The (seeminlgy) strange custom of nailing PhD theses!

When you enter any building at Chalmers, one sight that is common, but weird, is to see broad planks of good wood bearing theses that are nailed to them! EDIT building, where I now live (exaggerating!), has these on every floor. I had missed asking the reason for this tradition with my Swedish friends, and learned about it today.

Nail em!

Nail em!

There was an official Thesis Nailing ceremony, or Spikning, and I gladly dragged one of the administration employees to talk me through the custom. I was initially of the opinion that this was just a  Chalmers-only tradition. Turns out, it happens in almost all Swedish universities. When the thesis is ready, and has been approved of, the final nail to the process of getting a PhD seems to be this ceremony, where the student nails his/her thesis onto one of the planks with their supervisor’s approval.

I thought it was metaphorical, befitting the agony of slogging through the 4 years of research was being vented out by nailing the thesis to the wall. Then I discover it has been a tradition since the 15th century. Mainly practiced in regions of Europe, where Lutherian Protestant version of Christianity made its way. As with everything about religion, Sweden gladly perpetuates the traditions, and leaves most of the divinity behind. Martin Luther in the 15th century, nailed his 95 theses on church doors, which then gave rise to the Protestant reformation. Since then, nailing people’s work in public spaces, for others to read and leave it behind seems to have become a norm to disseminate one’s ideas. And, more than 500 years later, as PhD theses are fully grown and approved ideas, it seems quite natural to nail them onto these walls!

When you next time spot these crucified theses, be glad to be witnessing a tradition going on for centuries!

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