Halvdan Koht


Halvdan Koht : biography

7 July 1873 – 12 December 1965

Koht died on 12 December 1965 in Bærum. He was buried at Nordre gravlund in Oslo. Two works by Koht have been released posthumously: the memoirs Minne frå unge år in 1968 and the diary Rikspolitisk dagbok 1933–1940 in 1985.Kjærheim, 1985: p. 12 His son-in-law Sigmund Skard wrote a biography of him, Mennesket Halvdan Koht ("Halvdan Koht the Man") in 1982.


Koht graduated with a cand.philol. degree from the Royal Frederick University in 1896. He studied history with geography as a minor subject until 1895;Koht, 1951: p. 30 his main history teacher was Gustav Storm. The next examination was in different languages, both classical and modern. Koht had the choice between Ancient Greek and Classical Latin or Norwegian and German (including Norse); he chose the Norwegian and German.Koht, 1951: p. 41 In 1895, after finishing his history studies, he spent three months in the Mediterranean, travelling with three ships, the first from Norway to Venice, the second from Venice to Constantinople, the third back to Norway. He studied German literature during this travels.Koht, 1951: pp. 60–61 In December 1896 Koht was finally examined by Sophus Bugge and earned his degree.Koht, 1951: p. 43 He was one of just three students to be examined in Norwegian and German in late 1896, and had been the only candidate in history the previous year.Koht, 1951: p. 73

A break from the studies came in the second half of 1892. After his father’s death, he could not afford to attend university that semester. He worked briefly as a private tutor in the Skien district, and was paid to write in the newspaper Varden.Koht, 1951: pp. 65–66 On returning to his studies he worked as a Kristiania correspondent for the newspaper; eventually he also worked for Päivälehti.Koht, 1951: pp. 67, 70 In 1901 he took over from Erik Vullum as obituarist and anniversary writer in Verdens Gang.Koht, 1951: p. 110 In the next years he would contribute extensively to publications such as Den 17de Mai, Nationalbladet, Nordmanns-Forbundets tidsskrift, Syn og Segn, Samtiden, Unglyden, Dagbladet, Verdens Gang and Tidens Tegn; these were mostly Liberal or Norwegian nationalist publications.Koht, 1951

For some months after graduating Koht worked as an unpaid volunteer at the University Library of Oslo, while also continuing to attend university lectures. He was then given a scholarship, the "Gustav Bruun Endowment" of . The University doubled Koht’s award to NOK 3600.Koht, 1951: pp. 73–75 From 1897 to 1899 he studied abroad with this fellowship. He studied at the University of Copenhagen, the University of Leipzig and in Paris (École des hautes études, École des Chartes). He was especially influenced by Karl Lamprecht in Leipzig.Koht, 1951: p. 88

From 1899 to 1901 Koht worked as a substitute at the University Library of Oslo, and part-time as a school teacher. He was also engaged by Gustav Storm to help him with publishing the source text Regesta Norvegica.Koht, 1951: p. 35 In 1908, after eight years of work, Koht completed the two last volumes of Norsk Forfatter-lexikon, a biographical dictionary of Norwegian writers. However, it was a posthumous work, the principal author—Jens Braage Halvorsen—having passed away in 1900.

Political career

Early involvement and local politics

Koht’s father introduced his son to politics, taking him to the Liberal Party national convention in 1891, where he was allowed to enter since he studied at the university. Koht’s first political arena was the Norwegian Students’ Society, where he vehemently argued that the flag of Norway should not contain the union badge (the "flag case").Koht, 1951: pp. 63–64 In 1893 he left this forum, co-founded a new students’ association called Den Frisinnede Studenterforening, and, as the students’ association collectively entered the Liberal Party, became a board member of the local party branch in Kristiania. He continued his fight against the union badge, and the union as a whole. In 1905, when the union was dissolved altogether, he agitated for the establishment of a republic, but a plebiscite decided to keep the monarchy.