International Web Community for Scandinavian Studies

Conference Programme

Back to All Events

Lars Jensen, Roskilde University

Rethinking the Nation for Postcolonial Times

  • Name: Lars Jensen
  • Academic credentials: Cultural Encounters, Roskilde University

Abstract: 2017 marks the centennial of the sale of the last Danish ’tropical’ colony, the Danish West Indies, to the US – an opportunity to rethink why ‘we’ were there and what ‘our’ presence there did to ‘them’. There are a number of exhibitions, events and seminars taking place to commemorate the event and the broader history of Danish enslavement that formed colonial society from its foundation to the rebellion which led to the abolition of slavery in 1848. The events will however also take place in face of the fact that to the vast majority of Danes, political and academic establishment, the centennial has nothing to do with Danish history. If it has something to do with ‘us’ that ‘us’ was an intrinsically different ‘us’. This contrasting of dramatically shifting national identities can of course be observed to reflect a traditional Danishness in which colonialism was not seen to be a problem, in contrast to a contemporary – modern – Danishness where enslavement is considered to be self-evidently unacceptable. Yet, when this discourse of radical temporally defined alterity is placed alongside another discourse of ‘us’ and ‘them’ – migrants and refugees from the global south – the historically segregated spaces of Danishness is replaced by a combination of virtually timeless (cultural) continuity and progressive self-perception. In this national imaginary timelessness and hyper-modern is contrasted with an alien other stuck in tradition and culture. My paper will align these two discourses to illuminate how they might through light on Danish perceived self-Enlightenment as a historical continuity that explains the persistence of the colonial archive. In this manoeuvring Denmark is in fact not so exceptional, but shares many overlaps with other postcolonial European countries struggling to address, let alone coming to terms with, their colonial history. The material I will be referring to includes material surrounding the centennial commemoration.

Theme: Scandinavian Identity Throughout History