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Journal of Current Cultural Research
Uses of the Past – Nordic Historical
Cultures in a Comparative Perspective
Extraction from Volume 2, 2010
Linköping University Electronic Press
ISSN 2000-1525 (www)
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Culture Unbound, Extraction from Volume 2, 2010 Thematic Section: Uses of the Past – Nordic Historical Cultures in a Comparative Perspective Peter Aronsson Introduction: Uses of the past – Nordic Historical Cultures in a Comparative Perspective
Stuart Burch Norden, Reframed
Magdalena Hillström Contested Boundaries: Nation, People and Cultural History Museums in Sweden and Norway 1862–1909
Carl Marklund & Peter Stadius Acceptance and Conformity: Merging Modernity with Nationalism in the Stockholm Exhibition in 1930
Per Strömberg Swedish Military Bases of the Cold War: The Making of a New Cultural Heritage............ 635 Eglė Rindzevičiūtė Soviet Lithuanians, Amber and the ‘New Balts’: Historical Narratives of National and Regional Identities in Lithuanian Museums,1940–2009
Lizette Gradén Dressed in a Present from the Past The Transfers and Transformations of a Swedish Bridal Crown in the United States
Anders Houltz Captives of Narrative: Scandinavian Museum Exhibits and Polar Ambitions
Marzia Varutti Using Different Pasts in a Similar Way: Museum Representations of National History in Norway and China
Tanja Schult Whose Raoul Wallenberg is it? The Man and the Myth: Between Memory, History and Popularity
Uses of the Past; Nordic Historical Cultures in a Comparative Perspective
By Peter Aronsson
Norden Unbound The representation of Nordic cultures has a historical reputation that stretches from an older bellicose layer to a modern welfare dimension. Images and narratives span the Vikings and the Thirty Years’ War to a Nordic welfare state characterised by a generous public sector, gender equality, strong child protection and so on – all of which are communicated within Norden and abroad. A strong and long prevalent idea of cultural similarity based on a shared Nordic culture can be argued.
Yet, history in Norden is, like elsewhere, marked by differences in class, gender and regional affluence which are negotiated by cultural representations. This is done everywhere, but at different nodes and with different means. Lieux de memoires such as memorials, museums and rituals combine mental and material spaces with reference to a meaningful past (Nora & Kritzman 1996). Chronotopes, like the Viking Age, create a unity of values, space and time (Bachtin 1981). The stories and representations reaching hegemonic strength hence look very different in different countries. The Nordic states themselves have had relatively varied experiences of state-making and violence which, in spite of contemporary similarities in political culture, are accordingly reflected in different historical cultures. Perhaps there is less in common than the Scandinavian rhetoric suggests?
For over a decade studies of the uses of the past have been a prominent trait of cultural research when it comes to fields such as nationalism, monuments, museums, commemoration and popular culture. Quite surprisingly, reflections on public historical culture have not been de-nationalised by comparative approaches to the same extent as research on nationalism. The competence needed for analysing public historical culture is multidisciplinary and thus easily fragmented. There is therefore a pressing need for trans-national and trans-disciplinary action to connect research and knowledge.
Relevant research does exist and is brought together in anthologies, although these have rarely been utilised to answer cross-disciplinary and comparative questions. Investigations into monumental representations in historical culture, the lieux de memoire, have been ignited by Pierre Nora and others following in the lead, but rarely have Nordic experiences been related to European cases (Nora & Aronsson, Peter: “Uses of the Past – Nordic Historical Cultures in a Comparative Perspective”,
Culture Unbound, Volume 2, 2010: 553–563. Hosted by Linköping University Electronic Press:
http://www.cultureunbound.ep.liu.se Kritzman 1996; Isnenghi & Agosti 1997; Csáky 2000; François & Schulze 2001;
Adriansen & Schartl 2006; Frykman & Ehn 2007; Aronsson 2009).
Two exceptions to this rule are Holocaust studies and research on national museums (Karlsson & Zander 2003; Knell et al. 2010). These reveal a new drive for comparative reflection – something that this special thematic section seeks to reinforce with contributions (by research) on the uses of the past with instances of both intra-Nordic and international comparative potential. The invited themes
• images of Nordic history produced in Europe and overseas;
• institutionalised historical culture in museums negotiating politics and knowledge;
• public debates on uses of the past, construction of canons and curricula;
• the public role of the past in celebrations, jubilees and education; and
• the popular uses of the past in re-enactments, local societies and theme parks.
Hence the contributions were invited to test the long-standing tension between a shared Nordic culture against the existence of a strongly nationalised historical culture as well as challenges from a constructivist attack on both as part of a postmodern situation, relativising both or at least adding multi-cultural and postcolonial discourses.
The priority for institutionalised culture emerges because in those cases a more thorough negotiation has to precede the realisation and hence entail and reveal the social embeddedness of historical culture. The power of commercial popular cultural might be stronger but is less marked by the quality of negotiation across political, cultural and economic logics to reach for existential desires.
This thematic section will add to the conversation on the dynamics of historical cultures with its articles on Nordic experiences of uses of the past in a European and international context. It has never been exactly clear what to incorporate in the Nordic, Scandinavian or Baltic area. How are unity construed and difference dealt with to reconstruct and renegotiate national identity? This ambivalence has been productive and transported images and values across borders and spheres.
Different images and definitions have been connected to various goals.
Musealised Landscapes Norden has been portrayed in narratives, images and public representations as a region and as a concept over a period of more than 200 years. Images from outside communicate with self-produced images and so-called factual history in several interconnected cultural negotiations (Grandien 1987; Stråth & Sørensen 1997;
Raudvere et al. 2001; Arvidsson et al. 2004; Stadius 2005; Sørensen & Nilsson 2005,). A communal past of two belligerent conglomerate mediaeval states wrestling between a complex union and attempting hegemony through war sets the 554 Culture Unbound, Volume 2, 2010 long-term scene where ideas of the impact of the cold climate, brutal Vikings, strong women and a protestant and democratic culture set the frame. Somewhere in the 18th and 19th centuries harsh competition on the battlefield was changed for the cultural negotiation of shared brotherhood, strong enough to live through a series of secessions, creating Norway, Finland and Iceland without internal war.
Yet Sweden is the only state not sharing the Second World War experience of occupation, making its nationalism the least articulated.
We may ask how images of both national and regional identity have been utilised in the periphery of rapid change from very poor to affluent conditions, during a period when the region has had to adapt to challenges in a changing world, namely by deploying culture and history to negotiate and communicate new understandings of political and cultural identity. How important has the whole idea of a Nordic community been in creating relatively egalitarian and non-aggressive neighbourhoods? Are the various elements in the historical cultures drawing on the same – or on different – directions in these respects?
International perspectives in the field are still mainly caught in the circle of nationalism and heritage understood as either unique but parallel processes in each country or as parts of a universal modernisation trajectory. Several weighty readers provide perspectives on museums, nations and nationalisms (e.g. McIntyre & Wehner 2001; Preziosi & Farago 2004; Bennett 2004; Carbonell 2004). In the Nordic context, the literature is slight but growing and, with a few exceptions, operates only within national contexts (Amundsen et al. 2003; Ingemann and Hejlskov Larsen 2005; Alzén and Aronsson 2006; Eriksen & Jón Viðar 2009;
Ekström 2009; Kayser Nielsen 2010). The literature on memory and nationalism is more comprehensive (Hobsbawm & Ranger 1992; Nora & Kritzman 1996;
Gellner 1999; Hroch 2000; Smith 2001). The discussion of the relationship between history proper and the public cultural heritage has been animated by both questions of vulgarisation and ownership (Lowenthal 1996; Barkan & Bush 2002;
Hodgkin & Radstone 2006). Analyses of narration and performance range from narrative theory to visitor evaluation (Hooper-Greenhill 2000; Ricoeur 2004).
Lately, the contributions of popular and commercial culture have been investigated (De Groot 2009).
Whilst the national dimension has quite understandably been emphasised and analysed by researchers of national history in the 19th and 20th centuries, the actual national cultural homogeneity and state control has been exaggerated and to a varying degree been more of a programme and utopia. The state control over public images, in part through the formation of cultural policies, heritage institutions and museums, is far from total: the narratives and functions must have a more negotiating character in praxis in order to be nationally integrative. Already in the early 19th century, museums worked within a complex setting of “hybrid” forms of cultural representations: the market place, wax cabinets and funfairs, industrial exhibitions, private collections, and dedicated associations for regional culture Culture Unbound, Volume 2, 2010 555 were clearly visible. From the citizen’s perspective, as well as for museum reformers, the public landscape was fluid and hybrid – prefiguring a post-modern description. As to content, it had to negotiate difference to foster unity, where class disparity, gender inequality and foreign ambitions and claims were at play. The creation and persistence of a transnational cultural heritage provides a vital platform for integrative and sometimes expansionist endeavours to negotiate historical change: to what (changing) extent is a Nordic, European and global dimension present in historical culture?
The carriers of Norden as an idea are manifold: political rhetoric, landscape paintings, artists, authors, cultural institutions, the branding of places. To what extent are they working within the same framework or general idea of Norden, exploring different facets and reinforcing the general imaginary by adding to the concert? To what extent is Norden a “Mädchen für alles” allowing for the construction and exploitation of any message from Aryan dreams of burning violence as well as acting for world consciousness and peace negotiations? Together, they create a traditional “archive” of “frames” that can be activated as actual “wrappings” for narratives and cultural artefacts presented and communicated internally and externally.
As parts of cultural policy, museums have played an important role as officially sanctioned arenas for the establishment of national unity. Today, they are part of
the re-negotiation of what it means to be a nation in a late-modern world of migration, internationalisation, and globalisation and, in Europe, a growing community:
namely the EU. As vital elements of public historical culture, museums interact intensively with the creation of a political community. This is especially true of national museums that negotiate, sanction and perform visions of kinship, uniqueness, destiny and borders.
Since the late 20th century a strong discourse of post-modern developments has called for cultural policy to overcome the essentialist and naturalist national ethos of many cultural institutions. Contrary to contemporary self-understanding of a radical shift in national cultural strategies, cultural heritage and museums are still dealing with similar opportunities and dilemmas in an effort to navigate and negotiate integration within and between communities, including national entities. The differences and communities in need of being negotiated might shift slightly, but not nearly as radically as the discourse of a post-national rupture suggests.