«Freedom Loving Northerners: Norwegian Independence As Narrated in Three National Museums Lill Eilertsen University of Oslo Abstract After undergoing ...»
Great Narratives of the Past. Traditions and Revisions in National Museums Conference proceedings from
EuNaMus, European National Museums: Identity Politics, the Uses of the Past and the European Citizen, Paris 29
June – 1 July & 25-26 November 2011. Dominique Poulot, Felicity Bodenstein & José María Lanzarote
Guiral (eds) EuNaMus Report No 4. Published by Linköping University Electronic Press:
http://www.ep.liu.se/ecp_home/index.en.aspx?issue=078 © The Author.
Freedom Loving Northerners: Norwegian Independence As Narrated in Three National Museums Lill Eilertsen University of Oslo Abstract After undergoing three different liberation processes during a relatively short period of time – from a dynastic union with Denmark in 1814, from a personal union1 with Sweden in 1905 and from German occupation in 1945 – independence has become an important term for defining a national and cultural identity in Norway. The narratives presented in this report all refer to an old European mythological construct of Northmen’s independent and freedom loving character: The Museum of Cultural History presents a Viking ideal of brave and inventive explorers, while the independent Norwegian farmer is portrayed at the Norwegian Folk Museum. A series of stories of Norwegians fighting for autonomy is offered by the Armed Forces Museums. Norwegian Museum authors unite the mythological basis of Scandinavism to a Grand Narrative of Norway, distancing it from the earlier cultural and political dominance of Denmark and Swedenm, saluting the medieval kingdom of Norway.
179 Introduction Norwegian nation building was a project, which developed across different disciplines and competing political and ideological fields during the 19th and early 20th Centuries, as demonstrated by the three national museum narratives presented in this report. However diverse, these narratives all make use of an old European mythological construct of “the independent and freedom loving character of Northmen”. This construct is rooted in classical literature, e.g.
Aristotle (384—322 B.C.), Tacitus (c. 56 - c. 120 A.D.) and Jordanes (6th century A.D.), as well as a tenacious belief in the interdependency of elements, climate and human temperament, in accordance with proto-psychological theories of humorism (Arikah 2007). We find that the construct was crucial to Lutheran reformers promoting Protestantism as a natural development within Christianity, and that it would later fuel a politically motivated Nordic Gothicism initiated by a group of seventeenth-century Swedish scholars known as the Uppsala Circle (Olwig 2002).
The Gothic infatuation was soon adopted by the Danes, as demonstrated by the Danish Royal historian of Swiss origin, Paul- Henri Mallet (1730 – 1807), who linked the liberty of Europe to Scandinavian efforts and portrayed the Scandinavian sea warrior as a proud, indomitable individual with a surplus of physical strength. Mallet was also inspired by the French philosopher Charles-Louis Montesquieu (1689 - 1755) who explained the supposed freedom of men and women in Norse Saga literature as a consequence of living in a cold, forest environment (Neumann 2001;
Olwig 2002; Haavardsholm 2004). The concept of freedom loving northerners became crucial for politicians and intellectuals seeking a shared Nordic past during 19th century’s Scandinavism. Yet at the same time it was adapted to the individual nation-building project of each country.
Norwegian nation-builders have perhaps been especially eager to use the term independence in defining and developing a national and cultural identity, as Norway underwent three different liberation processes during a relatively short period of time (from a dynastic union with Denmark in 1814, from a personal union with Sweden in 1905 and from German occupation in 1945). The need to legitimize a separate Norwegian state was strongly felt. The construct of “independent Norwegians” is clearly reflected in the narratives of the museum cases in question: Museum of Cultural History (Kulturhistorisk museum), Norwegian Cultural Historical Museum (Norsk Folkemuseum)2 and the Norwegian Armed Forces Museums (Forsvarsmuseene).
The Master Narrative of the Museum of Cultural History presents a Viking ideal of brave and inventive explorers, while the love of freedom is associated with ordinary people (represented by the independent farmer) in Norsk folkemuseum. Both refer to a lost Golden Age in Norwegian history. The Armed Forces Museums offer a series of stories of Norwegian military history, its strongest narrative perhaps to be found in its Resistance Museum department where resistance work during WWII is presented as a product of the Norwegian people’s democratic spirit.
Prominent Norwegian historians have contributed to the Armed Forces’ museum narrative, many of them with a personal experience as resistance fighters. Yet as a young and complex administrative organization (1995) proclaiming professional independence, the Armed Forces Museums as a whole lacks the strong voice of a visionary founder. The two cultural historical museums are contrastingly founded on solid traditions for collecting, preserving and presenting cultural historical material, and on the ideological voices and visions of nationalist founders and developers, as will be presented here, these are Hans Aall (1869 – 1946) and Anton Wilhelm Brøgger (1884 – 1951).
180 In the following report, I will discuss how these museum narratives came into existence. I will present the literature and media through which they were promoted and distributed, as well as their authors. I also aim to portray the historical and political climate in which these authors operated, and finally to visualize the role that the national museums have served in forming an overall National Narrative.
Museum of Cultural History (Kulturhistorisk museum) Our general image of the Vikings is to a great extent dependent on depictions by 19th century Scandinavian historians, poets and artists. When three “long ships” were found and excavated in the Oslo Fjord area between 1867 and 19043, this image was however adjusted. Prominent people buried in ship graves fully equipped for a final journey gave a more continuous picture of life in late Iron Age than earlier romanticist interpretations of Saga literature, and such discoveries aided in accelerating the specialization of academic disciplines in Norway. Norwegian scientists at work in the various institutions constituting today’s Museum of Cultural History (the Coin Cabinet, the Ethnographic museum and the National Collection of Antiquities)4 developed an artefact based Viking narrative, yet despite their strict scientific focus, we find that these institutions – and especially the National Collection of Antiquities – prepared the ground for popular and political use of the Viking ideal at the turn of the 20th century (Haavardsholm 2004).
Oldsaksamlingen (Norway’s National Collection of Antiquities) The history of Oldsaksamlingen dates back to 1811 when “the Royal Norwegian Society for Development” (Selskapet for Norges Vel) established a Norwegian antiquity commission, as a reaction to a request from the Danish Royal Commission that all antiquities found on Norwegian soil were to be relocated to Copenhagen. The founders’ plan was to establish a national museum of antiquity research in Norway as part of a Norwegian university (Haavardsholm 2004; Bergstøl & al. 2004). Announcements and articles in national newspapers (e.g. Rigstidende and Morgenbladet) appealed to the readers’ nationalist sentiment and engaged eager donors. Thus SNV5 invoked what is referred to as a ‘national awakening’ in Norway, corresponding to romantic currents in Germany and Denmark at the time – as well as to the strong patriotism of Norwegian students in Copenhagen6 (Collett 1999). The constitutional liberation of Norway from Denmark in 1814 did not however affect scientific cooperation across the border, and Norwegian archaeologists looked to Denmark for methods and inspiration7.
The Late Iron Age was identified as a period of innovations and accelerated cultural development in the Nordic areas, and archaeological finds indicated a travelling people. The term “Viking Age” would gradually be attached to this period by historians such as Jens Jacob Rasmussen Worsaae (1821 – 1885) in Copenhagen and Peter Andreas Munch (1810 - 1863) in Christiania8. Both found Norway to be the preeminent Viking area, and the Saga literature was by Munch conceived as Norwegian. As head of the Ethnographic museum, Munch introduced the Viking age as an argument for a national unification. Together with Oldsaksamlingen’s manager, Rudolf Keyser (1803 - 1864), he presented a racist myth of origin in which the pure blooded Norwegians were distinct from Swedes and Danes of the south (Neumann 2001; Haavardsholm 2004). Using historic and mythical figures, Munch supplied his Vikings with names and biographies, thus 181 making them credible representatives of the period: brutal yet inventive kings and warriors prepared for the civilizing sphere of Christianity (Haavardsholm 2004).
Archaeology was still a young discipline in Norway during the first part of the 19th century, and scientific portrayals of the Vikings were based primarily on translations and philological studies of Norse Saga literature supported by random archaeological finds such as tools, chain mails, hoards and drinking horns. Yet scientists had great expectations as to future contributions to the Viking Age studies from the field of Archaeology. Worsaae, for instance, hoped that new archaeological material would serve to reveal more peaceful sides to the forefathers of the Danes and Norwegians than the image of brutal warriors presented in Sagas and Christian records of Viking attacks. Like most historians of his time, Worsaae was influenced by romantic poets and painters who idealized the “noble savages” of the North in the spirit of Montesquieu’s aforementioned climate theories. A famous example is Fridtjof’s Saga, rewritten by the Swedish author Esaias Tegnér (1782 - 1846) in 1825, which became immensely popular and prompted a stream of tourists and painters to visit the west coast of Norway in the following century9. The Vikings are given chivalrous characteristics as Tegnér describes the famous Battle of Balestrand (in Sognefjord), and the novel anticipates the future renegotiation of the national narrative of Oldsaksamlingen (Haavardsholm 2004).
When rivets from what archaeologist Nicolay Nicolaysen (1817 - 1911) assumed to have been a 17 meter long ship were found in a burial ground in Borre (Vestfold) in 1851, hopes of finding an intact ship were aroused. Worsaae, who became leader of the Danish National Museum in 1856, used his position to encourage scientists as well as the Norwegian government to intensify antiquity research in Norway, requesting ancient burial grounds to be opened,10 as these were left intact due to a previous understanding of Scandinavian antiquities as having low aesthetical value compared to those of the more sophisticated Greeks and Italians (Eriksen 2009).
Wishes for an archaeological ship find “from the days of Fridtjof” were also expressed by social scientist Eilert Sundt (1817 - 1875), who expected a continuous line to run from the Viking longships to contemporary boat building traditions observed in the northern parts of Norway (Haavardsholm 2004; Eriksen 2009). Sundt wanted to apply the Theory of Evolution to boat development in Norway, believing that a people’s material skills and techniques reflect its general level of civilization. His wish came true when a ship grave was discovered in Tune in 1867, initiating “the period of burials” in Norwegian archaeology (Bergstøl & al. 2004). Despite being found in poor condition, the Tune ship allowed professors and engineers to study construction details of shipbuilding in Viking times. It is a clinker-built vessel from around 900 A.D. with overlapping strakes, and ribs fastened to the hull (www.khm.uio.no/vikingskipshuset/).
A 24 meter long and 5 meter wide oak vessel capable of accommodating 32 oarsmen was found and excavated in Gokstad in 1880, causing an even greater commotion than the Tune ship, as well as enthusiasm among scientists and politicians wishing to promote Norway’s glorious Viking past. Three small boats, a tent, a sledge and fine riding equipment were among the grave furnishings of the heavily built, yet gouty man in his 60s, found in his timber burial chamber (www.khm.uio.no/vikingskipshuset/).
A replica of this ship was sailed across the Atlantic Ocean and up the rivers to the Colombian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 by Captain Magnus Andersen (1857 - 1938) and his crew. Eager to appear as a modern and civilized nation, not least as a culturally independent one, Norway 182 participated in every such world exhibition arranged between 1851 and 1900. Participation in this particular exhibition was, however, especially important, celebrating as it did the discovery of America. Professionally organized by History professor and Saga translator Gustav Storm (1845 who claimed that Vikings (e.g. Leiv Erikson) reached the American continent (Nova Scotia) as early as 1000 A.D., the project aimed at demonstrating how such longships may have been capable of covering great distances at sea, as described in Nordic Saga literature (Haavardsholm 2004; Marstrander 1986). The replica was named Viking. Nicolay Nicolaysen, who excavated the Gokstad ship, denounced the project as an unscientific, since the ship had not originally been built for long journeys (Haavardsholm 2004).