Railroads and Reform: How Trains Strengthened the Nation State

This paper examines the relationship between the coming of the railroads, the expansion of primary education, and the introduction of national school curricula. Using fine-grained data on local education outcomes in Sweden in the nineteenth century, the paper tests the idea that the development of the railroad network enabled national school inspectors to monitor remote schools more effectively. In localities to which school inspectors could travel by rail, a larger share of children attended permanent public schools and took classes in nation-building subjects such as geography and history. By contrast, the parochial interests of local and religious authorities continued to dominate in remote areas school inspectors could not reach by train. The paper argues for a causal interpretation of these findings, which are robust for the share of children in permanent schools and suggestive for the content of the curriculum. The paper therefore concludes that the railroad, the defining innovation of the First Industrial Revolution, mattered directly for the state’s ability to implement public policies.

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License CC BY
DOI https://doi.org/10.1017/S0007123420000654
Type Journal Articles
C-ID POLS 130 - Comparative