Historicizing Intelligence

Tests, metrics and the shaping of contemporary society

A three-year research project funded by the Norwegian Research Council. Starting in June 2021.

State of the art, knowledge needs and project objectives

News reports in 2017 disclosed that a flaw in an IQ-test led to several Norwegians being misdiagnosed with intellectual disability. The ensuing debate prompted the Minister of Health to request an assessment of the routines for diagnosing intellectual disability (Helsedirektoratet 2019). IQ-testing is again on the agenda related to reforms of the Norwegian criminal law, where test scores are an important criterion for accessing criminal responsibility of persons with intellectually disability. Norwegian policy follows international precedent. The World Health Organization endorses IQ scores as a key criterion for the diagnosis of intellectual disability. Multinational companies own the tests, which are translated and used worldwide. These internationally standardized evaluation and classification technologies may regulate individuals’ access to education and health services, their legal responsibilities, self-determination and freedom, or affect the management of human resources in the workplace or the military. Studies on IQ score variations within and among populations shape debates and research in various fields such as behavioral genetics, neuropsychology, or social sciences. Public interest in intelligence and IQ scores is often coextensive with commonly held perceptions of class, social mobility, meritocracy and “race”.

Despite the widespread use of IQ-tests, however, there is no consensus on their effectiveness as descriptive or diagnostic devices, or to what extent IQ corresponds to a specific property (or a number of properties) of the human mind, or to what degree IQ refers to inborn or acquired traits (Nisbett 2009; Serpico 2017; Stanowich 2009). In practice, intelligence is often defined as the property or properties that intelligence tests measure (Sundet 2015). A number of both experts and non-experts are, furthermore, critical of the IQ-concept itself, and there are numerous alternative approaches to the study of mental abilities.

Given this lack of consensus and the societal significance of IQ testing, the aim of this project is to study how intelligence tests and related conceptualizations of intelligence in today’s Norway have come into being and perform diverse roles in society. We will achieve this through a series of synthetic contemporary, historical and transnational investigations that will shed light on the entanglements of science, technology, politics, economy, law and culture that produce knowledge, value and legitimacy relating to IQ-testing.

The project builds on a host of existing historical studies that focus on the period from the 1900s–1950s and approach the rise of IQ-testing as part and parcel of modernization, urbanization and industrialization. These processes propelled and facilitated new methods of classifying, sorting and governing people, especially within mental health care, the military, the workplace, in education and for identifying and diagnosing “the intellectually disabled”. Several studies adopt a critical perspective, exploring the close links between IQ, eugenics and racism and showing how tests have helped legitimize and reproduce traditional hierarchies of “race” and/or class. (Chitty 2007; Gould 1996). Other studies suggest that leftist intellectuals, progressive educationalists and radical psychologists advocated for psychometrics as a way to objectively identify the potentials of individuals regardless of their position in established social hierarchies, and as social engineering aimed at the promotion of meritocracy and better utilization of human resources (Chapman 1993; Ydesen 2011).

Most historical studies of IQ-testing focus on one country, and often take the nation as their main unit of analysis (Byford 2014; Chapman 1993; Chitty 2007; Porter 2017, 2018, 2019; Zenderland 2001). Only a few studies systematically explore transnational and/or comparative perspectives (Carson 2007; Mülberger (ed.) 2014; Hamre et al. 2019; Ydesen 2011). They point to the diversity of locally anchored actors and processes and suggest that the content of “intelligence” and the techniques/scales for measuring it may vary by context. These processes are interwoven on a transnational level (Mülberger 2014, Milewski et al 2019).

The last two decades several new studies deal with the early 20th century history of intelligence and psychometrics in Denmark, Sweden and Norway, including comparative and transnational perspectives (Axelsson 2007, 2012; Lundahl 2019, Ydesen 2011, Ydesen et al 2018; Ydesen et al 2013). Yet, in Norway this topic has so far been predominantly handled as a tangential aspect of other topics, such as the history of professions (psychiatry, psychology, or pedagogics), school history and the history of eugenics. These works focus on the period up to the 1950s within a primarily national and Scandinavian context (Froestad & Ravneberg 2006; Haave 2000; Ludvigsen & Seip 2009; Ravneberg 1998, 2000; Simonsen 2000). This project, in contrast, will put IQ-tests, as well as the concept of intelligence, squarely in the center of investigations, by exploring both transnational and national processes behind the tests used in Norway, and by following these processes from their early origins to current debates and applications. The project’s objectives are to:

  1. Produce new knowledge on the connections, transmissions, translations and adaptations of knowledge, practices and objects that have shaped intelligence and IQ-testing in Norway.
  2. Develop new comparative and transnational methodological approaches by empirically following the tests within and across national borders (geographically), as well as in time (diachronically).
  3. Produce public outputs that will facilitate the reinvigorated public interest in issues related to IQ and mental abilities testing and therefore enhance the quality and quantity of public discussion.
  4. Discuss with interested parties and policy makers the scientific and sociocultural prerequisites involved in IQ and mental abilities testing through active communication of our research.

Research questions and hypotheses, theoretical approach and methodology

Research questions

The project will trace the coming-into-being of contemporary intelligence testing and related testing technologies in Norway by addressing the following three sets of hypotheses and research questions across time, fields of application and borders:

1) We propose that the emergence of intelligence as a scientific object of inquiry can be organized around two main historical periods – before and after the 1950s. The first includes the rise of psychometrics and IQ testing as professionalized activities in Norway and internationally from around 1900. This period saw the rapid development of testing infrastructure by Norwegian theoreticians and practitioners. It was related to healthcare and educational changes, broadly informed by debates on mental hygiene, eugenics, and progressive education and was characterized by segregation of the disabled. After the 1950s, the Norwegian research traditions in the field of applied psychometrics seemed to experience a loss in vigor, and Norway became more reliant on internationally standardized and copyrighted tests and scales, such as the Wechsler tests.

  • Assuming this periodization as a heurisitic framework, how does historical contingencies get embedded in the contemporary performances of the tests?
  • How do changing materialities, translations and adaptations, standardization processes, commercial and corporate developments affect the tests as enacted practices?

2) IQ and other psychometric tests may play quite different roles, and may be construed differently in different societies and in diverse social spheres such as the educational system, the labor market and the workplace, the health care system, as well as the judicial system, and the military. We will explore how intelligence tests have achieved their domain-specific roles in Norway.

  • What are the epistemological and ontological preconceptions about intelligence, IQ and related psychometric tests that enable their use? Are these the same across different fields of application, and at different points in time? 
  • How do tests shape their diverse fields of use, and relations of legitimacy and power within those fields?

3) The IQ-scale and other mental ability scores are tools for comparing individuals within a population. Thus, the construction of such scales assumes a representative selection of the population. IQ-scales are however, also used for comparison between populations. This rests on the premise that it is possible to create tests and scales that are compatible across linguistic, social and cultural boundaries.

  • How have the rise of the Norwegian/Scandinavian welfare state along with its historical transformations affected the uses of intellectual abilities testing?
  • How have populations been defined and delineated, and what have been the specific criteria for representativeness in socially, culturally and ethnically diverse societies? How have testing technologies emerged as compatible and relevant measuring devices across national, linguistic and cultural borders?

Theoretical approach and methodology

The project’s research questions draw on and explore theoretical and methodological perspectives developed within the broader field of critical studies of science and technology, which emphasize what STS-scholar Sheila Jasanoff (2004) has described as the co-production of science and the social order. We approach mental abilities testing technologies, most often framed in the form of IQ tests, as embedding and being embedded in “social practices, identities, norms, conventions, discourses, instruments and institutions” (ibid, p. 3). This perspective allows for a complex investigation of knowledge societies and offers tools for interpreting the social implications –including effects on scientific knowledge and practices – of such testing technologies.

The idiom of co-production serves to direct attention to the emergence and stabilization of IQ testing and intelligence concepts as well as to how they have served to define the boundaries of “normality” and have helped to reinforce or break down pre-existing hierarchies between classes, cultures and “races”. By classifying and ranking individuals according to “objective” scientific criteria, groups have been made accessible to management and control. But testing of mental capabilities has also aimed at assessing people as individuals and thus liberating them from their inherited positions in social structures. In this sense, co-production analysis encourages us to consider new ways of examining power and authority, and especially how ontological, epistemological, material and social dimensions interact with commercial, legal and ethical ones. In the case of IQ and other mental abilities measurement, the co-production approach is compatible with a consideration of how these technoscientific objects have contributed to the constitution of the modern ‘subject’ in Foucault’s bifocal sense: to both produce the self-conscious, “autonomous” ‘subject’ and make people ‘subject’ to bio-political management and control.

The project is inspired by historian of science Lorraine Daston’s (2000) original contributions on how phenomena become objects of scientific inquiry. Daston encourages us to explore the biographies of scientific objects as they acquire new traits through their interaction with scientific thought and practices. We align with her nuanced positioning away from a realist/constructionist dichotomy to instead understand scientific objects as both real and constructed. Following Daston, we propose that intelligence, along with its testing technologies and scales, is a scientific object “that can be observed and manipulated, that is capable of theoretical ramifications and empirical surprises, and that coheres, at least for a time, as an ontological entity” (ibid, p. 5). Methodologically, the emphasis on the biography of scientific objects suggests a) looking at the epistemological, cultural, political and economic processes that occasioned the emergence of intelligence as a salient scientific object; b) investigating what gets produced in terms of results: new materialities, policies, connections, and effects; and c) remaining attentive to the ever-changing networks that scientific objects form and are formed by. In this sense, scientific objects can be viewed as hubs of cross-disciplinarity and social interactions that invite equally diverse approaches to elucidate their biographies.

The emphasis on intelligence and intelligence testing technologies as a scientific object invites equal attention to its workings in society. IQ is a popular-cultural notion, a bureaucratic device, a governance tool, and a legal concept just as much as it is an object of scientific research. Historian Theodore Porter (Porter 1996) has described how measurement instruments and quantitative procedures that originate in commercial or administrative arenas often have a decisive effect on how natural and social sciences get practiced. Following Porter, we want to examine the thick network of interactions around diverse conceptualizations of intelligence and its testing technologies to understand their resilience and persistence within and outside scientific circles. 

Work packages

Drawing on the above theoretical and methodological approaches, the project’s aim, research questions and hypotheses are operationalized into five empirically informed work packages. WP1 addresses the contemporary situation and recent debates around IQ-testing; WP2 situates intelligence testing in a long-term historical perspective by focusing on the tests and scales themselves; WP3 and WP4 complement the previous approaches by considering the works that mental abilities testing technologies perform in society, with a special emphasis in legal and educational practices; WP5 synthesizes these diverse empirical case studies into a coherent account of the development of intelligence tests in Norway viewed in a transnational and comparative lens. All studies will result in peer-reviewed academic publications, while WP5 will also yield a book written in Norwegian, in a style accessible to the generally educated reader.

WP 1: Translating, adapting and diagnosing intellectually disability 1990–2020

The Wechsler tests are the most commonly used IQ-tests in Norway today. It was flaws in the Norwegian version of one of these tests –WISC III – that caused controversy in 2017 and prompted an official assessment of the routines for diagnosing intellectual disability. This WP will explore the uses and social functions that WISC III and similar test have in Norway today. We will follow the Norwegian version of these tests back and forth in time, exploring the explicit and implicit theoretical premises for their translation and adaptation from the US to Norwegian versions.  In this process, we will examine the ways testing data are integrated and modified, as well as the social assemblages and power relations within which this has taken place.

The translation, adaptation and application of the test takes place within a social reality where different agents play different roles and are in the possession of various types of legitimacy, authority, impact and power. This includes professions (psychologists, psychiatrists, pedagogues), their international and national professional organizations, other supervisory international organizations such as WHO, the private companies that develop, translate and own the tests, national governmental authorities, the institutions who use the tests for assessing and diagnosing individuals, and the authorized personnel that administers the tests. Their legitimacy is stabilized by the scientific character of their diagnostic devices. Hence, we focus on these psychometric tests themselves as calculative devices and datafication tools (Hoeyer, Bauer, Pickersgill 2019). We examine these scoring systems in action, and consider how they became stabilized, and imbued with agency as potent ordering and value-conferring technologies.

WP1 will explore the interplay between the agents involved in the process of translating, adapting and applying WISC III and other Wechsler-tests, and will shed light on similarities and differences in the (implicit or explicit) concept(s) of intelligence and IQ among the different agents involved. This will be done through examination of published sources such as official reports, news media content, the tests themselves and related scientific literature, as well as interviews of practitioners and, if possible, ethnographic observation in order to map the ongoing stabilization work put into test technologies that maintain their authority, legitimacy and power in contemporary settings.

WP 2 Intelligence and mental ability testing in Norway 1897-2017: A long-term perspective on knowledge, objects and practices

The aim of this WP is to trace the historical development of intelligence/general mental ability tests, as well as of the concepts of intelligence/general mental ability, in Norway from the late 19th century to the present. The empirical work will combine material examination of the tests themselves and textual exegeses based on archival and published resources. Taking into consideration the hypothesis of the 1950s as a transitional period, WP will develop along two research lines which so far have attracted little historical attention:

a) We will explore the tests themselves and how they came into being, as well as the practices, circulations and controversies they enacted. The empirical material for these complex object biographies will come from museum collections of intelligence and psychometric tests, along with their manuals, presentations for peers, publications and debates around them, commercial test catalogues and advertisements. We will focus on the material characteristics and practices that made certain tests and concepts ubiquitous, and through this technology-in-use approach, we will also examine the tests and concepts that were not as successful and were eventually abandoned. Finally, we will seek new knowledge on standardizing practices by comparing the commercially available tests with another class of mental ability tests exclusively developed by the Norwegian military (Hansen 2006).

b) We will examine how certain tests have become internationally standardized commercial products and how marketing and organizing practices have shaped the legitimacy of IQ testing methodologies. By exploring the "commercial life" of the Wechsler tests, we will seek new empirical knowledge about how various firms, institutional arrangements, contracts and marketing initiatives have been involved in the commercial exploitation and use of these testing batteries, and how these structures crossed cultural, commercial and professional boundaries. We will study how these commercial exploits may have facilitated the tests’ movement into new industries and parts of society, not least by becoming internationally standardized products.  We will also consider how this affected their legitimacy within certain professions.

WP 3 Defining normality, diagnosing intellectual disability and allocating individual rights

This WP directs the attention towards the meeting point between psychiatry and law, and towards the role of IQ testing in debates and social practices regarding the individual rights of people diagnosed as intellectually disabled. Intellectual disability is diagnosed according to mainly two criteria; the reduced ability to cope with daily life and impaired cognitive abilities as measured by IQ. IQ is thus a key criterion for diagnosing intellectual disability and grading it into levels of severity. Historically, this diagnosis has had, and it still has, important implications for many aspects of the legal status of the diagnosed individual. The WP includes four studies that will explore two main topics that have so far not been subjected to systematic scrutiny:

a) The first study will trace the role of IQ and “intelligence” in the history of eugenics 1900–1950s. Both internationally and in Norway, the intellectually disabled were a main target for eugenic ideas and practices. The early development of intelligence testing was related to the debates about “negative eugenics”, or how to prevent the intellectually disabled from reproducing. We will build on existing literature and primary sources regarding the eugenics debate in Norway, including the Norwegian sterilization law of 1934 and related sterilization practices, and will investigate the role that the notion of IQ played in the eugenics movement, and the role that eugenics played in the development of IQ-testing practices in Norway.

b) The next three studies take as a starting point the introduction of the criterion for exemption of criminal responsibility in Norwegian criminal law in 1902. Over time, the concept of IQ became instrumental in the interpretation of this criterion. We will investigate when, why and how the IQ-test was introduced in the workings of the criminal courts, how extensive its use has been, and to what degree it has shaped criminal law reforms.

  • The introduction of IQ-tests in Norwegian courts of law will be analyzed on the level of legal practice, through a study of court rulings and expert reports written by forensic psychiatric experts. Since 1900 all forensic psychiatric reports have been collected by the Committee for forensic medicine.
  • Based on policy documents, we will study legal reforms (in 1902, 1929, 1974 and 1997) affecting the rule on criminal responsibility, in order to identify changing concepts of intellectual disability at play.
  • A study of the presently ongoing reform process regarding criminal insanity and intellectual disability, which includes a change of the guiding threshold from IQ 60 to IQ 55, and involves a step towards an autonomous legal conceptualization of IQ and mental disability. What is the rationale behind this decision and what may be the consequences? The study will be based on policy documents.

WP4: Psychometrics in Education 1945-2020: Subjection and/or liberation of the subject?

While serving partly as an instrument for segregating “underachievers”, psychometrics in education has been closely related to pedagogical progressivism, a focus of which was to liberate the curriculum from the cultural tradition and adapt it to the individual student’s abilities and interests. This WP takes this ambiguity as its starting point, and will (a) explore some selected controversies about IQ testing and other psychometric practices as instruments of school development in Norway c. 1945–1970, (b) investigate change and continuity in practices of educational measuring from the early post-war period to the “PISA-era”, and (c) examine the role of IQ-tests and psychometrics in the rise of the pedagogical-psychological services 1950-1980.

a) From 1945 to the late 1960s, the Institute for Educational Research at the University of Oslo concentrated its effort on psychometrics. This project met several forms of resistance that countered the department’s profession-building ambitions within the field of education. We will analyse some of the controversies that arose around the use of IQ testing and psychometrics as instruments of segregation, differentiation and counselling in the national school system. Based mainly on secondary literature, the findings will be related to similar debates in Sweden and the United States. An underlying hypothesis is that there were significant national differences in the role of psychometrics within education, and that this is indicative of more general differences between the three societies and the way they mobilized education as part of broader “welfare policies”.

b) During the 1950s, a research-politics cooperation was established in Norway, based on psychometric testing for selection and differentiation within the emerging and comprehensive social democratic school system. From the late 1960s, however, both the dominant Labour Party and the Ministry dismissed the psychometric tradition as an irrelevant policy partner for developing schools based on the notions of equity, equal opportunities and national and social integration (Dale 1999, Helsvig 2005). The “PISA-era” from the turn of the century, has however seen a revival of educational tests and measurements as part of a decisive “international turn” in Norwegian educational debate and policy (Ministry of Education and Research 2008, Helsvig 2017). This study will address two research questions: (1) Has the previously dominant, but for many years dormant, psychometric tradition in Norwegian educational science been revived in the post 2000 PISA era as a tool for managing school and teacher accountability within a more general bureaucratization of educational policy? Or (2) should the increase in the use of psychometrics and "IQ-like" tests since 2000 rather be understood as a tool to empower the pupils/students and adapt education to individual abilities and interests within the framework of the so-called Knowledge society?

c) Differentiation based on assessment of the intellectual abilities of schoolchildren was regarded as crucial for Norwegian educational reforms during the 1950s. New services and professional groups emerged to assist the emerging comprehensive school system in differentiation of children between normal and special classes and schools. IQ -assessment became a crucial tool for the municipal pedagogical- psychological services (PP-services), and still is central today when measures for supporting learning are considered. This study will explore the adaptation and use of IQ-tests, the training of staff and distribution of professional responsibilities in multi-professional PP-teams from 1950 towards 1980. The aim here is to grasp the relationship between the testing practises and the shifting educational policies from differentiation to equality and integration in this period.

WP5: Comparing and synthesizing intelligence measuring in a transnational space

This WP will synthesize the insights from the whole project. The major output (c) will be a long-term historical account of intelligence and intelligence testing in Norway, written by the project manager in close collaboration with the rest of the project group and in tandem with study (a) and (b)

a) This study will explore the role of the Nordic networks and transmissions, and a joint Nordic outlook, for the development of IQ-testing and “intelligence” in the field of special education from the interwar years and into the post-war era including the rise of the Nordic welfare-state model. It will draw on existing historiography and insights from the other WPs as well as sources in Danish and Swedish national archives on Norwegian connections in the field of IQ-testing.

b) Given the many transatlantic connections in the field of IQ testing, and given the different economic trajectories of Norway and the US post WWII (toward a social democratic welfare state and free market capitalism respectively) this study aims to shed comparative light on the role(s) that IQ testing has played in Norway, by comparing it to the USA.

c) With the aim of contributing to contemporary discussions about intelligence testing and IQ-scores, this study will attempt to synthesize the output from all the work packages. The goal is to produce an historical synthesis that elucidates the interplay of local, national, transnational and international processes that have helped shape the scientific object “intelligence” and the intelligence tests as they are performed in Norway.

Novelty and ambition

This project brings together historical and contemporary approaches to elucidate the long-term historical processes that have shaped intelligence testing technologies and their roles in Norwegian society. By historicizing these technologies and concepts, our ambition is to enhance the academic and public debates about what these technologies and concepts are and what their societal roles are and should be. A project such as this has, to the best of our knowledge, never been undertaken before.

Empirically the project will advance the current state of the art in three significant ways. Firstly, it will shed light on the little examined Norwegian context.  Secondly, it responds to an often one-sided emphasis on the national scale, by exploring how knowledge, practices, and materials travel internationally and transnationally. Thirdly, in addition to exploring previously unexamined aspects of the development of IQ testing, it will expand the chronological scope by including the period after the 1950s, which have so far received little or no attention from historians. 

The project is equally ambitious on a theoretical and methodological level. It responds to ongoing dialogues between historians, anthropologists, archaeologists, sociologists of science and technology and others on how the so-called material turn could be accomplished. The focus on the testing tools themselves will advance discussions related to how we might draw on such instruments to elucidate their embodied scientific, social and commercial value. Furthermore, through a systematic scrutiny of the movement and adaptation of tests, scales, concepts and knowledge across national boundaries, we aspire to produce empirical accounts that respond to the criticism of “methodological nationalism”, and which will inform scholarly discussions on how to write history that combines local, national, transnational and international levels of analysis.

By combining specialized accounts and collaboration across disciplines and research traditions with long-term, synthesizing narratives, and by including communication with the public and interest groups in the project from early on, the project aims to advance thinking about the role of historical disciplines, in interpreting complex pasts that are connected to contemporary controversies. The research excellence, diversity and complementarity of the research foci within and across the project groups, as documented in detail in section 3.1 and the attached CVs, supports these novel and ambitious approaches.


Potential for academic impact of the research project

The project outputs will enrich international research with a wealth of case studies that demonstrate the complex workings of intelligence/mental ability testing infrastructures as they travel across borders, time and societies. While directing attention to the Norwegian situation, the project’s transnational approach aims to contribute to the theoretical and methodological challenge of being locally-centered and relevant while addressing global material and intellectual networks of interchanges. The project outputs will combine long-term historical perspectives with contemporary concerns without reducing historical contexts either to frozen points in time or as only instrumental for contemporary purposes. We believe that the project’s emphasis on long-term perspectives makes for scholarship which is better equipped for grasping the complex relevance of history for interpreting contemporary and future situations. Finally, this project aspires to lay the empirical groundwork for a productive cross-disciplinary dialogue on intelligence and mental ability testing by bringing into cooperation researchers and practitioners from a wide range of disciplines, which are seldom in dialogue. Therefore, the project has potential to stimulate future collaborations and generate impact beyond the research areas currently included.

Potential for societal impact of the research project

The project carries the potential to impact the general public discourse, as well as professional discussions and practices, among those who use the tests and will strive moreover to engage groups affected by their use. We hope to contribute to increased awareness about the societal implications of intelligence testing, to better understand the processes through which tests gain legitimacy and power, and as well as to illuminating the historical contingencies related to intelligence concepts and the tools and scales for measuring it. The project has potential to stimulate reflection and debate on the implementation and ethical aspects of intelligence testing. It is particularly relevant for facilitating dialogue on the diagnosis of intellectual disability and the legal significance of IQ-test scores in cases related to criminal insanity and legal incapacity. Therefore, it may increase the quality, precision and scope of such discussions, and inform educational initiatives and related regulatory frameworks and policy projects. Finally, the project bears the potential to inform broader and topical public dialogues related to mental abilities and the role of hereditarian or environmental factors, the nature of social hierarchies and cultural differences, and how testing and related indices co-produce specific conceptions, actions and resistances.

Measures for communication and exploitation

The research project has an ambitious communication and exploitation strategy. The target audiences for the project outputs include scholarly and professional communities, which engage with intelligence and psychometric testing from a diversity of perspectives such as education and pedagogy, law, psychology and psychiatry, health politics and administration, as well as scholars from the broad field of critical studies of science. The project furthermore wishes to engage in dialogue with communities of users and interest groups including patients and their family and community networks. A diversity of communication platforms will be utilized in order to develop research and communication activities in tandem. This collaborative and cross-disciplinary ethos acknowledges the historical and contemporary implications for the lives of individuals – and not least the ethical aspects – that such testing has had and thus the project wishes to explore the potential for broad and substantial exchanges with all involved parties. The planned activities include:

A book on the international history of IQ (and psychometrics) approached from both a Norwegian and contemporary viewpoint, as described in WP 5. The book will be written in Norwegian in a style accessible to the general reader, but also relevant for those with a professional interest in the topic.

Scholarly peer-reviewed articles published as part of a special issue of an international journal such as History of Psychology, History of Education, Theory, Culture & Society. This will showcase the collaborative work of the project group and communicate the outputs to an international audience. The content of the articles will be previously presented in national and international conferences through organized panels/sessions. The WPs consist of 12 case studies, each undertaken by an individual researcher, and each study will result in at least one article. In addition to this, a synthesizing article will be written in tandem with the book.

The project website, including a blog element, and social media accounts will serve as a key organizing node for communication and discussion with civil society, interest groups and potential collaborators. It will, as well, function as a meeting point and discussion forum for those who are involved in the project. Here the project group will develop ideas and present them digitally.

Public lectures and panel discussions with members of the research group and the advisory board will supplement the outputs of three internal research workshops, possibly in collaboration with the Forum for Critical Thinking in School and Teacher Education at Oslo Metropolitan University.

An exhibition on the history of intelligence and IQ testing under the auspices of the Museum of University History and based on collections at the University of Oslo and, which will be thoroughly studied in connection with WP3. Both senior researcher Ageliki Lefkaditou and the project manager have extensive experience in science exhibition making and together have won the Great Exhibitions Prize 2018 from the British Society for the History of Science with the exhibition FOLK – From racial types to DNA sequences (funded by NFR).

Project manager and project group

Project manager Jon Kyllingstad is a historian and associate professor who has worked with the history of science and knowledge for 20 years. This includes research on the history of various humanities disciplines, medicine and biology, and particularly with research at the meeting point between the humanities/social sciences and the natural sciences; physical anthropology and human population genetics, human evolutionary biology, and its entanglement with concepts of class, “ethnicity” and “race”. Kyllingstad has substantial experience as project leader and participant in large cross- and transdisciplinary projects building on national and international collaborations. His expertise as science museum curator supports the project’s focus on timely and broad communication with stakeholders outside academia, as well as the ambitious aim of developing an exhibition on intelligence testing.

The project group includes members with diverse and complementary disciplinary backgrounds at various stages of their careers and with high level of research excellency in their fields. All members are affiliated with leading research institutions in Norway and Scandinavia and participate in professional networks. This guarantees fruitful transdisciplinary dialogues within the group and further engagement with academics on a national and international level, as well as exchanges with diverse stakeholders based on the group’s various access to communities of practitioners and users of intelligence and mental ability testing.

WP1 Jon Kyllingstad, Susanne Bauer and postdoctoral fellow

Originally trained as environmental scientist and epidemiologist, Susanne Bauer’s work in the field of Science and Technologies Studies has unpacked techniques of measurement, calculative infrastructures and data politics in the health sciences. A postdoctoral fellow trained in the history or social studies of science and technology will be working with this WP, as well as a master student at TIK Centre of Technology, Innovation and Culture under the supervision of professor Bauer.

WP 2 Ageliki Lefkaditou and a senior researcher

Lefkaditou comes from the biological sciences and has researched the history and philosophy of life sciences with a special interest in negotiations between biophysical and sociocultural factors. As a science museum curator, she has a strong commitment to science communication. A senior researcher trained in business history or the history of science and technology, preferably with experience from historical studies of quantification and statistics in either science or business, will be assigned this work package. The position will be announced openly.

WP3 Linda Gröning, Svein Atle Skålevåg and Per Haave

Professors of law and history Linda Gröning and Sven Atle Skålevåg respectively are recognised experts on criminal (in)capacity. Gröning has profound legal and interdisciplinary knowledge about the rules and practices where IQ plays a role for criminal responsibility. Skålevåg has thorough historical knowledge about these rules and how they have developed in the intersection between law and psychiatry and significant methodological historical skills. Historian Per Haave is a key contributor to the history of psychiatry and medicine in Norway and the leading expert on the history of eugenics and eugenic sterilizations in Norway.

WP 4 Fredrik Thue, Kim Helsvig and Kari Ludvigsen

Fredrik Thue and Kim Helsvig’s study of the role of tests at the University’s Department of Education and in the governing of the school system from the 1950s, will draw on their previous research on the history of the University of Oslo, the rise of social sciences and pedagogics, as well as on the history of school policy and related professions in post-war Norway. Kari Ludvigsen has published a number of works on the development of professions and institutions related to mental health care and education of children and adolescents in Norway, including the intellectually disabled and the rise of intelligence testing in the first half of the 20th century.

WP 5 Jon Kyllingstad, Jim Porter and Christian Ydesen

Based on his own ongoing research on the history of IQ, meritocracy, school policy, and race in the US during the cold war, Jim Porter will develop a US-Norwegian comparative study. Christian Ydesen has published extensively on the history of mental ability testing and educational measurement, developing transnational perspectives on the rise of intelligence testing in Denmark and within the Nordic space, which he will develop further trough this project.

An advisory board of national and international scholars will strengthen the group’s research excellency:

Anette Mülberger is a psychologist and historian of science, and director of the research group Theory & History of Psychology at the University of Groningen. She has published a number of works on the history of psychometrics and intelligence testing, developing new approaches to explore the entangled local, national and transnational contexts of intelligence testing.

Coreen McGuire is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Bristol and works the history of medicine and the philosophy of science and technology. She is the author of Measuring difference, numbering normal: Setting the standards for disability in the interwar period (2020), has worked with outreach projects, and is interested in how history can facilitate communications between practitioners, patients, and academics.

Susan Schweik is Professor at the University of Berkeley and a leading scholar in American disability studies. She is finishing a book that deals with the uses of IQ-tests and the conceptualization of intelligence and normality, in the USA and internationally, from the 1930s to the present.

Christian Lundahl is Professor of Education at Örebro University, specialized in the history of assessments, evaluation and Swedish educational research. He production and internationalization of data in education systems and leads an international research project about the history of comparative education. Lundahl has published several work on the history of IQ-testing in Sweden and the Nordic countries.

Thom Axelsson is Associate professor at the Faculty of Education and Society, Malmø University, and has published works on the history of ability testing and the sorting of school children in Sweden and Scandinavia. Lundahl and Axelsson will contribute to the project with their knowledge about the Swedish connections and Nordic contexts as well as their perspectives on transnational and comparative research.

Isak Emberland is a doctoral student at OsloMet. His project deals with the rise of psychology as a profession and a university degree, and the role of psychometric testing to justify the scientific status and social function of the aspiring profession. Emberland focuses on the use of psychometrics in human resource management in the labor market and workplace.

Sverre Tveit is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow affiliated with the Nordic Education Model (NordEd) project at the Department of Education, UiO. He studies the emergence of curriculum, examination and testing policies of primary and secondary education in the Nordic countries.

Project organization and management

Project management: The project activities will be organized around three extensive week-long workshops with the participation of the whole project group and advisory board members.  Regular meetings every two months, either online or in person, will keep the group updated and ensure continuous cooperation and pooling of results. This has already served the team well during the proposal preparation phase and will thus be upheld. The group will ensure knowledge sharing and development by organizing joint sessions at international conferences, such as the conferences of the International Society for the History, Philosophy and Social Studies of Biology, The International Standing conference for the History of education or the Annual Conference Social Science History Association

Project coordination: The project will be coordinated by a hired researcher in close collaboration with the project manager. They will organize the three project workshops; oversee the website including an internal exchange area; organize and coordinate other project events; coordinate common publications; organize project meetings. Group members Lefkaditou, Haave and senior researcher (wp2) will assist in the overall coordination of the project, while Lefkaditou and Kyllingstad will devote time to the development of the project’s exhibition output. The project will hire a research assistant for 2 months who can assist in the archival work of WP3.

Applicant institution and support: The project is based at the Museum of University History (MUV), a section of The Museum of Cultural History at the University of Oslo (KHM). MUVs assignment is to document, preserve, research and disseminate University of Oslo heritage and the history of science in Norway. MUV’s activities are based on a belief that historical insight into academic heritage is important for upholding the quality of scholarly and public discourses about science and its crucial societal role. The project is developed in line with these ideas and the mandate to maintain our academic heritage. The project will draw on the resources of MUV and KHM. These resources include an extensive network of collaborators across disciplinary boundaries at UiO and beyond, access to relevant sources, as well as the necessary infrastructure, competence and engagement to facilitate dissemination and communication of the project towards the public and the academic community. The project is however a collaborative effort including institutions and researchers in various disciplines with a wide variety of societal tasks and professional networks. This will both strengthen the research effort and enhance our ability to reach out to various stakeholders within and outside academia.


  • June 1. 2021: Project start. Project manager, together with Haave and Lefkaditou starts planning workshop 1 and project website and wp2 is launched.
  • September 2021: workshop 1, launching of all WPs, launching of website and postdoc starts working (the position will be announced as soon as we are notified about the funding)
  • November 1. 2022: Project administrator (40%) hired, to plan and administer workshop 2 and 3, oversee website and related internet activities, and coordinate the work with the final edited volume.
  • December 2022: workshop: presentation of book-sketch, planning articles and edited volume.
  • November 2023: Final workshop.
  • November 2023 - June 1: writing articles, editing special issue, finalize book.



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Axelsson, Thom (2007) Rätt elev i rätt klass. Skola, begåvning och styrning 1910–1950. Avh.Linköpings universitet.

Axelsson, Thom (2012) Att konstruera begåvning – Debatten om IQ. Malmö University electronic publishing.

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Publisert 12. jan. 2021 08:38 - Sist endret 12. jan. 2021 08:41