Source material

Measuring historical educational attainment in Scandinavia

Example of a page of high school grade lists from Denmark, listing school and student names and exam grades for four subjects.

Grade lists

In both Denmark and Norway, high school and university grade lists were published through until the twentieth century. These lists at a minimum include students’ names, schools and final grades. More detailed lists (in particular through the nineteenth century) also include individual subject grades.

My research draws on a long-term collection of grades from 1760 through until the Second World War, which are being digitised and transcribed as part of a larger project, Mapping the Human Capital of the Nordic Countries.

Image: Example of a page from the Danish high school grade lists, showing students names (grouped by school) and grades for four subjects.


The Scandinavian countries also have a long tradition of producing graduate biographies. These take two broad categories:

  • In Denmark and Norway, high school yearbooks were produced in connection with reunions — often 25 years after graduation, and sometimes up to 60 years after. This practice began in the early nineteenth century, and continued until the 1920’s in Denmark and 1940’s in Norway.
  • In all countries, various institutions and professions also commissioned biographical volumes spanning multiple generations of graduates. For example, both Chalmers University of Technology (in Sweden) and the Technical University of Denmark published biographies on all their graduates in connection with their 100-year anniversaries.

Common to both sets of sources is that they contain a rich level of detail on graduates, documenting their backgrounds, their studies and their post-education careers. With much of the information reported directly from the individuals themselves, the biographies provide unique and reliable insights into the life course of graduates.

Image: Example of a page from the Norwegian class of 1885 yearbook. The biographies include details of graduates’ birth and families, their studies, and their careers. Small pictures of the individuals are also often included.


My colleagues and I extract information from the grade lists and biographies using both manual transcription and automated machine-learning techniques. My own experience with the latter relates to selected biographies, where I apply a combination of regular expression (regex) and natural language processing techniques to identify key pieces of information in the text and convert these to variables in a graduate database.

The information we gather will be linked with historic population registers at the Norwegian Historical Data Centre and Denmark’s Link Lives project.

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