PhD - portrait - Lars Kvestad
Lars is doing his PhD at the Faculty of Law here in Bergen, specialising in the history of law.
Could you tell us a bit about why, and even when, you decided to do a doctorate?
When I started studying law here in Bergen I was not even sure that I wanted to be a lawyer and I was definitely not aiming to do a doctorate. My interest in law did not really start to become manifest until I reached my fourth year of studies. It was not until then that I felt I had the time to really work on the subject I was studying
Writing a doctoral thesis was still a remote prospect for me, but my desire to be able to study a special subject in greater depth made me consider applying to write a Master's thesis over a period of 5 study years rather than doing the normal 30-credit Master's thesis. After having several helpful talks with employees at the Faculty, I started investigating why allodial rights were regulated in the 1814 Norwegian Constitution. That was a demanding, but very interesting, year. Apart from the material knowledge that I acquired, I was also able to attend several seminars and various lectures on the history of law. These were particularly inspiring and it was great to be able to discuss the subject with others who were interested in the history of law. The fact that I was so motivated and impressed by this knowledge and the common interests we shared also helped to further boost my interest in writing a doctoral thesis. So when an open position was advertised shortly after I had completed my Master's thesis, I submitted a draft of the project which I am currently working on.
What is your research topic? And why did you decide to investigate this topic in greater detail?
The working title of my thesis is "The Concept of Constitutional Citizens during the period 1750-1850". I will start by saying a bit about what this topic covers before saying something about why I chose to write about this subject.
Even today it can be said that we operate with several concepts of being a citizen, but obviously the most important one is the one relating to citizenship. During the last few years immigration has served to further highlight this concept, something which means that legal questions about citizenship which need clarifying are constantly arising. If we think about how important this concept is in our current society, it might in some ways seem surprising to know that the concept of Norwegian citizenship first became manifest in the 1888 Norwegian Nationality Act, Furthermore, it could be claimed that the real content of the concept of citizenship only really became manifest during the 1900s. The 1888 Act thus established by law something that was primarily perceived as being the prevailing theoretical and practical opinion at the time about who was or was not regarded as being a Norwegian citizen, but many key questions still remained that were not clarified by legislation or the various practices relating to Norwegian citizenship up until the Second World War.
The fact that the concept of citizenship became established in law at such a late date interested me in several ways. Firstly it says a lot about the structure of our society and how common it was to travel across national borders at that time. An ordinary Norwegian citizen did not travel much, and to some extent this was also an ideal – if you study 18th century literature, the most desirable and suitable citizen was typically someone with strong roots in their home and place of birth. However, this emphasis was not the only one which applied to society at that time. It was not just freeholder farmers who acquired the right to vote in 1814.
Section 50 states that "Norwegian citizens" who complied with some of the requirements could vote. These requirements excluded most people from being able to vote and one would think that use of the term "Norwegian citizens" would also indicate that it was only people with strong roots in Norway who could vote. However, the lack of legal clarification about who could or who could not be regarded as being a "Norwegian citizen" also meant that foreigners who lived in Norway and who otherwise complied with the requirements could vote and even be elected to the Norwegian parliament (the Storting). Obviously they had close ties with Norway, but the formalisation of these ties was not regulated by law.
Basically it would be incorrect to say that I chose this topic myself. I would like to emphasise that Jørn Øyrehagen Sunde, who supervised me when I wrote my Master's thesis, is the reason why I chose to write about this topic for my PhD. He set me on the track of a development, and perhaps most of all the lack of a development, which greatly interested me and incorporated many of those aspects which I find most interesting about law – the link between the individual and society and how society is organised.
Would you say that the topic of your PhD is slightly "atypical" from an academic legal point of view?
I would like to start by saying both yes and no. Research on the history of law has been more relevant during recent years, even in Norway, and it constitutes an important part of the education of lawyers in Norway. This is thanks to both individuals and more extensive joint projects which have focussed on the history of law as a subject. There are quite a few dissertations and in-depth articles which deal with the early history of topics which they subsequently discuss. However, I cannot deny that the usefulness of dissertations and work on the history of law is probably more widespread in academic circles than in private industry.
There are also clear ties between the history of law and history, and this also means that a lot of cooperation takes place between those who are engaged in such. The similarities in our work mean that it is relevant to discuss our approaches to sources and how we proceed, and I have learnt a lot from such discussions. However, the most interesting thing is the big differences which exist between the various academic disciplines, and this first became apparent to me when I attended a seminar while I was writing my Master's thesis. The seminar dealt with a particular aspect of the Norwegian Constitution, and this was discussed by attendees from many different academic disciplines. When around 15 people discuss one and the same subject, you would perhaps expect to end up with many similar discussions. However, I witnessed something which was more or less the opposite. The basic qualifications of the individuals present largely shaped the aspects of the subjects they discussed, and also how they proceeded when they were going to discuss them. So if a historian and a legal historian discuss a specific subject, their discussions and findings could be completely different.
What is the relevance of your topic for society?
If you look at the main lines, there have not been any major changes in Norwegian citizenship since 1888, and its incorporation into law at that time was largely based on prevailing opinion on the concept of constitutional citizens as it had developed in Danish-Norwegian and Norwegian law during the last few centuries. In my research I have often seen that different arguments about citizenship have carried varying degrees of emphasis over the years. This shows that we need to have a dynamic approach to the concept and knowledge about the dynamics. Otherwise the history of law and historical explanations will provide further contributions to our understanding of the past and sometimes important pieces in the puzzle that the author is not even aware of.