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Measuring the Master Race

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Jon Røyne Kyllingstad

2. The Germanic Race and Norwegian Nationalism

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1The 1830s and 1840s are often referred to as the period of national breakthrough in Norwegian intellectual history. In these decades, the nation was explored by folklorists, poets, artists, historians and philologists who, inspired by romantic nationalism, collected fairy tales, songs and myths; studied the language, literature and history of the ancient Norsemen; and sought to unearth their communal roots. Their efforts came at a time when the academic communities of Scandinavia were closely connected to each other, and when Swedish and Danish scholars were establishing their theories of a long-skulled Germanic race. The question, then, is what impact the idea of a superior Germanic race had on the Norwegian scholars who were in search of the roots of the nation.

The national breakthrough

2Norway’s history and geography influenced the development of national identity, as did the ethnic composition of its population and its relation to other Scandinavian countries. With a population of fewer than two million inhabitants for most of the nineteenth century, Norway stood at the northern periphery of Europe. In the nineteenth century the population was dominated by ethnic Norwegians with a common Norwegian language, but also included minority groups such as Roma travellers, small communities of Finnish-speaking farmers in the southeast, and Finnish-speaking Kvens in the north, as well as the largest minority, the Sami, the indigenous people of northern Scandinavia, Finland and Russia. Until the mid-twentieth century, the Sami were usually referred to as Lapps or Finns by the ethnic majority population, but these are now considered derogatory terms. The Sami subsisted traditionally as fishermen, hunters and farmers along the coast, and inland as nomadic reindeer herders.

  • 1 Kåre Lunden, ‘History and Society’, in William Hubbard et al. (eds.), Making a Historical Culture: (...)

3For about 400 years, Norway was under Danish rule. It gained independence in 1814, when a Norwegian Parliament was established and a constitution adopted, but soon afterwards Norway was forced into a union with Sweden which lasted until 1905. Norway’s small size and its lack of an unbroken political history had lasting effects on national identity. While Swedes and Danes were able to look back on glorious pasts as important regional powers, Norway was a young state with few historical buildings and monuments and no indigenous high culture of its own. In the nineteenth century, Norwegian nationalism was characterised by a wish to signal Norway’s equal status with its more powerful Swedish partner and by the need for symbolic liberation from joint Danish-Norwegian historical and cultural traditions. Instead of studying the royal dynasties, wars and high culture of the previous centuries, Norwegian historians and philologists began to turn their attention to a perceived Norwegian golden age in the Iron Age and Middle Ages. Scholars focused on the language and customs of Norwegian peasants and on the history of the common people in order to establish a historical connection between the independent, medieval Norwegian kingdom that had existed prior to Danish rule and the modern nation-state.1

The Norwegian School of History

  • 2 Ottar Dahl, Norsk historieforskning i det 19. og 20. århundre (Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 1990), (...)

4A professional, academic tradition of researching, teaching and writing about Norway’s national history was established for the first time in the 1830s and 1840s at the University of Kristiania (Oslo). A leading figure there was Rudolf Keyser, who became Professor of History in 1837 and developed a national narrative based on the idea of Germanic origins. Later referred to as the Norwegian School of History, this narrative was also embraced by Keyser’s student Peter Andreas Munch, who in 1841 attained the second history professorship in Norway. Munch was a high-profile public figure and became the foremost public spokesman for the Norwegian School of History.2

  • 3 Rudolf Keyser, Samlede afhandlinger (Kristiania: P. T. Malling, 1868), pp. 232-46.
  • 4 Rudolf Keyser, Norges Historie, Vol. 1 (Kristiania: P. T. Malling, 1866-1870), pp. 19-52.

5A key element in Keyser and Munch’s narrative was their account of the prehistoric settlement of the country, which was generally in agreement with the theories presented by the Swedes Anders Retzius and Sven Nilsson (see chapter 1). The ancestors of the Sami were seen as the original Stone Age inhabitants, who had been displaced first by Celts in the Bronze Age and finally by Germanic tribes who established the farming settlements in the Iron Age that gave rise to the Scandinavian nations.3 Keyser’s theory, however, diverged from those of his Swedish and Danish counterparts in one important way: he argued that Scandinavia had been settled not by one, but by two waves of Germanic tribes. Denmark and southwestern Sweden had been settled by South Germanic Goths, who were closely related to the Germans; later, Norway and northeastern Sweden were invaded by North Germanic tribes who ventured north of the Gulf of Bothnia into Scandinavia. Keyser argued that these North Germanics had called themselves Norwegians (Nordmenn) and that they eventually spread from Norway to southern Scandinavia, where they conquered the South Germanic (Goth) population and introduced Scandinavian culture to Denmark.4

6Keyser’s theory implied that, despite the weak state of present-day Norway, the forefathers of the Norwegians had once dominated Scandinavia and were the true originators of the ancient Norse culture. Keyser and his disciple Munch assumed that, more than any other Germanic people, the Norwegians had kept the original Germanic social institutions alive, and that this explained the particularly democratic character of Norwegian society as compared to feudal Sweden and Denmark. According to Keyser, Danish feudalism was established when North Germanic (Norwegian) tribes invaded Denmark and subjugated the existing South Germanic population. In Norway, however, the Germanic invaders had not encountered an earlier farming community, since the existing population consisted of the nomadic ancestors of the Sami. This meant that the Norwegians had to cultivate the land themselves instead of becoming a ruling caste. As a result, they had maintained their ancient Germanic institutions and virtues.

  • 5 Keyser, Samlede afhandlinger, pp. 403-51.

7Keyser believed that patriarchal households had been the core social institution of the ancient Germanic society. After the invasion of Norway, these households acquired an unrestricted, hereditary title to a piece of conquered land. This gave rise to the allodial right (Odelsretten), which was considered both a proto-Germanic invention and the basic building block of Norwegian society. Allodial freeholders (odelsbøndene ) were federated under the leadership of the heads of the most prestigious families, but the freeholders themselves had absolute authority in their regular meetings, the ting. This ‘patriarchal-democratic’ social order was retained to some extent even after the establishment of a unified Norwegian medieval kingdom. The allodial freeholders and their leaders kept their freedom and obtained a significant political role in the new state. The Norwegian kingdom lost its political autonomy in the late Middle Ages as a consequence of the king undermining his own power base by stripping the peasants of their political role.5

8Keyser’s narrative implied that the present-day Norwegian state embodied both the reawakening of ancient Germanic traditions and modern ideas of liberty and democracy. According to this account, the peasants had been the unifying force in the nation’s history, and Norway thereby emerged as distinct from the predominantly aristocratic Sweden and Denmark. Independence from Danish rule and the claims for national autonomy within the Swedish-Norwegian union could be seen both as a struggle for freedom against the aristocracy and the Crown and as a revival of ancient Germanic traditions.

Norwegian versus Danish national narratives

  • 6 Trond Werner Pettersen, Fra dannelse til forskning: filologien ved Det kgl. Fredriks Universitet 1 (...)
  • 7 C. Stephen Briggs, ‘C.C. Rafn, J.J.A, Worsaae, Archaeology, History and Danish National Identity i (...)

9In the 1840s, Norwegian philologists and historians competed with their more established Copenhagen colleagues in an effort to make Kristiania the leading centre for the study of ancient Norse language, culture and history.6 In such a context, it is scarcely surprising that the Danes were less than accepting of claims that the Norwegians were the true heirs of Norse culture. Even more problematic for the Danes was the Norwegian theory of the ancient South Germanic settlement of Denmark. Close as it was to Prussia and the German Confederation, Denmark had a large German-speaking minority and was affected by rising German nationalism and Pan-Germanism. Consequently, the Danes had good reason to emphasise their historical ties with Scandinavia, appeal for Scandinavian solidarity against the Germans and fear the political consequences of the Norwegian theory of a German epoch in Danish prehistory.7

  • 8 Inge Adriansen, ‘“Jyllands formodede tyskhed i oldtiden”— den dansk — tyske strid om Sønderjylland (...)

10In 1848 the German linguist and fairytale collector Jacob Grimm published his History of the German Language, which lent support to the Norwegian theory. Grimm, however, drew the political conclusion that Jutland, like Alsace, Lorraine, Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands, belonged within a Pan-German union, and that Denmark should cease to exist. He argued that Jutland should be united with its German neighbours, and that the rest of the country should be incorporated into the Swedish-Norwegian union. At the time these views attracted keen interest, as a large proportion of the German-speaking minority in Schleswig, in southern Denmark, wanted to join the German Confederation.8 In 1848, the same year that Grimm’s book was published, Danish troops advanced into Schleswig to subdue a pro-German revolt and this, in turn, provoked a Prussian invasion. The Danes appealed to Scandinavian solidarity, but only a small group of Swedish and Norwegian volunteers joined the Danish side. Denmark regained control of its southernmost territory in 1851, only to lose it again in a new war fourteen years later.

  • 9 J. J. A. Worsaae, Om en forhistorisk, saakaldet ‘tydsk’ Befolkning i Danmark: med Hensyn til Nutid (...)
  • 10 P. A. Munch, Skandinavismen nærmere undersøgt med Hensyn til Nordens Ældre national og litteraire (...)

11During the 1848-51 war, the leading Danish archaeologist Jens Jacob Asmussen Worsaae launched a powerful attack on the Norwegian School of History. Worsaae accepted the view that Scandinavia had been settled in two separate waves, but argued that there was no evidence to prove that the first Gothic settlers were of ‘German’ origin, or that there had been a subsequent ‘Norwegian’ invasion of Denmark. While rejecting Grimm’s use of the past to bolster the Pan-Germanic cause, Worsaae himself used prehistory to legitimise Danish territorial claims and to enlist Scandinavian support for the Danish cause. Worsaae had previously led the excavation of Danevirke, a line of Viking fortifications on the southern boundary of Schleswig, and claimed that this had been an ancient Scandinavian line of defence against the Germans.9 Worsaae was an advocate of Scandinavism, a movement that idealised the common cultural, historical and linguistic heritage of the Scandinavian countries and aspired towards the establishment of Scandinavia as a unified region or even a single nation. Peter Munch, on the other hand, opposed Scandinavism but embraced Pan-Germanism. While criticising the German invasion, he accused the Danish Scandinavists of seeking Swedish and Norwegian support to cleanse Schleswig-Holstein of ‘alien’ elements with the aim of creating a purified Nordic nationality. This, according to Munch, had led to a split between Scandinavia and the German states, thereby weakening the defence of all Germanic nations against the threat from Russia and Pan-Slavism.10

Race and Norwegian nationhood

12As we have seen, the notion of Germanic origin was a key feature of the Norwegian School of History. Munch even combined this idea with Pan-Germanism and used it as a rhetorical weapon against Scandinavism. But what was the nature of the ‘Germanic-ness’ of the Norwegian people? Did Norwegian national virtues coincide with Germanic virtues? And were they seen as biologically given?

  • 11 P. A. Munch, Om den saakaldte nyere historiske Skole i Norge (Kristiania: Tønsberg, 1853), p. 6.
  • 12 Andersen, Rudolf Keyser, pp. 232-46.
  • 13 Anders Retzius, Ethnologische Schriften von Anders Retzius. Nach dem Tode des Verfassers gesammelt(...)

13According to Munch, the Norwegian School of History’s settlement theory was based on something he called ‘historical-ethnographic science’, which studied the migrations and actions of ancient peoples by means of historical sources, comparative linguistics, archaeology, geography, anatomy and natural history. Munch argued for the inclusion of the latter two disciplines on the grounds that they could yield information concerning the difference between human races and their relations to each other.11 Munch and Keyser worked in almost every area of this historical-ethnographic science. Munch was involved in the geographical charting of Norway, and Keyser was in charge of the National Antiquities Collection at the University of Kristiania. They were, however, first and foremost linguists, philologists and historians; so the Norwegian migration theory was mainly based on comparative linguistics, the interpretation of runic inscriptions and geographic reasoning, as well as on archaeological finds. Neither Munch nor Keyser were involved in racial science, but there were strong links between their research and that being conducted in Norway’s neighbouring countries. Keyser’s linguistically-based account of the origin of the Norwegians was developed in tandem with Sven Nilsson’s racial theory of the settlement of Scandinavia. The two men corresponded frequently, exchanged linguistic and anatomical arguments and evidence, and referred to each other’s works in ways that suggest they both assumed linguistically-defined ‘peoples’ were identical with anatomically-defined ‘races’.12 There are clear points of correspondence and reference between the research work produced by Nilsson, Retzius, Munch and Keyser. From their writings, it is evident that all four men advocated the same racial typology.13

  • 14 P. A. Munch, Verdenshistoriens vigtigste Begivenheder, pp. 1-4.

14In his textbook The Major Events in World History, Munch proposed that humankind had originally arisen as a single species in Central Asia, and had later split into four separate races: Iranians, Turanians, Malays and Negroes. The Iranians and the Turanians were roughly equivalent to the so-called Indo-European and Mongolian races of Eurasia, both of which had played a leading role in world history. But while Munch admitted that the Turanians (Mongolians) had created advanced civilisations, such as that of China, he argued that they were less receptive to cultural development than the Iranians (Indo-Europeans) and that the great upheavals in world history could be explained by the struggles between these two races. Munch believed that these struggles would eventually end with the most gifted race, the Iranians, as rulers of the world. He placed both the Sami and the Finns within the inferior Turanian race, seeing the Sami (the ‘polar race’) as a particularly primitive sub-race within the Turanian, characterised by their adaptation to the harsh Arctic climate.14

15Munch and Keyser believed in a correspondence between anatomical differences (small, weak ‘Lapps’ and strong Germanics) and degrees of civilisation (inferior Stone Age hunters versus superior Iron Age farmers). These notions of racial inferiority and superiority were a basic prerequisite for their account of national origins. According to this account, the ‘Lapps’ were driven into the Scandinavian peripheries because their primitiveness left them unable to defend themselves against the invading Germanics. Neither Munch nor Keyser clearly distinguished between the concepts of ‘race’ and ‘folk’, and although ‘race’ more often referred to biology and ‘folk’ to language and culture in their writings, they generally regarded terms such as ‘folk’ and folkeætt (a people’s lineage) as referring to subcategories within a ‘race’.

  • 15 John Sanness, Patrioter, Intelligens og Skandinaver (Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 1959), pp. 55-58.

16According to Munch, the Germanic people had developed their characteristic features on their march from Central Asia to Europe. Exposure to a challenging environment and conflicts with other peoples had made them strong and warrior-like, and had given them their sense of freedom and their ‘aristocratic-democratic’ social structure. Therefore, in Munch’s view, the mental and physical attributes of the Germanic ‘folk’ were the product of environmental adaptation. The important point, however, is that when the Germanics entered into the historical era, their psychological characteristics were already fully formed, so the historian could handle them as a given and stable entity. Keyser compared nations to human individuals, and claimed that a nation’s psychological character, its pace of cultural development and its role in world history were determined by its family lineage and kinship with other peoples.15 In short, even though both men advocated monogenism, the practical implications of their notion of a Germanic ‘folk’ were largely equivalent to a polygenist notion of ‘race’: Keyser and Munch explained Norwegian history as the unfolding of a set of innate Germanic features. Within this account, the nation was seen not as a product of history, but rather as the product of an inherent national character.

Evolution and race

17The Norwegian School of History was well known and widely accepted among the educated Norwegian elite during the 1840s and 1850s. However, by the time Munch and Keyser died, in 1863 and in 1864 respectively, their theory had already begun to lose favour: its empirical grounding was undermined by an increasing amount of philological and historical research, and its theoretical foundation was shaken by the advent of new evolutionary approaches to the study of history.

  • 16 See, for example, George W. Stocking Jr., ‘What’s in a Name? The Origins of the Royal Anthropologi (...)

18Darwinism had an ambiguous impact on racial science. Darwin’s theory implied that the human species had evolved through environmental adaptation — an idea that was hailed by some as a new version of monogenism. In English academia an alliance was formed between the supporters of Darwinism and the ethnologists working in the tradition of James Prichard. On the other hand, owing to the enormous time-span of human evolution, it could also be argued that the rate of change was so slow that, within a normal human time-scale, races could be regarded as essentially immutable. Such a notion of race could be combined with Darwin’s theory of selection-driven evolution and turned into a conception of human evolution as driven by the survival of the superior race in the struggle for existence. Therefore, ideas that resembled polygenism could also be maintained within an evolutionary framework, and previous debates between the immutability and adaptability of races could continue.16

  • 17 See, for example, Thomas Gondermann, ‘Progression and Retrogression: Herbert Spencer’s Explanation (...)

19During the final decades of the nineteenth century, evolutionary theory became a key framework for social and ideological debates in which the question of the immutability or adaptability of human races had huge implications. Some took Darwin’s theory to mean that human progress was driven by the struggle for survival between nations, races, social groups and individuals, and that social differences mirror inborn racial qualities. However, the pre-Darwinian evolutionary theory of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck was also maintained alongside the theory of natural selection. According to Lamarckian theory, acquired abilities are passed down between generations, and species can be transformed through the accumulation of useful traits. Lamarckism could be taken to support the idea that education and the learning of skills create better brains, and that human progress is driven by the interaction between cultural development and increasingly complex brains. This viewpoint could then be combined with theories of social evolution which argued that all societies are destined to pass through the same stages of cultural and social evolution towards ever-increasing complexity.17

  • 18 Dahl, Norsk Historieforskning, pp. 86-112.
  • 19 Ludvig Kristensen Daa, ‘Have germanerne invandret til Skandinavien fra nord eller fra syd?’, Særtr (...)
  • 20 Ludvig Kristensen Daa, Nationaliternes udvikling (Kristiania: J. Chr. Abelsteds, 1869); Ottar Dahl (...)

20The Norwegian scholars who turned their back on the Norwegian School of History in the 1860s and 1870s were less inspired by the theory of the survival of the fittest than by various notions of socio-cultural evolution. This was particularly true of Ludvig Kristensen Daa, who became Professor of History at the University of Kristiania in 1864 and soon after launched a successful attack on the views of his predecessors, Keyser and Munch. Over the years, evidence from philology, linguistics, geography and history had gradually undermined Keyser and Munch’s settlement theory.18 Daa summed up these empirical developments and added some of his own, but his critique was also political, ideological and theoretical. It aimed at undermining the basic assumptions upon which Munch and Keyser’s theory was founded, and it heralded a new evolutionary approach to Norwegian history. Daa rejected the idea that the Norwegians had their origins in an invasion by a specific North Germanic tribe, suggesting instead that they were the mixed product of several waves of peoples that had settled in Norway over a long time-span.19 Daa also dismissed the very notions of race and nationhood that underpinned the Norwegian School of History, arguing that peoples were not static entities but the product of historical processes, and that they could arise or vanish but tended to follow an evolutionary trajectory leading to increasingly larger national units. In Daa’s view, individual human beings live their lives regardless of the rise and fall of nations; they are adaptable and able to learn new languages and new ways of thinking. Daa pointed to the U.S. as an example, a place where so many diverse peoples from all parts of the world had melted together and given rise to a new nation adapted to the environmental conditions of the New World.20

  • 21 Ludvig Kr. Daa, Udsigt over Ethnologien: Indbydelseskrift til den offentlige Examen i Christiania (...)
  • 22 Daa, Nationaliternes udvikling, pp. 36-51.

21Daa was one of the first Norwegians to read Darwin, but he was also a religious man who embraced a monogenetic view of human history, which he claimed was in accord with both the Bible and Darwin. Daa was inspired by the aforementioned English ethnographer James Cowles Prichard, as well as by Robert Latham, who became the leading figure of the Ethnological Society of London following Prichard’s death in 1848. Latham had visited Norway for an extended period of time during his youth and was a personal friend of Daa.21 Like Prichard and Latham, Daa rejected polygenism not only on scientific but also on moral grounds, believing that it undermined justice and human society. He noted as a terrifying example how the American tradition of ethnology established by Samuel Morton had been used to justify slavery and to deny civil rights to people of African descent.22

  • 23 Tor Ivar Hansen, Et skandinavistisk nasjonsbyggingsprosjekt: Skandinavisk selskab (1864-1971) (Mas (...)

22Daa also voiced views on the Sami that were based on monogenism and appeared to resemble the paternalist, philanthropic attitude towards colonial subjects that was typical of Prichard and the Ethnological Society of London. But even though he maintained that the Sami had an inferior culture and believed that they were racially different, he did not think that their inferiority was racially determined and argued that they should be assimilated into the more civilised Norwegian nation. Daa clearly warned of the dangers of racial arrogance, hatred and oppression, making him one of a minority to oppose the hard-line assimilation policy that was on the rise in the latter part of the nineteenth century.23 Daa’s attack on the Norwegian School of History was partly motivated by his support for Scandinavism, with his arguments for the assimilation of minorities resembling those he put forward for Scandinavian integration. These views accorded with his general outlook on the development of human civilisation, which entailed peoples and nations merging into ever-larger units.

The fall of the Norwegian School of History

  • 24 Gro Hagemann, Aschehougs Norgeshistorie, Vol. 9 (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1997), pp. 46-48.

23Daa may be seen as a transitional figure, representing a new type of evolutionary thought that was to have a significant impact on public debate and Norwegian historical scholarship during the last decades of the nineteenth century. In the 1870s and 1880s, Norway went through a period of significant political and cultural tension leading to the downfall of the established political order. In this politically polarised period, social, cultural and political controversies were interwoven with struggles over evolutionism.24

24For most of the nineteenth century, Norwegian political life was dominated by a bureaucratic regime staffed by an educated elite of senior civil servants with lifetime positions who, owing to the absence of an aristocracy and a strong capitalist class, had a particularly influential role in Norwegian society. Although farmers gained voting rights in 1814, the civil servants dominated both Parliament and government. However, from around 1870, the civil servants’ preeminent position met with growing opposition from a democratic and liberal alliance of peasants and certain segments of the educated urban elite. In the 1880s, this alliance achieved a majority in the Parliament, and a constitutional struggle arose. The conflict ended with the introduction in 1884 of a parliamentary system which redefined the government, previously the leadership of a state bureaucracy, as a political body with a mandate from the Parliament. Political parties were established for the first time. The conservative party Høyre (the Right) had its roots in the old regime, while the opposition formed Venstre (the Left), which was an alliance of nationalist, democratic and liberal forces within the urban intelligentsia and among the peasants.

25The upheaval had implications for issues of national autonomy and national identity since the struggle for democratisation was also a battle for greater national independence within the Swedish-Norwegian union. The opposition wanted the government to be answerable not to the Swedish king but to the Norwegian Parliament. This democratic and national issue also had cultural and social implications. The embetsmenn (government functionaries) had traditionally been drawn from a largely self-recruiting social class dominated by intermarrying families with ancestral roots in Denmark and a common Danish-Norwegian language. The emergence of an opposition to the bureaucratic regime was linked to the rise of a popular-democratic, counter-cultural movement. Its proponents intended to replace the Danish-Norwegian written language with a new language based on Norwegian dialects and to develop a modern, democratic national culture based on rural culture. A key motif was the notion of a cultural and linguistic continuity between present-day rural Norway and the national golden age of the Middle Ages. In contrast, the Danish-Norwegian language, the traditional academic culture and the old powerful families were viewed as undemocratic, non-national elements of society. This style of counter-cultural nationalism had a particularly marked impact on rural communities in the western part of southern Norway, especially on peasants and the educated sons of peasants who were ascending the social ladder.

  • 25 Ibid., pp. 46-48.

26Academic education was important for the social authority of the embetsmenn class. At Norway’s only university, they were socialised into an academic culture that set them apart from the populace. When the authority of this academic class began to be challenged in the 1870s and 1880s, old academic ideals were depicted as relics of the past, while new ideas were championed as instances of the universal evolutionary progress of mankind. Arguments were taken from Darwin’s theory of biological evolution, from Herbert Spencer’s theory of social and cultural evolution, and, importantly, from Auguste Comte’s positivism. The latter claimed that modern man was about to leave the metaphysical era and step into a scientific epoch in which scientific method and experience should form the basis for understanding society and exercising political power.25

  • 26 Knut Kjeldstadli, ‘Biologiens tid. Randbemerkninger om viten og venstrestat’, in Erik Rudeng, ed.,(...)

27The struggles of the 1880s ushered in a period during which the heterogeneous and somewhat contradictory Venstre movement had a clear impact on Norwegian politics and society. Historian Knut Kjeldstadli has argued that Venstre’s heyday (lasting roughly from the 1880s until World War II) coincided with the rise of biological thinking in Norway. Professions based on biological knowledge — chiefly medicine — expanded their fields of action and their societal influence, while biological ideas and metaphors had an increasing impact on public debate and political life. These would prove particularly relevant to the cultural nationalism that shaped Norwegian public discourse in the decades before the dissolution of the Norwegian-Swedish union in 1905.26

  • 27 Narve Fulsås, Historie og nasjon. Ernst Sars og striden om norsk kultur (Oslo: Universitetsforlage (...)
  • 28 Øystein Rian, ‘Norway in Union with Denmark’, in William H. Hubbard et al. (eds.), Making a Histor (...)

28The turbulent 1870s and 1880s also saw a change of generations in the small Norwegian community of historians, with a group of young, urban advocates of positivism and evolutionism assuming academic positions. Like Daa, these young intellectuals generally dismissed the notion of the nation as a static and ancient entity, and were inclined to see it as a social organism undergoing slow, incremental evolution. This generation saw no point in searching for the birth of the nation in a prehistoric Germanic invasion; instead, they set themselves the task of exploring the preconditions for the historical continuity and growth of the nation. The young historians were particularly interested in explaining how Norwegian national identity had been preserved throughout the four centuries of Danish rule, and in studying the preconditions for the rebirth of the nation in 1814.27 Despite the existence of this basic consensus among the new generation of scholars, however, a controversy arose in the 1870s over the interpretation of the Danish period. In parallel with the increasingly polarised public debate, two competing national narratives crystallised: a Høyre narrative and a Venstre narrative. Conservative historians argued that the decline of the medieval Norwegian state had been due to weakness and poverty. It was only during the period of Danish rule that a real state apparatus was established in Norway, and they claimed that this had been a precondition for the economic and social growth that finally made possible the establishment of the new Norwegian state.28

29Historian Ernst Sars was the leading architect of the Venstre narrative, which had a particularly notable influence on notions of national identity in the decades around the turn of the century. Sars argued for a strong national continuity between the medieval state and the new Norwegian state, and, like Munch and Keyser before him, he saw the free Norwegian peasants as the unifying element that had ensured the continued existence of Norwegian culture through the years of Danish domination. The new Danish-Norwegian upper class had imported a foreign culture and lived in isolation from the rest of Norwegian society. During the Enlightenment, however, they were inspired by the peculiarly free societal position of the Norwegian peasants and began to define themselves as Norwegians. This prepared the ground for the democratic constitution of 1814 and the subsequent developments leading towards an increasing integration of folk and elite. Thus, the historical growth of the nation followed a trajectory that led towards the Venstre alliance of peasants and the urban elite.

  • 29 Fulsås, Historie og nasjon, pp. 138-39.

30Sars’ interpretation of the national history bore many similarities to the Norwegian School of History and its conception of the modern Norwegian constitution as an embodiment of ancient Germanic virtues. However, Sars explicitly distanced himself from what he described as the ‘racial principle’ in Munch and Keyser’s historiography — the idea that the history of the nation could be understood mainly as the unfolding of a set of innate and immutable Germanic characteristics. In contrast, Sars saw the rise of the nation as the preliminary end product of an ongoing historical process.29

Archaeology, Vikings and the birth of the nation

  • 30 Jon Røyne Kyllingstad and Thor Inge Rørvik, 1870-1911: Vitenskapenes universitet, Universitetet i (...)

31Waning interest in theories about prehistoric migrations was due not only to a new ‘evolutionary’ view of history, but also to the fact that since the heyday of Munch and Keyser, history had become a more specialised discipline that concentrated on the study of written sources. This meant that prehistory now lay outside the historian's field of interest and had instead become the domain of archaeology, which arose as an autonomous discipline in Norway in the 1860s and 1870s. From 1859, the semi-official Society for the Preservation of Norwegian Monuments (Foreningen til Norske fortidsminnesmerkers bevaring) began systematic and publicly-funded archaeological excavations in Norway. Most of the excavated artefacts were deposited in the University’s Antiquities Collection (Oldsaksamlingen), which quadrupled in size between 1870 and 1900. In 1875, the head of the Antiquities Collection, Oluf Rygh, was appointed to the first Norwegian professorship in archaeology and became instrumental in establishing archaeology as an autonomous discipline.30

  • 31 Jørgen Haavardsholm, Vikingtiden som 1800-tallskonstruksjon (Oslo: University of Oslo, 2004), pp. (...)

32The main task of Norwegian archaeology was to explore the prehistory of the Norwegians. Excavations focused mainly on Iron Age sites, particularly burial mounds, with more than 1,000 barrows being excavated in a fifty-year period. The most spectacular finds were the Viking ships: the Tune-ship in 1867, the Gokstad-ship in 1880, and — the jewel in the crown — the huge Oseberg-ship in 1904. The Viking ships received great national and international attention and are still regarded as being among the nation’s most important cultural treasures. Archaeologist Jørgen Haavardsholm has argued that the Viking ships and the rest of the artefacts from Iron Age burial mounds gave rise to the notion of the ‘Viking Age’ as a clearly defined historical epoch, which became clearly associated with the birth of the Norwegian nation both in public discourse and in scholarly literature.31

  • 32 Ibid.

33So, what notion of nationhood did the archaeologists embrace? Oluf Rygh construed the Viking Age as an era of overseas expansion and conquest, but also of peaceful trade, cultural contacts and progress. Most importantly, he saw it as the period when the land was cultivated, associating the origin of the nation with this agricultural conquest of the land. The birth of the nation was thus not explained in terms of an invasion by a ‘Norwegian’ people with certain innate mental dispositions, but as an internal process of cultural growth culminating with the Vikings.32

  • 33 Ingvald Undseth, Om et norsk National-Museum (Kristiania: Cammermeyer, 1885), pp. 5, 10.

34These views were also reflected in the campaign to build a new national history museum in the 1880s. The planned museum was intended to display ancient national antiquities, along with the material culture of Norwegian peasants from the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. According to the young archaeologist Ingvald Undset, this museum display would represent the cultural evolution of the Norwegian people from its primitive stages in the Stone Age up to the rich cultural blossoming of contemporary Norway. In this spirit, the artefacts were to be displayed in a way that would show how ‘our’ forefathers had migrated to the country and, how, after their arrival, they had cultivated the land and developed those characteristics upon which ‘our’ Norwegianness and national identity were based. Thus, according to Undset, the nation’s forefathers had not been Norwegians when they first entered what later became Norwegian territory. Instead, their Norwegianness emerged as the newcomers adapted themselves to the geographical conditions of the country.33

Racial nationalism’s comeback

35The new generation of historians and archaeologists who assumed academic positions in the 1870s rejected the racial theories of the Norwegian School of History. This generation of scholars saw the nation first and foremost as the product of an ongoing historical process, not as a given racial essence. Despite this, however, racial theories of national origins would make a notable comeback in Norwegian academia in the 1890s. This can be explained by a number of factors. One explanation, which will be elaborated upon in chapter 4, is that historians, archaeologists and others who refused to see national history as the unfolding of a set of immutable Germanic virtues still believed in racial differences and thought that these differences could help explain the cultural variations between nations. Another explanation lies in scientific specialisation and the growth of new disciplines. The revival of racial ideas and theories of prehistoric migration was linked to the rise of physical-anthropological research in Norway in the 1880s and 1890s. The practitioners of this new discipline were medical scientists, not humanities scholars, and as such, they underwent different training and worked in their own specific professional and intellectual context. As a consequence, they did not necessarily agree with their colleagues in the historical and philological disciplines on issues involving nation and race.

Notes

1 Kåre Lunden, ‘History and Society’, in William Hubbard et al. (eds.), Making a Historical Culture: Historiography in Norway (Oslo: Scandinavian University Press, 1995), pp. 15-51 (pp. 27-45).

2 Ottar Dahl, Norsk historieforskning i det 19. og 20. århundre (Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 1990), pp. 43-64.

3 Rudolf Keyser, Samlede afhandlinger (Kristiania: P. T. Malling, 1868), pp. 232-46.

4 Rudolf Keyser, Norges Historie, Vol. 1 (Kristiania: P. T. Malling, 1866-1870), pp. 19-52.

5 Keyser, Samlede afhandlinger, pp. 403-51.

6 Trond Werner Pettersen, Fra dannelse til forskning: filologien ved Det kgl. Fredriks Universitet 1811-1864 (Master’s thesis, University of Oslo, 2007), pp. 49, 115; Per Sveaas Andersen, Rudolf Keyser: embetsmann og historiker (Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 1960).

7 C. Stephen Briggs, ‘C.C. Rafn, J.J.A, Worsaae, Archaeology, History and Danish National Identity in the Schleswig-Holstein Question’, Bulletin of the History of Archaeology, Vol. 15, no. 2 (2005), pp. 4-25.

8 Inge Adriansen, ‘“Jyllands formodede tyskhed i oldtiden”— den dansk — tyske strid om Sønderjyllands urbefolkning’, in E. Roesdahl, S. P. Meulengracht and P. M. Sørensen (eds.), The Waking of Angantyr: The Scandinavian Past in European Culture. ACTA Jutlandica (Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, 1996), pp. 120-46; Peter Rowley-Conwy, ‘The Concept of Prehistory and the Invention of the Terms “Prehistoric” and “Prehistorian”: The Scandinavian Origin, 1833-1850’, European Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 9, no. 1 (2006), pp. 103-30 (pp. 112-20).

9 J. J. A. Worsaae, Om en forhistorisk, saakaldet ‘tydsk’ Befolkning i Danmark: med Hensyn til Nutidens politiske Bevægelser (Kjøbenhavn: Reitzel, 1849).

10 P. A. Munch, Skandinavismen nærmere undersøgt med Hensyn til Nordens Ældre national og litteraire Forhold (Kristiania: Johan Dahls, 1849), pp. 5-10.

11 P. A. Munch, Om den saakaldte nyere historiske Skole i Norge (Kristiania: Tønsberg, 1853), p. 6.

12 Andersen, Rudolf Keyser, pp. 232-46.

13 Anders Retzius, Ethnologische Schriften von Anders Retzius. Nach dem Tode des Verfassers gesammelt (Stockholm: P. A. Norstedt & Søner, 1864), pp. 103-05; Rudolf Keyser, Samlede afhandlinger (Kristiania: P. T. Malling, 1868), pp. 3-246; P. A. Munch, Verdenshistoriens vigtigste Begivenheder: fra de ældste Tider indtil den franske Revolution i kortfattet Fremstilling (Kristiania: Cappelen, 1840), pp. 1-17.

14 P. A. Munch, Verdenshistoriens vigtigste Begivenheder, pp. 1-4.

15 John Sanness, Patrioter, Intelligens og Skandinaver (Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 1959), pp. 55-58.

16 See, for example, George W. Stocking Jr., ‘What’s in a Name? The Origins of the Royal Anthropological Institute (1837-71)’, Man, New Series, Vol. 6, no. 3 (1971), pp. 369-90.

17 See, for example, Thomas Gondermann, ‘Progression and Retrogression: Herbert Spencer’s Explanations of Social Inequality’, History of Human Sciences, Vol. 20, no. 3 (2007), pp. 21-40.

18 Dahl, Norsk Historieforskning, pp. 86-112.

19 Ludvig Kristensen Daa, ‘Have germanerne invandret til Skandinavien fra nord eller fra syd?’, Særtrykk av Forhandlinger ved de Skandinaviske Naturforskeres Møde (Kristiania: [n. pub.], 1869).

20 Ludvig Kristensen Daa, Nationaliternes udvikling (Kristiania: J. Chr. Abelsteds, 1869); Ottar Dahl, ‘Noen etnografisk synspunkter hos Ludv. Kr. Daa’, Norsk geografisk tidsskrift, Vol. 16, nos. 1-8 (1957), pp. 46-58.

21 Ludvig Kr. Daa, Udsigt over Ethnologien: Indbydelseskrift til den offentlige Examen i Christiania Kathedralskole (Kristiania: Steenske bogtrykkeri, 1855); Yngvar Nielsen, Universitetets ethnografiske samlinger (Kristiania: W. C. Fabritius og sønner, 1907), pp. 3-7; Robert G. Latham, Norway and the Norwegians (London: Bentley, 1840); George W. Stocking, Jr., ‘What’s in a Name The Origins of the Royal Anthropological Institute (1837-71)’, Man, New Series, Vol. 6, no. 3 (1971), pp. 369-90 (p. 373).

22 Daa, Nationaliternes udvikling, pp. 36-51.

23 Tor Ivar Hansen, Et skandinavistisk nasjonsbyggingsprosjekt: Skandinavisk selskab (1864-1971) (Master’s thesis, University of Oslo, 2008), pp. 55-58.

24 Gro Hagemann, Aschehougs Norgeshistorie, Vol. 9 (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1997), pp. 46-48.

25 Ibid., pp. 46-48.

26 Knut Kjeldstadli, ‘Biologiens tid. Randbemerkninger om viten og venstrestat’, in Erik Rudeng, ed., Kunnskapsregimer (Oslo: Pax, 1999), pp. 145-51.

27 Narve Fulsås, Historie og nasjon. Ernst Sars og striden om norsk kultur (Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 1999), pp. 138-39.

28 Øystein Rian, ‘Norway in Union with Denmark’, in William H. Hubbard et al. (eds.), Making a Historical Culture: Historiography in Norway (Oslo: Scandinavian University Press, 1995), pp. 132-55 (pp. D132-35).

29 Fulsås, Historie og nasjon, pp. 138-39.

30 Jon Røyne Kyllingstad and Thor Inge Rørvik, 1870-1911: Vitenskapenes universitet, Universitetet i Oslo 1811-2011, Vol. 2 (Oslo: Unipub, 2011), pp. 384-88.

31 Jørgen Haavardsholm, Vikingtiden som 1800-tallskonstruksjon (Oslo: University of Oslo, 2004), pp. 45-79.

32 Ibid.

33 Ingvald Undseth, Om et norsk National-Museum (Kristiania: Cammermeyer, 1885), pp. 5, 10.

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