Between Tradition and Experiment: The Idea of a New University


  • Maria Simonsen Aalborg University



university, university centre, knowledge ideals, circulation of knowledge, Denmark


From the mid-1960s to the mid 1970s, three new universities were established in Denmark: Odense (1966), Roskilde (1972) and Aalborg (1974). Until then only two universities existed in Denmark: Copenhagen (1479) and Aarhus (1928). Located on the outskirts of the major cities, the new institutions played an important part in reforming and transforming higher education in Denmark. The youngest university, Aalborg University, is approaching its 50th anniversary. This is an opportunity to take a step back and examine the university in long-term perspective. In this article, I investigate the discussions and expectations concerning the establishment of the university in the period 1958–1974. Based on contemporaneous debates in the regional newspaper Aalborg Stiftstidende and interviews with several key figures, the study seeks to analyze the underlying ideas and ideals which characterized the discussion by asking the following questions: What was the projected purpose of the new university? What ideals were expressed in the debate? In the last part of this article, I will reflect on the historiographical developments in the history of the university. In recent years, several new approaches have expanded the field and made visible new aspects of the institutions’ histories. I will discuss why a focus on the ideas, ideals and expectations of the university, and thereby of the university as a knowledge institution, is essential to include in a study of its history.

Author Biography

Maria Simonsen, Aalborg University

Research Associate Professor in History