The Emergence of Physical Education as a Subject for Compulsory Schooling in the First Half of the Nineteenth Century: The Case of Phokion Heinrich Clias and Adolf Spiess


  • Rebekka Horlacher Zürich University of Teacher Education; Institute of Education, the University of Zurich, Switzerland



schooling, curriculum, physical education, nation-building, philantropic education


In general, schooling and nation-building are associated with the unifying role of language and history education, since language and culture are perceived as fundamental pillars of the nation. Less discussed—at least regarding the curriculum—is the role of physical education, even if physical education was a highly political issue in the first decades of the nineteenth century. Based on a case study of Switzerland and textbooks for physical education by Adolf Spiess and the activities of Phokion Heinrich Clias for the Bernese school, this article discusses how physical education, distinct from the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries’ care for the body, became a school subject of the nineteenth century compulsory schools and how it was related to the notion of nation and nation-building. It argues that physical education became first part of the “modern” philanthropic education and schooling, was soon taken for granted as an essential curricular component of nation-building and lost thereby the political threat.