Chair no. 10 - Peter Englund

Inducted: 2002.

Peter Englund was born in Boden, northern Sweden, in 1957.  Following high school and military service, he studied archaeology, theoretical philosophy and history at Uppsala University. After a period in military intelligence, he resumed his academic career and his research into Sweden’s era as a great power and its contemporaneous world view. This resulted in his doctoral thesis, Det hotade huset: Adliga föreställningar om samhället under stormaktstiden (1989; 'A House in Peril: Aristocratic Conceptions of Society during Sweden’s Period as a Great Power'). In parallel, he was writing in freer style about the Battle of Poltava, resulting the previous year in the acclaimed The Battle that Shook Europe - Poltava and the Birth of the Russian Empire. This book, with its detailed and anti-heroic depiction of the realities of soldiers’ lives, was not only a considerable commercial success but also contributed to a perceptible rise in public interest in history in Sweden. Leaning on diaries and letters, he described the Swedish army’s catastrophic defeat in 1709. Using the personal experiences of a number of individuals in an historical juncture is called microhistory, a method Englund often employs. It framed a subsequent work, The Beauty and the Sorrow (1991) about the first world war, then when when he returned to the Great Power period in Ofredsår (1993; ‘Years of War’), Den oövervinnerlige (2000; 'The Invincible One’) and Silvermasken (2005; ‘The Silver Mask’). His works have illuminated dominant but at times extraordinarily elusive figures such as Count Erik Dahlbergh, King Charles X and Queen Christina, but have also examined the conditions of ordinary people, whether through midwifery, dietary customs or how dwellings were heated. This intimacy is often even more striking in Englund’s reportage and essay collections such as Förflutenhetens landskap (1991; ‘The Landscape of Times Past’) and Tystnadens historia och andra essäer (2003; ‘History of Silence and Other Essays’).  

Englund has also written reportage from the wars in Croatia, Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the autobiographical Jag kommer ihåg (2016; ‘I Remember’) and the forensic examination Söndagsvägen – berättelsen om ett mord (2020; 'The Sunday Road – History of a Murder'). He has written for film and television on historical subjects and has contributed essays and reportage to the daily newspapers Expressen and Dagens Nyheter. Between 2001–06 he was Professor of Historical and Social Narrative at the Stockholm University of the Arts.

Englund was elected to the Academy on 23 May 2002 on Chair No. 10, succeeding Erik Lönnroth, and admitted on 20 December that year. On 29 May 2008 he was appointed Permanent Secretary, taking up his functions on 1 June 2009. He remained in that position until 31 May 2015. He was a co-opted member of the Nobel Committee for 2009–15.