I co-edited the book Histories of Knowledge in Postwar Scandinavia (2020) and a Forum Section in the journal History of Humanities (2021).

My position as Wallenberg Academy Fellow has been extended for another five years (2024–2028). During this period, I will analyze the Europeanisation of the universities and the formation of the knowledge society since the 1980s.

I am a co-founder of the international yearbook History of Intellectual Culture (De Gruyter), which is devoted to the history of knowledge. Together with Charlotte A. Lerg (Munich) and Jana Weiß (University of Texas at Austin) I am the yearbook's editor-in-chief. 

Even since I was a student, I have participated in international contexts, including as a visiting researcher/fellow at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study (SCAS) in Uppsala, Zentrum für Zeithistorische Forschung in Potsdam, Max-Planck-Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte in Berlin, Australian Centre for Public History in Sydney and Project House Europe at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München.


For the past twenty years, I have been teaching history at all levels. As a doctoral student, I taught for many semesters an introductory course in international contemporary history, and I have also subsequently taught chronological survey courses. In recent years, I have designed and been responsible for a number of courses at both advanced and doctoral level, including history of knowledge, historiography and historical theory. I have also been teaching academic writing and various thesis courses and been responsible for the higher seminar in history.

Together with my colleagues, I have initiated a summer school in the history of knowledge. Every year in August since 2020, we have gathered doctoral students from a number of different subjects and universities to discuss the history of knowledge in Lund. 

In 2022 and 2023, I was responsible together with the literary scholar Karin Nykvist in charge of the introductory course for doctoral students at the HT faculties. 

I am currently the main supervisor of three doctoral students and co-supervisor of one. Three of my previous doctoral students have defended their thesis. Almost every semester I supervise students writing bachelor or master theses.


As a historian and humanities scholar, I take active part in the public sphere. At the same time, I am involved in questions about the conditions of qualified knowledge circulation in the academic and media landscape of the 21st century.

Since my time as a doctoral student, I write regularly been writing for  the culture page of Svenska Dagbladet, mainly essays but also reviews and other types of texts. In 2018, together with Lisa Irenius, I led the work when the paper's daily essay section celebrated its  100th anniversary.

I have been part of the journal Respons since the it was founded in 2012, both as a member of the editorial board and as a member of the board. During these years, I have written various types of articles for the journal – reviews, essays, debates, interviews, reflections and more. 

Between 2013 and 2017, I was chairman of the jury for the Clio Prize, an award given annually to an outstanding young historian of the Swedish language. 

In 2015-2016, I led the project "The new movements of knowledge" on behalf of the Swedish Research Council, Riksbankens Jubileumsfond and Kungl. Vitterhetsakademien. Together with fifteen Swedish researchers, the aim was to analyse the changing media and knowledge systems of today in order to come up with proposals on how humanists and social scientists can stimulate and facilitate collaboration with the surrounding society. Since then, I have also been involved in issues related to humanities infrastructure.

As a member of the HT faculties' research board, I co-authored with Isak Hammar 2022 a research manifesto for the humanities.

UKÄ subject classification

  • Humanities
  • History

Free keywords

  • History of Knowledge
  • History of Universities
  • Universities
  • History of Humanties
  • Circulation of Knowledge
  • Europe
  • Modern history
  • Contemporary History
  • Sweden
  • Scandinavia
  • Postwar Period
  • European integration
  • German history
  • Biographies


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