Perspectives – growing our knowledge

Researcher profile: Johannes Heuman

“My research is closely connected to current events”

The interior of Johannes Heuman’s office at the Hugo Valentin Centre is Spartan. This is perhaps due to the fact that he spends most of his time at the École Pratique des Hautes Études in Paris. A convenient arrangement considering his research deals with French post-war history, with a special focus on French anti-racism and relationships between Jews and Muslims in France.

“I love it in Paris,” says Heuman. “It’s a wonderful city and there is a lot happening there in my research domain. Many seminars are held and the archives I use are there.”

Heuman’s interest in French history developed during his undergraduate years in Lund, where he studied French, literature and history. He then began doctoral studies at Stockholm University with a dissertation project on the role of the Holocaust in French historical culture.

If you think the name Johannes Heuman sounds familiar, it could be that you’ve read one of his many feature articles in Svenska Dagbladet. He’s written for the newspaper about democracy and polarisation, and put today’s right-wing populism in France in a historical perspective. In Expressen, he has commented on the terror attacks in Paris in 2015 and 2016. He has also often contributed as an expert in his field in various news media outlets.

“My research is closely connected to current events,” says Heuman and adds that it is very important for researchers to disseminate knowledge even outside academia.

“We are funded by taxpayers, after all. You can do this in different ways, but the only way cannot be to just publish in English in journals with narrow readerships.”

The news media is familiar ground for Heuman, who worked as a journalist before his research career. He worked in both radio and television news media and on the Aftonbladet society editorial reporting team.

It worries him that many researchers today seem to feel that there is no time to take an interest in a broader perspective, not even for the work of their closest colleagues. That researchers get such a narrow perspective and field of knowledge makes it difficult for third-stream activities, he says. The pressure to publish academically to advance in one’s career leads to a type of tunnel vision. 

Another area that Heuman takes an interest in is unconditional research, in which politics or one’s own social engagement does not influence or control the results. There is a tendency to politicise research today, he says. In his own work, for example, he studies three different anti-racist organisations. If he were to become involved in any of these groups, it would harm his research and credibility. The same would be true if he doctored history by, for example, picking out positive stories from the material.

“There should always be an endeavour among researchers to be as consistently neutral as possible and be unbiased in seeking answers to our questions,” he says. “This is what separates us researchers from public opinion institutes or think tanks. It is on this neutrality that our entire trust capital as researchers is based.”

Linda Koffmar

2017-04-27

Facts: Johannes Heuman

Title: Post-doc at the Department of History, Hugo Valentin Centre
Age: 37
Last book read: Weights and Measures by Joseph Roth
Hobbies: Avid reader
What makes me angry: When teacher-directed learning in the humanities decreases – it hits the students hard
What makes me happy: Walking in the English Park in Uppsala
Additional information: Editor of Respons, a review journal for the humanities and social sciences